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A Touch of Larceny

A Touch of Larceny(1960)

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teaser A Touch of Larceny (1960)

Based on the 1956 Andrew Garve novel The Megstone Plot, A Touch of Larceny (1960) is a delightfully droll British comedy starring James Mason, Vera Miles and George Sanders. Mason plays Commander Max "Rammer" Easton, a British World War II naval hero and roguish playboy whose cushy job with the Admirality affords him plenty of time for his favorite pursuits: playing squash and chasing women. When he meets the beautiful American widow Virginia (Miles), however, he is ready to put his philandering days behind him. Unfortunately, Virginia is already engaged to Charles Holland (Sanders), a wealthy Naval veteran with the Foreign Office. When Virginia refuses to marry Max on the basis of his slim wallet, Max comes up with an outlandish plan: he will temporarily disappear and trick people into thinking he has committed treason and defected to the Soviet Union as a Russian spy. Banking on the assumption that the British press will have a field day with the scandal, he plans to then come out of hiding, sue the newspapers for libel, and make enough money to finally marry Virginia. However, all doesn't go according to plan.

Following a lucrative film career in England during the 1930s and 40s, British star James Mason had spent the 1950s in Hollywood establishing himself as one of the world's most distinguished actors. However, by the end of the decade, Mason was growing restless. Producer Ivan Foxwell described him at that point as being "terribly disillusioned by California and desperate to get back to Europe." When Foxwell approached Mason about making A Touch of Larceny on location in the UK, he jumped at the opportunity.

This change of pace also presented an opportunity for Mason to display his hidden comedic chops. Mason's career had been built on heavy dramatic roles, but Foxwell saw potential for something fresh and new. "In California soon after the war I'd seen James taking part in amateur theatricals, playing in Victorian melodramas just for friends," said Foxwell according to the 1989 biography James Mason: Odd Man Out by Sheridan Morley, "and I suddenly realized what a marvelous light comedian he would be. The studio wanted me to get [David] Niven for A Touch of Larceny, and he would have been the more commercial casting, but I knew that James could deliver something altogether more interesting and detailed."

Following the release of A Touch of Larceny, James Mason received strong reviews. The British Evening Standard wrote, "Mason's performance, bland and wryly humorous, pursues its objectives with the tenacity of a homing torpedo; his portrayal indicates that we may see more of Mason sweet rather than sour, and without recourse to either bedroom or deadpan humor, the film restores to British screen comedy something that has been missing since Ealing days." The New York Times said, "James Mason gives the role of the rakish commander the necessary light touches as he strews red herrings across the paths of the befuddled newspapers and the Navy."

Audiences will thoroughly enjoy getting onboard this madcap adventure and watching the playful chemistry between Mason and Vera Miles. Directed by Guy Hamilton, who would go on to direct the James Bond films Goldfinger (1964), Diamonds Are Forever (1971), Live and Let Die (1973) and The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), the clever plot twists will delight viewers and keep them guessing until the very end.

By Andrea Passafiume

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