The Happy Thieves


1h 28m 1961
The Happy Thieves

Brief Synopsis

A worldly art thief gets mixed up with murder.

Film Details

Also Known As
Once a Thief, The Oldest Confession
Genre
Comedy
Drama
Action
Crime
Adaptation
Release Date
Jan 1961
Premiere Information
Chicago opening: 20 Dec 1961
Production Company
Hillworth Productions
Distribution Company
United Artists
Country
United States
Location
Madrid, Spain
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel The Oldest Confession by Richard Condon (New York, 1958).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 28m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White

Synopsis

Gentleman thief Jim Bourne steals a Velázquez painting, "Venus With a Mirror," from the Spanish castle of the Duchess Blanca. But as his confederate, Eve Lewis, smuggles the painting into Paris, she is outwitted by Dr. Muñoz, a fanatical art dealer and cousin of the duchess, whereupon Eve threatens to become an honest woman. Jim placates her with marriage, and they return to Madrid. There they learn that Muñoz has the Velázquez and that he also has photographs of Jim stealing it. In return for his silence, Muñoz demands that Jim steal Goya's famed "Second of May" from the Prado. Jim's artist cohort, Jean Marie Calbert, makes an exact reproduction of the painting. They plan to switch the two during the farewell performance of Cayetano, Spain's celebrated matador, who is retiring from the arena to marry the duchess. In order to create a riot and distract the Prado guards, Muñoz shoots and kills Cayetano while he is in the arena. In the ensuing panic Jim and Eve switch the two paintings, hiding the original in Jean's artist's cart. When they visit Muñoz, they find him dead, murdered by the vengeful duchess. The police arrive on the scene and hold both Jim and Jean. In exchange for the Goya, however, the police offer to release one of the two men. Jim decides that Jean will serve the 10-year manslaughter sentence; but when he realizes that Eve considers him a cad because of his decision, he himself goes to prison, knowing she will wait for him.

Film Details

Also Known As
Once a Thief, The Oldest Confession
Genre
Comedy
Drama
Action
Crime
Adaptation
Release Date
Jan 1961
Premiere Information
Chicago opening: 20 Dec 1961
Production Company
Hillworth Productions
Distribution Company
United Artists
Country
United States
Location
Madrid, Spain
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel The Oldest Confession by Richard Condon (New York, 1958).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 28m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White

Articles

The Happy Thieves


"Rita and Rex Steal the Picture!" and "We confess! They did it! But it's how they did it that makes it so delightful!" were some of the taglines for The Happy Thieves (1961). The "Rita" was Rita Hayworth and the "Rex" was Rex Harrison, playing two art thieves who are blackmailed into stealing a Goya painting from the Museum de Prado in Madrid.

The film was based on the novel The Oldest Confession by Richard Condon, who also wrote the screenplay with John Gay. George Marshall directed the film, which was produced by Hayworth's production company, Hillworth Productions, formed with producer James Hill (formerly of Hecht-Hill-Lancaster), who was married to Hayworth at the time. The Happy Thieves would be released through United Artists.

In the 1950s and 60s, many Hollywood stars were fed up with the studio system that they felt cheated them out of profits. And, like many Hollywood stars, Rita Hayworth believed that she could produce her own films abroad. The idea had merit - by forming her own production company, she would walk away with a much larger percent of the box office take, and by shooting abroad, she would be subject to a much lower tax rate, so the decision was made to shoot The Happy Thieves in Madrid and Paris.

Rex Harrison was very honest about the reason for his participation in the film: he did the film strictly for the money, as he later wrote in his autobiography. "A further instance of sloppy professional judgment came when I weakly agreed with my agent to go to Madrid to make a film called The Happy Thieves, with Rita Hayworth. My agent said something about 'getting the money while I could,' and instead of sacking him, as I would have done in other years, I fell in with his suggestion. Rita was an old-time friend whom I had got to know when she was married to James Hill. She was desperately shy and uncertain of herself, although she had worked for Columbia [Studios] for many years...Rita was absolutely beautiful, the film was absolute rubbish, so bad that the press was asked to stay away and not to review it - as you can imagine, a fairly unusual request. I don't think anyone did see it, luckily."

Harrison predicted that The Happy Thieves would be a disaster, and unfortunately for all involved, the critics did review it. The reviewer from The New York Times wondered "how the diabolical brilliance of the Condon book could have trickled down the film drain [...] This laboriously arch Hillworth Production holds a good middle portion (thanks to the Condon plot) and has some colorful photography and a few stretches of gleaming dialogue, which scenarist John Gay had the good sense to retain. And that, believe us, is it. The marvelous zip, zing and sophistication of the original--gone, all of it."

The Happy Thieves was the only film produced by Hillworth Productions, although another film I Want My Mother! had been heavily publicized by the company. It was mysteriously abandoned one day with no explanation. When Hill and Hayworth divorced after only three years of marriage, the financial and critical failure of The Happy Thieves was rumored to be one of the reasons for the split.

Producer: Rita Hayworth
Director: George Marshall
Screenplay: John Gay; Richard Condon (novel)
Cinematography: Paul Beeson
Art Direction: Ramiro Gomez
Music: Mario Nascimbene
Film Editing: Oswald Hafenrichter
Cast: Rita Hayworth (Eve Lewis), Rex Harrison (Jimmy Bourne), Joseph Wiseman (Jean Marie Calbert), Alida Valli (Duchess Blanca), Grégoire Aslan (Dr. Victor Munoz), Virgilio Teixeira (Cayetano the Bullfighter), Peter Illing (Mr. Pickett the Art Expert), Britta Ekman (Mrs. Pickett), George Rigaud (Spanish Police Inspector), Gerard Tichy (Antonio, Prado Museum Guard).
BW-90m. Letterboxed.

by Lorraine LoBianco

SOURCES:
Balio, Tino. United Artists: The Company That Changed the Film Industry
Harrison, Rex. Rex: An Autobiography
Ringgold, Gene. The Films of Rita Hayworth: The Legend and Career of a Love Goddess
"Screen: 'Happy Thieves'" The New York Times 5 Feb 62.
The Happy Thieves

The Happy Thieves

"Rita and Rex Steal the Picture!" and "We confess! They did it! But it's how they did it that makes it so delightful!" were some of the taglines for The Happy Thieves (1961). The "Rita" was Rita Hayworth and the "Rex" was Rex Harrison, playing two art thieves who are blackmailed into stealing a Goya painting from the Museum de Prado in Madrid. The film was based on the novel The Oldest Confession by Richard Condon, who also wrote the screenplay with John Gay. George Marshall directed the film, which was produced by Hayworth's production company, Hillworth Productions, formed with producer James Hill (formerly of Hecht-Hill-Lancaster), who was married to Hayworth at the time. The Happy Thieves would be released through United Artists. In the 1950s and 60s, many Hollywood stars were fed up with the studio system that they felt cheated them out of profits. And, like many Hollywood stars, Rita Hayworth believed that she could produce her own films abroad. The idea had merit - by forming her own production company, she would walk away with a much larger percent of the box office take, and by shooting abroad, she would be subject to a much lower tax rate, so the decision was made to shoot The Happy Thieves in Madrid and Paris. Rex Harrison was very honest about the reason for his participation in the film: he did the film strictly for the money, as he later wrote in his autobiography. "A further instance of sloppy professional judgment came when I weakly agreed with my agent to go to Madrid to make a film called The Happy Thieves, with Rita Hayworth. My agent said something about 'getting the money while I could,' and instead of sacking him, as I would have done in other years, I fell in with his suggestion. Rita was an old-time friend whom I had got to know when she was married to James Hill. She was desperately shy and uncertain of herself, although she had worked for Columbia [Studios] for many years...Rita was absolutely beautiful, the film was absolute rubbish, so bad that the press was asked to stay away and not to review it - as you can imagine, a fairly unusual request. I don't think anyone did see it, luckily." Harrison predicted that The Happy Thieves would be a disaster, and unfortunately for all involved, the critics did review it. The reviewer from The New York Times wondered "how the diabolical brilliance of the Condon book could have trickled down the film drain [...] This laboriously arch Hillworth Production holds a good middle portion (thanks to the Condon plot) and has some colorful photography and a few stretches of gleaming dialogue, which scenarist John Gay had the good sense to retain. And that, believe us, is it. The marvelous zip, zing and sophistication of the original--gone, all of it." The Happy Thieves was the only film produced by Hillworth Productions, although another film I Want My Mother! had been heavily publicized by the company. It was mysteriously abandoned one day with no explanation. When Hill and Hayworth divorced after only three years of marriage, the financial and critical failure of The Happy Thieves was rumored to be one of the reasons for the split. Producer: Rita Hayworth Director: George Marshall Screenplay: John Gay; Richard Condon (novel) Cinematography: Paul Beeson Art Direction: Ramiro Gomez Music: Mario Nascimbene Film Editing: Oswald Hafenrichter Cast: Rita Hayworth (Eve Lewis), Rex Harrison (Jimmy Bourne), Joseph Wiseman (Jean Marie Calbert), Alida Valli (Duchess Blanca), Grégoire Aslan (Dr. Victor Munoz), Virgilio Teixeira (Cayetano the Bullfighter), Peter Illing (Mr. Pickett the Art Expert), Britta Ekman (Mrs. Pickett), George Rigaud (Spanish Police Inspector), Gerard Tichy (Antonio, Prado Museum Guard). BW-90m. Letterboxed. by Lorraine LoBianco SOURCES: Balio, Tino. United Artists: The Company That Changed the Film Industry Harrison, Rex. Rex: An Autobiography Ringgold, Gene. The Films of Rita Hayworth: The Legend and Career of a Love Goddess "Screen: 'Happy Thieves'" The New York Times 5 Feb 62.

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

Location scenes filmed in and around Madrid. Working title: Once a Thief. Prerelease title: The Oldest Confession.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1962

Released in United States 1962