Cast & Crew
In turn-of-the-century Paris, Georges Randal, a wellborn orphan, is cheated out of his inheritance by an unscrupulous uncle and then forced to stand by helplessly while his cousin Charlotte, with whom he is in love, is forced by her uncle to become engaged to another man. He reduces Charlotte's fiancé to the status of a pauper by stealing the fiancé's family jewels, thereby causing his uncle to break the engagement. Inspired by his first taste of crime, Georges goes to Brussels and meets the Abbot Lamargelle, an underworld priest who becomes his mentor. Before long, Georges has risen to the top of his profession. By utilizing his appeal to women to gain entrance into the homes of the privileged, he quickly amasses a considerable fortune. When the rise of anarchy in France stirs police retaliation, he flees to England. There he is reunited with Charlotte, who has been disinherited by her debauched uncle. Upon learning that the old man is dying, Georges exacts the perfect revenge by destroying the uncle's will and forging a new one in Charlotte's favor. With Charlotte's fortune added to his own, Georges no longer has any need to go on stealing. But it is too late to stop; thievery has become a way of life for him.
Paul Le Person
Christian De Tilière
Norbert T. Auerbach
Juan Luis Buñuel
The Thief of Paris -
He's also given a perfect pretext. It's revenge thievery. His bloated old venial uncle (Christian Lude), also the guardian of his cousin Charlotte (Genevieve Bujold), the young woman he wants to marry, tells Georges, upon his return from college and the army, that the young man's considerable investments, which the uncle was managing, have gone bust. So not only is he broke, but as a pauper he can no longer be considered a suitor for his cousin. The ruthlessness of this double blow is made all the more ironic by the impeccable politeness with which it's discussed. Not that Georges stays polite for long. In fact, the uncle explains that Charlotte is now engaged to the effete son of rich neighbors. When cool-on-the-outside, raging-on-the-inside Georges learns that the family has most of its money in expensive jewels, he steals them, tosses them in a little leather draw-stringed purse to Charlotte, and takes off.
Dapper, nervy and nimble, he finds he has just the right skill set for breaking and entering. Walking down an empty street carrying two valises, he stops before each stone or stucco wall, removes a grappling hook from one of the bags, tosses both bags over, and quickly shimmies up the wall after them. The first few times, he pries front doors open crudely. But soon his iron crowbar seems an extension of his arm. He's in quickly, making a connoisseur's choices from among the paintings and valuable objects in row after row of glass cases of the museum-like villas, and he's out again, but not before leaving some anger behind in the form of smashed stuff that's either too heavy or not valuable enough to pilfer. More than once, you wonder when he's going to run into a big, toothy, hungry guard dog, or fall victim to that new piece of police high-tech weaponry - the fingerprint. But this caper movie is also a fairy tale. Never does he encounter a single obstacle, although toward the end he's forced to dodge a few pursuers' bullets. The only time he encounters another living creature, it amusingly turns out to be a woman thief (fashionably dressed in Gibson Girl mode, of course) with the same agenda as his.
It's all too easy for him, and eventually repetitious for us, which brings us to the question of tempo. The tempo here is too slow, never achieving a pace that will catch us up in its forward motion. Perhaps Malle took his cue from the gorgeous but overpowering production design of Jacques Saulnier, the opulence of which leaves no surface undecorated or uncovered. It's an overstuffed world, and the muchness of it seems to find its way into the film. At two hours, it's too long and too blowsy, the very things you would expect it not to be considering that it came on the heels of Malle's outrageously entertaining and genuinely anarchic Viva Maria! (1965), with Jeanne Moreau and Brigitte Bardot. But if The Thief of Paris sometimes seems trapped in and enervated by the world it would pillage and mock, it nevertheless offers rewards.
Belmondo's Georges seems to wind down as the film proceeds. At the end he is weary, weighed down by prosperity, almost a perverse version of the acquisitive bourgeoisie whom he saw as his sworn enemy. He skips around a lot - Paris, Brussels, London - but when a relationship between him and Charlotte finally becomes possible, he questions whether it would work. His initial romanticism has been replaced by a jaded if not cynical fatalism. Luckily for us, he has some flavorful company en route. The portion of the film not overwhelmed by the sets is exquisitely plundered by Julien Guiomar as a phony priest and the organizer of George's little circle. Guiomar makes wonderful use of his clerical front, his respectable manner and sober mien gaining him entree to places worth robbing. Only once does his poise desert him - in a railroad carriage, amusingly, when a real priest enters and sits next to him. Otherwise, it's a pleasure to watch his dark, alert eyes dance with larcenous intent above his taciturn correctness whenever he enters a room filled with loot-to-be.
Georges is pretty much a lone wolf, but the partner he does latterly work with, Paul Le Person's Roger, is a breath of liveliness and high spirits, unafflicted by George's seeming disconnect between plunder and pleasure. The women - all plusses - aren't given enough screen time, or enough to do, including Bujold. Marlene Jobert is the brightest among them as Roger's extravagant but impecunious sister, squealing with delight every time he shows up with a bagful of money to extricate her from her latest financial crisis. Without the women, the film wouldn't have even the faint hint it projects of a commune of thieves, however much they're in it for greed rather than social protest. Georges Darien, the turn-of-the-last-century novelist whose Le Voleur was the film's source, was a writer of anarchist sympathies at a time when anarchy was taken just as seriously, if not more so, than in the '60s. Malle - anything but bourgeois as the scion of a family that got rich dealing in sugar during the Napoleonic Wars and stayed rich - doesn't seem passionate about the story's proto-anarchic subtext. Or about much else. His glossy but punchless The Thief of Paris suggests, as some wittily epigrammatic Frenchman might have put it, that you become what you ridicule.
By Jay Carr
The Thief of Paris -
I do a dirty job but I have an excuse: I do it dirtily.- Georges Randal
Paris opening: February 1967 as Le voleur.
Released in United States 1967
Released in United States April 1988
Shown at Louis Malle Retrospective at Museum of Modern Art, New York City April 1988.
Released in United States 1967
Released in United States April 1988 (Shown at Louis Malle Retrospective at Museum of Modern Art, New York City April 1988.)