Happy Thieves? (1961): Crime Comedy Starring Rex Harrison, Rita Hayworth, and Alida Valli

Star Rex Harrison describes Happy Thieves, a B-level crime movie with strenuous efforts to be funny, as “rubbish,” claiming that he did it only for the money and due to his friendship with Rita Hayworth.

Produced by Hayworth’s production company Hillworth Productions A.G., the movie was executive produced by Hayworth’s then-husband James Hill, and distributed by UA.  It’s the only film that the couple, who met on the set of the 1958 Separate Tables, had supervised together

One of vet director George Marshall’s weakest films, Happy Thieves is based on the novel “The Oldest Confession” by Richard Condon.

A painting belonging to Duchess Blanca (Alida Valli) is stolen from a castle in Spain by the Jimmy Bourne (Harrison) and his partner in love and crime, Eve Lewis (Hayworth). It is then stolen from the thieves by Dr. Victor Muñoz (Gregoire Aslan), the Dutchess’ cousin.

Eve wants to go straight, but Muñoz blackmails her and Jim, demanding they steal a Goya from the Prado museum. A duplicate is created by Jean Marie Calbert (Joseph Wiseman) and a switch is planned during the farewell bullfight of a matador (Virgilio Teixeira) whom the duchess intends to wed.

During the chaos, Jim and Eve switch the paintings, and find Munoz dead, killed in vengeance by the duchess. Jim is sentenced to five years in prison and Eve vows to wait for him.

Both Harrison and Hayworth have proven before that they are adept at light comedy, but in this film they are defeated by a poorly crafted scenario.

Despite on location shooting, and some fun moments, the narrative unfolds in too slow a pacing and flat visual style for what’s supposed to be an entertaining heist caper.

Note:

I am grateful to TCM for showing this modest black-and-white film on January 1, 2018.

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