Thief Who Came to Dinner, The (1973): Bud Yorkin’s Middling, Semi-Comedy, Starring Ryan O’Neal, Jacqueline Bissett, Warren Oates

From Our Vaults:

Bud Yorkin, who directed the middling comedy The Thief Who Came to Dinner, summed it up the best: “I don’t think it’s the greatest picture in the world, but it is very entertaining.” Well, in our view, semi or quasi (intermittently) entertaining.

Grade: C+ (** out of *****)

The Thief Who Came to Dinner
The Thief Who Came to Dinner Poster.jpg

Theatrical release poster

Based on the novel by Terrence Lore Smith, the film stars Ryan O’Neal, riding high then after the success of Love Story and What’s Up Doc?

The supporting cast includes: Jacqueline Bissett, Charles Cioffi, Warren Oates, and in an early appearance, Jill Clayburgh, who would become a major star later in the decade, with the significant serio-comedy “An Unmarried Woman” in 1978.

O’Neal is well cast asWebster McGee, a computer programmer who abruptly quits his job and adopts a life of crime as a jewel thief in Houston, Texas.

For his first job he robs rich businessman Henderling, stealing not only money but also information that could destroy Henderling’s career; he use the files as blackmail. Instead of money, he asks for introduction into high society–in order to gain access and rob rich houses.

McGee soon meets Laura at a social function hosted by Henderling. She falls in love with McGee and then helps him to burglarize.

Texas Mutual Insurance investigator Dave Reilly is intent on identifying McGee as the jewel thief, but instead, the duo develop friendship.

Facing a dilemma, Reilly must decide whether to be loyal to his job or his new friend.

At that time, Yorkin and Lear had the number one, two and four show in the country (All in the Family, Sanford and Son and Maude). Yorkin and Lear’s Tandem Productions had bought the rights to the novel, which was published in March 1971, and received mixed reviews. The New York Times said “there is something engaging about all this nonsense”

Yorkin wanted to make the film as a tribute to “that great Cary Grant escape period.”

Oliver Hailey wrote the first draft, then Walter Hill was hired to write subsequent drafts, and then received sole credit.

Charlotte Rampling was originally announced as the lead, but when she got pregnant, she was replaced by second-banana Jacqueline Bissett.

As usual, the reliable Warren Oates was better than the movie was. They cut a lot of things of his out of the movie they shouldn’t have.

The actors were harsher in their criticism than the reviewers. O’Neal later said he should not have done the picture. Bisset later admitted her role was “undeveloped” and had qualms about the movie’s morality: “I think stealing is dishonest. But it’s only a movie.”

Needless to say, the movie was a big commercial flop.

The shoot took place on location in Houston, including Johnson Space Center, the Astrodome, the Museum of Fine Arts, Rice University, the Mecom Fountain, Jones Hall, the Alley Theatre, River Oaks, Buffalo Bayou, West University Place, Montrose, Fourth Ward, the Bob Lanier Public Works Building, the El Paso Energy Building, St. Vincent De Paul Catholic Church, the former Houston Independent School District (HISD) headquarters, the former Trail Drive-In.

Ryan O’Neal as Webster McGee
Jacqueline Bisset as Laura Keaton
Warren Oates as Dave Reilly, Texas Mutual
Jill Clayburgh as Jackie Johnson
Charles Cioffi as Gene Henderling
Ned Beatty as Deams
Austin Pendleton as Zukovsky
Gregory Sierra as Hector aka Dynamite
Michael Murphy as Ted
John Hillerman as Lasker
Alan Oppenheimer as Insurance Man
Margaret Fairchild as Mrs. Donner
Jack Manning as Tom Preston
Richard O’Brien as Sergeant Del Conte
George Morfogen as Rivera


Directed by Bud Yorkin
Screenplay by Walter Hill, based on The Thief Who Came to Dinner by Terrence Lore Smith
Produced by Norman Lear, Bud Yorkin
Cinematography Philip H. Lathrop
Edited by John Horger
Music by Henry Mancini

Production company: Bud Yorkin Productions

Distributed by Warner Bros.

Release date: March 1, 1973

Running time: 104 minutes
Box office $1.7 million (US/ Canada rentals)[1


Bud Yorkin Filmography:

Come Blow Your Horn (1963)

Never Too Late (1965)

Divorce American Style (1967)

Inspector Clouseau (1968)

Start the Revolution Without Me (1970)

The Thief Who Came to Dinner (1973)

Twice in a Lifetime (1985)

Arthur 2: On the Rocks (1988)

Love Hurts (1990)