And so goes a Public Enemy rap song from the late 80's, as the ultra chic thief of the late 60's got immortalized on vinyl two decades later, and should continue to be an icon for decades more. The coolest burglar in TV or movie history is none other than Robert Wagner, as Alexander Mundy.
Airing for 3 seasons from '68-'70, we got 66 episodes of espionage, heists, and of course, romance in exotic locales. We got a cool theme song from Dave Grusin, spun over psychadelic opening montages, featuring 3 different opening tags through the three seasons. In '68 you had Noah Bain, expertly played by Malachi Throne, uttering "Look, Al, I'm not asking you to spy, I'm just asking you to steal." In '69 and into '70 it was Wagner responding with "Let me get this straight, you WANT me to steal." And also in '70, there was none other than Alistair Mundy (Al's thief of a Dad) with "I've heard of stealing from the government BUT FOR the goverment!"
When Malachi Throne departed during the '69 season, he was replaced by Ed Binns as Wally Powers, who was never as strict as Noah. Noah made Al stay in a government monitored house, under close wraps, but Al was quickly roaming free under Wally. While the 3rd season was a whole lot of fun, featuring Fred Astaire as Al's Dad, the shows never had as much pinache as some of the superb 1st and 2nd season hits, and one of my favorite shows in TV history was canceled far too early.
What made this show so grande was the performance of Robert Wagner, and the premise of the shows, where Al was sent in (almost always under an alias and spying in various disguises) to steal something, spy on someone, or protect something. Who didn't want to emulate this globetrotting expert thief, who could steal things legally, sneak in and out of dangerous countries with the help of the US government, and seduce foreign diplomat's daughters.
There were numerous classic episodes, often with lots of swinging 60's style and humor, but one very tense and dramatic story I remember was the two part Hans Across the Border, where Al had to smuggle a defector out of East Germany in a vehicle's hidden compartment. Great stuff, but the shows with biting humor were the best, like the one where Al posed as a Magician with an assistant, or the one when he was a photographer during a United Nations beauty contest, in the aptly named episode 38-23-36.
There wasn't a show as fun as this one, a leading man as suave as Al Mundy, or a premise as sweet as this. It wasn't exactly a success at barely 3 seasons, but it should have gone on longer. Many shows have tried to capture the thief gone good scenario, and until recently with the excellent White Collar, we had gone many years where carbon copies of this show have failed.
***DVD Quality update***: Wow, I can't believe it's been 6 years since I initially wrote this, pining for a DVD release. Now that it's finally out, many have complained of the picture quality. Well, after finally getting my boxed set, I can honestly review the DVDs. The clarity differs slightly with each episode you watch. In some, there is a ton of graininess, and in others, the picture is clearer but the sharpness is low. A few episodes have good picture quality and sharpness, however none are up to today's standards. If you are a picky about image quality and like to watch everything in HD, this will be a strong disappointment to you. However, if you are a fan of the show, and don't mind watching a lower quality picture, I don't think this becomes a deal breaker. It is similar to watching a VHS quality tape, and for some episodes, it's like watching a 2nd generation VHS copy. Hey, that's all we had back then and we still watched stuff, right? It's up to you whether you think the price and quality are worth paying for, but I am glad to own the entire series. It will stay in my collection and is still very watchable to me.
Video Tip: Change your TV setting from "wide" to "normal" when viewing It Takes A Thief, as it will zoom out the picture to it's normal ratio, rather than enlarging and stretching it to fit your screen. This will give the episodes slightly better sharpness.