THE BEYOND’s David Warbeck wears a cat burglar mask (and little else) as THE SEX THIEF, on Blu-ray from Redemption Films’ sister label Jezebel Films.
While the husbands are away, a cat burglar has been cleaning out the family jewels of an insurance company’s affluent clientele. The wives are of little help, offering contradictory descriptions of the assailant (one says he’s a “club-footed midget” while another describes him as a “six-foot-six Russian with a hair lip”) that have Inspector Robert Smith (Terence Edmond, ESKIMO NELL) suspecting a multi-racial gang (although he may be just desperate enough to check on his sergeant’s facetious suggestion that it could be an out-of-work actor). Just as desperate is pretty insurance investigator Judy Martin (Diane Keen, SILVER DREAM RACER) who suspects someone within her company. Neither have a clue that the culprit is actually well-to-do playboy/thriller novelist Grant Henry (David Warbeck, THE BEYOND) who makes more from his heists – thanks to his editor Jakobi (Harvey Hall, Hammer’s “Karnstein” trilogy) – than from his pulp novels. When an American actress, Jezebel (Deirdre Costello, DEMONS OF THE MIND), and her Brooklyn-ese agent Guido (David Landor) decide to drum up some publicity by planting a story about her being the victim of a “boiglury”, Robert isn’t buying the outlandish details, but Judy’s company is leaning on her due to the large insurance claim, and Grant takes offense at being accused of raping her seven times and decides to make her story come true (it was the 1970s, and rape jokes were rife among the middle class). Judy deduces from Jezebel’s ecstatic recollection of the crime that it is the work of only one (very energetic) man and not a gang and teams up with Robert, and reporter Guy (Christopher Neil, ADVENTURES OF A PLUMBER’S MATE) decide to set a trap for the thief with an emerald necklace (and herself) as bait.
There is some throwaway commentary on the skewed priorities of the British government (Robert complains about all of his men being pinched for the pornography squad) and hypocrisy (Guy tries to put words into her mouth about how pornography and violence encourage crime, a middle-class husband describes his nightly social work as “looking after inadequates”, and one titled soon-to-be-ravished housewife gossips on the phone about multiple marriages, infidelity, and abortion among her circle of friends); yet there is something ugly about the film’s blatant approach to making a motion picture out of a plot more suited to one of those “blue movies” that have the government up in arms (as if everyone involved has just given up trying to entertain the audience beyond finding ways to inject more nudity and a couple sight gags in between the burglary set-pieces). Not all of the wives have to be seduced into submission, some actually blackmail Grant by threatening to reveal his identity to the police (believe it or not, the one who says “This is madness: you’re a handsome burglar and I’m an unhappily married woman!” is one of the reluctant ones). Grant gripes to Jakobi that he’s never met a woman who is self-sufficient (that is, after an interrupted tryst in which his affectionate secretary has used a vibrator to massage him); and although Judy tells Robert to rape her as a way of demonstrating her black belt skills, it still amounts to her shouting “rape me” repeatedly at the befuddled copper. Any viewer who tries questions the plot contrivances – as if Grant would not have done his research in “Who’s Who” on Judy’s “Mrs. Rockefeller” and how no one seems to have thought to have a police officer tailing Judy as she goes on a shopping spree in hopes that the burglar will trail her) – used to steer the film towards its “no harm done” (other than robbery, sexual coercion, and insurance fraud) happy ending will be thoroughly insulted; and they’ll probably deserve it for expecting anything other than wall-to-wall nudity (in spite of cast familiar from better films) when they rent a film called THE SEX THIEF.
Warbeck’s turn as a charming thief is effortless (though his uninhibited bedroom antics may turn the heads of fans of his earlier British and later Italian exploitation works), and Keen is charming and dignified in and out of her clothes (too bad the script waits until the last ten minutes to put them onscreen together). Edmond makes less of an impression in role that is so obviously “nice guys finish last” from the start. Michael Armstrong (MARK OF THE DEVIL) – co-writing with Tudor Gates (Hammer’s “Karnstein” trilogy) under the joint pseudonym of “Edward Hyde” – also appears onscreen as a sergeant on the porn detail who passes on confiscated magazines and “blue movies” for Guy to sell illegally), and James Aubrey (TERROR) turns up during Jezebel’s press conference in throwaway bit as a reporter. Gloria Walker – who later met make-up artist Nick Maley on the set of Norman Warren’s SATAN’S SLAVE and would collaborate with him on effects creations for Warren’s INSEMINOID and then later Tobe Hooper’s LIFEFORCE – plays Grant’s affectionate secretary. Susan Glanville (INTIMATE GAMES) and future Benny Hill beauty Jennifer Westbrook (EROTIC INFERNO) are among the “victims” and Veronica Doran (HAUNTED HOUSE OF HORROR) is on hand for a one-joke bit as a meter maid. Making his inauspicious debut with an under-plotted, sexed-up version of THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR, future GOLDENEYE director Martin Campbell seems to be on auto-pilot with high-speed bedroom romps, intercut wrestling footage, and even an offscreen car crash (the comic reveal preceded by a freeze frame reaction over which the crash sound effects are heard). Manfred Mann’s Mike Vickers contributes a porntastic score (the film played actually did play stateside in a version with hardcore inserts – not featuring the original cast, of course – under the titles HANDFUL OF DIAMONDS and HER FAMILY JEWELS) that actually sounds like those over-familiar library tracks.
When the film reached DVD stateside courtesy of Redemption’s Salvation Films label – back when it was distributed by Image Entertainment – it was in its original 92 minute British version in a colorful interlaced, anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) transfer. Likely transferred from the same materials, Jezebel Film’s single-layer 1080p24 transfer – correctly framed at 1.66:1 – is unrestored with occasional white dings, deep blacks and saturated colors without the ruddy skintones of the older transfer. The lossless DTS-MA 1.0 track sounds a little less buoyant than the Dolby Digital track on the DVD with the underlying hiss (and some crackling) all the more evident. There are no extras on the Blu-ray (or its current DVD equivalent), although the out-of-print DVD release did contain the film’s British trailer. Not an essential upgrade - especially if you've already got the older DVD - unless you're collecting the entire line or unless this film is a particularly guilty pleasure. (Eric Cotenas)
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