Directed by Martin Campbell
Starring David Warbeck, Jennifer Westbrook, Henry Rayner, Michael Armstrong, Gerald Taylor, Diane Keen, Terence Edmond
Kino Lorber (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC), Image (US R1 NTSC), Redemption (UK R0 PAL) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)
While most '70s British sex comedies tended to revolve around a hapless lad in a working class profession (taxi driver, plumber, etc.) shagging his way through a string of naked local ladies, that's not quite the case with The Sex Thief, one of the more interesting entries from this critically savaged cycle. Seen today its primary point of interest is its director, Martin Campbell, best known today as the director of two James Bond films (GoldenEye and Casino Royale), The Mask of Zorro, and, ahem, The Green Lantern. However, his career went way outside of the Hollywood mainstream as well; after this film he went on to direct another sexploitation outing, the meta skin flick Eskimo Nell, followed by two acclaimed miniseries, Edge of Darkness and Reilly: Ace of Spies. While no one would seriously claim they could predict where his career might go from this debut film, it's certainly better made than most and boasts a warped sense of humor (and groovy '70s sensibility) that still makes it easily worth a peek.
A randy jewel thief wearing a black face mask (a la Zorro!) is breaking into the houses of married couples while the husband's away, making off with jewels and compensating the wives for their trouble by taking them for a roll in the hay before he vanishes into the night. The burglar is actually Grant Henry (Warbeck), a pulp paperback writer whose bedroom prowess is so good the women involved happily give absurdly incorrect descriptions to the police (ranging from a midget to a towering Russian). The vice inspector in charge (Edmond) is distracted by the smut wrangling going on within his own office alongside his loyal sergeant (co-writer Armstrong, best known for writing and directing Mark of the Devil). After a scam involving a false report of the thief's antics from a local actress and her agent goes awry (with Grant going through with their false description as retribution), the cops bring in a pretty insurance inspector (UK TV actress Keen) with a background in martial arts to bring in the sticky-fingered criminal.
From a stylistic standpoint, The Sex Thief stands out from its contemporaries primarily thanks to the lively directing and editing which usually intercut the sex scenes with other activity, such as a wrestling match or the two cops sitting in a bar getting sloshed. There's even a sped-up sequence with Warbeck wearing himself out that's clearly a riff on A Clockwork Orange, and it's certainly odd for Lucio Fulci fans to see the actor, star of such films as The Beyond and The Black Cat, running around in the buff for seemingly half the movie. He was already something of an established actor at the time thanks to roles in Twins of Evil, Duck You Sucker, and Russ Meyer's Blacksnake, and his gravitas and charm here manage to pull off a part that could have been really repulsive with a lesser actor. Even for the time, all of the ladies supply more wall-to-wall nudity than usual, too, including Keen (who's reportedly still happy she did the film), and it's all given a funky polish thanks to the score by Mike Vickers, a favorite of stock music collectors and composer of such films as Dracula A.D. 1972 and At the Earth's Core.
Easily one of the strongest titles in UK video label Redemption's offshoot erotic line, Jezebel, The Sex Thief made its DVD debut in America from Image Entertainment in 2006 courtesy of a strong anamorphic transfer from a well-preserved print, featuring four minutes of footage trimmed from the UK theatrical version. That same source later appeared in the UK on DVD directly from Redemption; incredibly, a version with hardcore inserts (not featuring the same actors) also made the rounds under titles like Handful of Diamonds and Her Family Jewels, though this his apparently not surfaced on DVD anywhere in the world to date.
The 2013 revisit from Redemption/Jezebel courtesy of their deal with Kino Lorber naturally means a Blu-ray release along with the obligatory DVD, and it's always a kick to see unlikely titles like this given the full 1080p red carpet treatment. The source print appears to be the same, with identical (very, very minor) blemishes; it still looks quite nice apart from the opening credits, whose opticals have always looked kind of dark and grungy. The framing also appears to be identical, but the boost in resolution is appreciable as this looks more like watching a fairly fresh 35mm print rather than something a couple more generations down the line. Oddly, the UK theatrical trailer from the Image release isn't carried over here, probably due to the lousy audio and multitude of scratches it displayed; the Blu-Ray release is strictly bare, though in this case that doesn't seem entirely inappropriate.
Reviewed on January 14, 2013.