I recently watched The Thief Who Came to Dinner for the first time. This 1973 film was written by the great Walter Hill (and it’s got the punchy script to show for it), directed by an unsung Bud Yorkin,* and stars Ryan O’Neal, Jacqueline Bisset, and Warren Oats. It’s also got a great performance by Ned Beatty, and some sound supporting work by Jill Clayburgh, John Hillerman, Gregory Sierra, and the always wonderful Austin Pendleton as a frustrated chess master trying to outwit O’Neal’s cat burglar through a game of correspondence chess. There’s even a brief appearance by Michael Murphy in the film’s opening scenes. In other words, a killer’s row of great ‘70s talent.
It also features a funky Henry Mancini score, and some occasionally brilliant cinematography by Philip H. Lathrop, who mostly shot comedies like The Pink Panther and I Love You, Alice B. Toklas, but also did some thrilling work on films like The Cincinnati Kid and Point Blank. The experience of shooting a mix of comedy and action serves him well in this sexy comedic thriller.
But I watched the film** mainly because the production design and (uncredited) costume design is by Polly Platt. Platt’s work in New Hollywood cinema is my case study for the first year of this project. I’ve written elsewhere about her work with Peter Bogdanovich – Platt did production design, writing (sometimes credited, often not), and uncredited costume design and location scouting for Bogdanovich’s first four, highly celebrated films: Targets (1968), The Last Picture Show (1971), What’s Up, Doc? (1972), and Paper Moon (1973).
The Bogdanovich films have been written about extensively since their release. Furthermore, the DVDs of all four films include a variety of special features, including director’s commentaries, and Bogdanovich is quite open about how much input Platt had into the making of the films. The Thief Who Came to Dinner, on the other hand, has benefitted from very little commentary – scholarly, critical, or otherwise – so determining the precise nature of Platt’s input involves a fair bit of deduction. Continue reading