I can think of a handful of cult film directors who each have made hundreds of films; movies that a majority of filmgoers would be hard pressed to admit having seen. From Jess Franco to Joe Sarno all the way to Joe D’Amato, there were a few gods of the drive-ins who spent their entire lives – whether through intention, style, or lack of financial resources – dedicated to the art of z-grade, critically defamed cinematic offal.
Not that there is anything wrong with that.
Without these brave pioneering souls, film (at least for me) would have likely been a whole lot less fun, if not certainly less fierce. However, every now and then, there were directors who flourished in the B-movie era and were able to somehow evolve into creating the multi-million blockbusters that most aspiring directors can only dream of. For example, if you were to look at the recent films CASINO ROYALE and GOLDENEYE it seems all but inconceivable that they were directed by a man who was not just a refugee but a survivor from the B movie age, a gentleman by the name of Martin Campbell. While the Bond films are incredibly well respected mainstream action movies, unrivaled both in scope, budget and combined running time, here is a another film from Campbell’s earlier works - his first film in fact – and a secret agent thriller (oddly enough). Let us Take a look at this SEX THIEF and see if he steals our heart along with 89 more minutes of our lives.
This is the story of Grant Henry, a handsome sophisticated jewel thief who only robs the houses of bored, affluent women all over London. In addition to stealing whatever precious trinkets his female victims possess, he also has sex with them. While immediately this smacks of some kind of rape or at least a basic medical definition of the Stockholm Syndrome, it should be stated that his victims in this film are all insatiable housewives with tired, unfortunate looking husbands and they not only freely welcome his fleeting embrace, they are so thankful afterward that they all give the police a false description of the robber, perhaps in the hope he will one day come back to them. Despite his considerable charms and polite “gentleman bandit” demeanor, not every woman is a fan of his work. Emily Barrow is a pretty claim adjustor for an insurance company who is nearly going broke after having to pay for all of Mr Henry’s misdeeds and she makes it a private obsession to catch him, if you will pardon the expression “in the act”.
Who will emerge victorious, in this winner take all game of seduction, deception and intrigue when these two finally meet? I will respect the film enough not to spill it for anyone, except it is truly a fitting “climax” perhaps in every sense of the word.
I was tricked into thinking this film was just another Roger Cormanesque inspired silly sex romp by the “wacky sex chase” box art and blurbs but this is actually a very capable comedy in its own right with tight dialogue, a better plot and an ultimate resolution that was charming and understated, two “fancy” adjectives I rarely use in real life to describe anything, and never before in my reviews until now. It should be restated that while this film’s premise seems terribly misogynistic at face value, there is actually no force, violence nor harshness in the scenes where Grant Henry takes “advantage” of a new lover, all of whom happily forfeit the jewels so masterful and “tender” is his touch. While not “realistic” per se, ultimately this film seems to emphasize a strange “equality” to the dignity to the timeless battle of the sexes and the ending should be satisfying to viewers of either sex without being too corny not condescending. The camera work is exceptional enough to make note of, especially during the scene where a woman’s husband is on a “guys night out” watching a wrestling match, meanwhile his wife stays home to “entertain” Mr. Henry. In this scene the camera reverts back and forth emphasizing the similarities between the two scenes of “sweaty bodies in motion” with the most memoir able use of a “match cut” I have seen in an anonymous cult film since the cockfighting scene in TOO HOT TO HANDLE.
In the end it is all too apparent just how much this film may have been inspired by classic James Bond movies and it is no surprise that director Martin Campbell would eventually direct a couple of 007’s more recent and successful outings over thirty years later. Grant Henry is a perfect version of a kinder, gentler British man of infinite trickery who never actually “hurts” anyone and his every double entendre and suggestive remark is immediately reminiscent of Bond at his bawdiest. The coupling of plenty of unrated full frontal movie nudity, an OCEAN’S ELEVEN inspired plot of nonviolent crime and a likable rogue antihero with a heart of gold makes this a rare, mainstream work of sexploitation paradise and infinitely more entertaining than mainstream love stories such as THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR which surprisingly this film reminds me of.
There is an X rated version of this film called HANDFULL OF DIAMONDS which is normally a deal breaker for me when I review the soft-core version. Yet because the XXX version was spliced together using footage of actresses not actually appearing in the movie I have decided not to penalize it, as ultimately this is the truer copy.
There are no “extras” whatsoever save for the one female character with so much excessive pubic hair that it looked like she was trying to hide her goods from “The Sex Thief” in what I am guessing he would have regarded as the ultimate “hidden vault”.