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It Takes a Thief
Genre Drama/Adventure
Created by Roland Kibbee
Starring Robert Wagner
Malachi Throne
Fred Astaire
Ed Binns
Theme music composer Dave Grusin
Composer(s) Dave Grusin
Benny Golson
Oliver Nelson
Billy Goldenberg
Lyn Murray
Ernie Freeman
Country of origin  United States
Language(s) English
No. of seasons 3
No. of episodes 66 (List of episodes)
Executive producer(s) Jack Arnold
Gordon Oliver
Frank Price
Producer(s) Gene L. Coon
Leonard Horn
Glen A. Larson
Paul Mason
Winston Miller
Leslie Stevens
Running time 60 min.
Original channel ABC
Original run January 9, 1968 – March 24, 1970

It Takes a Thief is an American action-adventure television series that aired on ABC for two and a half seasons between January 9, 1968, to March 24, 1970. It was among the last of the 1960s spy television genre, although Mission: Impossible continued for several years. It Takes A Thief was inspired by, though not based upon, the 1955 Cary Grant motion picture To Catch a Thief, directed by Alfred Hitchcock; both of their titles stem from the English proverb: "It takes a thief to catch a thief."



It Takes a Thief, which was created by television writer Roland Kibbee, featured the adventures of cat burglar, pickpocket, and thief Alexander Mundy (Robert Wagner) who steals to finance his life as a polished playboy and sophisticate. He is in prison when the U.S. government's SIA (secret intelligence agency) proposes a deal to Mundy: steal for the government in exchange for his freedom. Mundy is puzzled, and asks, "Let me get this straight. You want me to steal?" In the main opening titles, his new SIA boss, Noah Bain (Malachi Throne), uses the catch phrase, "Hey, look, Al, I'm not asking you to spy ... I'm just asking you to steal!" In pre-production, the title began as Once a Crook.[1]

The series opened with its pilot episode, a ninety-minute (with commercials) special premiere titled "A Thief is a Thief is a Thief," whose source story Kibbee wrote and dramatized and which Leslie Stevens directed. When the series was released into syndication in the 1970s, the pilot episode was withheld from the series' syndication package, and was expanded into a 99-minute feature film for overseas release and was eventually released in a separate domestic syndication package, under the title Magnificent Thief. This feature film version of the pilot episode was released on home video in the 1990s.

Later, in the series' third season, Throne was replaced by Edward Binns as Mundy's SIA boss, Wallie Powers. Also during the third season, Fred Astaire played Alistair Mundy, Alexander's father, also a master gentleman-thief, who says bemusedly, at the start of each episode in which he appears, "I've heard of stealing from the government, but stealing for the government?" It was the Astaire-less episodes of this final year that featured Wagner's "You want me to steal?" line.

The following is drawn from Dean Brierly's writings in Cinema Retro magazine on Friday, July 18. 2008.

"For all Wagner's abilities, however, It Takes a Thief was its most effective when Throne made his powerful presence as Noah Bain manifest. Wagner's stage-trained primary cast-mate, whose trademarks included a deep distinctive voice, was a working actor in many "cult" television productions during the 1960s and 1970s. His burly physique and stolid slab-like face enabled Throne to excel as gruff authority figures, and his keen intelligence and surprisingly wide emotional range added fascinating layers to his performances. The potent onscreen chemistry he and Wagner displayed gave a real edge to their characters's adversarial relationship. Bain, whom Magnificent Thief had shown to be the police detective who had brought about Mundy's arrest and imprisonment, was hard-nosed, with a ruthless streak, and he frequently threatened to return Mundy to prison if the latter stepped out of line. Yet he also maintained a healthy respect for Mundy’s criminal talents, as well as a grudging affection for the master criminal himself."

Binns’s Powers proved to be no match for Throne's Bain. Ironically, Throne’s own rebellious streak proved to be what resulted in his leaving the show. As Throne explained: “They had this idea of shooting the whole season in Italy, but they wanted me to stay behind and give Wagner’s character...orders over the phone. I told them if I didn’t go I’d quit, and I did. The show didn’t last another half a season.”[2] Throne was incorrect, as the third season was a full one, and when part of it was in the event filmed in Europe, Binns made the trip. He is especially prominent in the episode which introduced Astaire as Alistair Mundy, and guest-starred Italian actor Adolfo Celi.

Movie remake

Universal is reportedly planning to produce a feature film remake of It Takes a Thief, with Will Smith as Alexander Mundy. Variety reported in March 2006:[3]

Smith and his Overbrook Entertainment partner James Lassiter have come aboard to produce the film with Kevin Misher, John Davis and Joe Singer. Four Brothers scribes David Elliot and Paul Lovett are set to write the script.



  • This show marks the TV debut of veteran movie actor Robert Wagner. He would later co-star/star in two more successful series, Switch (1975-1978) and Hart to Hart (1979-1984), and would also have a hugely successful movie career in the 1990s.
  • The USA Network series White Collar, which premiered on October 23, 2009, follows a strikingly similar premise.[4] As 20th Century Fox is the producer/owner of the new program, the status of concerns about possible infringement of the copyright and/or plagiarism are unknown.


  1. ^ Weiner, Ed; Editors of TV Guide (1992). The TV Guide TV Book: 40 Years of the All-Time Greatest Television Facts, Fads, Hits, and History. New York: Harper Collins. p. 174. ISBN 0-06-096914-8.  
  3. ^ Fleming, Michael; Gabriel Snyder (2006-03-21). "U finds man of steal for 'Thief' feature". Variety. Retrieved 2008-04-17.  
  4. ^

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