The Thief (1952)

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Ray Milland plays Dr. Allan Fields, a nuclear physicist who works for the United States Atomic Energy Commission in Washington, D.C. But Fields is also a spy working for an unnamed foreign power.

Through elaborate tradecraft, Fields, as ordered by his case officer, takes sets of photos of top-secret documents, using a Minox camera, and passes these through a network of foreign-power couriers to New York City, and thereafter overseas to an enemy country. The latest canister of microfilm which Fields sends out is intercepted by authorities after the courier is killed in a freak traffic accident in Manhattan, with the undeveloped microfilm canister in his hand. The FBI develops the microfilm, analyzes its contents, and constructs a list of probable suspects within the AEC, one of whom is the custodian of the subject document, and who is taken away, which Fields observes, to be interrogated at FBI headquarters.

Having apparently been cleared of espionage charges, the custodian's subordinates, including Fields and his immediate AEC colleagues, have all come under suspicion by the FBI, and agents are assigned to "tail" each one, but it quickly becomes apparent that Fields is the "prime suspect". Fields' case officer becomes aware of this, too, and sends him a "flash message", in a Western Union telegram, to destroy all his "spy-craft" apparatus and to leave immediately for a "safe house" in New York City.

Now scared and paranoid, Fields stays overnight in the safe house, a cheap hotel, waiting for a "signal" from his case officer on the hotel's hall phone. After Fields has been signaled by his case officer, his trail eventually leads to the Empire State Building. While at the 86th-floor observation deck, Fields meets his contact, Miss Philips. The alert FBI agent spots Fields and pursues Fields who climbs even higher, reaching the 102nd-floor observation deck, and, finally, the spire where Fields fights off the agent, causing the agent to plummet to his death. Fields exits the building with money and false identity documents, his "escape", which will get him out of the country, but he has been shaken by the sight of the dead agent, and feels remorse.

Fields finally breaks down after realizing what he has done, destroys his escape, and surrenders to the FBI the next day.


Ray Milland as Allan Fields (Nuclear physicist/spy for the Soviet Union)
Martin Gabel as Mr. Bleek (Soviet agent/case officer)
Harry Bronson as Harris (FBI agent)
Rita Vale as Miss Philips (Soviet agent/courier)
Rex O'Malley as Beal (Soviet agent/courier)
Rita Gam as the Girl (MacGuffin)
John McKutcheon as Dr. Linstrum (Fields' superior/document custodian)
Joe Conlin as Walters

In February 2020, the film was shown at the 70th Berlin International Film Festival, as part of a retrospective dedicated to director King Vidor's career.

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