In The Thief Who Came To Dinner, Ryan O’Neal plays Webster McGee, a Houston-based computer programmer. After deciding that living in a capitalist society means that everyone steals from everyone else, Webster quits his boring job and decides to become a real thief. Figuring that they can afford to lose a little wealth, Webster only targets the rich and powerful. After he steals some incriminating documents from a crooked businessman (Charles Cioffi), Webster uses those documents to blackmail his way into high society. Soon, Webster owns a mansion of his own and is living with a gorgeous heiress (Jacqueline Bisset, who played a lot of gorgeous heiresses back in the day). Webster also has an insurance investigator after him. Dave Reilly (Warren Oates) knows that Webster is a thief but he also can not prove it. As Dave obsessively stalks him, Webster plots one final heist.
Until I saw it on TCM on Monday, I had never heard of The Thief Who Came To Dinner. Directed in a breezy style by Bud Yorkin, The Thief Who Came To Dinner was an early script from Walter Hill. Though the film is much more comedic than his best known work, it’s still easily recognizable as coming from Hill’s imagination. The obsessive Dave and the coolly professional Webster are both prototypical Hill characters and their adversarial yet friendly rivalry would be duplicated in several subsequent Hill films.
The Thief Who Came To Dinner is an engaging movie that doesn’t add up to much. The normally stiff Ryan O’Neal gives one of his better performances, though he struggles to hold his own whenever he has to act opposite the far more energetic Warren Oates. Ned Beatty, Gregory Sierra, John Hillerman, Michael Murphy, and Austin Pendleton all appear in minor roles, making the film’s cast a veritable who’s who of 70s character actors. And, of course, the film features Jacqueline Bisset at her loveliest.
The Thief Who Came To Dinner may not be well-known but it is an enjoyable and satisfying piece of 70s entertainment.