It Takes a Thief

I’ve been a fan of Japanese anime since the 1980s, but in the last decade or so I’ve come to appreciate it even more (because what’s been coming out of Hollywood lately so often has little redeeming value). As fans of the genre know, anime can be as creative and engaging as any form of storytelling you care to name.

Lately, I’ve begun exploring the Japanese media franchise, Lupin the Third (aka Lupin III or Lupin the 3rd). It began back in 1967 and comprises multiple manga, at least six anime TV series, over a dozen films, and other related media.

It taps into our love of master thieves. The fictional monkey-faced Lupin III is acknowledged worldwide as the greatest (and most fun) thief in the world.

My enjoyment of the master thief genre goes back to my distant grade school youth and the Leslie Charteris (1907-1993) books about Simon Templer — alias “The Saint”. I loved those books and devoured each one the library had. I was also a big fan of the TV show based on those books, The Saint (1962-1969). It starred Roger Moore (1927-2017), who was perfect for the role: debonair, sly, romantic. I still think it was his greatest role.

[More recently, there was an indifferent 1997 movie that starred Val Kilmer and Elisabeth Shue. It’s watchable, mostly because of the stars, but it’s rather a large departure from Charteris’s original character.]

I was also a big fan of another TV show about a master thief: It Takes a Thief (1968-1970), starring Robert Wagner as Alexander Munday (also perfect casting). While “The Saint” was ever a thief (albeit a Robin Hood figure with a heart of gold), Munday was a thief who worked for the government as a spy in return for his release from prison.

I loved that show. It combined the master thief genre with the spy genre, another favorite of mine. I was also a big fan of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1964-1968) and Mission: Impossible (1966-1973). April Dancer (Stefanie Powers), The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. (1966-1967), was one of my childhood crushes. Back then I wanted to be either a spy or a thief. (And I did indulge a bit in the latter during my college days until a brush with the long arm of the law brought me to my senses.)

As I wrote the above paragraph, another TV show from my youth popped into my mind: T.H.E. Cat (1966-1967), starring Robert Loggia as a former circus aerialist (who disdained using a net). He became an expert cat burglar, got caught, served time, reformed, and now works as a bodyguard/private eye. Sadly, it only lasted one season.

A master thief movie from my youth: To Catch a Thief (1955), directed by the great Alfred Hitchcock and starring the also great Cary Grant and Grace Kelly. The film is based on a same-named 1952 novel by David Dodge. Grant plays a retired jewel thief who seeks to save his reputation by catching an inferior imposter.

I’ll also mention the Pink Panther movies that starred Peter Sellers, but outside of the always delightful Peter Sellers, I was never really a fan (the 1963 original is a classic, though).


More recently, I’ve greatly enjoyed the “Bernie the Burglar” murder mysteries by Lawrence Block. They feature Bernie Rhodenbarr, a New York master thief who tries constantly to give up burglary but is addicted to the thrill (and it is indeed a heart-pounding thrill). In each story (12 novels now) a murder occurs, Bernie gets blamed (usually because he was there stealing something), and he has to solve the mystery to clear his name.

They’re a lot of fun. Highly recommended for master thief or murder mystery fans. Because of the humor and tongue-in-cheek approach, they, and the books and original TV show about “The Saint”, are probably the closest relatives to the Lupin the Third stories. (And I will get back to those eventually.)

I must also mention another fictional thief, A.J. Raffles, created by E.W. Hornung (1866-1921; brother-in-law to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle). Hornung introduced Raffles back in 1898, and the stories are fun but, as is typical of stories written so long ago, sometimes a challenge to read (due to sorely dated language and references).

[In my notes, I mistakenly had David Niven starring in It Takes a Thief when it’s actually Cary Grant. Probably because Niven starred in Raffles (1939), and I conflate Raffles with the (totally different) character that Grant played, John “The Cat” Robie. Different authors, different characters!]


There are a lot of thief and heist movies these days. Most famously, perhaps, the Ocean’s franchise, based on Ocean’s 11 (1960), starring the Rat Pack. Steven Soderbergh rebooted it in Ocean’s Eleven (2001), Twelve (2004), and Thirteen (2007). There’s also an all-female version, Ocean’s 8 (2018). They’re all sufficiently fun, especially for genre fans.

Two movies I can never keep straight: Heist (2001), starring Gene Hackman and Danny DeVito, and The Score (also 2001), starring Robert De Niro and Edward Norton. Probably because they came out in the same year. The former was directed by David Mamet, who (along with the aforementioned Steven Soderbergh) is a director worth exploring.

[Mamet, known for his dialog and twisty plots, did Glengarry Glen Ross (1992), Wag the Dog (1997), The Spanish Prisoner (1997), Ronin (1998), and State and Main (2000). All must-see films for any cinephile. The Spanish Prisoner is a favorite. Steve Martin as an evil Bad Guy!]

Speaking of Robert De Niro, Heat (1995), also starring Al Pacino, and directed by Michael Mann, is possibly one of the best heist films ever. The scene between Pacino and De Niro is a special treat.

There are myriad others. Among them: The Italian Job (both the 1969 original and the 2003 remake with a different plot); Quick Change (1990), a cute Bill Murray vehicle; Tower Heist (2011), a Brett Ratner film with a stellar cast; and Inside Man (2006), a Spike Lee film also with a stellar cast. All worth seeing for genre fans, but only the last one is notably good (and perhaps also the original The Italian Job staring Michael Caine and Noël Coward).

Lastly, I’ll mention the first heist film I ever saw: Topkapi (1964), which stars Melina Mercouri, Peter Ustinov, Maximilian Schell, and others. (For some reason I thought John Wayne was also in this, but I’m apparently conflating it with the 1962 film Hatar! — no idea why, they aren’t similar.)

§ §

Anyway, as you can see, I was very much a fan of the master thief (and heist) genre. Hard to say whether they were an influence or that my innate proclivities drove my interest. (I lean towards the latter. I don’t really believe in “gateway drugs” but suspect it has more to do with one’s basic approach to life.)

Which at long last, brings us back to the Lupin the Third franchise.


I’ve only begun to explore the vast mountain of content here, and I’m certainly not well-read into the epic. From what I’ve seen so far, it’s primarily a lighthearted comedy, although it has its dramatic moments and occasional heart-touching poignancies. Some of the story arcs have been very good.

Lupin III, created by Kazuhiko Kato (aka Monkey Punch), is a fictional master thief based on, and in fact the grandson of, fictional gentleman thief Arsène Lupin, created by Maurice Leblanc (1864-1941).

[I’m not familiar with the Leblanc stories (so many thieves, so little time), but his character is similar to the above-mentioned A.J. Raffles. They’re vaguely connected in that Arsène Lupin encounters Sherlock Holmes in several of Leblanc’s stories. (Recall that E.W. Hornung was A.C. Doyle’s bro-in-law.) Because Doyle complained about copyright violation, later editions changed the character to Herlock Sholmes.]

Lupin (apparently pronounced “loo-pan“) is a gentleman and a fun-loving brilliant thief capable of — even drawn to — “impossible” heists. At least in the anime versions. Apparently, the manga stories are more violent and sexually explicit.

Lupin the 3rd Part I. (left-to-right) Daisuke Jigen, Fujiko Mine, Lupin III, Goemon Ishikawa XIII, and Inspector Koichi Zenigata.

I’m currently working through Lupin the 3rd Part I: The classic Adventures (1971-1972), which is the first of the anime series. There is a trace of the (usually very cartoonish) violence and sexually suggestive notions of the manga. (I’ve never been able to get into manga, so here I’m going by what Wikipedia says.) The animation is decidedly old-style and very reminiscent of cartoons from our (baby boomers’) youth.

Lupin the 3rd Part IV. Lupin III (left) and Jigen (right) fleeing from Inspector Zenigata (rear left). Fujiko (center) is behind the wheel.

Before that I watched Lupin the 3rd Part IV: The Italian Adventure (2015), which has modern animation style and is more “family friendly” in content. Not that Part I is so bad, it’s too cartoonish for that, but the later versions of Lupin and crew are more fun. (And people don’t get blowed up, which happens a lot in Part I.)

The intro of most episodes of Part IV features a quote by Lupin III: “Great artists are like great thieves; they both know how to steal people’s souls.” (I would have thought “hearts” was better but perhaps that’s a translation thing.) It’s an interesting line in view of the overall story arc (but I won’t spoil why).

I recommend Part IV for its better storylines and more modern animation. I think Part I might be best for fans who really want to explore the whole canon.

Lupin III: The First. (left-to-right) Fujiko, Inspector Zenigata, Lupin II, Jigen, and Goemon. (Note the 3DCG animation style.)

I’ve also seen Lupin III: The First (2019), a 3D computer-generated (3DCG) animated feature film. A Chinese YouTuber, a film student who does really good videos about Asian films recommended it as a good introduction to the franchise. On his recommendation, it was the first of the Lupin franchise I watched, and I agree.


The main characters: Lupin III, the master thief; Daisuke Jigen, expert with all manner of firearms; Goemon Ishikawa XIII, a master samurai swordsman (his sword can cut through anything), Fujiko Mine, both a rival thief and love interest for Lupin; and the hapless Inspector Koichi Zenigata, whose mission in life is to capture Lupin and bring him to justice. (You see them in the images above.)

They’re all well-developed characters who sometimes have their own adventures (especially Fujiko). As I said in the intro, Japanese anime offers a world of creative and engaging stories, and the Lupin franchise is a delightful example. Highly recommended for any fan of the anime or master thief genres.

§ §

I end with two notes I made while thinking about this post:

There’s an interesting change in ethics from the 1960s era movies, where ‘the thieves always lose’ (or, if they succeed, they somehow lose the goods), to ‘crime does pay’, where the thieves typically succeed. The shift is notable in many of the movies listed above. I think media does, to some extent, shape us (especially if it’s our primary content), but it certainly it reflects our current cultural values. It speaks to who we think we are. (And who the hell do we think we are?)


Despite my love of the genre, real-life greed is bad. (Even in my bad old days, it was about the thrill, not the material gain. Which, frankly, never amounted to much.) Every religious or spiritual path I know disdains greed.

The modern notion that anything less than max profit is a loss is, to me, a mental illness. The phrase “greed is good” is an expression of that sickness. It’s famously one of the Seven Deadly Sins. Plus, “eye of the needle”. (There are cultures, such as the Navajo, who consider greed literally a mental illness.) Materialism is one of the several roads to hell (and one that isn’t paved in good intentions).

Simply put: Greed, in all its many manifestations, is immoral. Period.

Greed leads to inequality, barriers, cheating, theft, and lies. Greed is what corrupted Scrooge and immortalized his name. It’s bad, m’kay?

§ §

Why do I invariably spell it “theif”? I mean, seriously, shouldn’t the ‘e’ be first?

Stay honest, my friends! Go forth and spread beauty and light.

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

13 responses to “It Takes a Thief

  • Wyrd Smythe

    “Thief” — I know it’s “eye before ee except after cee” but try to convince my fingers. I typed it wrong almost each time I used it in the post. 😣

  • Katherine Wikoff

    What a fun list! “Heat” has one of the best “chase” scenes ever, too.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Oh, yes, you’re right, it really does! Great movie. One of those I’ve watched several times.

      Here’s a great trivia question for cinephiles: How many movies did Robert De Niro and Al Pacino appear in together? Four! The Godfather Part II (1974), Heat (1995), Righteous Kill (2008), and The Irishman (2019).

      At least two of those are classics! I’ve never seen the last one, but I think I have seen the third one. My memory for movies and books is awful (which has the benefit of letting me enjoy movies I’ve already seen all over again).

  • Mark Edward Jabbour

    Yes, HEAT, = great. But wasn’t that a case where crime does not pay? But then, the thieves seem to have no regrets, even though (spoiler) they lose their lives.

    So briefly 2 cents on greed. The emotion/state goes back to, yes, agriculture. With that humans could stash food for the future. And so on and so forth. Was there ever enough for what might come? Likewise with money – is there ever enough?

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Definitely, Heat has a tragic outcome. Keep in mind, though, that it’s a 1995 film, and that Mann wrote the script back in 1979, so it’s not quite what I mean by the shift in modern films. There is also that Heat is as much (if not more) a character study as it is a heist film. The Ocean’s films (2001, 2004, 2007), or Inside Man (2006), are good examples of the modern shift. IIRC, in the original Ocean’s 11 (1960), the thieves are successful, but lose the money anyway.

      Greed does indeed go back to the Agricultural Revolution because so also do significant material goods. I would expect greed manifested in petty personal ways earlier as jealousies and envies, which we also see in animals. And, yeah, that’s exactly the problem with greed: there’s never “enough”.

  • TomBoy

    Miyazaki generally ROCKS

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Oh, very much so! Lots of his films get mentioned as favorites. Spirited Away is an oft-mentioned classic. Every time someone mentions him I think I should get out the DVDs and watch those again.

      Are you a fan of anime? Science fiction? Master thief and/or heist stories?

      • TomBoy

        Not as such. Just love Miyazaki. Did you see “The Wind Rises?”

      • Wyrd Smythe

        I don’t think so. I looked it up; doesn’t ring a bell. I looked at the relevant shelf. I’ve got Nausicaä, Spirited Away, and Howl’s Moving Castle. I’ve seen others, but all earlier than that one. 2013. Wow. I donno about you but weird that it’s ten years ago. Seems recent, 2013 is such a modern date, but a lotta water over the dam in a decade. (My pal Bentley’s entire life takes place in that decade!)

  • Wyrd Smythe

    With regard to the above post, I recently enjoyed a great double-feature: Raffles (1939), with David Niven and Olivia de Havilland, and To Catch a Thief (1955), starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly. Both are available on Amazon Prime.

    The latter was directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and I’d forgotten how funny the Hitchcock cameo is. He appears seated next to Cary Grant at the back of a bus. The camera has framed Grant looking to his right (camera left) at an older woman and at the caged birds she’s holding between them. Then Grant slowly turns to his left — seeming to pause briefly for a direct look into the camera (or very nearly). The camera pans right to follow his glance to reveal Hitchcock obliviously starring dead ahead. Hold for a moment; end of scene.

    It’s tempting to think it’s an allusion to The Birds, but Hitchcock didn’t direct that until 1963. To Catch a Thief is pretty tongue-in-cheek, kind of a comedy for all its drama (Wiki calls it a romantic thriller). The bit with the birds might be a reference to the story “being for the birds.”

    Regardless, it’s a cute bit, one of the better Hitchcock cameos. He was 55 when he made To Catch a Thief and had been making movies since he was 30 or so. Lot of experience!

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Regarding the shift in crime movies, the two above in contrast to The Gentlemen (2019), a modern crime movie written and directed by Guy Ritchie.

      [SPOILERS] Niven’s Raffles finds love and goes straight (but still has to pay for his crimes). Grant’s John Robie has already gone straight, but to clear his name has to catch the cat burglar pretending to be him. In both cases, the message is clear, crime doesn’t pay. In The Gentlemen however, the top crime boss remains the king of the jungle, and his gang is successful. Crime pays beautifully!

  • TV Tuesday 4/25/23 | Logos con carne

    […] In the It Takes a Thief post I mentioned two great old movies: Raffles (1939), with David Niven, and To Catch a Thief (1955), with Cary Grant, and directed by Alfred Hitchcock. For once “the algorithm” was my friend. Prime off-handedly mentioned it just happened to have both movies in case I’d care to watch them. Well, yes, I would, thank you! […]

  • TV Tuesday 5/16/23 | Logos con carne

    […] Back in March I posted about the Japanese manga/anime franchise Lupin the Third (aka Lupin III aka Lupin the 3rd). And about my love of stories about clever thieves, a love clearly shared by many given all the stories and movies made over the years — from Robin Hood to Inside Man (2006) and beyond. […]

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