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José Raúl Capablanca,
Three Thieves (also known on You Tube as The Case Of The Three Million) is one of three known film adaptations of the 1907 novella "I Tre Ladri," by Italian writer Umberto Notari. A previous (lost?) Russian version was released before the Revolution in 1916, a much later Italian remake, designed as a vehicle for the popular comedian Toto, came out in 1954.One can see why the story appealed especially to the Russians as it parallels and then brings together crooked behavior from three parts of society: a poor bum, Tapioca, who lives by stealing; a classy society type, Cascarilla; and a wealthy elderly banker, Ornano.Ornano has just made a shady deal involving a few monks and has three million he stashes overnight, until his bank reopens, at his villa. Tapioca gets wind of this and plans to sneak over and get the money. Meanwhile the banker's wife, Noris, says goodbye to her lover, a military man named Guido, as she expects her husband's return. Ornano complicates things by deciding, after a dream, to go back to the villa and make sure the money is safe. In the meantime a letter Noris has sent her lover, advising him to meet her later that night at the villa, gets exchanged by mistake with one for Cascarilla, who we see playing cards. He decides to go to the villa and besides helping himself to the money flirt with the banker's wife. Tapioca and Cascarilla, who are acquainted from before as fellow crooks, run into each other in the still empty mansion. While Cascarilla occupies himself with the wife, Tapioca hides up on the roof, where he falls asleep and is caught the next morning by the police after Ornano realizes he has been robbed. The denouement hinges on Tapioca becoming a celebrity because of the size of the heist he is credited with pulling off; in the jail he is given special treatment and Noris even comes to visit him, mistakenly thinking the other, more handsome thief Cascarilla is the one in prison A charming touch shows Tapioca's abandoned apartment, where he kept a cat, full of fellow felines who have taken over while he is away! In the climax, a big trial scene, Cascarilla suddenly appears in court, claims he is the real thief, and showers the crowd with the money, In the hubbub he and Tapioca escape together. Cascarilla reveals on the road that the money he distributed was fake and that he has the real bills, which he divides with Tapioca. In the last scene we see Tapioca, now rich and elegant, almost ripped off by an elderly bum who filches a glove from his pocket. Tapioca hypocritically pronounces the moral of the tale, which is not so much that this particular glove is precious, but the principle, that we heard expressed before, that private property is sacred. When we think of Soviet works from this era we usually recall the heavier montage classics by Eisenstein,Pudovkin,and Dovzhenko, but there were also lighter, more entertaining titles like this one, that showed an equal degree of style. The director, Protazanov, had made movies before the Revolution, emigrated to France where he worked on a few films, then returned to Russia, where besides this one he is known for an early science fiction entry, Aelita.
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