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A Touch of Larceny

A Touch of Larceny is a 1959 British black-and-white comedy film, produced by Ivan Foxwell, directed by Guy Hamilton, that stars James Mason, George Sanders, and Vera Miles. The film co-stars Harry Andrews, Rachel Gurney, and John Le Mesurier and is based on the 1956 novel The Megstone Plot by Paul Winterton, written under the pseudonym Andrew Garve.

A Touch of Larceny
A Touch of Larceny FilmPoster.jpeg
Directed byGuy Hamilton
Produced byIvan Foxwell
Written byPaul Winterton (novel)
Ivan Foxwell (screenplay)
StarringJames Mason
George Sanders
Vera Miles
Music byPhilip Green
CinematographyJohn Wilcox
Edited byAlan Osbiston
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • December 1959 (1959-12) (UK)
  • 16 March 1960 (1960-03-16) (U.S.)
Running time
93 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
LanguageEnglish, Russian

A Touch of Larceny was nominated for the BAFTA award for Best British Screenplay but it lost out to The Angry Silence.


A British World War II naval war hero, Commander Max "Rammer" Easton (James Mason), is charming and a bit of a rake. He holds a mid-level staff position at the British Admiralty, but spends most of his free time playing squash and pursuing women.

While at his private club, he meets Sir Charles Holland (George Sanders) and later Holland's American companion, Virginia Killain (Vera Miles). As soon as Holland goes away for a few days, Max makes a play for Virginia, but she is engaged to be married to Holland and is offended by Max describing him as "dull". Undaunted, he continues to slowly charm her until she agrees to have lunch with him.

They later go sailing on Easton's sailboat, and he continues to put his charm on display. Max can tell that Virginia is impressed by Holland's old school wealth. He claims that it is easy to acquire money, which she challenges, so on the spot he comes up with an unscrupulous scheme to demonstrate to her just how easy it is: After suddenly disappearing under suspicious circumstances, he would leave behind clues and red herrings leading others to jump to the conclusion that he is a traitor, having stolen top secret British Admiralty documents from his division, then defected to the Soviet Union. The scandal would leak and spread though the British press like wildfire. Upon his sudden and surprising return, he would sue the press for libel, raking in thousands of pounds in out-of-court settlements.

To prove that he is quite serious about her, he decides to implements his complex scheme. Max is later publicly branded a traitor by the press, all according to his plan. Virginia is at first amused by all this, then she becomes annoyed when she realizes he has actually gone through with it. When she tells Sir Charles, he is outraged and says something must be done. Max's elaborate plan backfires, however, when just as he is about to return, he becomes marooned for real on an out-of-the-way rocky island off the Scottish coast and cannot get home.

After eventually being rescued, Max learns that Sir Charles has revealed to authorities everything that Virginia told him about Max's hoax. When confronted by authorities about his deception, Max cleverly frees himself from suspicion of any wrong-doing. He then continues to charm Virginia by saying he now plans on selling his story of survival and rescue to the very same press he originally intended to defraud. Against her better judgment, having now split from Sir Charles over the incident, she agrees to marry him, finding him irresistible.


Critical reactionEdit

In its March 17, 1960 review by A.H. Weiler, The New York Times observed about the film: "Mr. MacDougall and his collaborators have devised civilized and, on occasion, mildly funny lines for their cast to speak. The cast, including Harry Andrews, as a strictly Navy captain, and Robert Flemyng, John Le Mesurier and Peter Barkworth, as other officers, pitches in to the proceedings in polished, casual style. These actors, as well as the principals [James Mason, George Sanders, and Vera Miles] make this "Touch of Larceny" droll, if not devastating".

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