The Thief Who Came to Dinner

The Thief Who Came to Dinner is a 1973 American comedy film directed by Bud Yorkin. Based on the novel by Terrence Lore Smith, the film stars Ryan O'Neal and Jacqueline Bisset, with Charles Cioffi, Warren Oates, and in an early appearance, Jill Clayburgh.

The Thief Who Came to Dinner
Directed byBud Yorkin
Produced byNorman Lear
Bud Yorkin
Written byWalter Hill
Based onnovel by Terrence Lore Smith
StarringRyan O'Neal
Jacqueline Bisset
Warren Oates
CinematographyPhilip H. Lathrop
Edited byJohn Horger
Bud Yorkin Productions
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • March 1, 1973 (1973-03-01)
Running time
104 minutes
Box office$1,750,000 (US/ Canada rentals)[1]


Webster McGee (Ryan O'Neal) is a computer programmer who abruptly quits his job and adopts a life of crime as a jewel thief in Houston, Texas.

For his first job he robs rich businessman Henderling (Charles Cioffi), stealing from him not only money, but also files with information that could destroy Henderling's career. McGee uses them to blackmail him but instead of money he asks for introduction into high society—aiming to find a way to rob other rich houses.

He soon meets Laura (Jacqueline Bisset) at a society function hosted by Henderling. She falls in love with McGee and then helps him to burglarize several friends of Henderling.

Texas Mutual Insurance investigator Dave Reilly (Warren Oates) is intent on identifying Webster as the jewel thief, but in the course of investigation Reilly and McGee develop a sort of friendship. Reilly must decide whether to be loyal to his job or his new friend.



In November 1970 it was announced Yorkin and Lear's Tandem Productions had bought the rights to the novel and would make it in association with Warner Bros.[2] Yorkin later said the wanted to make the film as a tribute to "that great Cary Grant escape period."[3]

Oliver Hailey wrote the first draft of the script.[4] The novel was published in March 1971 and the New York Times said "there is something engaging about all this nonsense".[5]

Walter Hill was hired to write a number of subsequent drafts, and received sole credit.[4]

The casting of Warren Oates and Ryan O'Neal was announced in December 1971.[6] Charlotte Rampling was originally announced as the female lead.[7] Rampling fell pregnant and was replaced by Jacqueline Bissett.[8]

Filming took place on location in Houston.[9]

During filming, Yorkin and Lear had the number one, two and four show in the country (All in the Family, Sanford and Son and Maude). "I don't think it's the greatest picture in the world but it is very entertaining," said Yorkin.[3]

Bisset later admitted her role in the film was "undeveloped" and said she had some qualms about the morality of the movie. "I think stealing is dishonest. But it's only a movie." However she enjoyed shooting in Houston saying "I thought it would be ghastly. But the people were so terribly nice to us. Their houses were just unreal."[10]


Walter Hill later said "Warren Oates was very good in the movie - better than the movie was. They cut a lot of things of his out of the movie they shouldn't have."[4]

The Los Angeles Times wrote that the film was "as amusing to watch as it is disturbing to think about afterwards" and that O'Neal and Bissett made "a terrific team."[11]

O'Neal later listed the film as among those he said he should not have done.[12]


  1. "Big Rental Films of 1973", Variety, 9 January 1974 p 19
  2. MOVIE CALL SHEET: Duvall to Play Jesse James Martin, Betty. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Los Angeles, Calif. [Los Angeles, Calif]28 Nov 1970: a6.
  3. Bud Yorkin, wonder boy: No. 1 and trying harder Sauer, Georgia. Chicago Tribune (1963-Current file); Chicago, Ill. [Chicago, Ill]25 Mar 1973: f19.
  4. "Hard Riding", Greco, Mike, Film Comment 16.3 (May/Jun 1980): 13-19,80.
  5. Criminals At Large By NEWGATE CALLENDAR. New York Times (1923-Current file); New York, N.Y. [New York, N.Y]21 Mar 1971: BR26.
  6. McQueen -- The Man Who Got Away By A. H. WEILER. New York Times (1923-Current file); New York, N.Y. [New York, N.Y]26 Dec 1971: D15.
  7. Lee Grant Directs: Who's Directing? A Lady Named Lee Grant By A. H. WEILER. New York Times (1923-Current file); New York, N.Y. [New York, N.Y]23 Jan 1972: D11.
  8. Candice to Track Chaplin in U. S. Haber, Joyce. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Los Angeles, Calif. [Los Angeles, Calif]08 Mar 1972: f11.
  9. Everything is 'multi': Rich Houston: city gushing with oilmen Movie fan's travel guide Jim; Shirley; Higgins, Rose. Chicago Tribune (1963-Current file); Chicago, Ill. [Chicago, Ill]18 Mar 1973: c5.
  10. Movies: The decisive, decorative, diplomatic Miss Bisset Kramer, Carol. Chicago Tribune (1963-Current file); Chicago, Ill. [Chicago, Ill]11 Mar 1973: e6.
  11. Crook Aims High in 'The Thief' Thomas, Kevin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Los Angeles, Calif. [Los Angeles, Calif]07 Mar 1973: f10.
  12. MOVIES: Ryan revives--what happened to this guy, anyway? Siskel, Gene. Chicago Tribune (1963-Current file); Chicago, Ill. [Chicago, Ill]30 Sep 1984: l5.
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