Movie Critique - The Burglar

Stars: 3 / 5

Recommendation: A tale of an honorable thief mixed with unwarranted romance and confusing plot lines, the film is not a bad film noir. Yet not something I would watch earnestly.

The Burglar is a 1957 American crime thriller film noir directed by Paul Wendkos, produced by Louis W. Kellman and released by Columbia Pictures. With Dan Duryea, Jayne Mansfield, Martha Vickers and Peter Capell among others in the cast, the film was based on the 1953 novel of the same name by David Goodis.

Nat Habrin (portrayed by Dan Duryea). a professional burglar plans to steal a heavily jeweled necklace that came into possession of Sister Sara and her spiritualist group. Aided by his mentor's daughter Gladden (portrayed by Jayne Mansfield), and two associates Baylock (portrayed by Peter Capell) and Dohmer (portrayed by Mickey Shaughnessy), he devices a plan. But things start falling apart when a mysterious person follows their every step; tensions rip apart the gang; and mixed feelings towards his mentor's daughter creates havoc in Habrin's mind and life post robbery.

This is directorial debut for Wendkos. Screenplay for the film was written by David Goodis himself, first and only time for Goodis. I recently watched two more films that were based on books written by David Goodis - 1947 American mystery thriller Dark Passage with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in the lead cast; and the 1957 American film noir Nightfall with Aldo Ray and Anne Bancroft in the lead cast.

Jayne Mansfield was practically unknown at the time of the making of the film in 1955. However she shot to sudden fame with her role of fictional film star Rita Marlowe in Broadway hit play Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? and her fame in Playboy magazine. Filmmakers released the film two years later in 1957 to cash in on Mansfield's fame.

Mansfield was groomed by 20th Century Fox to substitute for Marilyn Monroe, the resident blonde bombshell. She although was not the sex bomb in this film even though filmmakers liberally showcased her sexy figure and the platinum blonde hair. I really couldn’t see her acting capability at all.

There was so much disconnect between back to back scenes as well where it wasn’t clear what she was doing or saying or expressing. I am not surprised that she got fame which makes me think her body and blonde hair helped her more than her brains and acting. She may have had a successful celebrity life but not on film, more for her celebrity life style.

She might have even spurred the idea of reality tv celebrities in future producers and directors minds. Although one fame to claim for her would be her daughter Mariska Hargitay with her second husband Mickey Hargitay. Mariska is known for her role as NYPD Captain Olivia Benson in the long running TV series Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. 

Dan Duryea, the lead of the film, plays Nat Habrin, a character with mixed emotions and complexities woven around him. Contrast to his other roles he had played, Duryea is an aging robber struggling to keep his gang together, his feelings checked and at the same time get some money out of the robbery. Also contrary to his bad guy gangster, robber or one of the evil hench man, in real life Duryea was a very much peace-loving man who was loved by everyone on set and at home. 

The fact that Habrin has feelings for his mentor's daughter Gladden reminded me of the 2003 American heist film The Italian Job, in which Mark Wahlberg's character Charlie Croker falls for his mentor John Bridger's (portrayed by Donald Sutherland) daughter Charlize Theron's Stella Bridger. 

Martha Vickers portrays the femme fatale Della in the film. But she is far more remembered for her role as Camen Sternwood, Lauren Bacall character Vivian Sternwood Rutledge's sister in the 1946 American film noir The Big Sleep. Humphrey Bogart is also seen as private eye Philip Marlowe in that film. Vickers had exceeded in her acting skills over Bacall in that film resorting for the film makers to cut some of her scenes and reshoot some of Bacall's as they were trying to cash in on Bogart-Bacall real-life love affair.

Even in this film she has a shorter role compared to Jayne Mansfield's Gladden. Yet Vickers' Della was much more effective and memorable. A femme fatale through and through who is like a black widow spider in her role as Della.

This film marks the introductory role for Stewart Bradley who plays the role of police officer Charlie. He went on to become a famous fixture in several TV shows including Gunsmoke, The Untouchables, and our famous original TV series Perry Mason. In this film though he showed his maximum bad guy persona which makes you want to run and hide. 

Before the opening credits begin, a newsreel of current events at that time are played that gives a detailed account of a wealthy Philadelphia man's personal estate being left to a spiritual group headed by Sister Sara (portrayed by Phoebe Mackay). The newsreel narrator was the voice of Bob Wilson, American sports broadcaster. You can also see Frank Hall, an Irish news broadcaster and journalist, interviewing Sister Sara in the opening newsreel.

The entire opening credits are in lower case including the title card, cast and crew, and even "the end" at the end.

The film was released towards the tail end of noir genre in American film making. Director Wendkos finished the film in a very small budget of $90,000. Although not a great success in this film, Wendkos had a long and successful career as a director and producer on screen and on TV. 

Tightly made plot but with so many disconnects between scenes, and missing details that could have made it a far more tighter plot if addressed timely. The amusement park climax will never have you see at an amusement park the same way again though.

Subtle flair of comedy seen here and there in the film. Sexual tension between Gladden, Habrin and Dohmer is shown explicitly as opposed to the usual hidden innuendos that the film noir used to present then. 

A tale of an honorable thief mixed with unwarranted romance and confusing plot lines, the film is not a bad film noir. Yet not something I would watch earnestly. Check it out for the sheer magic of film noir towards the end of it's genre, but otherwise it can pass your time for one watch.

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Movie Trivia:

a. John Facenda, a well known Philadelphia sportscaster is featured as a news anchor in the film.

b. The film was remade in 1971 as The Burglars directed by Henri Verneuil starring Omar Sharif, Jean Paul Belmondo and Dyan Cannon.

c. The film playing in the theater that Nat Habrin leaves from in the beginning is the 1950 Utopia starring Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. You can see the name displayed on the marquee at the start of the opening credits. 

d. Vince Carson provides vocals to the song You Are Mine music and lyrics for which were given by Bob Marcucchi and Pete DeAngelo. We see him singing in a nightclub where Gladden and her mysterious boyfriend dance to it. 

e. Look at the huge hanging clock in the entryway of Della's apartment. Very interesting piece of adornment if I may say. 

f. Note the man outside the hotel where Gladden is staying. He is seen reading September 1955 issue of Esquire magazine.

2) Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:

a. When Habrin climbs into the building of Sister Sara to steal the necklace, he goes in with a bag containing his tools. However when he comes back out he is not carrying his tool bag anymore. 

b. The police radio describes Nat Habrin's car as a light-grey four door sedan. But the teletype of the general alarm issued by the police department reads that the car was green color. And again after the teletype is shown on screen, the police dispatcher reads the car color as light-grey.

c. The police dispatcher says that the car was "last seen going on east on White Horse Pike". However the teletype says "LAST SEEN GOING EAST ON BLACK HORSE PIKE".


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