The Burglar (1957)
It may have taken Jayne Mansfield’s sudden ascension to Marilyn Monroe like status in the latter part of the 1950’s to get this Noir tale a proper release but it’s Dan Duryea in the title role who carries the film. Dan’s a world weary lifer in the crime game with an air of doom about him as he and his gang of thieves score that one big heist that should set them on easy street for life. If only it was that simple.
Using a newsreel as a narrative tool, Duryea is seen exiting a movie theater with a diamond necklace in his sights. Cut to a very mousy Mansfield (yes mousy) paying a visit to the estate where the necklace’s owner lives. Turns out Mansfield is “casing the joint” on Duryea’s behalf. In little time at all, Duryea along with Mickey Shaughnessy and Peter Capell pull the heist after a brief scare with a local police patrol car. Now with the heat on, the foursome are going to have to stay isolated which is only going to heighten the tension between them. Capell wants to sell the “ice” and head for warmer climates in South America. Shaughnessy wants his share of the cash and a piece of Mansfield if he can get it. Duryea on the other hand seems to be awaiting his fate and plays protector/big brother to Mansfield. It’ll take a flash back to set us straight on their relationship.
The whole time they’ve been laying low, we’ve been teased with the fact that a third party knows of their existence. When leaving the heist, another car appeared but who was in it remains a mystery. To keep lovely Jayne safe from Mickey’s clutches, Dan sends her to Atlantic City against her wishes but this does give the filmmakers the opportunity to get her into a bikini for the male population who paid their entry fee at the ticket booth.
Into the plot comes another pair of criminals looking to make a score by lifting the necklace from Duryea and company. One, Martha Vickers, picks up Duryea and becomes a romantic interest for the Noir favorite. If she can’t figure out where the necklace is then perhaps her lover who’s romancing Mansfield in Atlantic City might have better luck. His identity will remain a mystery for some time and I’m not about to divulge it either. When Dan makes Vickers out to be a con artist, he and the gang head to Atlantic City to save Mansfield and themselves from being revealed to the authorities and prevent being blackmailed to give up their score. Things are about to fall apart as one should expect knowing as we all do that “crime doesn’t pay.”
“A trail of perfume and violence.”
I love those old time movie trailers that give us one liners like that one while they admittedly reveal far too much of the plot in many cases. For the most part I like this feature that gives Dan the leading role at a time when his marquee value was winding down. Despite that, he’s as watchable as always and brings his “A” game to a role where he’s a perfectly suited to that of a fatalistic character that oozes a future that is short at best. Supposedly filmed in 1955 and released in 57 to take advantage of the emerging Miss Mansfield, Jayne is very good here in a low key role minus any glamour and make up other than that brief bikini clip. My earliest memories of Mickey Shaughnessy are from a pair of Glenn Ford films as a bumbling character. Don’t Go Near the Water and The Sheepman so seeing him here as a harder character always hits me by surprise. More so when he’s terrifying.
Burglar was scripted by David Goodis from his own novel. He’d also wrote Dark Passage which became a Bogie-Bacall film and Burglar itself was remade in 1971 with Jean Paul Belmondo. Paul Wendkos made his directorial debut here and would find steady work behind the camera till he retired in 1999. Among his many credits in movies and TV are the 1959 Sandra Dee hit, Gidget and countless episodes of hit shows like The Untouchables and The Invaders. Eventually he’d settle into various TV movies of the week during the 1980’s and 90’s.
Thankfully this is another Dan Duryea title that has been made available on DVD with an introduction from Martin Scorsese in the Film Noir Classics Volume III via the TCM Vault Collections.