Dan Duryea and his cronies rob a fake spiritualist and then take it on the lam to Atlantic City.Dan Duryea and his cronies rob a fake spiritualist and then take it on the lam to Atlantic City.Dan Duryea and his cronies rob a fake spiritualist and then take it on the lam to Atlantic City.
Nat Harbin (Dan Duryea) is the leader of a small gang of crooks who burgle a necklace from the home of a famous spiritualist. One of Nat's gang is Gladden (Mansfield), the daughter of the man who took Nat under his wing when Nat was an orphan. In return Nat has always looked after Gladden. But once the necklace is in their hands, the group begins to come apart, and with outside forces muscling their way in, it's probably not going to end well
It sat on the shelf for two years, where no buyer could be found, but then Jayne Mansfield became one of the "it" girls and The Burglar saw the light of day. Long out of circulation it became a film that noir enthusiasts greatly courted over the years, but now it's widely available was it worth the wait?
Well it has proved to be a very divisive entry in the film noir universe. Undoubtedly it has style to burn, director Wendkos has observed some of his film noir peers and dripped their influences all over his movie; and not in a subtle way either. Sweaty close-ups, shock cutting, oblique angled frames and shadow adorned sequences attempt to put oomph in the narrative, while the newsreel opening and amusement park finale scream out that the film wants to be loved by the noir crowd.
It's all very neatly constructed, and with Kaplan's bold brassy score laid over the top, it deserves its noir badge. But it does feel like art for arts sake at times, like Wendkos is working over time visually to compensate for a weak screenplay. It becomes evident that it wasn't a great idea to let Goodis adapt from his own novel, it needed a screenplay writer capable of putting more emotional carnage into the characterisations.
There is no flow to the story and the actors often look lost and not sure where to take the source material to. Even the ever reliable noir hero Duryea is straining to make his character work, a victim of extraneous nonsense that doesn't seem to serve any purpose to plotting. Mansfield's performance is one of the hot topic divisive points, but I don't see how, it's awkward and her limitations as an actress are evident, no matter how foxy she looks. While Stewart Bradley in a key role just flat out can't act, something that draws some of the sting from the finale.
The visual smarts and some nice location photography in Philly and Atlantic City ensure it's not a dead loss, while if you prepare yourself for a character study rather than a pulpy noir pot-boiler then that sets expectation levels correctly. But it's not one to recommend with confidence; even if Marty Scorsese is a fan! 5/10
- Apr 21, 2013