The Burglar (1957) is known primarily as the movie debut of Jayne Mansfield, but it’s a fine film noir. It starts out with a tense burglary, but once the necklace is successfully burgled, the story focuses on the heist team going stir crazy as they wait for the environment to cool down so they can safely fence the booty. They are strung so tight that even the whistle of a tea kettle is enough to startle the gang. While dodging the cops, they find that they are also being hunted by a corrupt rogue cop and his partner.
The core of The Burglar is the stellar lead performance of Dan Duryea as the chief burglar. He’s a tortured and worn-out guy – with one deep loyalty.
There are plenty of noir moments – lots of shadows, uplit faces in the darkness and amoral, grasping characters. We have not one, but two noir vixens – Jayne Mansfield and Martha Vickers. Asked at a bar by Duryea what she wants, Vickers answers “Basically, I’m out to find myself a man.” The characters in this fine film noir find themselves in Atlantic City, where the bad cop chases the protagonists through the House of Horrors and the Steel Pier, culminating in a final confrontation under the boardwalk.
The acting is excellent, other than Peter Capell, who gives over-acting a bad name while playing the most nerve-wracked member of the gang. Even Mansfield is good; (The Burglar was held in the can for two years and then released when Mansfield became a sensation with The Girl Can’t Help It).
The movie was shot on location in Philadelphia and Atlantic City. We see Independence Hall, and it’s hard not to think of Rocky when Duryea climbs the steps to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
The Burglar plays from time to time on Turner Classic Movies and is available streaming on Amazon Instant Video, iTunes, Vudu, Xbox Video and Flixster.
[Note: The Burglar features John Facenda as his real-life role as a Philadelphia newscaster (when local TV stations aired 15-minute newscasts). Facenda later found much broader fame as “The Voice of God” for his narration for NFL Films football documentaries.]