Friday, September 17, 2010

The Burglar (1957)

From AFI:
"In Philadelphia, soon after burglar Nat Harbin sees a newsreel about a priceless emerald necklace owned by a spiritualist named Sister Sara, he dispatches Gladden, a woman in his gang, to case Sara’s mansion. Pretending to be an admirer of the spiritualist, Gladden gains entrance to the estate and reports back to Nat that the necklace is locked in a safe in Sara’s upstairs bedroom. Gladden continues that Sara always watches newscaster John Facenda’s nightly broadcast. The next evening, as Sara settles into her easy chair in front of the television set, Nat scales the trellis to her bedroom and begins to drill open the safe. While cruising by in their patrol car, two policemen notice Nat’s auto parked outside the estate and stop to investigate, prompting gang members Dohmer and Baylock to signal Nat. Scurrying back down the trellis, Nat approaches the officers and lies that his car has broken down. After the police depart, Nat returns to the safe, removing the necklace just seconds before Sara climbs the stairs to her bedroom. Speeding away into the night, Dohmer, Baylock and Nat drive to their hideout in a run-down tenement. There, Baylock values the necklace at $85,000 and nervously presses Nat to sell it immediately."

A classic set-up for a noir heist film, where the criminals are at each other's throats, and the tension ratchets from the beginning. Dan Duryea is Nat, and Jayne Mansfield is Gladden. Although I don't see much in Mansfield's performance other than a Marilyn Monroe retread, I've really started to like Duryea, who's usually a heel's heel in films like THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW, SCARLET STREET and CRISS CROSS. In true noir fashion, we are given a reason that Duryea has decided to become a criminal, but in true David Goodis fashion (author of both the source novel and the screenplay) that reason is completely sympathetic and tied to family. The relationship between Duryea and Mansfield is intriguing and a nice change of pace from the norm. There was some location shooting in Philadelphia, Goodis' home, and I'm excited to see if I can spot any of those sites when I go there in November.

Judgment: noir.

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