Cast & Crew
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. After Sara reports the robbery, the officers who questioned Nat provide his description to the police artist, who then sketches an accurate drawing that is sent nationwide. At the tenement, Dohmer leers at the shapely Gladden, angering her. Later, Baylock questions Nat about the bond he feels to Gladden, prompting Nat to reflect back to his flight from an orphanage years earlier: The young Nat is given refuge by Gladden's father Gerald, a professional burglar who teaches the boy his trade, asking only that in return, Nat promise to take care of Gladden. Three years later, Gerald is killed during a burglary due to Nat's blunder, and Nat has felt responsible for her ever since. His thoughts returning to the present, Nat tells Gladden that she must go away, and the next morning, puts her on a train bound for Atlantic City. She is followed by a shadowy man, who strikes up a friendship with her in Atlantic City. Later, in a Philadelphia bar, Nat, depressed, meets a sultry woman named Della who invites him to her apartment. After several drinks, Della relates the hardships she has suffered in life, ending with her husband deserting her. Nat then tells her about Gladden and confides that he longs to leave his life of crime. Awakening late that night in Della's apartment, Nat finds that she is missing and goes to look for her. In the garden, he overhears her speaking to man about the necklace. Recognizing that Gladden is in danger, Nat assembles the gang and drives to Atlantic City to protect her. As they cross a bridge outside the city, the toll collector recognizes Nat from his drawing and notifies the authorities. Soon after, Nat is pulled over by a policeman for a traffic violation, and when Dohmer hears a bulletin about Nat over the police radio, he shoots the officer, who fires back, killing Dohmer. Now on the run, Baylock and Nat drive to a swamp on the edge of Atlantic City and abandon their car. Hearing the news of the gun battle, the Philadelphia captain of police speculates that the burglars will seek refuge in Atlantic City and goes there. At the water's edge, Nat and Baylock come across a deserted beach shack, and Nat instructs Baylock to wait there while he goes to warn Gladden. Nat phones Gladden from the lobby of her hotel, and when she informs him she is not alone, he tells her to get rid of her boyfriend. When the man descends the hotel stairs, Nat recognizes him as Charlie, one of the officers who questioned him on the night of the robbery. After Nat informs Gladden that Charlie is only interested in the necklace, she upbraids Nat for his inability to perceive her as a desirable woman. Before he leaves Gladden's room, Nat slips the necklace under her pillow and tells her where she can find him. As Gladden removes the necklace and drops it in her music box, Charlie phones his accomplice Della in Philadelphia and orders her to come to Atlantic City. Upon returning to the shack, Nat is confronted by an armed Charlie, who has just killed Baylock and demands the necklace. Just as Della arrives at the shack, Nat informs Charlie that he has hidden the necklace in Gladden's room. After instructing Della to hold Nat prisoner, Charlie goes to search for the necklace. Taking a risk that Della will not shoot, Nat walks out of the shack and phones Gladden to warn her. Gladden has gone out, however, and after the phone rings several times, she returns to her room and picks up the receiver, and Nat tells her to meet him at the Steel Pier. At the pier, Charlie, who has followed her, flashes his badge at a pier patrolman, then stalks Gladden and Nat into the fun house. After Gladden drops her music box in one of the tunnels, Charlie follows the sound of the music, catching up to them at the pier's bleachers. Soon after, the audience departs, leaving only Nat, Charlie and Gladden. When Nat offers Charlie the necklace in exchange for Gladden's life, Charlie agrees and allows Gladden to leave. After Nat hands Charlie the necklace, Charlie shoots him in the back, and he tumbles down the stairs where Gladden cradles the dying Nat in her arms. Just then, the police, alerted by the patrolman, arrive and congratulate Charlie on a job well done. Just as Charlie states that Nat threw the necklace in the ocean, Della appears and calls him a liar. The police captain then slugs Charlie in the face, and after extracting the necklace from his pocket, handcuffs him.
Louis W. Kellman
Captain Maurice R. Pilner
The Burglar (1957)
Novelist David Goodis, author of such classics as Dark Passage (which was turned into a 1947 classic with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall) and Down There (transformed by Francois Truffaut into the nouvelle vague masterpiece of doom Shoot the Piano Player, 1960), adapted his own novel for the screen, and Paul Wendkos, a documentary filmmaker and a fellow Philadelphian, made his feature debut directing the film. Bringing it even closer to home, Wendkos shot the film largely in Philadelphia in the summer of 1955 (Wendkos captures the sweltering atmosphere of the city in summer) and even used the Philadelphia Chamber Orchestra to perform the score.
The great character actor Dan Duryea centers the film with an easy, almost world-weary confidence as Nat Harbin, a career criminal and veteran safecracker who steals a priceless necklace and then holes up in a dump of a safe house in a seedy part of the city with his not-altogether-trustworthy gang. The voluptuous Jayne Mansfield was a rising starlet in the breathy Marilyn Monroe mold when she was cast in the lead and she oozes sexual restlessness as Gladden, who cases their jobs and moons over Nat in their downtime. Mickey Shaughnessy, best known as the cellmate mentor to Elvis Presley in Jailhouse Rock (1957), is the gang's muscle, Dohmer, and he constantly ogles and paws the shapely Gladden in the close quarters of their hideout.
Duryea ostensibly plays a 35-year-old safecracker but was in reality almost 40 when he made the film and the weary resignation in his performance makes him look every inch his age. It also makes him a believably cool customer when he has to bluff his way past a patrolman with the loot in his pocket and it adds a poignant edge to the sexual tensions-he is in love with Gladden but he's also both father figure and protective big brother. All those conflicted emotions, added to the glaring age difference, finally pushes him to send Gladden to Atlantic City while he slips into the company of Della (Martha Vickers), a worldly woman he meets in a bar. Gladden, meanwhile, is wooed in Atlantic City by a mystery man whose identity is hidden even from the audience, a sure bet that he's got ulterior motives.
By the 1950s, most crime thrillers were moving away from the stylized, shadowy romanticism of forties film noir classics and more toward a realist aesthetic influenced by films like The Naked City (1948). The Burglar begins in that mode, with a newsreel that establishes their target and an extended, largely wordless robbery sequence that observes every step of the job, but then moves into a more baroque style of stark sets, extreme angles, and stylized pulp dialogue. Realism gives way to the exaggerated images and explosive energy of The Lady from Shanghai (1947, a chase through a fun house on Atlantic City's Steel Pier all but makes the inspiration obvious) and Kiss Me Deadly (1955), but it's repressed desire rather than greed and violence that powers this hothouse thriller.
Wendkos' jagged style has the self-conscious quality of a young filmmaker anxious to show off his talent. He described the film as "experimental, ambitious, and hard to make," and reportedly shot 150,000 feet of film, an enormous amount of raw footage for a budget-minded crime film. That's one reason that the film, shot in 1955, wasn't released until 1957. But he also brings out the stir-crazy anxiety of unstable characters laying low in close quarters, the seedy corruption of bad cops on the make, and the unfulfilled longing (or in the case of Dohmer, simple lust) of characters torn between desire and devotion.
"Heartbreak and Vine," Woody Haut. Serpent's Tail, 2002.
"Goodis' Burglar Rates Rediscovery," Don Malcom. Noir City Sentinel Annual 1, 2009.
"Film Noir: The Encyclopedia," ed. Alain Silver et al. Overlook, 2010.
By Sean Axmaker
The Burglar (1957)
Producer Louis W. Kellman cast the relatively unknown Jayne Mansfield as Gladden after seeing the normally jaded and unflappable film crew's "overheated" reaction to her on the set of Pete Kelly's Blues (1955).
Kellman had difficulty finding a buyer for the film. Finally, Harry Cohn (I) at Columbia said that he would do Kellman "a favor" and "take it off his hands" if the film's director Paul Wendkos, was part of the deal.
Before the opening credits roll, "Nat" is shown concentrating on a newsreel about "Sister Sara" and her necklace. Paul Wendkos' screen credit reads "directed and edited by." According to Hollywood Reporter production charts, location filming was done in Philadelphia, PA and Atlantic City, NJ. The Burglar marked the screen debut of Stewart Bradley. According to the Daily Variety review, The Burglar was an independent production that was bought by Columbia after the film was completed. The 1971 French-Italian production Le Casse, directed by Henri Verneuil and starring Omar Sharif, Jean-Paul Belmondo and Dyan Cannon, was also based on David Goodis' book.
Released in United States June 1957
Released in United States Summer June 1957
Feature directorial debut for Paul Wend
Completed shooting in 1956.
Released in United States June 1957
Released in United States Summer June 1957