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The Burglar (rewatch)

Posted by martinteller on February 19, 2012

An astonishing debut for director Paul Wendkos.  First-timers often pull out all the stops, playing with technique like a kid in a candy store.  Sometimes it’s too much, but Wendkos tempers his maverick sensibilities with a sense of melancholy that keeps everything from going off the rails.  But make no mistake, this film is loaded with wonderful expressionistic touches that constantly surprise you, and sometimes take your breath away.  A flashback sequence shrouded in dreamlike darkness, jolting edits, radical sound design, Sol Kaplan’s amazing score, car chases that feel like you’re riding the bumper, striking close-ups and shocking angles, and a stunning 10-minute carnival climax.  The cinematography by Don Malkames is not just pleasing to the eye, but dazzling.

And it’s not just cinematic technique that makes this movie so damn good.  The screenplay by David Goodis (who also wrote the novel, as well as the source material for Dark Passage, Nightfall and Truffaut’s exhilarating, adventurous Shoot the Piano Player) is rich with emotional content.  These characters are sorrowful, desperate, damaged people, most notably the gloriously soulful performances from Dan Duryea and Jayne Mansfield (in her first serious role).  I don’t think Duryea was ever better than this, haunted by his past, driven by his oath to protect Mansfield, scrambling to think on his toes.

The story, in its bare essence, is rather conventional.  Conventional can be okay, but what’s most exciting to a film lover is the unconventional, the unexpected, the flair and the artistry.  Wendkos (and Malkames and Goodis and Kaplan and Duryea and Mansfield) delivers all that in spades and elevates the conventional to the exceptional.  Like Blast of Silence, Ride the Pink Horse and When Strangers Marry, this is an artful noir that deserves more recognition.  Hopefully this DVD release will lead more to discover it.  As for me, I’ll be checking out a few more by Wendkos, although none of them look nearly as promising.  Rating: Masterpiece


3 Responses to “The Burglar (rewatch)”

  1. JamDenTel said

    I recommend seeking out The Mephisto Waltz. I’ve never seen it, but it’s one of the few (maybe the only) other Wendkos film that seems on a par with this one, as far as ambition or style goes.

  2. Looks dubious but I’ll add it to my list.

  3. […] 36. The Burglar (1957, Paul Wendkos) […]

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