The Safecracker (1958) opens on a note of mystery. A military document removed from official files, a stamp releasing the previously classified document, and a comment from the officer: “So they decided to let this out of the bag.” Rewind to London, 1938, where Ray Milland breaks into an estate with relative ease, defeating the alarm and cracking the safe by touch. The audience on hand doesn’t phase him. In fact, it’s part of the plan. Colley Dawson (Milland) is a professional locksmith who builds impregnable safes, but he gets a bigger charge out of his salesmanship technique: proving the inferiority of the competition by playing cat burglar.
The first half of the film charts the rise and fall of his brilliant career, robbing treasures from the London clients of an antiques dealer (Barry Jones) with a black market sideline and living it up in a double life. During the week he lives in a dowdy apartment with his aging mum but come the weekend he’s a high-living society blade spending his ill-gotten gains between jobs. His criminal career is ended long before the film is and the second half picks up in the midst of World War II. A special assignment behind enemy lines calls for the very expert skills wielded by Colley, the best safecracker behind bars, and the mission commander (Ernest Clark) reluctantly drafts Colley into his unit.
The Safecracker plays on TCM on Tuesday, April 12.