The Burglar (1957), a sweaty, tawdry pulp crime thriller set in the seedy lower depths of low-rent crooks and raw passions, was released as the classic studio system — and the era of prime film noir — was coming to an end. It both looks back to the tales of down-and-out criminals in a world of shifting loyalties and betrayals and forward to the more lurid suggestions of sixties movies and the stark imagery and striking location shooting more common to independently-made films.
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.
Plays on Friday, June 14 on Turner Classic Movies