The Burglars (1971)

burglars 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Corrupt cop hounds thief.

Azad (Jean-Paul Belmondo) and his cohorts pull off a daring heist by robbing a gem collector of his emeralds in his home by using a state-of-the-art machine that is able to create a key to the safe on the spot by simply entering in the safe’s serial number. However, things go awry when Abel (Omar Sharif), a corrupt police captain, becomes suspicious of their activity after seeing the gang’s car parked on the road. Initially he lets them off, but only so he can follow them later and then blackmail them for the jewels, or threaten them with prison otherwise.

The film, which is based on the novel by David Goodis and made 14 years earlier as The Burglar, which starred Jayne Mansfield, has all the trappings for being a classic heist film. I enjoyed watching the intricate way they are finally able to crack open the safe, which takes up much of the first half-hour. I also liked the creative action, stunt work, story twists, luscious Greek scenery and musical score by the legendary Ennio Morricone. Unfortunately none of this is able to overcome a rather plodding pace and a lingering feeling that you’ve seen it all before.

The film’s biggest claim-to-fame is its two chase sequences. The first is similar to the one done in The Italian Job as two small compact cars drive all over Athens, including on sidewalks, stairwells, and through crowds of people, which is exciting to watch. However, the fact that no one gets injured and no other automobiles are damaged even as the cars drive straight into on-coming traffic is hard to imagine. The camera also cuts to a close-up shot of the lead car driving on its rim, but somehow the vehicle is still able to continue to go several more miles on rough surfaces and high speeds, but why have a shot like that inserted if it ultimately doesn’t mean anything?

The second chase works better, which involves Belmondo hanging onto the side of a bus as it travels speedily down a crowded city street while he tries to kick shut the door of a police car that is following, which is quite realistic looking especially since it appears to be Belmondo himself and not a stunt double doing it. This one culminates with Belmondo being tossed from a dump truck and down a steep hill while other large rocks roll with him, which again is impressive, but the fact that he doesn’t even receive a scratch from it is hard to believe.

Sharif is outstanding in a rare turn as a bad guy. He commands every scene that he is in and in the process makes co-star Belmondo seem forgettable and unable to equal the same strong presence. Dyan Cannon, who is the only American in the cast, gets a pointless part as a pin-up magazine model that catches Belmondo’s eye. Her character doesn’t appear until an hour in and is not all that integral to the plot. Her voice is also clearly dubbed in the French version, which makes her acting here limited and probably not worth signing up for to begin with.

The climactic finish that entails a man being drowned inside a grain elevator is novel as is the final moment inside a giant, mobile chicken coop with thousands of loud, clucking chickens, but overall the film fails to illicit much tension and would’ve been better had the runtime been trimmed and the scenes shortened.

burglars 2

Alternate Title: Le Casse

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 24, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 57Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Henri Verneuil

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD-R

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