Enjoyably vapid French/Italian heist thriller The Burglars features a typically random assortment of international actors, though unlike many similar pictures that flowed from the continent throughout the ’60s and ’70s with off-putting dubbed soundtracks, this one can be enjoyed by American viewers with original English-language dialogue because the producers simultaneously shot scenes in English and French. Combined with lavish production values, plentiful comic elements, and zippy chase scenes, the English-language soundtrack ensures The Burglars is a smooth ride. Given the genre to which it belongs, perhaps it goes without saying that The Burglars isn’t about anything, so the experience is colorful, distracting, and forgettable—exactly as it was meant to be.
Set in Greece, the picture begins with a home invasion during which a crew of professional thieves subdues a victim, cracks his safe, and steals a cache of emeralds. The main hook of this scene is an elaborate electronic system used by protagonist Azad (Jean-Paul Belmondo) to open the safe; director Henri Verneuil films the scene so clinically that it feels like a tutorial. During the robbery, wily cop Zacharia (Omar Sharif) briefly encounters Azad, so once Zacharia learns what happened, he tracks down Azad with the intention of grabbing the emeralds for himself. Notwithstanding Azad’s romantic entanglements with two different women, a French criminal (Nicole Calfan) and an American model (Dyan Cannon), most of the movie comprises Zacharia chasing and/or confronting Azad, so The Burglars is largely a Mediterranean mano-a-mano movie.
Since the narrative is slight, what makes The Burglars watchable is style. There are two intricate chases, both staged by the team that did similar work for The Italian Job (1969), and the chases give equal focus to jokes and stunts. Typical gag: a car passes a group of nuns and the wind created by the car’s motion blows out the candles the nuns are holding. It’s worth noting that star Belmondo does a few outrageous stunts, such as hanging onto the sides of moving vehicles and tumbling down an enormous hill. Adding to the picture’s candy-coated veneer are lots of gloriously tacky sets and periodic intervals of jaunty music by Ennio Morricone.
Though one generally doesn’t gravitate to this sort of movie for the acting, Belmondo’s casual cool suits the material well—notwithstanding that his character’s treatment of women is atrocious. Revealing another flaw common to the genre, Calfan and Cannon serve largely decorative functions. Yet heist thrillers are only as good as their villains, and Sharif’s haughtiness is employed to good effect—whether he’s rhapsodizing about Greek food or warning victims that drunkenness impairs his aim, Sharif presents a delightfully self-satisfied type of odiousness.
The Burglars: GROOVY