June 11, 2024

THE BURGLARS and the Thrill of the Chase

1971 / 114 & 126 min (2 versions)
Available at www.MovieZyng.com
Review by Mr. Paws😺

In terms of story and characters, The Burglars doesn’t reinvent the wheel. You’ve got your charismatic jewel thief, the determined detective, the high-tech heist, the cat & mouse game, beautiful women and exotic locations. Narratively and aesthetically, the film is emblematic of a lot of European thrillers from the era, including a nifty Ennio Morricone score. 

But interspersed throughout are several outstanding set-pieces and action sequences. Considering who’s involved, some of the stuntwork is actually pretty jaw-dropping.

The heist occurs right away, with Azad (Jean-Paul Belmondo) and his crew breaking into a wealthy tycoon’s house and making-off with a million in emeralds. Roughly comprising the first ten minutes, it’s mostly dialogue-free, focusing on their meticulousness and elaborate safe-cracking tech toys. I don’t know if any of this stuff is real, but it sure looks cool, which is ultimately all that matters.

Unexpectedly, the ship Azad chartered for their getaway is out of commission, leaving them stuck in Athens until it can be repaired. They plan to lay low for five days, which becomes difficult when corrupt cop Abel Zacharia (Omar Sharif) confronts Azad and demands the jewels for himself. Azad has no intention of complying, of course, and while trying to stay a step ahead of Zacharia, he meets sultry model Lena (Dyan Cannon), a quasi-film fatale who feels kind of shoehorned into the narrative for the sake of a romantic subplot.

"That ain't the safe, Azad. That's the fridge."
The antagonistic game of one upmanship between Azad and Zacharia is entertaining, with both actors clearly having fun in their roles, but what really elevates the film are the action sequences. There’s a thrilling extended car chase, with numerous wide camera shots of these two vehicles speeding through streets and dodging traffic - while repeatedly smashing into each other - without a lot of quick-cut editing. 

The car chase is the work of professional drivers, but there are other scenes where Belmondo is obviously doing his own stunts, like when Azad precariously hangs onto the side of a speeding city bus while fending off Zacharia, or more amusingly, gets poured from a dump truck down a massive hill. Belmondo was a huge star in France at the time, so engaging in such clearly dangerous stunts - without special effects - when he really didn’t need to is an admirable dedication to craft.

So while the story and concept are pretty familiar, the opening heist and exciting action sequences make the film memorable. It’s essentially a battle of wits that becomes a wildly entertaining chase, only slightly marred by a comparatively underwhelming climax (though it’s admittedly kind of funny). For fans of 70s-era European thrillers, The Burglars is well worth seeking out.


ENGLISH & INTERNATIONAL (FRENCH) VERSIONS - The latter is 12 minutes longer...and the better of the two.

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