|The Big Steal (1949)
Run time: 71 min
Genres: Comedy | Crime | Romance
Director: Don Siegel
Writers: Daniel Mainwaring, Gerald Drayson Adams
Stars: Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, William Bendix
Jane and Duke (alias Capt. Blake) accidently meet in Vera Cruz while chasing flim-flam man Fiske. Soon the local Inspector General (El Gato) is involved. Fiske races across Mexico, pursued by Jane and Duke, trailed by the real Capt. Blake. The crafty Inspector General is waiting for them in Tihuacan but they all give him the slip, just in time for the climactic finale. Very tight script and pacing. Written by <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Release Date: 26 December 1949 (Sweden)
‘The Big Steal’ sees Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer team up again after their earlier Noir classic ‘Out Of The Past’, which is still one of the greatest Film Noirs ever made. ‘The Big Steal’ isn’t as good, that’s a fact, but it’s a very different kind of movie, and comparing the two is a bit unfair. It’s much lighter in tone and approach. Still Mitchum and Greer make a great team and it’s a pity they didn’t work together more. Director Don Siegel went on to make ‘Invasion Of The Body Snatchers’, ‘The Killers’ and ‘Dirty Harry’, all great favourites of mine, but ‘The Big Steal’ is just as good and is not to be overlooked. It’s a great piece of entertainment and also features a very good performance by William Bendix, who I also really enjoyed in Hitchcock’s underrated ‘Lifeboat’. Forget about ‘Out Of The Past’ and just enjoy ‘The Big Steal’ for what it is, a thriller that is a great fun film.
What a great film this is! Lighthearted and serious, romantic and thrilling, tense and humorous all at once. It’s simply a joy to watch from the very first frame right to the end. There’s never a dull moment, the performances are first-rate, and while, on the surface, it’s one of those typical middle-of-the-road 40’s quasi-noir films, it manages to transcend all that and become something truly special. It certainly doesn’t have the greatness of something like The Big Sleep or The Maltese Falcon, and yet it’s just as enjoyable, and in some ways, even more enjoyable than either of those. If movies are an escape, there is no world I would rather escape to than the one created by this film.
Jane and Duke meet in Vera Cruz, where they have both come to find Jim Friske Jane because she is missing $2000, Duke because Friske has stolen hundreds of thousands that Duke has been accused of stealing. Duke himself is being pursued by Captain Blake to get the money back and bring him to justice. Duke gives Blake the slip but Friske gets away from all of them; believing Jane to know more than she is letting on Duke limpets to her to get to Friske, only for both of them to get pulled in front of the local Inspector General Ortega. All these players dance around one another as each tries to get what they want while also protecting themselves from the others.
Opening with a couple of sudden slaps and punches I assumed this was going to be a very rough pot-boiler but in fact it turned out to be not only tough but also pretty amusing and slick. The basic plot is a bit contrived and requires all the characters to be able to move around one another without getting an easy solution. This does produce some amusing interactions as the story stays quite tight on the way to a nicely twisty conclusion. It isn’t dark enough or strong enough to be classed as a serious crime thriller or noir (which it absurdly is listed as by this site) but it is certainly entertaining and tough enough to be worth checking out.
The cast really help and seem to "get" the tone of the material. Mitchum is tough but has a good humour about him that sets up the rest of the film; he has judged it well and his easy charm gives him chemistry with Greer. She is also good light and sassy without straying too much outside of the role of needy female. Bendix is tough and flustered in a good way while Knowles makes for quite a nice relaxed thief that sits well with the playing that the script requires him and the other characters to do. Novarro is a fun addition and he works well as the observer in the background.
Overall this is not a tough gritty noir that it may appear to be from the period and those involved but it is still a fun crime drama. It is occasionally quite rough while also having a slight caper feel to it but the overall impact is one of quite a slick and enjoyable film that makes up for in fun what it loses in grit.
As a team, Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer are pretty well-known, at least to classic film fans, for their pairing in "Out Of The Past," but I thought they were a lot more fun to watch in this particular film noir.
This movie, still not available on tape or disc for some reason, is almost one long chase scene, with people in three vehicles all on the move….with a neat twist at the end.
There is the typical 1940s budding romance in which the two parties do nothing with insult each other until the end. Sometimes that gets really old but in here it isn’t, maybe because Greer has so many good lines.
It’s also fun to see the old cars racing around hairpin curves, although the special effects are really dated. The fight scenes didn’t look too realistic, either. Hey, I didn’t say it was technically a great movie…..just a fun one to watch. Equally entertaining were two of the other people in on the chases: William Bendix and Patric Knowles.