Calhoun and Costa play Frank and Kay, who are friend and mistress, respectively, of criminal mastermind Flood (James Gregory). Flood comes up with a plan to plant Frank and Kay in a small town for several months, posing as hardworking newlyweds, in order to get to know the town thoroughly and enable the planning of a flawless bank robbery.
Frank runs a gas station while Kay keeps house, and though they keep each other at arm's length physically, they start to fall for one another. They also find they are enjoying small-town life with barbecues and nights of cards with the neighbors. Frank continues to make wisecracks about the small-town rubes, but bit by bit you can see he's weakening, as well as taking pride in his gas station.
When Zimmer (Robert Harris), the gang's alcoholic pyro expert, hits town and poses as Frank's widowed uncle, things take an increasingly nasty turn, and it gets worse when Flood and the rest of the team, including Harry (Paul Picerni) and Roy (Corey Allen), arrive.
When Frank and Kay realize that one of the men killed Harry's girlfriend (Roxanne Arlen), they've had enough and talk about fleeing town; then they learn that part of the plan is to blow up the high school as a distraction -- regardless of the fact that students are unexpectedly on campus on a weekend. Frank's got to find a way from keeping his neighbors' kids from being murdered.
It's an interesting premise, with the most enjoyable parts of the movie coming as we watch Frank and Kay gradually inserting themselves into the life of the town. It doesn't hurt that Calhoun and Costa were both incredibly gorgeous!
It's rather amusing watching Flood and his team stumble through their caper, despite glitches; it's like a very low-rent RIFIFI (1955). That said, a significant drawback is that the character of Zimmer gets way too much screen time, and it doesn't take long before it becomes annoying watching him sweat and whine for drinks.
I also wished that the ending weren't quite as open-ended, leaving me wanting to know exactly what happened next.
Still and all, it's a worthwhile 84 minutes, especially for fans of film noir or Rory Calhoun. As previously noted here, Calhoun was adept at straddling the line between good and evil, which makes him perfect for this film.
This is one of just a handful of feature film credits for Mary Costa. Two years later she achieved screen -- and Disney -- immortality voicing Princess Aurora in SLEEPING BEAUTY (1959), my all-time favorite Disney animated feature film. She was named a Disney Legend in 1999. Costa is both lovely and capable in her role, and it's rather a shame she didn't have a more extensive screen career.
The movie was directed by Robert Stevens. It was shot in black and white by Lionel Lindon. I haven't been able to find out where it was filmed; the town, "San Felipe," is said to be in Southern California.
The script by Martin Berkeley was based on a novel by Lionel White.
THE BIG CAPER is out on DVD from MGM; the DVD release was reviewed by Paul Mavis at DVD Talk.
I watched THE BIG CAPER via Amazon Instant Video.