Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Tonight's Movie: The Big Caper (1957)

THE BIG CAPER (1957) is an interesting minor film noir starring the appealing screen team of Rory Calhoun and Mary Costa.

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 supporting cast includes Ray Teal, Patrick McVey, James Nolan, and Roscoe Ates.

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.


Blogger Nick Beal said...

What I've always liked about THE BIG CAPER is that it can be described as a 'Film Blanc'. Unlike many American movies that choose to depict the dark underbelly of small town life, BIG CAPER shows the Calhoun and Costa characters as actually finding a partial redemption through their contact with the innate decency of the people who they
have come to rob. Excellent write up Laura. You seem to be on a roll at the moment with
fascinating movies appearing almost daily. I'm particularly enjoying your George O'Brien
bias and it was great to see RAINBOW VALLEY being reviewed. Now that that Warner Archive
has released a significant number of George's RKO outings,it's his earlier work with Fox
that is looking rather neglected.

6:05 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Nick, what a great term, "Film Blanc." You underscore something I could have brought out even more strongly in my review, that Calhoun and Costa are transformed by their experiences living "normal" lives as part of a community. I'm glad you also enjoyed the film and my writeup.

I appreciate your feedback! There will be more O'Brien reviews coming soon. The poor condition of a Fox film like MYSTERY RANCH, particularly contrasted with the RKO films put out by the Warner Archive, is sad.

I'm always glad when my schedule allows me to squeeze in a little more movie viewing and a little more writing! :)

Best wishes,

6:29 PM  
Blogger Jerry E said...

What a great term to coin, 'Film Blanc', I really like that.

You've reviewed another Calhoun non-western from the 50s I have never seen, Laura. Another one presumably not available on DVD. Sounds like a film I would like from the underrated Mr. C. I know all his westerns well but these other films are more elusive.

11:38 PM  
Blogger john k said...

Mr Entract.............Pay Attention!!!

Laura has given a link to the DVD at the end of her review. :)

The MGM MOD is a very good transfer.
I second Nick's "Film Blanc"

Another Film Blanc is the very interesting THE COME ON,I DO hope this is one of
the Allied Artists films Warners own the rights to.

After their very long run at Paramount Pine Thomas (where they were known as "the Dollar Bills" because none of their films lost money) they made three
modestly budgeted films released through United Artists before calling it a day.
Apart from THE BIG CAPER the other two were NIGHTMARE and BAILOUT AT 43,000

Blake Lucas has said that I am too hard on Francis D Lyon but Bailout is one of
his pictures that I do like. Furthermore it stars two of Laura's faves John Payne
and Paul Kelly. Laura I did send you a ropey off air copy of this film but I
notice an outfit caller "Hollywood Scrapyard" have a very nice looking edition on
their website.
Hollywood Scrapyard seem to be offering DVD's transferred from downloads from
streaming sites. Their website is crammed full of Pine Thomas and Paramount films.
I guess this is the only way many of us are going to be able to see these films.
The screen grabs of the much sought after CAPTAIN CHINA look pretty good too.

Jerry also noted that he was very interested in the Noirs WOMAN ON THE RUN and
TOO LATE FOR TEARS. Laura,that's great news that Arrow in the UK will be releasing
these films as Blu Ray/DVD combos. The Arrow price seem to be more competitive
than the USA release.

4:25 AM  
Blogger john k said...

Further to the above....HOLLYWOOD SCRAPYARD have some very interesting
"works in progress" on their site.
One of their future projects is CANON CITY which I recently included in my
"discoveries of 2015" over at Brian's.
The copy I had was from a very poor French release...I'd love to get this film in
decent quality.
I notice that the A.C.Lyles Westerns Hollywood Scrapheap are featuring are 4x3 not
in the correct Techniscope ratio.
What I've never been able to find out is when these Lyles Westerns are streamed are
they widescreen or 4x3

More great news is that Kino Lorber have announced another vintage Fox title
It looks like their on-going relationship with the parent company Fox is going
to see more great titles getting released.

4:37 AM  
Blogger john k said...

Whoops!...........the above SHOULD have read HOLLYWOOD SCRAPHEAP...sorry folks!

5:27 AM  
Blogger Jerry E said...

Obviously the "old boy" is losing his marbles (me, I mean)!!!!! Thanks for pointing out what I failed to see, John.

8:52 AM  
Blogger Maricatrin said...

Interesting sounding film, thanks for the write-up, but mainly I'm just thrilled to read what you had to say about SLEEPING BEAUTY (1959), I thought I was the only one who had that opinion! :-)

9:21 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I'm delighted this post has sparked interest, as it's a good movie I'd like to see others check out! I hope you will each have the chance to see it, whether on the MGM DVD or via Amazon streaming, which is how I saw it.

John, THE COME ON sounds interesting! John, you didn't send BAILOUT AT 43,000 but it was quite recently on TCM and I recorded it! Love the cast but haven't watched it yet. (As always, it's so many movies, so little time...) I think the print was pretty good. I'm definitely there for a movie starring John Payne and Paul Kelly -- I need to make sure Kristina sees it too! (Have you all seen the article on Kelly which Kristina wrote for Classic Images a few years ago?!) DEADLINE USA sounds interesting also.

Such great news that WOMAN ON THE RUN and TOO LATE FOR TEARS will have UK releases along with the Flicker Alley U.S. releases. I have just confirmed that I will be receiving screeners from Flicker Alley when they are released in May -- very much looking forward to checking out all the extras and reviewing them! So look for more info on those here in a couple more months. :)

Maricatrin, always glad to know another fan of SLEEPING BEAUTY, what a gorgeous movie in so many ways.

Best wishes,

5:28 PM  
Blogger john k said...

Hi Laura,

Many thanks for the link to Kristina's fine article-packed with interesting info
and I never knew "Bailout" was Paul's last picture.
Paul and John Payne are on top form in this picture-unusual subject matter too.

Kristina has been on a "Phil Karlson kick" recently.
This made me think when I heard the news this morning about the Hatton Garden
"Diamond Geezers"
Has that news broke Stateside?
Anyway the mastermind leader of the crooks known only as "Basil" was in disguise and
unknown to the rest of the bunch.Some crime experts think he may be an "ex copper"
One things for sure "Basil" MUST have seen KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL.

BTW Laura you said my description of MOHAWK was "funny".....did you mean funny
ha-ha, or just plain funny :)
I may have missed something but I don't recall you mentioning Scott Brady before
how does he rate among your "fave" actors?

6:10 AM  
Blogger Kristina said...

Hi there! Laura thanks for the link to Paul Kelly and John thanks for checking it out, my mom spent a week in hospital so that's why my blog was so quiet--back to regular programming asap, including this movie! The Big Caper looks great and just my speed! I also dvr'd Bailout on TCM and can't wait to get to it. Having fun catching up on your posts and all these comments :)!

2:52 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Welcome back, Kristina! Very glad your mom is doing better.

Glad I could share your article! I think you'll enjoy THE BIG CAPER, would love to read your thoughts on it.

Delighted to provide you with some reading and movie ideas!!

Best wishes,

8:59 PM  

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