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George Raft was never much of an actor (as he freely admitted), but I fondly recall the ironic desperation in the performance he gave in 'If I Had a Million'. In that movie, Raft played a cheque forger who unexpectedly receives a legitimate cheque for $1,000,000, made out to himself ... then he realises that he can't cash the cheque nor deposit it, because his handiwork is known in every bank in town. Raft's forger nearly goes insane in his frustration. Good performance!
Now here's Raft again, playing a similar role in a film with a similar title: 'I Stole a Million'. Sadly, this movie has a screenplay by Nathanael West: possibly the single most over-rated author in the entire history of American literature. (By coincidence, Nathanael West's brother-in-law was S.J. Perelman: possibly the single most UNDER-rated author in American literature.) This movie is not remotely as good as 'If I Had a Million'.
This movie embodies one of my least favourite film cliches: the one about the 'reluctant thief' who swears he wants to go straight, but first he's got to pull one last job. (Similar to this is the one about the 'weary warrior': the guy who claims to dislike violence, even though he's spent most of his life kicking butt. And now he's got to kick butt one more time...) In 'I Stole a Million', Raft plays a cabdriver who supplements his income with petty crimes. He keeps vowing that one of these days he's going to accumulate enough swag so that he'll be able to go straight. One reason I loathe this 'reluctant thief' plotline is because it insults the audience's intelligence. The main reason why habitual thieves are habitual thieves isn't the money at all: they get a powerful thrill (very nearly like an orgasm) from their criminal behaviour, and they just won't give it up. But here we're expected to believe that Raft would go straight if he could just pull one big job.
Well, he gets that chance in this movie. Will he get away with the million bucks? And if he does, will he really go straight? Who cares? This movie bears no resemblance to reality. The few pleasures on offer in 'I Stole a Million' are supplied by the supporting cast. Dick Foran, the sour-faced Victor Jory, the even sourer-faced Al Hill and the very under-rated Joe Sawyer are all fine here, despite Frank Tuttle's usual lacklustre direction. Hobart Cavanaugh was a character actor who usually blended into the woodwork, but he's splendid here as a mousy little accountant. Watch for veteran stuntman Dave Sharpe as an undersized cab driver. As for leading lady Claire Trevor ... erm, no comment.
George Raft came from Hell's Kitchen in New York City, and he made no bones about the fact that (in real life) he had an extensive criminal background. (Raft and gangster Bugsy Siegel were pals before either was famous.) Raft was extremely believable as a crook in films in which he had good direction, such as 'Scarface', 'You and Me' and 'Quick Millions'. In 'I Stole a Million', Raft gets no direction at all ... and he's utterly unbelievable, even though he's playing a role quite similar to his own early life. I'll rate 'I Stole a Million' one point out of 10.
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