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The Big Operator (1959)

Bill Gibson is Little Joe's nemesis and is one of the men who can testify that he saw the labor boss in an incriminating conversation with a known criminal - something that Little Joe ... See full summary »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Little Joe Braun
Bill Gibson
Mary Gibson
Fred McAfee
Oscar 'The Executioner' Wetzel
Cliff Heldon
Slim Clayburn
Ed Brannell
Charles Chaplin Jr. ...
Bill Tragg
Gina (as Vampira)
Tony Webson
Ben Gage ...
Bert Carr
Timmy Gibson
Lawrence Dobkin ...
Phil Cernak
Danny Sacanzi


Bill Gibson is Little Joe's nemesis and is one of the men who can testify that he saw the labor boss in an incriminating conversation with a known criminal - something that Little Joe denied under oath. Knowing that Cochran and one other witness can bring him down, the crooked labor boss starts on a campaign of terror.

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Release Date:

August 1959 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Anatomy of the Syndicate  »

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Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
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User Reviews

Obviously, Boy's Town Didn't Do Him Much Good....
5 August 2015 | by (Whiting, Indiana) – See all my reviews

QUICK! Name a late-50's film that stars Mr. Magoo, Uncle Fester, Dennis the Menace, Vampira, The "Velvet Fog", bandleader Ray Anthony, (his then-wife) Mamie van Doren ---plus the biggest little street-punk of them all: Whitey Marsh (from 1938's "Boy's Town")---AKA Mickey Rooney! One might imagine that Whitey's Boy's Town training has worn off, leading him back to his crime-ridden roots. In any case, Rooney's character in "The Big Operator" is a vicious, conniving, arrogant, loud- mouthed, Capone-like (but still pint-sized) Union boss.

Interestingly, the good guy/hero is (very effectively) played by Steve Cochran, who made a career out of playing vicious hoods and thugs; I kept waiting for him to stand up and kick the crap out of Leo Gordon and Rooney's other goons but, alas, that moment never really comes.

If it weren't for the grueling, L-O-N-G torture scene of Cochran , "The Big Operator" plays almost like a semi-comedic parody of the Noir style- -sensational and shocking to the max, but so clichéd and filled with cheezy dialogue and over-played scenes and stereotypes that I found myself laughing out loud frequently---in between the groans.

True, the film accurately portrays the thuggish, violent world of big- labor union politics--no laughing matter. But with "the Mick" stomping around, chomping a cigar and barking orders and threats at everyone around him, it's hard to take seriously. Did you ever think you'd see Mel Torme dumped out of a car on his front lawn and set on fire with gasoline? (Looks like the stunt man who performed this scene was in REAL danger!) The fact that he shows up late in the film with a big bandage on his head (and hand), but otherwise seems perfectly OK, is just another aspect of "B.O." (Big Operator) that makes it seem like a SEND- UP of the genre. Or how about Charlie Chaplin, Jr. being fed into a cement mixer in the opening scene? WOW! The only thing I was expecting that DIDN'T happen was some sort of lurid kidnap/titillation scene with Mamie van Doren; I can't imagine how the writer, director, and schlock- meister producer Albert Zugsmith let this opportunity escape them. So Mamie, basically untouched, remains pure 50's-style, domestic housewife "Cheescake", whose main dramatic challenges consist of servin' up waffles, roast beef, and brown potatoes (no vacuuming or ironing, though).

Also interesting is the fact that the script is based on a short story by Paul Gallico, author of such children's classics as "The Snow Goose", "The Small Miracle", and the original story that ultimately became the magical MGM musical "Lili". Gallico certainly had his dark, "adult" side, but I doubt that his original story was anywhere near as over-the-top and grotesque as "B.O!"

Another L-O-N-G scene has Steve Cochran driving his wife and pals around at night trying to locate the mobster's hideout; it stretches credulity WAY beyond its breaking point. The miffed, frustrated reactions of the other 5 people in the car had me guffawing out loud, as did the big climatic fight scene in the hideout, which is staged in a manner reminiscent of the Three Stooges' best brawls and pie fights (weapons used during the fight include a mop, a picture frame, and a silver loving cup, which makes a very musical "bong" sound when it connects with Ray Anthony's noggin).

The cops FINALLY are called into action about 4 minutes from the end, basically sleep-walking through their parts. But the way Steve Cochran finally figures out where Mickey and his own bratty kidnapped kid (Jay "Dennis the Menace" North) are hiding is perhaps the single most hilarious moment in the film; I was almost giddy with delight as I replayed it several times.

Steve, spying a cigar butt on the mantle place, picks it up and says to the police detective: "It's the kind of cigar Joe Braun (Mickey Rooney) smokes; FEEL THAT....it's still warm(!)" He then goes to a closet and discovers cigar ashes on the floor, which miraculously leads to the discovery of a secret compartment in the closet. Steve flings it open...and there's Mickey, sort of crouching with his face sticking out, just itching to be slugged! (which FINALLY happens).

But...I do go on. Part violent indictment of union/mob violence, part sensationalistic noir, part cheap, vaudeville-style parody...especially considering its eclectic cast., "The Big Operator" is an experience you won't forget easily, try as you might. It's definitely too loony to be taken seriously. How the once-mighty, wholesome, family-oriented MGM Studio had fallen by 1959! But I'm glad the film is available. If you're the type who can't resist walking through the freak show at the carnival-- just for the shock and thrill---"The Big Operator" is probably your cup of tea.


PS-- Interesting also to note the high incidence of jazz musicians in the cast--Torme, Ray Anthony and singer Billy Daniels, who has a walk-on as a crooked gas station owner

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