8 user 4 critic

Never Steal Anything Small (1959)

Approved | | Comedy, Drama, Musical | 12 April 1959 (UK)
Jake MacIllaney will do just about anything to win the presidential election of longshoreman union Local 26. When he encounters young upright attorney Dan Cabot and Cabot's attractive wife,... See full summary »


2 nominations. See more awards »


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Cast overview, first billed only:
Linda Cabot
Dan Cabot
Winnipeg Simmons
Lt. Tevis
O. K. Merritt
Sleep-Out Charlie Barnes
Ed Barton
Ward (as John Duke)
Jack Orrison ...


Jake MacIllaney will do just about anything to win the presidential election of longshoreman union Local 26. When he encounters young upright attorney Dan Cabot and Cabot's attractive wife, Linda, MacIllaney breaks up their marriage, pursues Linda, and pins a grand larceny rap on Dan. And all set to music! Written by Ray Hamel <hamel@primate.wisc.edu>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Plot Keywords:

union | gangster | based on play | See All (3) »


Comedy | Drama | Musical


Approved | See all certifications »




Release Date:

12 April 1959 (UK)  »

Also Known As:

Gangster amore e... una Ferrari  »

Company Credits

Show more on  »

Technical Specs

Sound Mix:

(Westrex Recording System)



Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
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Did You Know?


Has never been available on Dvd. See more »


Helping Our Friends
Music by Allie Wrubel
Lyrics by Maxwell Anderson
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User Reviews

Near-miss, near-musical
7 February 2003 | by See all my reviews

'Never Steal Anything Small' comes tantalisingly close to being a first-rate film, a sparkling musical comedy with some trenchant satirical commentary on the close relationship between politicians, labour unions and organised crime. James Cagney gives an ingratiating performance in what very nearly could have been one of his greatest roles. So close ... and yet so far. In the event, this film is full of missed opportunities and near misses.

Firstly, this movie is almost but not quite a full-fledged musical. The film starts out promisingly before the opening credits, with Cagney chanting rhymed verse directly into the camera, recounting the advice handed down to him when he was a lad: 'Never steal anything.' 'Never steal ANYTHING?' asks an incredulous offstage chorus. 'Never steal anything SMALL,' amends Cagney, and we're off to a promising start ... but the promise (and the premise) are never fulfilled.

There are only about three full-fledged musical numbers in the entire movie. One of them, intended to be a satire on TV commercials, is a too-long advertisement for a dishwashing detergent with the unlikely name 'Love', performed by the annoying Shirley Jones. I've never understood the appeal of Shirley Jones, and I find her even less appealing nowadays (I'm writing this in 2003) when she looks like an older version of Hillary Clinton (another actress whose performances have never convinced me). Shirley Jones did have a good coloratura singing voice, but her big 'Love' number in this movie is written to be chanted rather than sung, so it minimises her genuine vocal talent.

The best number in this film (which isn't saying much) is a peppy novelty song called 'I'm Sorry, I Want a Ferrari', performed by Cara Williams and Cagney. We know (from his previous films) that Cagney's a great song-and-dance man, so we really want to see him cut loose with some hoofing in this movie ... but he never does it. The closest Cagney comes to dancing is in the 'Ferrari' number, when he struts along a conveyor belt with Cara Williams (who, like Jones, also fails to convey any appeal to me).

I enjoy musicals, so it seldom bothers me when 'normal' people on screen suddenly burst into song and dance. But in 'Never Steal Anything Small', the musical numbers are so few and far between that we can never really accept this movie as a musical. Consequently, when the characters occasionally DO break into song (after long stretches of straight dialogue), the transition is jarring.

I was delighted when I saw Charles Lederer credited with the screenplay for this movie. Lederer was one of the great wisecrackers of Hollywood's golden age, an iconoclast who knew everyone and had plenty to say. He was also the nephew of Marion Davies, which gave him permanent entree into William Randolph Hearst's estate at San Simeon. (Lederer was the one who tipped off Hearst that Orson Welles was making a movie about a guy named Citizen Kane who bore an unflattering resemblance to Hearst.) I was well and truly hoping that 'Never Steal Anything Small' would be full of Lederer's vintage wisecracks and some Hecht/MacArthur-style dialogue, but I was disappointed.

Most annoying of all is this film's immoral viewpoint. Cagney's character (a big shot in the longshoremen's union) is flagrantly corrupt, but we're expected to cheer him onward because he's a lovable rogue with a line of blarney. Cagney's opponent here is an honest attorney (played by Roger Smith, who previously played Cagney's son in 'Man of a Thousand Faces'). The attorney is a colourless cipher, clearly meant to be less sympathetic than Cagney's charming crook. Smith gives a bland performance as the attorney: he was a dull actor, who later had better success managing the career of his wife Ann-Margret.

What hurts is that 'Never Steal Anything Small' has many enjoyable moments. The few musical numbers are well-staged and well-written, making us wish for more. The lyrics are excellent. The dialogue and the comedy are amusing but not really up to what we should expect from Lederer. Sadly, I rate this movie 5 out of 10. A pleasant time-passer, but it could have been a truly great film.

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