A con man in debt and down on his luck comes up with what he thinks is the perfect caper--robbing a small-town bank that keeps a lot of money on hand because of the payroll of a nearby army base. He convinces a vicious crime boss to bankroll his scheme, but when he and his boss' girl move into the town to make preparations for the heist, he begins to have second thoughts about the whole operation. —email@example.com
Economical, pacy minor 50s crime movie.
Adapted, like Stanley Kubrick's more celebrated 1956 crime movie THE KILLING, from a novel by underrated thriller writer Lionel White, THE BIG CAPER is an economical, pacy minor 50s crime movie which, unfortunately, somewhat loses its grip and falls away on the home strait to deliver less than it initially promises. Trapped in an ever-increasing spiral of gambling losses, Frank (Rory Calhoun, taking a welcome break from the saddle) sells his now semi-respectable gangster boss Flood (James Gregory) the idea of bankrolling a 'big caper'. The sleepy Californian coastal town of San Felipe is home to a bank which holds the substantial payroll for a nearby army base, and appears just ripe for the pickings for a team of professional hoods. Flood stakes the plan, and, after buying up the local gas station (an ideal stakeout locale for the bank located across the street), Frank sets up home with Flood's moll Kay (Mary Costa), aiming to win the trust of the local populace based on a seemingly legitimate veneer of domestic normality. Biding their time, Frank and Kay ingratiate themselves with the local 'square' population as they await the arrival of Flood's specialist team. But when this outfit includes an alcoholic pyromaniac, an inveterate womaniser, a psychotically loyal bodyguard and a kingpin who is beginning, rightfully, to suspect that his girl wants out from her previous lifestyle, the seemingly perfect caper begins to look fatally flawed. Swift and punchy, and betraying the best of its paperback origins in swift, sharp characterisation and abrupt narrative gear changes, this benefits from a nicely embittered change-of-pace lead performance from Calhoun (who, in forsaking his cowboy boots and spurs here, suggests he would have made an effectively downbeat noir actor) and a surprising sense of well-oiled coiled-spring menace from the underrated Gregory. Although a tad schematic in its paralleling of the Eisenhower-era nuclear family with Flood's dysfunctional criminal one, and running out of steam on the way to a regrettably contrived ending which involves a Damascene conversion which doesn't quite convince (a more cynical remake would probably put that right, though), this is a diverting slice of 50s criminality which seems, like much of the quirky crime roster from this period, to have slipped off the generic radar in recent years. Worth a look, even if it can't hold a candle to Kubrick's more celebrated Lionel White adaptation from the same period.
- noir guy
- Apr 22, 2002
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