During the 1950s, a corrupt labor union boss and the mob silence all those who witness their shady activities but an honest union member threatens to testify in front of a Senate Committee, thus becoming a murder-target.
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.
In 1959 the year The Big Operator came out the labor racketeering Senate hearings were occupying a lot of the televised news that year. Senator John F. Kennedy's presence got a lot of television exposure that year via the McClellan hearings into organized crime, not to mention his brother Robert F. Kennedy was the counsel for those hearings and first came into contact with Jimmy Hoffa.
Hoffa by all accounts was as nasty and pugnacious as Mickey Rooney as Little Joe Braun. And the Kennedy brothers would have told you he was as capable the deadly things he is as the head of a local of machinists here. Rooney's character is clearly based on Jimmy Hoffa. Hoffa was as short as Mickey Rooney in real life.
After constant badgering by committee counsel Peter Leeds as Rooney continually pleads the 5th amendment Rooney is tricked into saying he doesn't know contract killer Ray Danton who works for him. The only problem is that a couple of honest union members, Steve Cochran and Mel Torme saw the two of them outside Rooney's office. What to do?
What to do includes arson and kidnapping, setting Torme on fire and kidnapping Jay North who is Cochran's son. Not to mention beating up a blindfolded Cochran and telling him to lie before the committee if he wants to see his son alive again.
Mickey Rooney shows his considerable range as an actor in this film and it's nice to see Cochran as a good guy for a change. The film has one jarring note though all those who saw this in theater back in 1959 wouldn't agree. Mamie Van Doren gives a subdued performance as Cochran's wife and North's mother. But she's still the glamorous Mamie Van Doren, a poor man's Marilyn Monroe. Back when I was 12 when this came out I don't remember seeing any mothers who looked like that. No doubt she had everyone's hormones in a rage.
The Big Operator which also has a nice jazz score is a good snapshot of the times.
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