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The Big Operator (1959)

Approved | | Crime, Drama | August 1959 (USA)
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.


Charles F. Haas (as Charles Haas)


Paul Gallico (based on a Cosmopolitan Magazine story by), Allen Rivkin (screenplay) | 1 more credit »




Cast overview, first billed only:
Mickey Rooney ... Little Joe Braun
Steve Cochran ... Bill Gibson
Mamie Van Doren ... Mary Gibson
Mel Tormé ... Fred McAfee
Ray Danton ... Oscar 'The Executioner' Wetzel
Jim Backus ... Cliff Heldon
Ray Anthony ... Slim Clayburn
Jackie Coogan ... Ed Brannell
Charles Chaplin Jr. ... Bill Tragg
Maila Nurmi ... Gina (as Vampira)
Billy Daniels ... Tony Webson
Ben Gage Ben Gage ... Bert Carr
Jay North ... Timmy Gibson
Lawrence Dobkin ... Phil Cernak
Leo Gordon ... 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.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Goons! Torch Killers! Labor Racketeers! See more »


Crime | Drama


Approved | See all certifications »

Did You Know?


The last 20 minutes of this film,the hunt to find the kidnappers hideout,is an almost complete copy of the sequence in Joe Smith American 1942. See more »


Little Joe Braun: Awright, put that down. I wanna talk to you. Put it down! Come around here. Put the drink down, I wanna talk to you. Now who told you to set this guy, McAfee on fire? He didn't even see us.
Oscar 'The Executioner' Wetzel: You told me to scare him, didn't you? So I poured a little gas on him.
Little Joe Braun: A little gas...
Oscar 'The Executioner' Wetzel: It's not my fault if that stupid Lou lights a match, you know?
Little Joe Braun: How do you think this is gonna look for me at the trial? Look you don't set anybody on fire unless I tell you to, you understand?
Oscar 'The Executioner' Wetzel: You wanna know every time I put a ...
See more »


Remake of Joe Smith, American (1942) See more »

User Reviews

Nasty customer based on Jimmy Hoffa
3 September 2015 | by bkoganbingSee all my reviews

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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Release Date:

August 1959 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Anatomy of the Syndicate See more »


Box Office


$527,000 (estimated)
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Mono (Westrex Recording System)

Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See full technical specs »

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