Sunday, June 26, 2011
From the Rental Vault: The Big Steal
Mitchum is Duke Halliday, a U.S. Army payroll lieutenant who's robbed by the smooth-talking Jim Fiske (Patric Knowles). Halliday's superior, Captain Vincent Blake (William Bendix), suspects that Halliday may not be coming clean about the theft of the $300,000 payroll, so Halliday finds himself on the run to Mexico, needing to find Fiske and recover the money in order to prove his innocence. There, he meets Joan Graham (Greer), another of Fiske's victims. They join forces but happily don't turn off the snappy bickering until the movie's nearly over. Bendix makes an excellent hapless official, and Ramon Novarro's Inspector General Ortega plays nearly everyone off of each other in order to further his own agenda -- whatever that may be.
Mitchum is such a natural as the honorable tough guy with a few rough edges that it's easy to overlook how good of an actor he is. Greer's talent can go just as hidden, since she's almost as comfortable as the femme fatale as Mitchum is the tough guy. Though two years earlier they played similar roles opposite each other in Out of the Past, Duke and Joan are nothing like Past's Jeff Bailey and Kathie Moffet. When they fenced with their words in Past, you could see lunges and vicious swipes meant to wound or worse. But here they're two clever people trying to out-clever each other and enjoying the contest.
Don Siegel, early in the career that would see him direct Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Dirty Harry and The Shootist, keeps things ticking along nicely, allowing the cast enough time to have plenty of fun with the excellent Gerald Drayson Adams and Daniel Mainwaring (another Out of the Past alum) script but not so much the movie bogs down. The Big Steal, it's also worth noting, resists making its Hispanic cast members part of the background in a way that movies of the time more commonly did. Inspector Ortega, for example, seems like a typical greedy corruptocrat but shows plenty of layers before everything winds up. Greer's also got more to do that the usual "skoit" role familiar to "private eye pitcher" watchers, and it all adds up to a whole lot more fun than the 70-minute running time would seem to be able to hold.