3 June 2011 | secondtake
A small town, small scale, big drama crime heist noir surprise. Excellent!
The Big Caper (1957)
Fabulous. Here's where having unknown talent and a plot about ordinary folk really gels into something genuine, without glitz and without the high production values that are terrific in the best crime noirs but are also so slick they become something more and also less. "The Big Caper" obviously has aspirations, beginning with the title (one of the great "Big xxx" films like "The Big Heat" and "The Big Combo" and "The Big Sleep"). And it doesn't let up, or let down.
By the end this is a heist film through and through, but the curious part is the core central part where a couple, with criminal intentions, sets up a normal seeming life in a small and unsuspecting town. But the woman of this pair is married to another man, who happens to be the mastermind of the whole affair. Things go wonderfully right for awhile, and romance blossoms as well as a clever and huge (and simple) robbery. But of course things also go wrong.
All of this is unfolded in an idealized American town, and that's part of the fun. When some of the smaller characters in the crime arrive, they are glaringly out of place. I smelled hints of sexual weirdness (including some possible S&M stuff with a strange blonde guy) and of course there's the conflict between the two leading men and the leading woman. Like Kubrick's "The Killing," a nearly contemporary heist film, this isn't about getting caught at all, but just about the inside workings of some small time thugs with a very big and bad dream. If Kubrick's film is better technically, and has some acting that rises above (several key players are terrific), this one rises up on its quieter simplicity, and on some very solid and less sensational acting.
And on a great job pulling it together. Robert Stevens did mostly television, including a whole series for Alfred Hitchcock t.v., and among his handful of feature films this is probably the best. Nicely filmed with lots of convincing (and real) night stuff, and edited tightly, it never flags. If the ending is a little too sweet, remember this isn't Kubrick after all. But good stuff.