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  • 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.
  • 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.
  • "The Big Caper" is a neglected noir thriller that deserves a lot more recognition...this is one of Rory Calhoun's best and most atypical roles. The pace is brisk and the acting quite good even in the minor roles. A very effective sense of threat and menace are maintained throughout, building tension, grabbing and holding the viewer's interest. Calhoun's and Costa's criminal characters' pretense of the "straight life" as a struggling young married couple in a small town is very striking as the set up to their elaborately plotted bank robbery. Gregory is appropriately frightening as the murderous kingpin. Calhoun was at his height at this time and shows that he had enough skill and screen presence to justify awarding him bigger and better roles outside of the westerns to which he was mostly relegated. This film has undeservedly been eclipsed by many others, less engaging, of the 50's.
  • MartinHafer28 October 2013
    I just finished watching "The Big Caper" and thought it among the best film noir pictures I have seen--and I've seen a lot. Because it was so good, I am shocked that its current rating on IMDb is quite mediocre. Believe me, it's well worth your time.

    The film begins with Frank (Rory Calhoun) approaching Flood (James Gregory) with a plan to knock over a bank. But, it's no ordinary bank--it will have a million dollars for the payroll of the nearby military base. The plan, however, is NOT to just walk in and steal the money--it's much more subtle. Frank and Kay (Mary Costa) will first go to this small town and open a business. Then, after four months of fitting in, they'll launch the caper.

    There are LOTS of glitches along the way. The biggest one is that after four months of playing house, Frank and Kay find they actually are enjoying their fake married life. The business is going very well and they like the community. For the first time, they like being normal. But, normal is NOT what the rest of the gang turns out to be. They are among the sickest group of misfits I've ever seen--far sicker than the usual noir baddies. Frank's phony uncle is actually a psycho who loves blowing up and burning things...and he's also an unpredictable alcoholic and complete sociopath. Flood's other recruits aren't much better--but you'll just have to see this motley group for yourself to believe it. Where does it all go? As I said, you just have to see it for yourself.

    The biggest pluses of this film are the character development as well as the assorted group of sick freaks. Frank and Kay's transformation through the course of the film is believable and the sickies are terrifying. In addition, the film is quite taut and exciting. Rarely have criminals seemed so evil during this era than in "The Big Caper". Believe me, they make folks from other contemporary films like "The Asphalt Jungle", "DOA" and "The Killers" seem like pussycats! Well worth your time.
  • The Big Caper has enough interesting characters to make it worth watching. But this 50s noir caper film could have used a lot of improvement in the characters and their motives.

    Rory Calhoun is a conman associate of big time crook James Gregory and Calhoun has blown the proceeds of the last score on slow horses at Del Mar. He wants to work again and has bank job lined up, a small town bank where the money for the pay of the US Marines stationed at Camp Pendleton is located.

    Gregory cooks up a scheme and it's a dilly. Part of it involved Calhoun and Gregory's girl friend buying a filling station and a home and living in the town for a few months as Ward and June Cleaver clones. Mary Costa the girlfriend gets to like the lifestyle, Calhoun isn't crazy about it at all.

    I can't really believe that Gregory sends Costa off to live with Calhoun and pretend to be man and wife. Is there something wrong with that picture?

    The scheme however is something else. And Gregory collects around him some set of helpers. Robert Harris is an explosives guy who gets his jollies from his work and has a real drinking problem. There's muscle bound Corey Allen who has issues and is crushing out on Gregory as a father figure. Paul Picerni brings along the ultimate bimbo Roxanne Arlen and tells her just enough about the score to have to have her taken care of.

    These people, especially Arlen really make The Big Caper worth looking at. The plot and the redemption of our protagonists is not especially well dramatized.
  • A heist gang is assembled from character types to knock over a million-dollar bank. But first, the gang must establish credentials in town by pretending that two of their number are a married couple that buy a gas station. But will the diverse types be able to carry out the scheme, especially in the midst of an all-American community.

    Well-made thick ear. Despite the title, the heist part is pretty ordinary. The movie's real appeal is in colorful characters and human interest. Robert H. Harris has to be the biggest bundle of pathetic sweat in movie annals. When he isn't setting off diversionary explosions, he's in near orgasmic delight over the fires he sets. It's a thankless role, he brings off to the proverbial T. Then there's Corey Allen's demented hipster Roy, and a long way from his commanding role in Rebel Without a Cause (1955). With his blond crew-cut, I almost didn't recognize him. But in my view, the movie really belongs to James Gregory's mastermind, Flood. He brings real authority to the role, making much of the movie more credible than it is. No wonder he had a long run on TV.

    The various little conflicts make up most of the story, and except for some cheap sets, they're compelling enough to hold interest. However, suspense doesn't really kick in until the final 20-minutes, while some threads are left hanging; that is, unless I missed something. Anyway, Calhoun and Costa make an attractive couple, with a good look at that 50's suburban ritual, the backyard bar-be-cue. And despite a couple of plot stretches, the production remains on the whole an entertaining little package.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Rory Calhoun swaps his horse for a car in director Robert Stevens' taut little heist thriller "The Big Caper" with Mary Costa and James Gregory. If this slickly done melodrama is predictable, you have to remember that when it came out, nobody could get away with a crime. Although the robbers aren't able to get away with a cool million in bank notes, they manage to execute the crime. "The Big Caper" is memorable chiefly because of its gallery of warped rogues, right down to the amoral protagonist who finds the right gal and decides to quit the racket. Stevens and scenarist Martin Berkeley never let the action go slack as the thieves lay out the project. Unfortunately, the trust among the thieves erodes quickly after a gin-swilling explosives experts is recruited into their ranks. Meanwhile, Flood (James Gregory) grows suspicious about the relationship between Frank Harper (Rory Calhoun) and his girlfriend Kay who have settled in town of San Felipe, California, as a couple who operate a gas station. Zimmer drives the wedge in deep between Flood and Harper because Harper doesn't like him hitting the bottle. Things grown complicated because the thieves want something to distract the authorities while they steal a million-dollar payroll intended for the Marines at Camp Pendleton. When the gang isn't slowing deteriorating, Harper grows compassionate with his neighbors. Ultimately, he turns against Flood when he learns that Zimmer plans to plant the explosives for the distraction at the local high school. The catch is that when Zimmer plants the explosives, the school is filled with kids practicing a play. The abrupt ending is the worst thing about this superbly acted drama.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Not too bad for this type B noirish thriller (except the criminals don't get away with it darn it--but this is 1957--no body got away with any thing.)

    The plot: Frank (Rory Calhoun) enlists Flood (James Gregory) to help him steal 1 million dollars that is deposited every payday in a small town bank near Camp Pendleton for the military payroll. The plan is to have Kay-Flood's girlfriend (Mary Costa) pretend to be married to Frank and go to the small town where the bank is located 6 months before the heist and blend into the local community by buying a gas station and a house (far too nice and expensive for a tiny gas station owner by the way)---Hollywood never had much reality in these type of details.

    Somehow by living there this will make the caper work I guess by supplying a safe house where no one will think to look for the money---because neither Kay nor Frank are critical to the robbery itself.

    It is OK to pass some time since you know in the beginning this caper will fail and there is nothing particularly suspenseful about any of it. It is competently acted and filmed...gets a 5 or 6.

  • Warning: Spoilers
    Robert Stevens directs this crime drama; almost the perfect crime. Frank Harper(Rory Calhoun), a con man down on his luck and flat broke, goes to a long time crime boss named Flood(James Gregory)to ask for set up money for the perfect crime. It takes some convincing, but Frank knows for sure that a small-town bank regularly has the near by Marine base's payroll deposited. Flood figures that if he sends his girlfriend Kay(Mary Costa)with Harper to set up house as a new couple to the community they could prepare for the caper without suspicion. Calhoun comes across real cool. Costa is convincing as a pretty woman that needs affection and the chance for a real life. Planning out the heist is interesting. Other players include: Robert Harris, Paul Picerni, Roxanne Arlen and Ray Teal.
  • BILLYBOY-1019 October 2010
    Warning: Spoilers
    This is a 1.5 hour train wreck. Scene one we know RC (star Rory Calhoun) is determined to rob a bank so we immediately know happily ever after ain't gonna happen. He enlists an old ex-con pal to plan the caper.Normally you would blow into town unknown, pull off the job and split but instead RC buys a gas station and a house, befriends the the community, joins the Country Club to get everyone to know an love him and his fake wife for six months and THEN pull off the bank job and stick around for another month and then split town. Brilliant plan, right? I don't see it that way myself but his old pal is a criminal master mind so what do I know? Half the flick revolves around the fake life of our fake schmaltzy couple until the various characters involved in the caper show up in town to plan and carry out the caper....and boy, do I mean Characters with a capital "C". First the pyromaniac gin addicted torch man, the spooky masochistic body builder looney toon, a floozy dame whose name is Doll, the businesslike safe cracker and a harmless watch-out. As this gang of idiots play out the train wreck really takes place and naturally ends in the inevitable pile up with our rehabilitated fake couple promising to hook up no matter what. The End. Nice old DeSoto's tho.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    This is one of those intriguing caper films that deals 90% with the build up to it and shows how capers fail simply because of the people they let become involved. There's the mastermind (Rory Calhoun), the big money man (James Gregory), his mistress (Mary Costello), not to mention an alcoholic pyromaniac and a psychotic young man that would as soon stab a cute dog to death let alone strangle a woman who rejected him. To get the caper off the ground, Calhoun and Costello posed as a married couple who move into the community where they intend to rob a bank of a million-dollar account but first established themselves as a respectable business owner and his new wife. becoming friendly with local law enforcement and others in the neighborhood gives Calhoun and Costello a friendly reputation, but things go awry as the drunken pyro gets out of control, the crazy young man turns homicidal, and Gregory discovers that Costello is two-timing him.

    This moves at the perfect pace to set up each of the characters and each one of them has interesting tidbits about them revealed which makes for intriguing drama as well as a thrilling film nor. usually films that spend so much time on a setup and Abdul, but that is not the case here at all. There are enough important details implemented to provide great psychological drama, and the conflict between everybody involved in the caper build to where you know they'll most likely end up destroying each other. Corey Allen is one of the screen's most memorable crazies, gentle at one moment, then malevolently homicidal the next. Roxanne Arlen adds demention as a stereotypical dizzy blonde.

    As for the three leads, Calhoun under plays his character's seedy nature, and Costello adds on a dimension of conscience as Gregory's gal pal. Gregory, so memorably sinister as the evil politician husband of Angela Lansbury in "The Manchurian Candidate", is commanding in a role that could have been cliched and colorless. The screenplay, direction, editing and photography are all first-rate, and a wonderfully dramatic score sets everything emotionally in tone. There's no let up on this one. It will keep you enthralled throughout.