The Big Steal (1949)
The Big Steal (1949)

Genre: Film Noir Running Time: 1 hr. 11 min.

Release Date: July 9th, 1949 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Don Siegel Actors: Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, William Bendix, Ramon Novarro, Patric Knowles, Don Alvarado, John Qualen

 


 

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hough lesser known and often overshadowed by Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer’s previous cinematic pairing (1947’s “Out of the Past”), “The Big Steal” offers a comparable charm with its witty banter and undeniable magnetism between the two stars. Coupled with the leads’ irresistible repartee is an uncommon blend of screwball comedy and film noir – perhaps the least likely elements to fit together so neatly. Equal parts serious adventure and raucous chase movie to boot, “The Big Steal” successfully harmonizes contrasting genres over authentic Tehuacan scenery (while also more favorably portraying a people and culture that would be routinely viewed through a discriminatory lens during the ‘40s and ‘50s) and a befitting plot full of crafty twists.

After being cornered at gunpoint by Captain Vincent Blake (William Bendix), wily renegade Duke Halliday (Robert Mitchum) overpowers the serviceman and steals his identification papers. Fleeing into Mexico and claiming to be Blake, Halliday hunts for the elusive Fiske (Patric Knowles), a duplicitous conman in possession of a map and possibly $300,000 in cash. Forming an uneasy alliance with Joan Graham (Jane Greer), Fiske’s former girlfriend, Halliday must outsmart his adversary while evading both the real Blake and the Mexican police, led by shrewd Inspector General Ortega (Ramon Novarro).

An early film by Don Siegel (“Dirty Harry,” “The Shootist,” “Escape from Alcatraz”), “The Big Steal” offers a glimpse into the style that the director would cultivate in his later efforts. Hard-hitting action and intense car chases, regularly peppered with breaks for humor, permeate a winding script that finds the antihero and the damsel in distress initially at odds. But over the course of their harrowing ordeal, the biting remarks to one another gradually transform into artful flirtations. The mystery itself builds slowly on details but fast on energy, allowing the characters to develop and provide their intriguing allure long before the audience even knows what the hubbub is all about.

After the phenomenal pairing of Greer and Mitchum in “Out of the Past,” the duo almost didn’t meet again for “The Big Steal.” Lizabeth Scott was originally chosen to play the part of Joan, but bowed out after Mitchum was convicted of marijuana usage in 1948. Even Jane Russell was dissuaded from accepting the role as the seemingly bad publicity might negatively impact her career. Luckily, Jane Greer, who was a good friend of Mitchum’s, readily agreed to partner with him once again – and “The Big Steal” benefited immeasurably from their distinct onscreen chemistry.

– Joel Massie

  • 7/10