MGM // 1957 // 85 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // February 19th, 2012
I always wanted to see what a million dollars looked like.
The MGM Limited Edition Collection continues to roll out little known films and The Big Caper is a big hit. It's a good cast of character actors playing some awfully strange people, and it has a talented director in Robert Stevens (44 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents), who weaves a funny and suspenseful crime yarn from a novel by Lionel White, who penned the novel that became The Killing.
Frank Harper (Rory Calhoun, Night of the Lepus) is a gangster with a pony problem, but he has a line on a million dollar score ripping off a small town bank. Flood (James Gregory, The Manchurian Candidate), his boss, bankrolls it, and sends him with his girlfriend, Kay (Mary Costa, Marry Me Again), to pose as Frank's wife so they can open a gas station and lay some roots in the town while Flood plans. As they get attached to the people of the town, though, Flood's crew of specialists start showing up and they start to have second thoughts about going through with the heist.
The Big Caper hits on almost everything that someone could want to see in a B-level crime movie. Rory Calhoun, against his regular western good guy type, is extremely well cast as Frank Harper. He's an imposing figure who is great as the lead goon and the respectable gas station owner that he becomes over the ensuing months. He and Kay quickly become the perfect family, pretty newlyweds with a new house and a business, and it starts to affect them. Over the four months in hiding, they're they've made friends with cops and care about the stupid kids who live down the block; this is the last thing Flood needs. How it all pans out in the end is easy to guess, but it's a fun ride getting there.
As the gang gets closer to the big day, we start to meet the rest of the "family" that Flood has put together. We have Zimmer (Robert Harris, Valley of the Dolls), the bug-eyed pyromaniac posing as Frank's uncle while demanding gin. Roy (Corey Allen, Rebel without a Cause) is a perpetually sweaty surfer with a masochistic streak that makes itself known in a fantastically nuts scene of Flood dishing out some punishment for showing Kay his muscles. Harry (Paul Piercni, House of Wax) is some kind of lighting specialist, which doesn't make a lot of sense. He is the one, though, dumb enough to show up with Doll (Roxanne Arlen, Gypsy), a floozy he just met and already told enough to put them all away. All bunched up in the prototypically perfect '50s home, they're a strange group and a real treat to watch.
The Big Caper is a subversive little crime picture that shows how easy it is to fool these small town rubes who trust everybody. Of course, it isn't so easy when Flood starts to get paranoid, suspecting that the lovebird act is turning real. It's a fun story that is efficiently directed by Stevens, who never dwells too long on either the heist or the marriage angle, but gives both sides adequate time to come together. Both parts are good, though the heist itself seems way too easy, and they keep things running smoothly through to the end, which is not as clear cut as one would expect. It's a funny, convincingly acted film that I'll most definitely watch again.
This edition of The Big Caper from MGM is good, one of the best looking that they've released to date in the collection. I doubt any restoration has been done on the film, but the original materials look quite good for their age. There is a bit of damage to the print here and there but, overall, it's nice and crisp with solid black and white contrast and a trouble-free transfer. The sound is a simple mono track, but it performs well on the disc. It comes off without noise and with good, clear dialog and music. As is standard on these discs, there are no extra features.
The Big Caper certainly isn't the greatest of its kind, but it's less conventional than many of them out there. The characters are kind of insane and, overall, it's a highly enjoyable diversion that is one of the better films released in this collection. It's a little known gem that fans should definitely see.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 85 Minutes
Release Year: 1957
MPAA Rating: Not Rated