Richard Lutz picks the best movie on TV this week and makes with the film noir and Robert ‘Old Smokey’ Mitchum.
Much have I travelled in the realms of noir… Or something to that effect. But when you have a main character called Duke Halliday and a cast that includes Robt Mitchum, Jane Greer and William Bendix, you know you have hit The Land of the Black and White Classics. Even the movie’s title, The Big Steal, is juiced with the allure of a late forties steamy crime thriller.
Ol’ Sleepy Eyes is the aforesaid Duke who is robbed of a $300,000 payroll while in the army. He is framed for the megatheft and heads for Mexico, chasing the real thief to get the dough back and clear his name. On the way, he falls for the villain’s girl, played by Jane Greer. Wm Bendix, with the face of a potato sack and best remembered for the lovable TV comedy Life of Riley, is the PI chasing the villain, Mitchum and his girl. And chasing all of them is Mexican cop Ramon Navarro.
Now, don’t worry if The Big Steal (Wed, 6am, Movies4Men) is a bit confusing because the back story is just as fun. Mitchum was put in the slammer during the shoot for smoking weed. Jane Greer was pregnant and had more or less been blacklisted by RKO boss Howard Hughes because she was married and wouldn’t have sex with him. George Raft threw his toys out of the pram because he was ignored for the main role. And actress Liz Montgomery backed out of the production because she didn’t want to be tarnished by trading lines with a convicted doper.
Mitch may have been knocking back the grass in those days but he sure picked great films to make. The Big Steal is a fast-moving thriller, part tongue in cheek, and more or less totally shot in Mexico, the hard sun doing a great number with the black and white cine-stock.
It’s directed by Don Siegal. He went on to make Clint Eastwood films late in his career and other great movies like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Riot in Cell Block 11. Clint adored his style. Siegal, by the way, despite his hard-nosed movies, was an urbane Cambridge University graduate.
Mitchum and Greer worked together previous to The Big Steal. They were screen lovers in the 1947 noir classic Out of the Past, a caper that also went by the title of Build My Gallows High. Now, that’s gotta be the greatest title ever in Hollywood.
But, of course, that’s another story.