The Big Steal (1949)


(director: Don Siegel; screenwriter: Daniel Mainwaring/Gerald Drayson Adams/based on the Saturday Evening Post Story “The Road to Carmichael’s by Richard Wormser; cinematographer: Harry J. Wild; editor: Samuel E. Beetley; music: Leigh Harline; cast: Robert Mitchum (Lieut. Duke Halliday), Jane Greer (Joan Graham), William Bendix (Capt. Vincent Blake), Patric Knowles (Jim Fiske), Ramon Navarro (Colonel Ortega), Don Alvarado (Lieutenant Ruiz), John Qualen (Julius Seton), Pascual Garcia Pena (Manuel), Ted Jacques (Cole); Runtime: 72; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Jack J. Gross; Warner Home Video; 1949)

“In this taut cat-and-mouse tale, all concerned are in top form.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Don Siegel (“Private Hell 36″/”Invasion of the Body Snatchers”/”Coogan’s Bluff”) masterfully directs this fast-paced, well-constructed and highly enjoyable road chase film noir that in a tongue-and cheek manner stretches the genre’s conventions. It was shot on location around Mexico City, which helps give it a more exotic look. Its routine story is crisply written by Daniel Mainwaring and Gerald Drayson Adams, who deliciously blend in plot twists and racy dialogue; it’s based on the Saturday Evening Post Story “The Road to Carmichael’s” by Richard Wormser. The re-teaming of Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer, from Out of the Past, again beautifully works. In this taut cat-and-mouse tale, all concerned are in top form.

Strapping Army finance officer, Lieut. Duke Halliday (Robert Mitchum), has been framed for the robbery of a $300,000 payroll that was committed by grifter Jim Fiske (Patric Knowles). Duke is being vigorously chased by Army Capt. Vincent Blake (William Bendix), who he overcomes on a boat to avoid capture and gets off at Vera Cruz with Blake in hot pursuit. There Duke encounters an irate Joan Graham (Jane Greer), who loaned her good-for-nothing fiance Fiske $2,000 that the scoundrel has no intention of repaying. Reluctantly Duke and his Chiquita, the name he prefers to call the Spanish-speaking Joan, team to pursue Fiske (he to clear his name and she to get back her loan), who is speeding along the Mexican roadways with the cash somewhere hidden on him. Also in pursuit is Capt. Blake. When the wily Mexican Inspector General Colonel Ortega (Ramon Navarro, former silent leading man) gets wind that something is fishy about the Americans racing around Mexico, he just sits back in a cat-and-mouse stance and lets them fight it out in a playful manner.

Mitchum’s arrest on a marijuana possession charge had him serve prison time in the middle of production, which gave new RKO head Howard Hughes time to force script changes and bring the breezy film down a few notches.


REVIEWED ON 10/29/2009 GRADE: B+