The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Big Caper

Nothing flashy, nothing new to the genre, I still very much liked 1957's The Big Caper. Solid cast, interesting B-movie characters, and some bad guys as part of a heist crew that are just too much to believe. A classic? Nope, but it's pretty good for what it is, an entertaining heist movie that doesn't try to be anything that it isn't.

Several months removed from his last successful job, Frank Harper (Rory Calhoun) has ran out of money and has found a new job, one that he could retire on if it goes through. A poorly guarded bank with minimal security twice a month holds the payroll for the Marine base and Camp Pendleton, and to Frank, the money is begging to be taken. He approaches partner and bankroll, Flood (James Gregory), who agrees to go along with the plan. As a set-up, Frank and Flood's girl, Kay (Mary Costa), move into town, buy a gas station and a house, setting up shop as a young, married couple. Creating an alibi, they live there several months in preparation for the job, and then Flood's crew shows up. Let the trouble begin.

The one twist on the familiar noir-heist thriller was the 'what if?' concept added into the story. Setting up a nice, little life for themselves, Frank and Kay become a part of suburban life. Frank makes a profit at his gas station, Kay creates a home for the "couple" and things are looking all around pretty good for them. Kay wants nothing more than to get away from the menacing Flood while Frank's tortured past and childhood seemingly won't let him appreciate what he has.  Kay tries like crazy to convince him otherwise. We're not talking Shakespeare here, but it was nice to see at least some effort by a movie made to bring something new to the heist flick. The effort is very much appreciated.

A Just Hit Play favorite, Calhoun does what he does best here, the bad guy who maybe isn't so bad. He does the tough guy like nobody's business, treading that fine line between straight villain and flawed hero.  It's good to see him in a non-western too where he got pigeon-holed throughout the 1950s.  There's a definite chemistry with Costa, bringing some heart to their scenes together in idyllic suburban life. For you trivia fans, Costa was the voice of Princess Aurora in Disney's Sleeping Beauty so there you go. Being the more obvious sinister villain that he was born to play, Gregory is a scene-stealer, the crime kingpin who puts everything in motion. He doesn't seem like that bad of a guy until some problems arise pre-heist, and well, things go downhill from there. Not big names leading the way, but all strong performances.

This is a 1957 B-movie noirish heist story, and the bad guys have to be very bad to make Calhoun's Frank be sympathetic. Mission accomplished in that department. Let's start with some of Flood's crew, beginning with Zimmer (Robert H. Harris), an explosives expert who will create several diversions during the robbery. His flaw? He's an alcoholic pyromaniac who can never have too much gin. Next, there's Roy (Corey Allen), a fitness freak with some rapist tendencies, or at least some sexual issues that Flood plays up. There's also Harry (Paul Picerni), a ladies man and all-around dope, and Dutch (Florenz Ames), the safecracker who wants nothing to do with the crew or the take, just a flat rate for his services. Quite a crew to say the least, one of the more eccentric, eclectic heist crews I can think of.

So has any heist in a movie ever gone smoothly, including the getaway? Okay, the Ocean's 11 remake doesn't count. Of course George Clooney and Co. are going to pull off the job. It's pretty clear that this heist won't go smoothly. For starters, it's a supposed "easy" job, and we all know how that goes.  Translation = Epic fail. The heist sequence -- about 20 minutes long -- is solid, ratcheting up the tension, but it is in the aftermath where 'Caper' falls short a bit. Yes, it's Doom and Gloom time. I wanted an epically downer ending, but the story and/or script just doesn't have the guts. It is far from a happy ending, but more could have been done. Still good, but it could have been great.

This movie across the board has a lot going for it. Director Robert Stevens keeps things moving with an 84-minute movie that is aided by some California locations and a jazzy score from Albert Glasser that is good in that really obvious way, music blaring to tell you what's coming next. Basically a completely forgotten flick, well worth checking out if you stumble across it.

The Big Caper (1957): ***/****

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