The Films of Don Siegel: The Big Steal
Two years after making the film noir classic Out of The Past (1947) together, Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer co-starred in this South of The Border crime adventure.
Mitchum plays U.S. Army Lieutenant Duke Halliday, who is robbed of a $300,000 payroll he is carrying by a fast talking shyster named Fiske (Patric Knowles). Meanwhile, Halliday’s superior Capt. Vincent Blake (William Bendix) suspects him of the actual crime and is on his trail looking to arrest him. To complicate matters further, Fiske’s own girlfriend Joan “Chiquita” Graham (Jane Greer) is after $2000 that Fiske owes her from a loan. When he’s cornered, Fiske sweet talks Chiquita into trusting him but soon takes off once again after pulling a fast one on her. Chiquita runs into Halliday (now disguised as Blake after stealing his ID during a fight) and the two traveling companions chase after Fiske while Blake seeks out the cooperation of the Mexican police led by Inspector General Ortega (Ramon Novarro) to help him find Halliday.
Even though The Big Steal is considered part of the film noir genre, it doesn’t quite have the standard motifs that those edgier movies are best known for. For instance, it’s set in the sunbaked locale of Mexico and there’s a slightly more comedic tone to the proceedings. However, it does share such details as hard hitting ‘punch em up’ sequences, trademark double crosses, a firey female lead and an authority figure who has no aversions to breaking the law to complete his mission. This is a theme we’d see show up in Siegel’s later films like Madigan and Dirty Harry.
What makes The Big Steal most appealing is Mitchum and Greer who have a natural chemistry as they banter and trade verbal jabs while traveling on the road. The film is paced at an almost breakneck speed and seems like the characters are constantly in a fight or on the move which just makes it all the more exciting to watch and keeps things from being stuck in a rut. While the plotline is relatively simple, the lighthearted dime novel aspects featuring pulpy dialogue by screenwriters Gerald Drayson Adams and Daniel Mainwaring turn this small scale B-movie into an overlooked gem of crime cinema.