A hidden Film Noir gem

If you have Netflix (and that would seem to include practically EVERYONE in the United States these days), then I have an interesting recommendation for you.  It’s a small-time film that most folks would probably never even think to watch—yet it’s very entertaining and very well written.  The movie is The Big Caper (1957) and stars Rory Calhoun—a guy who isn’t exactly a household name today.

One thing you should know about The Big Caper is that it’s from a genre known as ‘Film Noir’.  Noir is a difficult sort of style of film to describe—and many folks have different interpretations of what Noir really is.  In general, these crime films are seen as ‘black’ in style (hence the word ‘noir’) because they tend to be tougher and a bit more downbeat than the gangster films of the 30s.  And, while evil usually does NOT prevail in a Noir film, it sure comes close and often takes a serious death toll in the process!  Additionally, the best Noir movies have marvelous shadows and imaginative camera angles. They also include great dialog—tough, snappy and occasionally rather funny in a dark way.  A few excellent examples of Noir would include: The Killers (1946), DOA (1950), White Heat (1949), Kiss of Death (1947) and The Asphalt Jungle (1950).  However, the French made some terrific Noir pictures (such as Bob le Flambeur and Rififi)—picking up the genre when it started to fade here in the States.

Now most film critics would not place The Big Caper in the same league as these other films I mentioned—mostly because I doubt if very many critics have even seen the movie.  Plus, while Calhoun was a good actor, he mostly starred in low-budgeted films and isn’t exactly known for Noir.  However, this film is every bit as entertaining as the classics I mentioned above.

The film begins with Frank Harper (Calhoun) pitching a plan to make a huge heist to a mobster named Flood (James Gregory).  However, it’s not the typical robbery but would include Harper and his ‘wife’ (a woman posing as the Missus) setting up shop and living in a small town for several months before the robbery.  Then, after several months of lying low and building an excellent cover, they’d have ‘friends visit’ who would then blow up the local school—sending the town into a panic.  During this panic, the actual robbery would take place when the cops would be so busy with the explosion and fire that there would be practically no one guarding the money.  It’s a great plan…but there’s a serious problem.  Frank is sent to the town with Flood’s girlfriend to pose as the wife—and slowly the pair really grew to like their new lives as well as each other.  However, there’s no backing out now, as Flood and his ‘associates’ are among the most appalling group of sociopathic misfits assembled in a noir film.  Plus, Flood is definitely the jealous type.  One of the big reasons I adore the film is because the folks who are evil are incredibly evil.  For example, the arsonist who likes blowing up buildings plans of blasting the school whether or not there are children inside at the time—though the plan calls for doing this when the place is empty.  What’s next?  Well, see the film for yourself if you can find it.  Here in the US, it’s now available streaming on Netflix as I already mentioned as well as at Amazon.com.  As always, let me know what you think after you give the movie a try.

Martin’s Grade: A-

Review by Martin Hafer, Film Critic