Monday, October 17, 2005

THE BIG STEAL (1949) - Don Siegel

The Big Steal is another short but sweet early Siegel studio confection. Appropriately, I don’t have much to say about it, but don’t take that to mean it’s bad. It’s a solid little noir caper with a brisk 71 minute run time and quite possibly the most extensive use of rear screen projection driving sequences I have ever seen.

Case in point: there’s a twisty-turny cliffside auto chase that’s nearly all rear screen. You might think it would be cheesy but somehow Siegel makes it work…not that he had many other options with a Mexico location filmed mostly on the RKO lot.
Mitchum’s doing his standard tough-guy/wiseacre thing here, and Jane Greer plays his able verbal sparring partner. Mitchum’s an army man on the lam from his Captain, William Bendix, after bad guy and Greer fiancé Patrick Knowles runs off with a cache of Army payroll. He soon teams up with the class dame Greer in order to track down the loot, making for an extended chase with a lot of flirtatious banter along the way.
The banter’s not up to The Big Sleep level by any means, but it’s harmless and the story moves along quickly soaking in some nice Mexican flavors along the way. Siegel did manage to shoot a little actual location footage, and he what he has he uses to his advantage. Peckinpah obviously took Siegel’s example in many of his later Mexico-intensive films and multiplied it times ten. In fact, The Big Steal in some ways could be a dress rehearsal for Peckinpah’s much-grander production, The Getaway.

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