For our next Netflix Noir, we take a look at a heist film from 1957, The Big Caper.
Frank (Rory Calhoun) is a small time criminal with a plan. He knows that there’s a Marine base near the small town of San Felipe, California and he also knows that, during the weekend before payday, the San Felipe bank will be holding a million dollar payroll for those Marines. He proposes to Flood (James Gregory), a wealthy crime boss whom Frank idolizes, that they should find a way rob that bank over the weekend. Flood agrees to the plan.
While Flood recruits some help for the robbery, Frank and Flood’s girlfriend, Kay (Mary Costa), move into the town and set themselves up as a part of the community. Using Flood’s money, Frank buys a gas station and he and Kay move into a nice suburban house. At first, Frank resents being forced to live like a “square.” He bitterly complains that the local San Felipe newspaper doesn’t even tell him “how the horses did.”
But then something odd happens. Frank starts to enjoy being a member of the community. Soon, the gas station is making a profit and Frank is even thinking about buying a second one. Oddly enough, his becomes best friends with the local cop.
As for Kay, she transitions to respectability even before Frank does. As she eventually confesses to Frank, she’s tired of being treated like Flood’s property. She wants to stay in San Felipe and make a life for herself. Wearily, Frank tells her that she better hope that Flood doesn’t find out…
Meanwhile, Flood has recruited together his gang and they’re not exactly the most impressive bunch of criminal masterminds. There’s Roy (Corey Allen), a physical fitness fanatic who is almost childlike in his devotion to Flood. There’s Harry (Paul Picerni), who demands that his girlfriend Doll (Roxanne Arlen) be a part of the scheme.
And then there’s Zimmer (Robert H. Harris), a bald, sweating pyromaniac who spends most of his time begging for alcohol and lighting matches. Zimmer arrives at Frank’s house unannounced and Frank is forced to pretend that Zimmer is his uncle.
Once Flood and the rest of the gang arrive, Frank starts to prepare for the robbery but he soon discovers that he’d rather be barbecuing with the neighbors.
The Big Caper is a clever little film, one that features excellent performances (especially from Gregory, Calhoun, Allen, and Harris) and tons of hard-boiled dialogue. What makes this film especially memorable is the way that it contrasts the fake respectability of the wealthy Flood with the newfound, but genuine, respectability of Frank and Kay.
If The Big Caper was made today, it would probably be directed by the Coen Brothers and Ben Affleck and Ray Liotta would play Frank and Flood respectively. However, the film works just as well with Rory Calhoun and James Gregory and is totally worth seeing.