The Big Caper (1957)
I don’t mix pleasure with business.”
Not always riding the range, Rory Calhoun stars here as a not so hardened criminal in the employ of father figure, James Gregory. Gregory is the money man and holds the power when he needs to pull rank on anyone in his gang of cutthroats. Rory comes to him with one of those perfect heist ideas winning over Gregory with his idea to steal an army payroll said to be worth a million dollars.
The set up will involve Rory moving into a small town where a local bank holds the payroll twice monthly. He along with Gregory’s own property, Mary Costa, will set up shop as newlyweds buying a local gas station and home. The intent is to scope out the operation while ingratiating themselves into the community. Neighbors and local cops alike. Before Rory knows it he’s a regular guy hosting scrabble parties and attending neighborhood bbq’s with Miss Costa on his arm. When Rory’s turning those burgers on the old grill I couldn’t help but quietly utter the line, “It takes all kinds of critters to make Farmer Vincent’s fritters.”
Just another movie reference so you figure it out.
But that’s a sucker’s game. As Rory would tell it, “no dice, baby.” Clearing $145 down at the gas pumps for the week? Not on Rory’s watch when there’s a million dollars at stake. Trouble is the lovely Mary is getting that settling down fever and thinking Rory might be just the guy to do it with now that she’s seen the genteel side of the so called hardened criminal. As far as Rory’s concerned, she’s Gregory’s gal and off limits. For now at least.
In the span of about thirty minutes on screen, the story advances four months and Gregory assembles his gang of cutthroats. Robert Harris as his demolitions man and all around alcoholic with a penchant for imitating Peter Lorre. Paul Picerni as the muscle and Corey Allen as the psychotic rapist (hinted at) who will do whatever is required of him including killing a blonde that Picerni has in tow who knows far too much. Gregory’s calm leader is soon going to be cast in a different light as he bullies his gang and assumes the worst when his lady decides she wants out of the criminal racket to make a clean start for herself. Jealousy rears it’s ugly head and the man with that cool voice is shooting daggers at Rory with his eyes. Anyone who was a kid growing up in the 70’s and 80’s probably knew Gregory’s voice long before connecting it to the face. Gregory hit a home run portraying General Ursus in Beneath the Planet of the Apes and that voice for me will forever be identified with that character. “The only thing that counts in the end is power! Naked merciless force! “
Rory is going to have to do some serious soul searching now that he’s had a taste for the everyday life and the love of a former gangster gal turned good. That decision just might get a little easier on the night the robbery is to take place. Harris as our sweaty demolitions man has decided to spark an explosion at the local school where the towns kids happen to be that evening practicing for an upcoming event. A leading man of Rory’s stature surely can’t let that happen.
This will of course lead to a showdown of epic “B” film proportions at the fade out.
While I may be poking a bit of fun here, this is actually a decent thriller that fits both Calhoun’s and Gregory’s screen personas quite nicely. Calhoun has always been one of those actors I find quite watchable and the movies he appeared in generally all around fun efforts for the double bill fans. Corey Allen as the overly hyper psycho with a penchant for female flesh would also turn up in a creepy effort just three years later titled Private Property with a young Warren Oates that I would recommend having seen it’s restoration debut at the TCM Film Festival in 2016.
Not being overly familiar with Miss Costa, I find that she had very few screen credits to her name but one stands out, she supplied the voice of Princess Aurora in Disney’s animated classic Sleeping Beauty.
Far from what we’d term as a classic, Big Caper is by extension just that meaning the term “classic” is more often than not used in describing films nowadays that are of an older vintage. So in that regard I guess it fits the bill and thanks to the made on demand market has been added to my shelf here at Mike’s Take.