Is there a bigger caper than the illusion of a happy marriage? More than any heist or hold-up, breaking down someone wearing a matching ring is a tremendously emotional and spiritual crime. That’s the thesis at the heart of The Big Caper. A remarkable cheapie film that’s about a payroll rip-off on the surface, The Big Caper pits the underworld against the suburbs in superb pulp fashion while aiming its sights at two lustful crooks on both sides of the bed.
Frank Harper (Rory Calhoun) is a suave con man sniffing out his big break – the type of job guys can retire on. He finds it in a bank payroll job and while he may be convinced of this sacred score, it takes his partner, Mr. Flood (James Gregory) some more convincing. Flood doesn’t buy that this caper is as open and close as it seems, so he forces Harper to settle down in the town that it’s going down in as the ultimate front.
What does this entail? Essentially, Harper and Flood’s girl Kay (Mary Costa) play house for six months before the gig. He buys a gas station and establishes himself as a fixture of the community – “Make it seem like you’ve always lived there.” The scheme backfires on Mr. Flood to a degree, and his girl starts to dig the straight life – the BBQs and bridge games and having actual friends.. Harper maintains his strong distaste for normal, upholding citizens, but Kay begins to settle in too deep to the residential life.
The Big Caper starts out like a boilerplate crime flick, then about 20 minutes in it gets absolutely bonkers. Mr. Flood starts bringing his crew into Harper’s suburban dream house. His crew consists of an alcoholic pyro, stoic jugger, and toeheaded psychopath who certainly has homoerotic feelings for his boss. When we’re introduced to the toehead, he’s so high on 1950s cocaine that he starts lifting a desk chair with one hand to show how strong he is. It’s one of the most screwed up intros in noir I’ve ever seen. I understand that cats were freaked out by drugs back in the day, but this dude is the poster boy for uneducated, misinformed politicians.
One thing I really, really like about this movie is the crook’s complete disdain for “the public.” I worked retail for the worst part of a decade when I was growing up and I don’t think I could ever do it again. I developed the same bad taste for “the public” that Harper and Mr. Flood have. The phony salutations. The phony handshakes and smiles. It’s an entire culture built around bullshit and I really dig that The Big Caper calls it out for what it is. Most real crooks feel this way (particularly con men, whose entire career is based around milking the bullshit), but it hardly ever touched upon on crime film and literature. Bravo, The Big Caper for taking it head on.
The film was directed by Robert Stevens, who cut his teeth in TV. The dude directed over 40 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, so it’s no wonder he learned to tell a solid story, even with a low budget outing like this. His TV chops come out clear and true as well – there’s nothing flashy about it.
The first half of The Big Caper is a complete pastiche. The second half is a carnival of crime that would entertain the most seasoned of noir aficionados. There’s sadism, sociopathic bosses (been there), and roid raging beefcakes who display their feats of strength by lifting chairs.
Check that dude out. Such a hunk.
That’s just a taste of the razor-sharped narrative you’ll find in The Big Caper. Then again, I can’t front. This film has a stupid amount of quotable pulp dialogue and a ferris-wheel plot to die for. This bad boy has been on Netflix for a while…check it out before it’s given the boot!