The Big Caper
|The Big Caper|
|Directed by||Robert Stevens|
|Produced by||Howard Pine|
William C. Thomas
|Screenplay by||Martin Berkeley|
|Based on||novel by Lionel White|
|Music by||Albert Glasser|
|Edited by||George A. Gittens|
|Distributed by||United Artists|
His portion of the loot from a recent heist squandered, minor-league criminal Frank Harper talks his boss, Flood, into a more lucrative project: on the weekend before a Monday payday, break into a San Felipe, California bank, which will be holding a million-dollar payroll for the Marine Base at Camp Pendleton. Flood plans the operation, sending his moll Kay with Frank to become established in the community at San Felipe and to lay the groundwork for the heist.
As a means to do this, Frank buys a local gas station and garage, and he and Kay—posing as a married couple—move into a house nearby. In the following month, Flood recruits a team of specialists, including veteran safecracker Dutch Paulmeyer. By now, Kay is enjoying her masquerade role as "homemaker" and tells Frank that she will be breaking off her relationship with Flood. Frank refuses to compromise his friendship with Flood by pursuing Kay, although he is attracted to her. Kay suggests buying a second gas station, and going straight and abandoning the criminal life.
Frank eventually agrees to consider a romance with Kay, but only after the heist has been successful. In the following months, Frank and Kay establish a friendly relationship with the Loxleys', of which husband Sam is a banker. The plan is to set off diversionary explosions at the opposite end of town, which will occupy the police and fire departments—and likely much of the town—on the night of the planned break-in. However, Flood has hired Zimmer, an explosives expert—who is also an alcoholic and a psychotic pyrophiliac—to engineer the explosions. When Zimmer shows up in San Felipe, he moves in with Frank and Kay.
Kay is called to a meeting with Flood, and at Flood's apartment, she encounters some of his other associates: Roy, Flood's gopher and a slightly perverse, self-involved fitness enthusiast; and lookout man Harry, who has brought his slatternly girl friend, Doll, with him. Although Frank warned her against it, Kay tells Flood that she intends to leave after the heist, but insists that she is not involved with anyone else, and that Frank is loyal to him. After Flood and the others show up in San Felipe, Doll demands a cut of the robbery, prompting Flood to order Roy to kill her. Flood then explains to Harry that Doll split after he gave her some money. Flood goes over the final plans for the robbery, in which Zimmer is to create several explosions, including one at the high school as well as one at the electric power plant (thus disabling the bank vault's alarm system).
On the night of the robbery, Frank and Kay attend an evening barbecue at the Loxleys', and hear over the radio about the discovery of a young woman's body. The description makes it clear to both of them that it is Doll who has been murdered. Kay decides she wants to leave immediately and asks Frank to join her, but when Frank learns that the Loxleys' son is at a pageant rehearsal at the targeted high school, which was previously expected to be empty that night, he decides to try and stop Zimmer.
Confronting Zimmer, Frank is knocked unconscious and Zimmer blows up a paint factory, then heads to the high school. Meanwhile, Flood and the others have entered the store next to the bank and are breaking through the wall to the vault. Frank recovers and rushes to the school, discovering the bomb's timer and disabling it. At the bank, Paulmeyer blows open the vault with nitroglycerin.
Later, after Flood returns to Frank's house with cases full of cash, Frank knocks him unconscious and tells Kay to phone the police, intending to return the cash, assuring Kay that, no matter what criminal charges they may face, somehow they will find a way to be together.
The film was based on Lionel White's 1955 novel of the same name. The New York Times described the book as "exciting and convincing".
Film rights were bought by Pine-Thomas Productions who had renamed themselves as Pine-Thomas-Shane following the death of co-founded William Pine. James Poe was hired to do the script. Pine-Thomas-Shane announced they would make the film as part of a three-picture deal with United Artists, the other films being Lincoln McEever and The Mountains Have No Shadows. (The last two films ended up not being made, although Pine Thomas made two other films for UA.)
The script submitted was originally rejected by the Production Code because it depicted arson. This was change to dynamite.
The setting of the novel is the fictional town of "Indio Beach," described as between Palm Beach and Jacksonville on Florida's west coast; whereas the film adaptation places the action in the fictional coastal town of "San Felipe," portrayed as neighboring Oceanside, California. Additionally, the arsonist Zimmer is named "Kosta" in White's novel, and lookout man Harry is named "Wally."
The stars were Rory Calhoun and Mary Costa. It was the feature film debut for Costa, who was hostess of the TV show Climax!. Director Robert Stevens was hired from TV. Vic Morrow signed to play the second male lead and filming began in September 1956.
Some sources list the character played by Roscoe Ates as "Keeler," in the film he is actually called "Falkenburg," with no character name stated in the credits. According to a Hollywood Reporter news item, The Big Caper marked the first time that Ates, who had appeared in dozens of films, did not use his signature onscreen stammer.
The luxury hotel where Kay meets Flood, Roy, Harry and Doll is actually the Hollywood Riviera condominium complex at 1400 North Hayworth Avenue in West Hollywood, built in 1954 and designed by prolific mid-century architect Edward H. Fickett.
- BIG CAPER, The Monthly Film Bulletin; London Vol. 24, Iss. 276, (Jan 1, 1957): 126.
- Criminals At Large: Criminals By ANTHONY BOUCHER. New York Times 24 Apr 1955: BR26.
- Margaret O'Brien Will Resume as 'Glory' Star; Big Caper' Purchased Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 3 June 1955: b5.
- PEGGY LEE SIGNS 3-FILM CONTRACT New York Times 3 June 1955: 26.
- 'Bonjour Tristesse' Held Probable for Hepburn Los Angeles Times 8 June 1955: 35.
- Drama: Disney Swinging Gates Wide for Live Action; MGM Heads in Big Deal Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 29 Feb 1956: B7.
- "Mighty Reasonable Fellahs". Variety. September 19, 1956. p. 3.
- White, Lionel (1955). The Big Caper. Berlin: Fawcett Publications, Inc. p. 59. ISBN 1596543442.
- TWO FILE TITLES FOR DORIA MOVIE New York Times 2 Aug 1956: 21.
- Drama: Esther Costello Plum Goes to British Find; Brazzi Forms Company Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times9 Aug 1956: A13.
- WALD WILL FILM 'THE HARD HATS' New York Times 3 Sep 1956: 11
- Turner Classic Movies: Notes for The Big Caper (1957) TCM.com
- Curbed Los Angeles "Rent Check: Multi-Family Fickett in West Hollywood" Friday, October 9, 2009, by Adrian Glick Kudler for Curbed.com