Cast & Crew
As he is about to sail from Veracruz, Mexico, Duke Halliday is confronted at gunpoint by Capt. Vincent Blake. While Blake is searching Duke's luggage, however, Duke knocks him out and steals his identification papers. Duke then shoves his way through a crowd and is chastised for his rude behavior by disembarking American Joan Graham. Leaving Duke at the pier, Joan finds Jim Fiske, her double-crossing fiancé, in a hotel room and demands that he return the $2,000 he "borrowed" from her. The smooth-talking Fiske promises to return the money as soon as he makes a paid delivery, but while Joan is taking a shower, he slips out with the valuables. Duke then walks into the room looking for Fiske and identifies himself to Joan as Capt. Blake. Feigning nonchalance, Joan dismisses Duke, but then finds Fiske in the hotel garage and tells him about Duke's visit. Just then, Duke appears and begins fighting with Fiske. Fiske gets away, and Duke and Joan are brought to the local police station. Once again Duke identifies himself as Blake and tells Inspector-General Ortega that he is pursuing a fugitive. The amiable Ortega allows Duke and Joan to go their separate ways, but immediately orders a tail put on them. Soon after, Blake shows up in Ortega's office, explaining that Duke stole his papers and is wanted for extradition to the United States. As with Duke, Ortega seemingly accepts Blake's story, then heads for the airport. Joan, meanwhile, is driving toward Tehuacán, where she knows Fiske is headed, when Duke pops up in her back seat. Although annoyed, Joan allows Duke to accompany her, and they soon encounter Fiske in a roadside gas station. There Duke fights Fiske for his suitcase, but after the conman drives off, Duke discovers that the bag is filled with newspapers. Still determined, Duke and Joan continue toward Tehuacán together and reveal to each other how Fiske had robbed them. Duke explains that, while he was performing his duties as an army finance officer, Fiske stole a government payroll from him, and Duke is now suspected of being in league with Fiske. At that moment, Blake drives up behind Joan's car and starts firing at it. After a long chase, Duke and Joan finally stop Blake by forcing a herd of sheep onto the road. In Tehuacán, Duke and Joan track Fiske to a hotel and are surprised to find him drinking with Ortega. To confuse Ortega, Joan, Fiske and Duke all declare they are staying at the hotel, and Joan and Blake take advantage of the policeman's presence by trapping Fiske in his room. While Joan holds Fiske at gunpoint, Duke goes to search Fiske's car for the money. Fiske soon overpowers Joan, however, and takes off once again. When Duke returns to the room empty-handed, he sees Blake pulling up to the hotel. By pretending to be Duke's unwilling accomplice, Joan is able to divert Blake long enough to escape the hotel with Duke. Fiske, meanwhile, has moved a construction detour sign at a highway crossroad, causing Joan and Duke to take the wrong road. When the couple finally reaches the construction site, the foreman refuses to allow them to pass until Joan tells him that she and Duke are eloping and are being pursued by her domineering father. The foreman then stops Blake, allowing Joan and Duke enough time to catch up to Fiske, who has just arrived at a remote, guarded hacienda. As Duke and Joan approach the hacienda, they are fired on by the guards and take cover among some rocks. Although he manages to kill one guard, the inadequately armed Duke is taken prisoner with Joan. At the hacienda, Duke and Joan discover Fiske with Julius Seton, a fence who has paid the conman $150,000 in "clean" money in exchange for the $300,000 in "dirty" payroll money. After Seton orders that Fiske kill both Duke and Joan, Blake walks in and reveals that he is part of the conspiracy. The greedy Blake then shoots Fiske in the back and announces that he is going to kill Duke. After Blake telephones Ortega, telling him that he is bringing in Duke's dead body, Duke suggests that he also kill Seton, return the stolen money to the army and keep all of the "clean" money for himself. Suddenly concerned for his life, Seton pulls a gun on Blake, and in the ensuing confusion, a fight breaks out, in which Joan inadvertently shoots and wounds Seton, and Duke overwhelms Blake. His name cleared at last, Duke returns to Veracruz with Joan, where they kiss and warmly contemplate their future.
Pascual García Peña
Alphonse Du Bois
Arturo Soto Rangel
Alfonso Sánchez Tello
Gerald Drayson Adams
Samuel E. Beetley
Albert S. D'agostino
Harry J. Wild
The Big Steal
The Big Steal was one of Don Siegel's first directorial efforts and it stands as a good preview of what was to become his specialty in the fifties - taut little B-movie thrillers and melodramas like Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), Baby Face Nelson (1957), and The Lineup (1958). While the plot of The Big Steal was fairly derivative of numerous other chase thrillers - an army lieutenant and his female companion race across Mexico in pursuit of a man who stole a $300,000 army payroll - it was the re-teaming of Mitchum and Jane Greer, his co-star from the film noir classic, Out of the Past (1947), and Siegel's breathless direction that elevated this melodrama above the standard B-movie.
Just as the film is one elaborate chase, the production on it was just as rushed. RKO studio owner Howard Hughes wanted to capitalize on Mitchum's current popularity in such films as Rachel and the Stranger (1948) and urged Siegel to complete the film before Mitchum's court sentencing for the marijuana incident in Santa Monica. After Lizabeth Scott was ruled out as the female lead in The Big Steal (Hal Wallis, who owned her contract, thought appearing opposite Mitchum would affect her career adversely), other actresses like Joan Bennett were considered until producer Sid Rogell got the bright idea of casting Jane Greer. Even though the actress had recently ended her romantic relationship with Hughes, the studio owner grudgingly approved her for the part in the interest of speeding along the production.
And so production began in earnest and Siegel was actually able to complete the interior sequences on the RKO backlot. The scenes set in Mexico were a different matter. Mitchum had to cancel filming there as soon as he was sentenced (The first verdict of one year in jail was reduced to sixty days in the clink with two years probation) so Siegel was forced to shoot around him until his release. The delay was crucial because Jane Greer was now noticeably pregnant and Mitchum, who had lost about twenty pounds in prison through an extensive exercise routine, was visibly trimmer than in his pre-jail scenes.
And there were other problems according to Don Siegel in his autobiography, A Siegel Film (Faber and Faber): "When Mitchum showed up on location in Tehuacan in Mexico with his probation officer, he had finished a bottle of tequila in the car from Mexico City. The probation officer was drunker than Mitchum. He passed out in his room. (Co-star) Pat Knowles and I made our first major mistake: we tried to sober up Mitchum....He was one tough hombre with a mean streak that we couldn't handle." Nevertheless, Siegel had a deadline to make and quickly learned how to work with this complicated actor: "Mitchum took pride in the fact that he never studied his lines. After rehearsals, he would be letter perfect. No matter who he was working with, he would play the scene without much vitality and generally in a low voice. This made the actor he was playing opposite appear to be overacting. Whenever I arrived in the morning with rewritten pages, Mitch would have a certain amount of trouble in memorizing the new lines. The more I got to know him, the more certain I was that his claim never to have studied his lines was an affectation. His attitude of not caring was a pretense. I was also aware that he was a talented actor with a most original style.... By the time Mitchum got out of jail, I had already shot the chase material with Pat(ric) Knowles, Bill Bendix and Ramon Navarro. At that time, the trees were bare. When Mitchum joined us and drove madly with Jane Greer after Knowles, the trees and flowers were in full bloom. No one at RKO ever noticed anything amiss. In fairness to the critics, there wasn't enough time to notice anything. Also, Jane Greer was four months pregnant. With a little care in how I shot her, no one was aware; but I must confess that at times, I worried about a miscarriage."
Producer: Jack J. Gross, Sid Rogell (executive producer)
Director: Don Siegel
Screenplay: Gerald Drayson Adams, Daniel Mainwaring (as Geoffrey Homes), Richard Wormser (story The Road to Carmichaels)
Cinematography: Harry J. Wild
Film Editing: Samuel E. Beetley
Original Music: Leigh Harline
Principal Cast: Robert Mitchum (Lieutenant Duke Halliday), Jane Greer (Joan 'Chiquita' Graham), William Bendix (Captain Vincent Blake), Patric Knowles (Jim Fiske), Ramon Novarro (Colonel Ortega).
by Jeff Stafford
The Big Steal
Contemporary news items relate the following information about the production: In October 1944, Columbia purchased Richard Wormser's short story as a vehicle for Chester Morris. RKO bought the story in February 1947 and assigned J. Robert Bren to produce it in both English and Spanish at the studio's Churubusco Studios, Mexico City. Bren was eventually replaced by Jack Gross, and no evidence that a Spanish language version was ever produced has been found. RKO originally assigned George Raft to star in the film, but he was replaced by Robert Mitchum in early December 1948 because of scheduling conflicts. Director Don Siegel and producer Gross began filming background shots in Mexico in late December 1948. Principal photography was to have started in mid-January 1949, but was delayed because Mitchum was on trial, following a September 1948 indictment for narcotics possession. Mitchum was arrested with Lila Leeds, Vicki Evans and Robin Ford for possessing marijuana and conspiracy to possess the drug, and on January 10, 1949, pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges. (Modern sources note that because Mitchum, who at the time of his indictment pleaded not guilty on all the charges, was finally willing to plead guilty to the conspiracy charge, the district attorney's office dropped the possession count.) On February 9, 1949, Judge Clement Nye sentenced Mitchum to a sixty-day jail term. Although RKO asked Nye for a postponement in Mitchum's incarceration, pending the completion of The Big Steal, the actor was forced to serve out his sentence, and production on the picture shut down completely in March 1949. Nye did reduce Mitchum's sentence by ten days for "good behavior," however, and the actor was released on 30 March 1949.
RKO negotiated with Hal Wallis' company to borrow Lizbeth Scott for the production, but in late January 1949, the studio replaced her with Jane Greer. (News items claim that Scott was replaced due to illness, but modern sources contend that both Wallis and Scott backed out of the deal because they did not want to be associated with Mitchum.) RKO head Howard Hughes ordered a delay in the start of The Woman on Pier 13 so that Greer, who was to star in that film, could appear in The Big Steal. Greer was in the early stages of pregnancy at the start of production. Modern sources add that Joan Bennett was also considered for the feminine lead. Julio Villarreal was announced in mid-March 1949 as a cast member, but his participation in the final film is doubtful. The CBCS lists both Alfredo Soto and Juan Varro in the role of "Gonzales." It is not known which actor played the role.
Most of the picture was shot in Mexico, including Veracruz, Tehuacán and Mexico City. While Mitchum was incarerated, Siegel shot around his scenes in Mexico, using a double whenever possible. Because co-star William Bendix, whom RKO had borrowed from the Hal Roach Studios, was obligated to finish his part in Mexico before Mitchum's scheduled release, some of his scenes were rewritten to eliminate Mitchum. To save money following Mitchum's return, no new sets were built, and only "actual interiors of Mexican hotels and homes" were used. In a modern interview, Siegel recalled that because of the stop-and-go production schedule, foliage that was visible in one shot is missing from the next. Modern sources also note that Greer's pregnancy became much more noticeable by the end of filming, and upon his release from prison, Mitchum appeared tanner and thinner than he did at the start of production. Just before the cast and crew returned to Mexico with Mitchum in mid-April 1949, some scenes were shot at the Ray Corrigan Ranch in Simi Valley, CA. The film cost approximately $780,000 to produce. In June 1949, Hollywood Reporter announced that RKO was "ignoring the general major studio ban on stars and contract talent appearing on television with a special TV one-minute clip to promote" The Big Steal. For the television ad, RKO shot special footage with Mitchum and also presented two short clips from the picture.
Released in United States 1996
Released in United States Summer July 1, 1949
Released in United States 1996 (Shown in Los Angeles (Laemmle's Monica 4-Plex) as part of program "Femmes Fatales Follow Them at Your Own Risk!" October 5 - December 15, 1996.)
Released in United States 1996 (Shown in New York City (MoMA) as part of program "Don Siegel" May 3 - June 6, 1996.)
Released in United States Summer July 1, 1949