I stumbled onto The Big Caper while searching for noirs on Netflix. It’s not noir – it’s a B-movie crime melodrama, and a pretty weak one at that. What redeems it is the strange characters and plot situations.
Rory Calhoun (whom my mother dismissed with the remark, “He was always second-rate.”) plays Frank, a hip gangster working for Flood, played by James Gregory, whom I know from years of character acting as a cop! Frank is broke, and he convinces the usually cautious Flood to go in on a heist of the Camp Pendleton payroll, a cool million.
Flood sets up Frank with his moll, Kay (Mary Costa), as a married couple running a gas station in the boring suburban town so that the police and the townspeople will get comfortable with them and not be suspicious. Why do they have to playact in suburban squaresville for four months? No explanation. You never know who’s living next door in 1957. The situation makes Frank’s skin crawl: Scrabble, cookouts, squares!
Frank resists the temptations of Kay – no mixing of business and pleasure – but things happen anyway. Flood gets jealous, and Zimmer, the alcoholic pyromaniac demolition expert, puts Frank out of business.
Yep, it’s a strange crew Flood puts together. Kay has to wait for Flood while being entertained by the creepy pervert who supplies the necessary muscle and psychopathic urges for the dirty work. When Flood arrives, he disciplines the he-man (not sure for what infraction) by making him lie down and take a whipping.
As the crooks prepare for the break-in, there’s an extended shot of them snapping on their latex gloves. Kinky. Zimmer finds his way into the basement of the high school he’s going to blow up for a diversion while kids sing America the Beautiful. It’s like Fritz Lang’s M stalking white bread suburbia.
That guy is a looney, but he’s strong, and he loves anything to do with destruction. Just give him a hammer. Frank and Kay go straight at the last-minute and put Flood out of action, then embrace over a bag filled with the loot while waiting for the neighborhood cop to arrive. Costa went on to a career as an opera singer and legendary status in Disney’s Snow White as Aurora. Different kind of fairy tale.