Big Steal, The (1949)

The Big Steal (1949), directed by Don Siegel.

We're dropped into the middle of the story and it takes a few minutes to puzzle out who is who. Then we find ourselves in the old double chase in a road race across scenic Mexico, with feuding Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer pursuing a grifter who has stolen Army payroll, while Captain William Bendix chases them and the canny Mexican police sit back and wait for all the players to be revealed.

It's funnier than many of these crime pictures, with plenty of snappy patter between the leads. The Hayes Office required a drastic reduction of sex and violence in the original screenplay, so they upped the comedy to compensate. Not a top shelf result, but it's amazing it works as well as it does. Only 71 minutes long.

You might suppose that RKO, recognizing how well Mitchum and Greer teamed in Out of the Past (1947) would be eager to let them do it again. You would suppose wrong. New studio owner Howard Hughes was trying to ruin former girlfriend Greer's career. She was the last choice, but no other actress would costar with her pal Mitchum, who had been arrested for marijuana and would be going to jail for 50 days during filming.

Give Hughes credit for sticking with Mitchum during his troubles. Turns out the conviction didn't hurt his career at all. Greer didn't have a big career in Hollywood but was happy with a life elsewhere.

Having the leading man leave for jail obviously upset production, but Siegel skillfully managed the chaos. He and Mitchum were alike in their disregard for authority.

The Mexican cops are played by Ramon Novarro and Don Alvarado, who both did Latin Lover roles during silent films. Mexicans are treated rather well in this film, better than usual for Hollywood then or now.

The DVD has a commentary track. Illegal (1955), a crime/courtroom drama with Edward G. Robinson, is on the same disc.