The Big Steal

The Big Steal is a 1949 American black-and-white film noir reteaming Out of the Past stars Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer. The film was directed by Don Siegel, based on the short story "The Road to Carmichael's" by Richard Wormser.[3][4]

The Big Steal
Theatrical release poster
Directed byDon Siegel
Produced byJack J. Gross
Screenplay byGerald Drayson Adams
Daniel Mainwaring
Geoffrey Homes
Based onThe Road to Carmichael's
1942 story in The Saturday Evening Post
by Richard Wormser
StarringRobert Mitchum
Jane Greer
William Bendix
Patric Knowles
Ramón Novarro
Music byLeigh Harline
CinematographyHarry J. Wild
Edited bySamuel E. Beetley
Distributed byRKO Pictures
Release date
  • July 1, 1949 (1949-07-01) (US)[1]
Running time
71 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$1.6 million[2]


U.S. Army lieutenant Duke Halliday (Robert Mitchum) is robbed of a $300,000 payroll by Jim Fiske (Patric Knowles). When Halliday's superior, Captain Vincent Blake (William Bendix), suspects him of having taken part in the theft, Halliday has no choice but to pursue Fiske into Mexico. Along the way, he runs into Joan Graham (Jane Greer), who is after the $2000 she loaned to her boyfriend, Fiske. The two join forces, though they are not sure at first if they can trust each other. Fiske stays one step ahead of the couple, while they are in turn chased by Blake. When Halliday is knocked down trying to stop Fiske from getting away, he comes to the attention of Police Inspector General Ortega (Ramon Novarro). Halliday claims to be Blake (using identification he took from the captain after a brawl.) Ortega lets him go after Fiske, but keeps an eye on him. His suspicions are confirmed when the real Blake shows up at his office for help.

Halliday and Graham track Fiske to an isolated house in the desert, where Fiske is meeting with Seton (John Qualen), a fence who offers Fiske $150,000 in untraceable bills in exchange for the payroll. The couple are captured by Seton's henchmen. When Blake shows up, Halliday is initially relieved to be rescued, until he learns that Blake is actually Fiske's partner in crime.

Fiske wants to take Graham with him, but Blake makes it clear that he intends to dispose of both her and Halliday. Fiske reluctantly gives in. However, when he starts to leave, Blake shoots him in the back, explaining that his ex-partner, apparently still at large, can take the blame for the missing payroll. Halliday then points out to Seton that if Blake gets rid of him too, he can give the stolen money back to the army and keep the $150,000 for himself. Taking no chances, Seton pulls a gun on Blake. When Graham creates a distraction, a fight breaks out, which Graham and Halliday win.



George Raft originally was meant to play the lead but was replaced by Robert Mitchum in the wake of Mitchum's arrest on September 1, 1948 for possession of marijuana. It's said RKO owner Howard Hughes saw Mitchum's notoriety surrounding the arrest (the actor already seen as a 'bad boy' in Hollywood) as a positive that would boost attention for a rather low-rent - but perhaps profitable - production. It was a proven scheme for Hughes, who, immediately following the arrest, had pushed for another of Mitchum's pictures, Rachel and the Stranger, to be released sooner than was planned in order to capitalize on the headlines. This was done for the film September 18, 1948 and resulted in it becoming one of the biggest hits of the year.[5]

The movie was filmed in Los Angeles and in Tehuacán, Puebla, Mexico.


Critical response

Channel 4 film reviews describes the movie as "Sparkling dialogues, fast-paced chases and the occasional twist make this an at first somewhat confusing but ultimately hugely entertaining film."[6]

Hal Erickson writing for Allmovie calls the film "tautly directed by Don Siegel, who manages to pack plenty of twists and turns into the film's crowded 71 minutes."[7]



  1. "The Big Steal: Detail View". American Film Institute. Retrieved May 13, 2014.
  2. "Top Grossers of 1949". Variety. January 4, 1950. p. 59.
  3. "Screenplay Info for The Big Steal (1949)". Turner Classic Movies.
  4. Lizabeth Scott had been set to play Joan Graham, but due to the controversy surrounding Mitchum's recent marijuana drug arrest and short jail sentence, she pulled out three weeks before filming started. According to Ken Annakin, author of Early Film Noir: Greed, Lust and Murder Hollywood Style, RKO owner Howard Hughes had been keeping Greer, a former girlfriend, from appearing in any RKO films in an attempt to ruin her career, finally hired her when no other female lead would take the part. Robert Osborne, host of Turner Classic Movies, claimed in his introduction to the film that the married Greer had earned Hughes' enmity by refusing to date him.
  5. Richard B. Jewell, Fade to Black: The Decline of RKO Radio Pictures, Uni of California, 2016, pp.89-90
  6. Channel 4 Film Reviews. Last accessed: March 11, 2008.
  7. Erikson, Hal. The Big Steal at AllMovie.

Additional sources

  1. ^ Ken Annakin (2003). Early Film Noir: Greed, Lust and Murder Hollywood Style. McFarland & Company. ISBN 0-7864-1629-7.
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