The Big Steal (1990 film)

The Big Steal is a 1990 Australian teen comedy film directed by Nadia Tass starring Ben Mendelsohn, Claudia Karvan and Steve Bisley. David Parker was the scriptwriter and cinematographer. The film won three Australian Film Institute awards.

The Big Steal
DVD cover
Directed byNadia Tass
Produced byDavid Parker
Nadia Tass
Written byDavid Parker
StarringBen Mendelsohn
Claudia Karvan
Steve Bisley
Marshall Napier
Damon Herriman
Music byChris Gough
Philip Judd
CinematographyDavid Parker
Edited byPeter Carrodus
Distributed byHoyts Distribution
Umbrella Entertainment
Release date
  • 20 September 1990 (1990-09-20)
Running time
99 minutes
Box office$2,351,628 (Australia)


In his first leading role Ben Mendelsohn plays Danny Clark, a bumbling eighteen-year-old guy. He knows what it takes to be cool and have some style, it is just that he seems to struggle to get there. Danny has enthusiasm and passion and only wants two things more than anything in the world. A Jaguar XJ6 and a date with the gorgeous Joanna Johnson (an early role for then 17-year-old Claudia Karvan). Get these and his life will be complete.

Unfortunately for Danny, when he finally gets the courage up to ask Joanna out, he somehow manages to promise her a ride in his new Jaguar. She is not particularly impressed by cars, but still agrees to his invitation. The problem is, Danny does not own a Jaguar. His form of transport is his recently received birthday present - and it most certainly is not a Jaguar. His eccentric parents have decided to pass on their pride and joy to Danny for his use. Their 1963 Nissan Cedric has been in the family for years and is immaculate but extremely uncool. Danny is aghast at the thought of driving around in a car as dorky as a Cedric and, with the promise of a date with Joanna and the need for a Jaguar in a hurry, decides to trade in the old Nissan. He heads out to search the car yards to find his dream machine.

In a role of pure sleaze, Steve Bisley plays Gordon Farkas, the villainous used car salesman. Spotting Danny admiring a used 1973 XJ6 in the lot, Farkas pounces and uses all his charm, cunning and every used-car salesman trick in the book to convince Danny that this is the car for him. With the deal done and the Cedric gone, Danny heads home with his new pride and joy. But this is where things start to unravel. His father is not impressed about losing the Cedric, and while out on his long-awaited date with Joanna, the Jag's engine blows up. Danny is shattered, particularly when he upsets Joanna and she leaves him stranded alone in the empty streets with a broken-down car. Closer inspection reveals the engines had been swapped after Danny had signed the contract, with a dud motor put in his car. Realising he has been done-over by the crooked Farkas, Danny and his mates hatch a plan to get revenge over the shonky car salesman and hopefully win back the hand of the lovely Joanna.



The film was originally known as Mark Clark Van Ark. There were problems raising the money so Tass and Parker mortgaged their house, as they did with their first film.[1]

The movie was shot from 6 November to 22 December 1989.[2]


Award Category Subject Result
AACTA Awards
(1990 AFI Awards)
Best Film Nadia Tass Nominated
David Parker Nominated
Best Screenplay, Original or Adapted Won
Best Actor Ben Mendelsohn Nominated
Best Actress Claudia Karvan Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Steve Bisley[3] Won
Best Supporting Actress Maggie King Nominated
Best Original Music Score Philip Judd Won
Best Sound Dean Gawen Nominated
John Wilkinson Nominated
Best Production Design Paddy Reardon Nominated


Music: Chris Gough and Philip Judd.

Includes songs by Philip Judd and Tim Finn, the Makers, Schnell Fenster, Boom Crash Opera, Mental As Anything, Bang The Drum, the Breaknecks, Big Storm and the Front Lawn.

Box office

The Big Steal grossed $2,351,628 at the box office in Australia.[4]

Home media

The Big Steal was released on DVD by Umbrella Entertainment in October 2003. The DVD is compatible with all region codes and includes special features such as the original theatrical trailer, Umbrella Entertainment trailers, original cast audition tapes, interviews with Nadia Tass, David Parker, Ben Mendelsohn, Claudia Karvan and Steve Bisley as well as audio commentary by Nadia Tass and David Parker.[5]


  1. David Stratton, The Avocado Plantation: Boom and Bust in the Australian Film Industry, Pan MacMillan, 1990 p. 329.
  2. "Production Survey", Cinema Papers, March 1990 p. 72.
  3. "Kodak/Atlab Cinema Collection - The Big Steal (1990)". National Film and Sound Archive. Archived from the original on 12 November 2009. Retrieved 3 February 2010.
  4. Film Victoria - Australian Films at the Australian Box Office
  5. "Umbrella Entertainment". Archived from the original on 2 January 2012. Retrieved 15 May 2013.


  • Murray, Scott (editor), Australian Film, 1978-1994, Oxford, 1995. ISBN 0-19-553777-7
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