Sunday, May 6, 2012

Why does Robert Mitchum keep going back to Mexico?

TCM is spending the morning and afternoon of May 7 with a bunch of Robert Mitchum movies, even though it's not his birthday. I blogged about His Kind of Woman last May. In that one, Mitchum plays a gambler who goes down to Mexico at the urging of a mobster in exile, not knowing the mobster plans to kill him. That's airing at 12:30 PM. Immediately before that, at 11:00 AM is Where Danger Lives. In this one, Mitchum plays a doctor who flees to Mexico with patient Faith Domergue. I've seen it before, but it's one that kind of blends in with all the other movies Mitchum made that have him in Mexico. I mean, TCM isn't even showing Second Chance on Monday.

Instead, the Mitchum-in-Mexico film I'd like to blog about is The Big Steal, which TCM is showing tomorrow morning at 9:30 AM. Here, Mitchum plays US Army Lt. Duke Halliday. Why is a US army lieutenant in Mexico? Probably because the Army is pursuing him for having stolen a six-figure sum of money. The pursuer is Capt. Blake (William Bendix). Lt. Halliday, of course, claims that he's innocent, and like in so many other movies, he's going to have to pursue the real culprit himself in order to bring justice and exonerate himself. In Mexico, Duke meets the lovely Joan (Jane Greer). She's looking for her fiancé. Or more likely ex-fiancé, since the guy bilked her out of a couple grand. It turns out that her fiancé is the same guy Duke is looking for (Patric Knowles). So the two team up and go after him together. And you just know they're also going ot fall in love along the way.

As I implied in the paragraph above, The Big Steal follows a tried and true formula. It's the sort of thing Alfred Hitchcock used earlier in both The 39 Steps and Saboteur, and would recycle again in North by Northwest. This isn't quite as good as Hitchcock's work, although to be fair comparing something to Hitchcock is setting a high bar and The Big Steal was clearly conceived as a more modest film. It's got its twists and turns like any good chase film; in this case that has a lot to do with the fact that although Duke is chasing the bad guy and has the Army chasing him, they're all in Mexico which means having to deal with the Mexican authorities in the form of Ramon Novarro, who is of two minds whether to get involved or just let all these people kill each other. And there's a bit of humor too, in a couple of scenes where Duke and Joan stay one step ahead of Capt. Blake, notably one involving a flock of sheep. The Big Steal isn't groundbreaking, but it's eminently entertaining.

The Big Steal has received a DVD release on several noir sets, even though I wouldn't quite put this in the noir category.

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