The Big Steal (Don Siegel / U.S., 1949):

Scoundrels and fugitives south of the border, off the boat and onto speeding sedans. "Loco?" "Americano." Don Siegel likes his noir bright and limber, the whirl through Mexico is a daisy-chain of madcap chases stitched together with tremendous élan. Military payroll is the McGuffin, the fall guy is a U.S. Army lieutenant (Robert Mitchum) tracking down the thief (Patrick Knowles) and teaming up with the culprit's fiancée (Jane Greer); a tenacious captain (William Bendix) snaps at their heels while the local inspector general (Ramon Novarro) leans back and watches them all until the dust settles. From Veracruz to Tehuacán, a steady flow of bullets and wisecracks in this jocular pendant to Tourneur's Out of the Past. "I hate the thought of spending the night with an empty revolver." The feeling of pervasive betrayal that later gives Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Killers their sting is here screwball fuel, though the Siegel element of action is already evident: The extended road pursuit is an expert zigzag of hairpin turns, ending on a herd of goats to set up a joke for Au hasard Balthazar. Huston is the starting point and a foretaste of Peckinpah closes things out, the amusements along the way include Mitchum's casual slugging, Greer scrunching up her face on the word "feo," and an appreciation of the inherent romanticism of Mexican laborers. (Novarro's droll mangling of Yankee slang and John Qualen's turn as a shady fence with a taste for Aztec relics attest to the director's creative use of old faces.) "Boy, I bet you're fun to take a trip with." In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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