AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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The Big Steal
Director: Don Siegel (Dir)
Release Date:   1 Jul 1949
Production Date:   27 Dec 1948--mid-Jan 1949; Feb 1949; 4 Apr--early May 1949
Duration (in mins):   71
Duration (in feet):   6,400
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Cast:   Robert Mitchum (Lt. Duke Halliday)  
    Jane Greer (Joan Graham)  
    William Bendix (Capt. Vincent Blake)  
  With Patric Knowles (Jim Fiske)  
  With Ramón Novarro (Inspector-General Ortega)  
  With Don Alvarado (Lt. Ruiz)  
  With John Qualen ([Julius] Seton)  
  With Pascual García Peña (Manuel)  
    Henry Carr (Bellhop)  
    Primo López (Bellhop)  
    Gilberto Deval (Bellhop)  
    José Loza (Bellhop)  
    Alphonse Du Bois (Police sergeant)  
    Frank Hagney (Madden)  
    Ted Jacques (Cole)  
    Carl Sklover (Dockhand)  
    Bing Conley (Dockhand)  
    Nacho Galindo (Pastry vendor)  
    Tony Roux (Parrot vendor)  
    Felipe Turich (Guitar vendor)  
    Don Dillaway (Purser)  
    Pat O'Malley (Purser)  
    Juan Duval (Vendor)  
    Paul Castellanos (Vendor)  
    Dimas Sotello (Vendor)  
    Frank Leyva (Vendor)  
    Eliso Gamboa (Vendor)  
    Edward Colebrook (Mexican tourist)  
    Rodolfo Hoyos (Custom's inspector)  
    Salvador Báguez (Morales)  
    Arturo Soto Rangel (Pedro)  
    Beatriz Ramos (Carmencita)  
    Gregorio Acosta (Chaney)  
    Margarito Luna (Attendant)  
    José Aceves (Attendant)  
    Angel Sequraleyva (Attendant)  
    Paul Guerrero (Pepe)  
    Alfonso Sánchez Tello (Basguez)  
    Carlos Reyes (Taxi driver)  
    Alfredo Soto    
    Juan Varro    
    Virginia Farmer    
    Carmen Morales    
    Lillian O'Malley    

Summary: As he is about to sail from Veracruz, Mexico, Duke Halliday is confronted at gunpoint by Capt. Vincent Blake. While Blake is searching Duke's luggage, however, Duke knocks him out and steals his identification papers. Duke then shoves his way through a crowd and is chastised for his rude behavior by disembarking American Joan Graham. Leaving Duke at the pier, Joan finds Jim Fiske, her double-crossing fiancé, in a hotel room and demands that he return the $2,000 he "borrowed" from her. The smooth-talking Fiske promises to return the money as soon as he makes a paid delivery, but while Joan is taking a shower, he slips out with the valuables. Duke then walks into the room looking for Fiske and identifies himself to Joan as Capt. Blake. Feigning nonchalance, Joan dismisses Duke, but then finds Fiske in the hotel garage and tells him about Duke's visit. Just then, Duke appears and begins fighting with Fiske. Fiske gets away, and Duke and Joan are brought to the local police station. Once again Duke identifies himself as Blake and tells Inspector-General Ortega that he is pursuing a fugitive. The amiable Ortega allows Duke and Joan to go their separate ways, but immediately orders a tail put on them. Soon after, Blake shows up in Ortega's office, explaining that Duke stole his papers and is wanted for extradition to the United States. As with Duke, Ortega seemingly accepts Blake's story, then heads for the airport. Joan, meanwhile, is driving toward Tehuacán, where she knows Fiske is headed, when Duke pops up in her back seat. Although annoyed, Joan allows Duke to accompany her, and they soon encounter Fiske in a roadside gas station. There Duke fights Fiske for his suitcase, but after the conman drives off, Duke discovers that the bag is filled with newspapers. Still determined, Duke and Joan continue toward Tehuacán together and reveal to each other how Fiske had robbed them. Duke explains that, while he was performing his duties as an army finance officer, Fiske stole a government payroll from him, and Duke is now suspected of being in league with Fiske. At that moment, Blake drives up behind Joan's car and starts firing at it. After a long chase, Duke and Joan finally stop Blake by forcing a herd of sheep onto the road. In Tehuacán, Duke and Joan track Fiske to a hotel and are surprised to find him drinking with Ortega. To confuse Ortega, Joan, Fiske and Duke all declare they are staying at the hotel, and Joan and Blake take advantage of the policeman's presence by trapping Fiske in his room. While Joan holds Fiske at gunpoint, Duke goes to search Fiske's car for the money. Fiske soon overpowers Joan, however, and takes off once again. When Duke returns to the room empty-handed, he sees Blake pulling up to the hotel. By pretending to be Duke's unwilling accomplice, Joan is able to divert Blake long enough to escape the hotel with Duke. Fiske, meanwhile, has moved a construction detour sign at a highway crossroad, causing Joan and Duke to take the wrong road. When the couple finally reaches the construction site, the foreman refuses to allow them to pass until Joan tells him that she and Duke are eloping and are being pursued by her domineering father. The foreman then stops Blake, allowing Joan and Duke enough time to catch up to Fiske, who has just arrived at a remote, guarded hacienda. As Duke and Joan approach the hacienda, they are fired on by the guards and take cover among some rocks. Although he manages to kill one guard, the inadequately armed Duke is taken prisoner with Joan. At the hacienda, Duke and Joan discover Fiske with Julius Seton, a fence who has paid the conman $150,000 in "clean" money in exchange for the $300,000 in "dirty" payroll money. After Seton orders that Fiske kill both Duke and Joan, Blake walks in and reveals that he is part of the conspiracy. The greedy Blake then shoots Fiske in the back and announces that he is going to kill Duke. After Blake telephones Ortega, telling him that he is bringing in Duke's dead body, Duke suggests that he also kill Seton, return the stolen money to the army and keep all of the "clean" money for himself. Suddenly concerned for his life, Seton pulls a gun on Blake, and in the ensuing confusion, a fight breaks out, in which Joan inadvertently shoots and wounds Seton, and Duke overwhelms Blake. His name cleared at last, Duke returns to Veracruz with Joan, where they kiss and warmly contemplate their future. 

Production Company: RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.  
Distribution Company: RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.  
Director: Don Siegel (Dir)
  Sam Ruman (Asst dir)
Producer: Sid Rogell (Exec prod)
  Jack J. Gross (Prod)
Writer: Geoffrey Homes (Scr)
  Gerald Drayson Adams (Scr)
Photography: Harry J. Wild A.S.C. (Dir of photog)
  Charles Straumer (Cam op)
  Jim Arnold (Gaffer)
  Ernest Bachrach (Stills)
Art Direction: Albert S. D'Agostino (Art dir)
  Ralph Berger (Art dir)
Film Editor: Samuel E. Beetley (Film ed)
Set Decoration: Darrell Silvera (Set dec)
  Harley Miller (Set dec)
Music: Leigh Harline (Mus)
  C. Bakaleinikoff (Mus dir)
Sound: Phil Brigandi (Sd)
  Clem Portman (Sd)
Make Up: Gordon Bau (Makeup supv)
  Carla Hadley (Hairstylist)
Production Misc: Salvador Báguez (Tech adv)
  Ed Killy (Prod mgr)
  Dick Kinon (Scr supv)
  Jim Kurley (Grip)
Country: United States

Source Text: Based on the short story "The Road to Carmichael's" by Richard Wormser in The Saturday Evening Post (19 Sep 1942).
Authors: Richard Wormser

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc. 23/6/1949 dd/mm/yyyy LP2381

PCA NO: 13635
Physical Properties: b&w:
  Sd: RCA Sound System

Genre: Drama
Sub-Genre: Crime
Subjects (Major): Betrayal
  Officers (Military)
Subjects (Minor): Americans in foreign countries
  Automobile chases
  Confidence men
  Construction workers
  Fences (Criminal)
  Tehuacán (Mexico)
  Veracruz (Mexico)

Note: Contemporary news items relate the following information about the production: In Oct 1944, Columbia purchased Richard Wormser's short story as a vehicle for Chester Morris. RKO bought the story in Feb 1947 and assigned J. Robert Bren to produce it in both English and Spanish at the studio's Churubusco Studios, Mexico City. Bren was eventually replaced by Jack Gross, and no evidence that a Spanish language version was ever produced has been found. RKO originally assigned George Raft to star in the film, but he was replaced by Robert Mitchum in early Dec 1948 because of scheduling conflicts. Director Don Siegel and producer Gross began filming background shots in Mexico in late Dec 1948. Principal photography was to have started in mid-Jan 1949, but was delayed because Mitchum was on trial, following a Sep 1948 indictment for narcotics possession. Mitchum was arrested with Lila Leeds, Vicki Evans and Robin Ford for possessing marijuana and conspiracy to possess the drug, and on 10 Jan 1949, pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges. (Modern sources note that because Mitchum, who at the time of his indictment pleaded not guilty on all the charges, was finally willing to plead guilty to the conspiracy charge, the district attorney's office dropped the possession count.) On 9 Feb 1949, Judge Clement Nye sentenced Mitchum to a sixty-day jail term. Although RKO asked Nye for a postponement in Mitchum's incarceration, pending the completion of The Big Steal , the actor was forced to serve out his sentence, and production on the picture shut down completely in Mar 1949. Nye did reduce Mitchum's sentence by ten days for "good behavior," however, and the actor was released on 30 Mar 1949.
       RKO negotiated with Hal Wallis' company to borrow Lizbeth Scott for the production, but in late Jan 1949, the studio replaced her with Jane Greer. (News items claim that Scott was replaced due to illness, but modern sources contend that both Wallis and Scott backed out of the deal because they did not want to be associated with Mitchum.) RKO head Howard Hughes ordered a delay in the start of The Woman on Pier 13 (see entry below) so that Greer, who was to star in that film, could appear in The Big Steal . Greer was in the early stages of pregnancy at the start of production. Modern sources add that Joan Bennett was also considered for the feminine lead. Julio Villarreal was announced in mid-Mar 1949 as a cast member, but his participation in the final film is doubtful. The CBCS lists both Alfredo Soto and Juan Varro in the role of "Gonzales." It is not known which actor played the role.
       Most of the picture was shot in Mexico, including Veracruz, Tehuacán and Mexico City. While Mitchum was incarerated, Siegel shot around his scenes in Mexico, using a double whenever possible. Because co-star William Bendix, whom RKO had borrowed from the Hal Roach Studios, was obligated to finish his part in Mexico before Mitchum's scheduled release, some of his scenes were rewritten to eliminate Mitchum. To save money following Mitchum's return, no new sets were built, and only "actual interiors of Mexican hotels and homes" were used. In a modern interview, Siegel recalled that because of the stop-and-go production schedule, foliage that was visible in one shot is missing from the next. Modern sources also note that Greer's pregnancy became much more noticeable by the end of filming, and upon his release from prison, Mitchum appeared tanner and thinner than he did at the start of production. Just before the cast and crew returned to Mexico with Mitchum in mid-Apr 1949, some scenes were shot at the Ray Corrigan Ranch in Simi Valley, CA. The film cost approximately $780,000 to produce. In Jun 1949, HR announced that RKO was "ignoring the general major studio ban on stars and contract talent appearing on television with a special TV one-minute clip to promote" The Big Steal . For the television ad, RKO shot special footage with Mitchum and also presented two short clips from the picture. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   18 Jun 1949.   
Daily Variety   15 Mar 1948.   
Daily Variety   14 Jun 49   p. 3.
Film Daily   17 Jun 49   p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter   4 Oct 1944.   
Hollywood Reporter   8 Sep 48   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   7 Dec 48   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   22 Dec 48   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   28 Dec 48   p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter   4 Jan 49   p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter   10 Jan 49   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   25 Jan 49   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   1 Feb 49   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   11 Feb 49   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   1 Mar 49   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   11 Mar 49   p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter   17 Mar 49   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   1 Apr 49   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   3 May 49   p. 14.
Hollywood Reporter   10 Jun 49   p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter   14 Jun 49   p. 3.
Los Angeles Times   9 Dec 1948.   
Motion Picture Herald   19 Feb 1949.   
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   18 Jun 49   p. 4649. 4651.
New York Times   20 Feb 1949.   
New York Times   11 Jul 49   p. 13.
Variety   14 Feb 1947.   
Variety   15 Jun 49   p. 13.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
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