Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Million-Dollar Figures

The Big Steal (1949)
directed by Don Siegel
rating: 3 out of 5 cravats
on DVD from Vidéothèque

Who knew that Don Siegel was so effective a proponent of location shooting? That seems a small ambition, but it makes all the difference in a movie like The Big Steal. On a backlot, Mitchum might have looked the same, but the mood of the picture - from the humor in William Bendix's cultural confusion to the tempo that real Mexican countryside gives to a road comedy - would have been robbed of its simple but considerable charms. In 1949, the local Tehuacán government couldn't have bought a better advertisement for its natives so friendly to Americanos, and the difference between that and the "citizens abroad" genre my sister enjoys - Brokedown Palace, mostly - means that racial considerations of the era, just like in Liberty Valance, were more complex than we assume.