When Best Laid Plans Go Awry

On first impressions The Big Caper (1957) may look like just another grade B bank heist thriller but don’t be fooled. This 1957 independent pickup by United Artists is a genuine loose canon and highly peculiar within its own specialized genre. In the best heist thrillers (Rififi, The Asphalt Jungle), the robbery is usually ingeniously planned and executed but when it goes awry, it’s usually due to festering hatred among the instigators (Odds Against Tomorrow) or bad luck (Plunder Road). In The Big Caper, the glaring flaw is the organizer who appears to be a shrewd and cautious businessman until you see the wacko team he assembles for the job. And he might be the biggest nutcase in the lot. It’s not a comedy, but it should be, and you may very well find yourself laughing uncontrollably at times.   Continue reading

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Robert Altman and the Cult of James Dean

A young Robert Altman ponders a camera set-up.

A young Robert Altman ponders a camera set-up.

While it is rarely shown in retrospectives of his work, Robert Altman’s The James Dean Story (1957) is easily one of the more offbeat and poetic examples of documentary filmmaking. Officially cited as his second feature (Altman’s first was The Delinquents, 1957), The James Dean Story was co-produced and co-directed with George W. George, a former writing partner of Altman’s, as a serious exploration of the young actor’s mystique and impact on the youth culture of the fifties.   Continue reading