An immensely talented playwright, screenwriter, and satirist, George Axelrod has rarely received the recognition he deserves within the Hollywood industry yet he was the man behind some of the wittiest screenplays of the fifties and early sixties. Foremost among them are two of Marilyn Monroe’s best films (The Seven Year Itch (1955) and Bus Stop, 1956), Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) starring Audrey Hepburn in her signature role, and The Manchurian Candidate (1962), a highly paranoid thriller about a political conspiracy which prefigured President Kennedy’s assassination by a year. Less well known but equally audacious is his go-for-broke directorial debut, Lord Love a Duck (1966), a wicked lampoon of the movie business that nourished him and a satire of Southern California culture with its drive-in chapels, fast food restaurants, and self-improvement seminars.
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