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Sunday, December 21, 2014

THE BIG OPERATOR (1959)

Low-grade tabloid fodder with Mickey Rooney as a corrupt union boss who’s got to turn a couple of tool & dye guys (Steve Cochran & Mel Tormé) before they testify against him. He plays nice (job offers & raises); he plays long game (buttering up the wives); he plays strong arm (Mel gets canned, Steve threatened); he plays vicious (beatings, human torching). But nothing works until he kidnaps Cochran’s boy (young Jay ‘Dennis the Menace’ North). It’s mostly tv talent behind the camera, with an OTT jazzed-up score and some nice b&w CinemaScope location lensing between the violent encounters & flatly lit interior sets. Plus, a decidedly weird mix to the cast with Jackie Coogan, Mamie Van Doren, Charles Chaplin, Jr. & Jim Backus. (Backus gets to fight it out in an action scene!) Rooney, looking unusually trim & fit for the period, is plenty effective, just don’t expect the nuances of Cagney or Eddie G. But Cochran gets the best bit bringing a carful of honest union guys to rescue his kid by remembering (and retracing in reverse!) every sound he heard while blindfolded during what must have been a 45 minute drive. It might be one of those Marx Bros. routines with Harpo pantomiming ‘clues’ for Chico to decipher.

DOUBLE-BILL: For a serious take on this sort of union/city politics corruption, Francesco Rosi’s Naples-set HANDS OVER THE CITY/’63 with Rod Steiger is pretty hard to beat.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Speaking of Italian pics, two years before, Steve Cochran had the lead in Michelangelo Antonioni’s IL GRIDO/’57. Now this. He must have had some crazy agent!

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