Search - Illegal / The Big Steal (Film Noir Double Feature) on DVD

Illegal / The Big Steal (Film Noir Double Feature)
Illegal / The Big Steal
Film Noir Double Feature
Actors: Edward G. Robinson, Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer
Genres: Drama, Mystery & Suspense
NR     2007     2hr 40min

Studio: Warner Home Video Release Date: 07/31/2007


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Movie Details

Actors: Edward G. Robinson, Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer
Genres: Drama, Mystery & Suspense
Sub-Genres: Drama, Mystery & Suspense
Studio: Warner Home Video
Format: DVD - Black and White,Full Screen - Closed-captioned,Subtitled
DVD Release Date: 07/31/2007
Release Year: 2007
Run Time: 2hr 40min
Screens: Black and White,Full Screen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 9
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English, Spanish
Subtitles: French

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Movie Reviews

Wothwhile double feature
W. Walker | westminster md | 08/10/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)

"I bought this recently released double feature mostly for "The Big Steal", so I'll start with that. Just a fun fast-moving film, dominated by the reluctant unfolding romantic duo of Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer, but with a fine supporting cast, headed by William Bendix. While Bob is chasing Jane(so to speak), the long car chase through mostly rural Mexico adds to the feeling of exotic fun. The commentary version, featuring Richard Jewell, is well worth listening to. We learn this film underwent considerable revision during production because of multiple censor board problems, thus explaining some of the lapses in plot continuity. Thus, it ended up a chase thriller-scewball comedy combo rather than the film noire it apparently was supposed to be(I'm glad). During production, Mitchum spent a short stretch in jail in connecion with his drug possession charge. Apparently, it was hoped the judge would not sentence Mitchum to jail time during shooting. Howard Hughes was forced to cast Jane Greer as the female lead despite his desire to end her career for spiteful reasons. No other potential female lead approached would risk her career to play opposite Mitchum after his much publicized drug bust. As it turned out, the movie-going public immediately forgave Mitchum, perhaps because it seemed to fit his typical screen persona as a devil-may-care rebel. The sizzling on-screen chemistry between Mitchum and Greer demonstrated in a prior film sizzled again in this one, as far as the censor board would allow it.
I'm not much into Eddie Robinson films, except for his mesmerizing performance in "The Sea Wolf". However, I found "Illegal" to be moderately entertaining, if sometimes bewildering, with too many convenient coincidences. Don't expect any big overt romances, although Eddie clearly has feelings for Nina Foch's character. Robinson plays
a pretentious lawyer, bent on winning every case, no matter how low he has to stoop to get the job done. Obviously, he has a severe Napoleon complex. After sending an innocent man to the electric chair, as a prosecuting attorney, he decides to become a defense attorney. In most cases dramatized, he knows the defendant is guilty, but sometimes resorts to unbelievable courtroom theatrics to convince the judge or jury otherwise. In other cases, he weasels a victory from questional legal or arm twisting tactics. He is a marked man in his last and personally most important case, when he is sure the accused is innocent...Jayne Mansfield appears in her first film role, with limited screen time. It's nice to see her portrayed as freshly naive and musically talented, before her conversion into a vulgar MM-mimic sex siren....The commentary version, featuring Nina Foch, the female lead, is worth going through, especially for a glimpse of the limitations of the filming technology of the times.
Both DVD transfers are of excellent quality and the special features are a plus. These two films are also now available in a 10 film package for 3X the price.
"It was legal and in my client's interest," says Edward G. R
C. O. DeRiemer | San Antonio, Texas, USA | 01/14/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Truth in advertising disclosure: These two movies are noirs only in the imagination of Warner Home Video`s marketing department. Illegal is a crime melodrama. The Big Steal is a crime chase with a light touch and a few dark shadows.

Illegal (1955):
This movie starring Edward G. Robinson brings mixed feelings: Admiration for Robinson's skill and stature as an actor; affection for the man, who was a decent and admirable human being; and sadness bordering on disgust for the kind of movies, such as this one, Robinson made beginning in the early Fifties. He'd been unofficially blacklisted during the Commie witch-hunts of the late Forties and Fifties. The studio heads wanted no trouble from Congressional investigations or write-ups in such virulent rags as Red Channels. Robinson's crime: It was whispered that he was too liberal. To make a living and to continue acting, Robinson had to take on such things as Vice Squad (1953), Black Tuesday (1954), Tight Spot, A Bullet for Joey and Illegal (all 1955). It wasn't until Frank Sinatra insisted Robinson be cast in A Hole in the Head in 1959, when Robinson was 66, that studio heads decided that he was safe enough to be used in A-level movies.

Ambitious, competitive D.A. Victor Scott (Robinson) sends an innocent man to the chair. It was a mistake, but that doesn't help the man who was executed. Now the man the newspapers called the Napoleon of the Courtroom not only has his career destroyed, but his belief in himself as a prosecutor. He quits as D.A. From now on Scott will fight for the defense. Well, you know how it goes. Before long Scott is defending crooks and killers. He's aggressive in the court, using every trick, emotion and manipulation to win. It's not long before he finds himself ensnarled in the affairs of the powerful Frank Garland, a kingpin of oil wells, breweries, trucking, hotels, investment companies and vice. Garland is a man who buries his mistakes. Sooner or later Victor Scott, manipulator extraordinaire of juries, is going to come face to face with his conscience, especially when Ellen Miles (Nina Foch), a woman he realizes he may love, is charged with murder and Garland is involved. He'll have some decisions to make.

Illegal isn't an A-movie. It's a melodramatic not quite B-movie. The difference, or course, is Edward G. Robinson. While the melodrama piles up, Victor Scott stays tough and smart. Robinson makes him effortlessly believable. Robinson, a noted art collector, loaned two paintings from his collection for a scene in the movie he shares with Albert Dekker as Garland. It's an amusing moment watching Robinson as Scott comment on Garland's collection of Impressionist masterpieces that were owned by Robinson. "Degas!...and isn't that a Gauguin?...I've always had to content myself with reproductions." Robinson plays it absolutely straight.

It's always a pleasure to watch Nina Foch at work. Jayne Mansfield shows up in her first movie as a singer in a nightclub who earns Garland's pay in more ways than one. What she does to "To Marvelous for Words" should have stopped her career in its tracks.

The Big Steal (1949):
Kathie Moffat and Jeff Bailey may have survived that big car crash two years earlier. Now, under assumed names and with a much brighter outlook on life, they're back on the road, this time in Mexico. Thanks to the Production Code, the interference of new studio owner Howard Hughes and some marijuana that Robert Mitchum, in the middle of filming, was busted for smoking, The Big Steal is not exactly a mess, just a good natured near-mess. Here's the deal on the steal:

Jim Fiske (Patric Knowles) stole a bundle of military payroll money and pinned it on Lieutenant Duke Halliday (Robert Mitchum). Duke has just arrived in Vera Cruz hot on the trail of Fiske to set things straight, but then Army Captain Vincent Blake (William Bendix) shows up on Duke's trail. He was Halliday's superior. Jim Fiske turns out to be a bounder as well as a thief; he made off with $2,000 of his fiancée's money. Joan Granham (Jane Greer), now the irritated ex-fiancée, is in Vera Cruz to get her money back. Duke and Joan reluctantly join forces, and off they go down Mexican highways and through scenic villages toward Tihuacan to bring rough justice to Fiske. Captain Blake is right behind them. Tracking them all for some reason is Inspector General Oriago (Ramon Navarro) of the Mexican police.

The movie mostly is lightweight fun but doesn't really know what it is. Still, Jane Greer is first-rate as the feisty and skeptical Joan. Robert Mitchum looks sleepy and tough, but he also shows a sense of humor as Duke. William Bendix, as he sometimes does, might surprise you. This south of the border road movie is rocky in patches, but it works as well as it does because of the chemistry between Greer and Mitchum and the bickering between Joan and Duke. There are swerving, speeding mountain chases, fistfights, gun fights and lots of goats. Much of the movie was filmed in Mexico, and that helps, too.
Both movies look fine. There are commentary tracks for both and each has one or two extras."
+1/2 -- Two B+ melodramas with elements of noir
hyperbolium | Earth, USA | 02/01/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)

"1955's Illegal isn't so much a noir as a potboiler. Edward G. Robinson plays hard-charging district attorney Victor Scott whose wrongful conviction of Edward Clary (played by Star Trek's DeForest Kelley) sends an innocent man to the electric chair. A brief dalliance with the bottle is followed by rebirth as a criminal attorney and eventually a mobster's mouthpiece. The plotting is not particularly suspenseful, and while the dialog (co-written by W.R. Burnett who'd written the novels Little Caesar and The Asphalt Jungle) has a few snappy lines, it doesn't sustain a hard-boiled tone.

Robinson's starring role, even in this B+ picture, was a plum in 1955, as a HUAC-styled whisper campaign had dimmed his appeal to Hollywood studios. Robinson's co-star, Nina Foch, had been busy with both television and film since the mid-1940s, and from her comments on the bonus track, she was happy to be working with Robinson (who was a friend of her father's), but is none too impressed with the film. Her lengthy Hollywood career, and her post-acting work teaching directing (first at AFI, then as a professor at USC), supplies plenty of unfiltered opinion and dish. She adds insightful details about the mechanics of film making in the mid-50s, and the limitations it placed on actors and directors.

The story's original incarnation, as 1932's The Mouthpiece, had the leads playing love interests, but Robinson and Foch's age difference motivated a rewrite as a foster parent/child, with hints of more. There are interesting threads to that latter conflict, but 1955 was not a year in which the complexity of the leads' relationship could be explored. Jayne Mansfield's debut, and supporting roles by Ellen Corby and Edward Platt add to the film's worth.

1949's The Big Steal has a few moments of intensity in its climactic scene, and the characters' corruption follows one of noir's central themes, but much like The Illegal, this film is more standard drama than full-on noir. Actually, it's a combination chase, whodunit and screwball comedy, as Robert Mitchum is both pursuer and pursuant in a race through picturesque locations in Mexico. Directed by Don Siegel (who would later helm the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the remake of The Killers, and the first Dirty Harry), the film doesn't expose its plot until thirty minute in, and even then, a noir-like uncertainty clings to the character's motivations.

Mitchum is reteamed here with Jane Greer, but the intensity of their work in 1947's classic Out of the Past, is leavened with romantic comedy. Siegel keeps the action tense throughout, but the film-length arc of animosity-to-love played between Mitchum and Greer keeps the characters from ever becoming truly desperate or hopeless. Some of this can be attributed to the film's production circumstances, as explained in the commentary track by USC professor Richard Jewell. In addition to shooting around Mitchum's 50-day absence on a pot bust, the screenwriters had to maneuver around a particularly censorious standards committee. The result is a script that's stripped of its original darkness. Ramon Novarro, a matinee idol from the silent era, provides a superb turn as a Mexican inspector general.

Both films are accompanied by modern featurettes and original trailers, and the prints are clean. The Big Steal is the more compelling of the two, for Siegel's direction, the location shooting, and the snappy chemistry between the leads. Both film's commentary tracks are well worth a listen. Illegal-3 stars. The Big Steal-4 stars. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]"