Directed by Charles F. Haas in 1959, The Big Operator is an interesting picture. The setup is that on the night before a Senate Committee investigation is to start looking into some racketeering charges, a man named Oscar "The Executioner" Wetzel (Ray Danton) murders, the treasurer for the Carlton & Son Precision Tool Plant, William Tragg. Why? Because a thuggish union leader named Little Joe Braun (Mickey Rooney) wanted Tragg's business records and Wetzel brings them to him after the deed is done. Two employees of Carlton & Son, Bill Gibson (Steve Cochran) and Fred McAfee (Mel Tormé), see Wetzel handover the goods to Braun as he waits outside.
The next morning, the Senate Committee investigation begins and Braun is brought in. He refuses, he pleads the fifth and will not speak despite the fact that he's been served with a letter from National Labor Federation. Tragg was subpoenaed but obviously never shows up, nor do the records that the court had requested be brought into evidence, making Braun's actions with Wetzel the night before exceedingly clear, though of course the courts don't know of this activity yet. Cochran knows what went down though, and when that comes up, Braun has his son Timy (Jay North) kidnapped, obviously causing issues for him and his wife Mary (Mamie Van Doren), and literally gets McAfee burned. It seems that Braun is bound and determined to silence anyone who might be able to testify against him…
Really nicely shot in widescreen and benefitting greatly from an interesting jazz score from Van Alexander, The Big Operator is fast paced, gritty and surprisingly violent. Yes, it's a B-movie trappings show throughout, this was obviously made without a huge budget, but what it might lack in flashy set pieces it more than makes up with some excellent performances and a really intense story ripe with edge of your seat suspense and some surprisingly believable melodrama. The story might be a little predictable and some of the characters a bit more one dimensional than they could and should have been but this one moves at a breakneck pace from start to finish and is sure to please fans of noir and crime thrillers.
The cast in this one really do fine work. Mickey Rooney seems to be having a great time playing the bad guy and while he's not a huge, imposing figure like you might expect for this type of character he brings an appropriately larger than life personality to ‘Little Joe' and creates the type of Hoffa-esque character you would not want to cross. Supporting efforts from Mamie Van Doren, quite believable in a fairly standard fifties-era housewife role, and yes, that Mel Tormé add to the fun and Jay North of Dennis The Menace fame is solid as the kid in peril. He and the true star of the film, Steve Cochran, share more than a couple of good scenes together and show a really solid dramatic chemistry that makes one key scene in particular (that we shall not spoil here) a very effective and chilling one. Cochran plays Gibson as a noble hero but never as anything even close to superhuman. There's only so much this one man can do, but he is at least the type of man who will follow through despite the obvious danger inherent in the situation.
There are a few other interesting faces that pop up before the movie finishes up. Charles Chaplin Jr. has a small role here as does Maila ‘Vampira' Nurmi, horror hostess from the decades of TV past and the starlet of Edward D. Wood Jr.'s seminal Plan 9 From Outer Space. Haas and company also made The Beat Generation the same year they made The Big Operator and many of the same cast members appear in both pictures. There's lots to recommend here, it's a really strong picture that proves to be relentlessly entertaining.The Blu-ray:
The Big Operator looks very nice on Blu-ray in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 2.35.1., even if it's obvious by the many small scratches on the image that the film hasn't been given a proper full blown restoration. There's a nice amount of natural looking film grain present that results in a very film like presentation without the picture ever looking too deteriorated or dirty because of it. Contrast is fine and the print damage that does appear is minor. Texture is good and black levels are strong, with very average shadow detail for an older picture made on a modest budget. As is often the case with Olive's older black and white catalogue releases, the movie could have been cleaned up more than it has been, but it still looks pretty good and it offers a reasonable amount of depth.Sound:
The only audio option on the disc is a DTS-HD Mono track in the film's original English language, no alternate language or subtitle options or offered. The audio is clean and clear and easy to follow, the dialogue easily discernible and the score sounds fine. There are no issues here with hiss or distortion and the levels are properly balanced throughout the movie. Range is obviously limited by the age and format of the source material, so expect some flatness throughout the movie, but overall the movie sounds decent enough.Extras:
Aside from a static menu and chapter selection, there are no extra features at all on this Blu-ray disc from Olive Films.Final Thoughts:
The Big Operator is a pretty decent crime thriller with a genuinely interesting cast and some fiery performances, particularly from Rooney as the lead heavy. There's a decent amount of style and some good tension and as such, this proves to be pretty entertaining stuff. The Blu-ray release from Olive Films is as barebones as most of their other releases but it looks and sounds pretty decent. Recommended.