In the movies, people are always finding big wads of money. A buried treasure, some crook’s hidden loot, heck, even the boys on “The Brady Bunch” found a wallet with a couple hundred bucks in it while playing football in a vacant lot! The best I ever did was winning tickets to an advance screening of “Star Trek the Motion Picture” in a drawing at McDonalds. But, like I said, in the world of the movies it happens all time. Take today’s movie, in which a couple of teens get more than they bargained for when they find the haul from a bank robbery in 1960’s “The Big Night.”
The film begins with two teens, Frankie (Randy Sparks) and Ellie (Venetia Stevenson) out on a date at the local carnival. Ellie comes from a pretty well-to-do family, while Frankie comes from a working class family, yet these two seem made for each other. Frankie already has Ellie out way past curfew when they happen to see a car being chased by the police. While crossing a bridge, someone in the car tosses a satchel into the shallow water below. The police don’t notice it, but Frankie does. A shootout breaks out, leaving two of the crooks dead, but one manages to escape. Meanwhile, as the cops try to sort things out, Frankie makes his way down to the water, swims out to grab the bag, and then hides it until the heat is off.
The next day, Frankie sees in the paper that all the fuss was over a bank robbery, and that the perps got away with over 200 thousand bucks. He’s anxious to go recover the hidden stash after school, but his dad (Dick Foran) informs him that he’s gotten a call from one of the high school counselors. Frankie is in danger of failing, so the counselor will be paying a visit. Dad is determined that Frankie make something of himself, and not have to work in a factory like he does.
Frankie manages to get to the money that afternoon but leaves it hidden. All this makes him late for his big dramatic scene with the guidance counselor (House Peters Jr.). Meanwhile, Ellie’s mother (Anna Lee) has been telling Ellie all about how she doesn’t think she should go out with Frankie…explaining that he’s not from their social strata, and suggesting that “maybe if he got a job…” Ellie eventually discusses this with Frankie and he manages to get a job at the local gas station. The owner (Frank Ferguson) even advances Frankie several weeks’ worth of pay, which he uses to buy a car! I’m telling ya, it’s great to live in a movie!
Even though Frankie’s dad gets laid off at the plant, things seem to be looking up. That is, until some new arrivals come to town. First, there’s a man named Wegg (Jesse White), a crooked ex-cop trying to hunt down the stolen loot for himself. Plus, there’s the crook who made it out alive, Carl Farrow (Dick Contino). He takes a room overlooking the canal so he can easily spot any activity related to the ditched money. Eventually, these two team up to try and find who has the loot. Just as Frankie and Ellie begin to realize that they don’t need the money if they have each other, and agree to turn it in, the two hoods begin to set their sights on the young couple.
The movie certainly seems like it has many elements that could be a lot of fun if exploited properly…stolen money, hardened criminals, crooked cops, young love…but this isn’t where the film puts most of it’s emphasis. A lot more time is spent dealing with family issues, social status, upper class vs. working class. It’s more like a soap opera, and some of it gets a bit too sudzy, if you know what I mean.
There are a few interesting elements of the film, however. There are two nighttime sequences that work quite well…the initial police chase/shootout scene and another scene where Frankie tries to avoid the cops while retrieving the money. My favorite element of the film, though, is the great Jesse White. He appeared in so many great movies and TV series’. I knew him best as one of voices on Stan Freberg’s “The United States of America” album. Though I was frustrated that his character is never clearly defined in this film, I thought White’s performance was great. He comes across as a regular friendly guy, but you know you’re not supposed to trust him. It’s a unique way to approach a villain.
All in all, the film has a quick pace and, despite being a bit sappy at points, it manages to stay fairly entertaining. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go play football in a vacant lot where I plan to trip on a wallet full of money Bobby Brady style!