|Steve Cochran and Mamie Van Doren|
Bill Gibson (Steve Cochran) comes afoul of a foul union boss named Little Joe Braun (Mickey Rooney). In his campaign to keep everyone in line and stay out of jail, Braun has Gibson's friend and neighbor -- and an angry union advocate -- Fred McAfee (Mel Torme) beaten, dumped and set on fire. Worse, Braun has Gibson's little boy, Tommy (Jay North), kidnapped, leading to a surprisingly dull and protracted scene when Gibson and his wife, Mary (Mamie Van Doren) drive around -- and around and around -- searching for the kid. The Big Operator is decidedly minor-league film noir of a type, but it is distinguished by some vivid performances. Rooney gets top honors for his sterling portrait of the loathsome mob boss, with Ray Danton also making his mark as Braun's "executioner." Cochran [The Chase], and even Van Doren [Born Reckless], are fine as the parents (in an early scene they express worry over the child and then leave him alone in the house!), and while not a "revelation" as such, Mel Torme [The Fearmakers] is quite good as McAfee. Others in the cast include everyone from Jim Backus and Vampira (Maila Nurmi) to Jackie Coogan and 'Red" Barry, with Ziva Rodann thrown in for good measure.
Verdict: Minor crime film with interesting cast. **.