The Big Money. Willie Frith (Ian Carmichael). Image credit: Rank Organisation.

The Big Money

Comedy about a small-time thief who becomes caught up in a world of organised crime after stealing a suitcase stuffed with forged 1 notes

Genre:
Film
Released:
1958
Starring:
Ian Carmichael, Belinda Lee, Kathleen Harrison, Robert Helpmann, James Hayter, George Coulouris, Renee Houston, Michael Brennan, Jill Ireland, Leslie Phillips, Harold Berens
Writers:
John Baines, Patrick Campbell
Production:
Rank Organisation

Willie Frith may be from a family of petty criminals, but with a gentle streak and ever-present clumsiness he just doesn't seem to have the same natural gift for the family trade as his parents or younger siblings. Each with their own area of criminality expertise, from shoplifting to pick-pocketing, Willie is a bag-snatcher who somehow keeps choosing the wrong bag to swipe.

Desperate to return home with a haul to please his overbearing father for once, 20-something Willie grabs the bag of a Reverend at Victoria station - and is delighted upon opening it to discover thousands of pound notes.

His delight quickly turns to frustration as his father notices that the notes have identical serial numbers: useless forgeries that must be burned. Reasoning that he can spend one at a time to avoid detection, Willie refuses to allow the notes' destruction, and his father throws him out.

However, it's not long before the temptation of beautiful blonde barmaid Gloria has him splashing the cash around a little more freely. The windfall gives the normally shy Willie a new-found confidence to win her heart, but that means spending the money in greater quantities.

And the crooks behind the forgeries are certain to want their money back...

Our Review: The Big Money is a quirky little production. Supposedly delayed for some two years by Rank, dissatisfied with its comedy, it blends a very 21st Century streak of social embarrassment with classic knockabout farce and physical humour.

The romantic sub-plot of the film, however, is far more of a mixed bag. It's easy to sympathise with the plight of Willie Frith despite his latent criminality; played expertly by Ian Carmichael, who demonstrates superb comic reactions and timing, one feels a certain understanding for this 'black sheep of the family', encouraged into thievery by his dishonest parents but possessing neither the will nor the instinct to be a success in the family trade. One is compelled to wish the misfit well.

Similarly, Belinda Lee is captivating as Gloria. Unfortunately, the romantic potential between the couple is dampened by the script, showing Gloria as having little interest in Willie beyond his apparent wealth until the very last scene. It is indeed a somewhat touching turn-around, but by that point any reasonable member of the audience would have thought 'He deserves better' one too many times to be wholly satisfied.

Nevertheless, the performances of the leads - and indeed the supporting cast members - are enough to add sparkle to The Big Money, from the bit-parts of James Hayter and Leslie Phillips to a far more substantial (and mildly chilling) role for Robert Helpmann, best known as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang's child-catcher.