The Big Operator (1959)

90-91 mins | Drama | September 1959

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HISTORY

The working title of the film was Anatomy of the Syndicate . HR production charts include Dick Haynes in the cast, but his appearance in the film has not been confirmed. The Paul Gallico story on which The Big Operator was based, "The Adventures of Joe Smith, American" was also used as the basis for the 1942 M-G-M film, Joe Smith, American starring Robert Young and Marsha Hunt, directed by Richard Thorpe (see the AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50 ... More Less

The working title of the film was Anatomy of the Syndicate . HR production charts include Dick Haynes in the cast, but his appearance in the film has not been confirmed. The Paul Gallico story on which The Big Operator was based, "The Adventures of Joe Smith, American" was also used as the basis for the 1942 M-G-M film, Joe Smith, American starring Robert Young and Marsha Hunt, directed by Richard Thorpe (see the AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50 ). More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
10 Aug 1959.
---
Daily Variety
3 Aug 59
p. 3.
Film Daily
4 Aug 59
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
30 Jan 1959
p. 16.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Feb 1959
p. 21.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Aug 59
p. 3.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
8 Aug 59
p. 364.
Variety
5 Aug 59
p. 6.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
An Albert Zugsmith Production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
Prod
WRITERS
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dec
COSTUMES
Women's cost
MUSIC
Mus comp and cond
SOUND
Rec supv
MAKEUP
PRODUCTION MISC
Dial coach
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the short story "The Adventures of Joe Smith, American" by Paul Gallico in Hearst's International-Cosmopolitan (Dec 1940).
AUTHOR
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
Anatomy of the Syndicate
Release Date:
September 1959
Production Date:
late January--early February 1959
Copyright Claimants:
Loew's Inc., Albert Zugsmith Productions, Inc. & Fryman Enterprises, Inc. Loew's Inc. & Albert Zugsmith Productions, Inc.
Copyright Dates:
9 March 1959 9 March 1959
Copyright Numbers:
LP13835 LP15065
Physical Properties:
Sound
Westrex Recording System
Black and White
Widescreen/ratio
Metroscope
Lenses/Prints
Process lenses by Panavision
Duration(in mins):
90-91
Length(in feet):
8,196
Length(in reels):
9
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
19263
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

The evening before the start of a Senate Committee probe into racketeering, William Tragg, the treasurer for the Carlton and Son Precision Tool plant, is murdered by Oscar “The Executioner” Wetzel. Wetzel brings Tragg’s business papers to union boss "Little Joe" Braun, who is waiting in his car outside of the union hall. Plant worker Bill Gibson and his coworker and friend Fred McAfee witness Wetzel deliver the papers to Braun. At the Senate hearings the following day, Braun repeatedly pleads the Fifth Amendment, despite a formal letter read into the record from the National Labor Federation warning him to comply with the court. When the subpoenaed Tragg and his files cannot be located, Braun is summoned to the court for further questioning. Watching the proceedings on television at home with his wife Mary and Fred, Bill sees Wetzel in the courtroom and believes he recognizes him. Braun is questioned about knowing Wetzel, a well-known ex-convict, and heatedly denies the association, prompting a charge of perjury by the prosecutor. Later in private, Braun’s attorney, Phil Cernak, warns him that a perjury charge will be more difficult to defend. Braun remains confident until he abruptly recalls that Bill and Fred saw him with Wetzel. The next afternoon, Bill arrives home to find Braun waiting. Bill refuses Braun’s offer to become one of his organizers, claiming he does not like violence. Although annoyed by the refusal, Braun advises Bill to reconsider. The next morning the newspapers announce that Braun has been expelled from the Labor Federation for his unwillingness to cooperate with the Senate investigation. Bill is ... +


The evening before the start of a Senate Committee probe into racketeering, William Tragg, the treasurer for the Carlton and Son Precision Tool plant, is murdered by Oscar “The Executioner” Wetzel. Wetzel brings Tragg’s business papers to union boss "Little Joe" Braun, who is waiting in his car outside of the union hall. Plant worker Bill Gibson and his coworker and friend Fred McAfee witness Wetzel deliver the papers to Braun. At the Senate hearings the following day, Braun repeatedly pleads the Fifth Amendment, despite a formal letter read into the record from the National Labor Federation warning him to comply with the court. When the subpoenaed Tragg and his files cannot be located, Braun is summoned to the court for further questioning. Watching the proceedings on television at home with his wife Mary and Fred, Bill sees Wetzel in the courtroom and believes he recognizes him. Braun is questioned about knowing Wetzel, a well-known ex-convict, and heatedly denies the association, prompting a charge of perjury by the prosecutor. Later in private, Braun’s attorney, Phil Cernak, warns him that a perjury charge will be more difficult to defend. Braun remains confident until he abruptly recalls that Bill and Fred saw him with Wetzel. The next afternoon, Bill arrives home to find Braun waiting. Bill refuses Braun’s offer to become one of his organizers, claiming he does not like violence. Although annoyed by the refusal, Braun advises Bill to reconsider. The next morning the newspapers announce that Braun has been expelled from the Labor Federation for his unwillingness to cooperate with the Senate investigation. Bill is amused when Fred stops in for breakfast to excitedly report that the previous evening Braun offered him a new position, which he refused. When the men arrive at the plant, they are surprised to find a picket line led by a stranger, Zatko, who reveals the strike was called by Braun. Two men attempt to cross the picket line and are severally beaten by Zatko and his men. The uneasy workers gather in the office of Braun’s assistant, Ed Brannell, to demand an explanation for the strike. Brannell allows Bill and Fred to speak with Braun, who explains he called the strike in order to force the local metallurgy factory to lower their prices. Fred protests that Braun has not followed union procedures, but Braun ignores him and repeats his job offers. The workers call a meeting later that morning at which Braun offers them substantial compensation for the unexpected strike. When Fred protests that Braun is sidestepping union procedures, Braun orders Fred suspended for non-payment of union dues. Fred offers his dues booklet to counter the charge, but Braun tears up the booklet and has Fred forcibly removed from the hall, where the men then vote unanimously in favor of Braun’s offer. That evening, Bill and his wife Mary go next door for their regular bridge game with Fred and his wife Alice, and find Alice disturbed that Fred has not yet arrived home. Moments later a sedan stops in front of the house and Fred, who has been set on fire, is tossed onto the lawn. At Braun’s office that night, Braun reprimands Wetzel for maiming Fred when he was ordered only to frighten him. Braun then arranges to have it appear that Fred was injured in an attempt to burn down Braun’s house. Deeply disturbed by events, Bill visits Cliff Heldon, the head of the National Labor Federation, to ask for guidance. At Cliff’s recommendation, Bill telephones the district attorney’s office and reports that he is willing to testify that he witnessed Braun meeting with Wetzel. Unknown to the men, Braun has wiretapped the phones and overheard. He later has a cohort pose as a member of the district attorney’s office and contact Bill to request a meeting after work. On his way to the meeting Bill is abducted by Wetzel and his men and taken to a house on the outskirts of town. Bill’s eyes are taped shut so that he will not recognize the men or his surroundings and he is beaten when he refuses to promise not to testify. When Bill recognizes Baun’s voice, he tells him that if Braun kills him, a third incident of violence following on the heels of Tragg’s death and Fred’s burning will surely lead to Braun’s arrest. Despite being given drugs, Bill continues to resist Wetzel’s torture until later when Braun has Bill’s son Timmy kidnapped and brought to the house. Braun announces that he will hold Timmy until after the trial and orders Bill driven home. There Cliff and several Federation men are waiting to go over Bill’s testimony and are angered when he abruptly refuses to comply. When a heavily bandaged Fred comes over to relate that he and Alice saw Timmy being forced into an unfamiliar car, Cliff realizes that Bill is being blackmailed. Bill refuses to contact the police, however, believing that he can retrace his way to the house based on the noises he carefully noted on his return. Although skeptical, Cliff agrees and he, Mary, Fred and the Federation men drive with Bill, who painstakingly retraces his journey from the house. Despite several missteps, Bill locates the house and after sending Mary down the street to telephone the police, he, Cliff and the others break into the house where they are attacked by Wetzel and his men. Hearing the commotion, Braun takes Timmy and hides. The police then arrive and break up the fight. Although Cernak attempts to charge Bill and the others with assault, Bill hastily explains his intentions to testify at the hearings and Timmy’s subsequent kidnapping. The house is searched, but Timmy is not found. When Bill spots one of Braun’s trademark cigars still burning, he is convinced the union boss is nearby. Searching the premises, Bill finds a hidden door behind which Braun is holding Timmy. Despite his loud protests, Braun is arrested with Wetzel and the others as Timmy is reunited with Bill and Mary. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.