Mister 880 (1950)

90 mins | Drama | October 1950

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HISTORY

The working title of this film was Old 880 . The opening credits contain the following statement: "Photographs of currency were made by special permission of the Secretary of the Treasury and further reproduction, in whole or in part, is strictly prohibited. This picture was made with the assistance of the Treasury Department and the United States Secret Service." According to a Sep 1950 article in Life , the story was based on the case of an actual counterfeiter known as "880," who eluded the Secret Sevice for ten years, despite the fact that he used ordinary bond paper rather than the special Treasury stock. Although the one dollar bills he passed featured blurred printing, misspelling and poor quality engraving, they were accepted by a broad number of businesses located on the upper West Side of New York City. Finally caught in 1948, 880 turned out to be a mild-mannered ex-janitor who supplemented his modest income by counterfeiting.
       According to a 2 Mar 1950 HR news item, Walter Huston was originally to star as "Skipper Miller," but died on 7 Apr 1950, just prior to the start of production. A 21 Mar 1950 HR news item adds that George Cukor was initially slated to direct the film. Other HR news items note that John Archer was tested for a role in the film and that Otto Waldis, the former drama department head at the University of Alabama, was set for a role, but Waldis' appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. A 10 Apr 1950 HR news item noted that Arthur F. Grube, ... More Less

The working title of this film was Old 880 . The opening credits contain the following statement: "Photographs of currency were made by special permission of the Secretary of the Treasury and further reproduction, in whole or in part, is strictly prohibited. This picture was made with the assistance of the Treasury Department and the United States Secret Service." According to a Sep 1950 article in Life , the story was based on the case of an actual counterfeiter known as "880," who eluded the Secret Sevice for ten years, despite the fact that he used ordinary bond paper rather than the special Treasury stock. Although the one dollar bills he passed featured blurred printing, misspelling and poor quality engraving, they were accepted by a broad number of businesses located on the upper West Side of New York City. Finally caught in 1948, 880 turned out to be a mild-mannered ex-janitor who supplemented his modest income by counterfeiting.
       According to a 2 Mar 1950 HR news item, Walter Huston was originally to star as "Skipper Miller," but died on 7 Apr 1950, just prior to the start of production. A 21 Mar 1950 HR news item adds that George Cukor was initially slated to direct the film. Other HR news items note that John Archer was tested for a role in the film and that Otto Waldis, the former drama department head at the University of Alabama, was set for a role, but Waldis' appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. A 10 Apr 1950 HR news item noted that Arthur F. Grube, who worked as technical advisor on the picture, was a retired Secret Service agent. According to studio publicity items contained in the film's production files at the AMPAS Library, the dog in the film, "Skipper," also worked as "Daisy's" stand-in in the "Blondie" films. Edmund Gwenn received a Best Actor in a Supporting Role Academy Award nomination. On 15 Oct 1952, Lux Radio Theatre broadcast a version of St. Clair McKelway's story, starring Gwenn and Dana Andrews. On 31 Oct 1956, CBS broadcast a televised version of the story titled "The Money Maker" on The 20th Century-Fox Hour . That production starred Spring Byington, Terry Moore and Robert Sterling. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
26 Aug 1950.
---
Daily Variety
26 Apr 1950.
---
Daily Variety
21 Aug 50
p. 3.
Film Daily
22 Aug 50
p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter
2 Mar 50
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Mar 50
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Mar 50
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
10 Apr 50
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
14 Apr 50
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
20 Apr 50
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Apr 1950.
---
Hollywood Reporter
12 May 50
p. 11
Hollywood Reporter
21 Aug 50
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Sep 50
p. 10.
Life
11 Sep 50
pp. 97-98.
Los Angeles Examiner
15 Oct 1949.
---
Los Angeles Examiner
28 Feb 1950.
---
Los Angeles Times
31 Oct 1949.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
26 Aug 50
p. 449.
New York Times
30 Sep 50
p. 13.
Variety
23 Aug 50
p. 6.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Ed Max
Herbert Vigran
Timmie Hawkins
Curt Furberg
Ray De Ravenne
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
Stills
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dec
COSTUMES
Ward dir
Cost des
MUSIC
Mus dir
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec photog eff
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod mgr
Tech adv
Skipper's trainer
Skipper's owner
Skipper's owner
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the series of articles "Old Eight-Eighty" by St. Clair McKelway in The New Yorker (27 Aug--10 Sep 1949).
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
Old 880
Release Date:
October 1950
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 29 September 1950
Production Date:
10 April--18 May 1950
Copyright Claimant:
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Copyright Date:
29 September 1950
Copyright Number:
LP464
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Recording
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
90
Length(in feet):
8,079
Length(in reels):
10
Country:
United States
PCA No:
14541
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

Steve Buchanan, a trouble-shooter from the Los Angeles office of the Secret Service branch of the Treasury Department, is called to New York to help with the case of Mister "880," the file number of a counterfeiter of one dollar bills, who, though ridiculously inept, has eluded the department for years. As he investigates at a cigar store, an elderly junk salesman known as "The Skipper" Miller buys tobacco but stops himself as he is about to pay, and takes out a bill from a different pocket. The Skipper returns to his apartment building, where he sells his neighbor, Ann Winslow, a miniature spinning wheel. Delighted with it, she insists on paying five dollars, despite his insistence on a price of three dollars, and while she is not looking, he slips two dollars into into her purse. When an angry veterinarian threatens to see his lawyer if the Skipper does not pay him money owed for his dog's treatment, the Skipper promises to visit his rich "cousin Henry." He then uses "Henry," the name he uses for his primitive counterfeiting apparatus, to produce a number of new bills. When Ann is identified as the person who passed a counterfeit bill, Steve and his partner Mac follow her to the lobby of the United Nations, where she buys a newspaper with another phony bill. After she speaks with a man there, Steve bumps into him to get a good look at his face. He learns that Ann is a UN interpreter, and although he does not believe her to be Mister 880, he decides to "cultivate" her for information. When she stops to look ... +


Steve Buchanan, a trouble-shooter from the Los Angeles office of the Secret Service branch of the Treasury Department, is called to New York to help with the case of Mister "880," the file number of a counterfeiter of one dollar bills, who, though ridiculously inept, has eluded the department for years. As he investigates at a cigar store, an elderly junk salesman known as "The Skipper" Miller buys tobacco but stops himself as he is about to pay, and takes out a bill from a different pocket. The Skipper returns to his apartment building, where he sells his neighbor, Ann Winslow, a miniature spinning wheel. Delighted with it, she insists on paying five dollars, despite his insistence on a price of three dollars, and while she is not looking, he slips two dollars into into her purse. When an angry veterinarian threatens to see his lawyer if the Skipper does not pay him money owed for his dog's treatment, the Skipper promises to visit his rich "cousin Henry." He then uses "Henry," the name he uses for his primitive counterfeiting apparatus, to produce a number of new bills. When Ann is identified as the person who passed a counterfeit bill, Steve and his partner Mac follow her to the lobby of the United Nations, where she buys a newspaper with another phony bill. After she speaks with a man there, Steve bumps into him to get a good look at his face. He learns that Ann is a UN interpreter, and although he does not believe her to be Mister 880, he decides to "cultivate" her for information. When she stops to look at a display in an art gallery window, Mac's attempts to flirt become a nuisance, and Steve and Mac pretend to fight. Steve then has drinks with Ann and makes a date with her for the next evening. The next day, Ann returns to the art gallery and learns that after the incident the previous day, Mac identified himself as a Secret Service agent. She calls the Secret Service office, asking for Steve, and when he answers, she hangs up. Realizing that Steve arranged to meet her to investigate a case, Ann, who is attracted to Steve, fears that he will soon lose interest in her if he learns that she is not a counterfeiter. When he comes to her apartment that evening, she leaves an incriminating letter in her typewriter, then later in the evening, uses some counterfeiting slang that she picked up from a book in the library. Steve informs her that the phrase she has spoken has not been used since the Civil War, then reveals that she has passed two counterfeit dollar bills. He believes her when she says she has no idea where she got them, and she is relieved when he says that he will hold her in "technical custody." Discerning a behavior pattern of the counterfeiter, Steve stations Mac and himself at various places of business where phony bills have been passed, but the Skipper passes a bill right in front of Mac, because of the Skipper's unassuming behavior. Steve soon realizes that the counterfeiter has passed bills at Coney Island every year on the same Sunday. Still not knowing that the Skipper is the counterfeiter, Steve convinces Ann to change her plans of going to the zoo with the Skipper and the neighborhood children and join him at Coney Island. Although a hawker who was given a phony bill identifies Steve as the counterfeiter, Steve feels that they are on the right track and has cards passed out in Bay Ridge and Canarsee telling people how to identify counterfeit bills. After the Skipper passes a phony bill at a fountain in Bay Ridge, he notices the card, then returns home and buries "Henry." After some time passes and no new bills are passed, Mac asks to be taken off the case. Steve's boss in Washington wants to send him to France on a new case, but Steve, consumed with the desire to solve this case, refuses. Meanwhile, Ann learns that the Skipper has sold all his "antiques" for money to live on and arranges for him to be a handyman in the building. Steve reveals that he has decided to take the assignment in France and asks if she can get a trip to Paris, but she warns him of leaving a task undone. When the Skipper sells Ann a matching miniature spinning wheel, he confesses that he earlier left the two dollars in her purse, and she realizes that he is the counterfeiter. Later, when Steve tells her that he has declined the Paris assignment and is back on the 880 case, Ann worries that the Skipper will be apprehended and sentenced to fifteen years in prison. After a boy is caught passing phony money in a grocery store, Steve traces the bill back to a boy who located "Henry" and, thinking the bills he made were stage money, traded some to friends. Steve now realizes that the Skipper is the culprit, and finds more incriminating evidence in his room. When a distressed Ann tries to convince Steve that the Skipper would not survive a long incarceration, Steve is unmoved. The Skipper then arrives with food and wine to celebrate his new job, and when Steve reveals that he is with the Secret Service, the Skipper admits that he has passed counterfeit bills and agrees to come to the station for questioning. There, the Skipper says that he never gave out more than one bill at a time, and always bought something, so that the victims of his crime would not suffer too much from the loss. He also reveals that by counterfeiting he has been able to afford to live outside of the Naval veterans home, which would have cost the government more than the losses from the counterfeiting did. The New York office chief, angry at the embarrassment the Skipper has caused, wants to prosecute him to the fullest. At the trial, the Skipper refuses counsel, and insists on pleading guilty. Steve's testimony is pivotal, and though he says that counterfeiters should be dealt with as severely as possible, he does not think that the Skipper committed his crime because of greed. After the Skipper's exemplary Navy record is discussed, the judge sets the sentence at the minumum, and when he reveals that Skipper can get be paroled in four months, Ann kisses Steve in appreciation. +

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

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