Cast & Crew
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.
Howard St. John
Robert B. Williams
William J. O'leary
Dr. D. W. De Roos
Ray De Ravenne
Skipper, A Dog
George W. Davis
Paul S. Fox
Arthur F. Grube
Arthur L. Kirbach
Charles Le Maire
Best Supporting Actor
Mister 880 -
Mister 880 stars Burt Lancaster as a Washington Secret Service agent sent to New York to investigate a mysterious case: It appears that someone has been passing bad bills in various neighborhoods in the boroughs of New York. These bills are always in the denomination of $1; the printing is done with amateurish crudeness (the "s" and the "h" in "Washington" are transposed); and the paper used is the kind you could find at any stationery store. And yet somehow, the perpetrator has eluded capture for years, while thousands of other more sophisticated crooks have been caught. His records have been sitting around so long in the Secret Service archives that the agents have begun to refer to him first as "880," and then, almost respectfully, "Mister 880."
Might Edmund Gwenn's junk-dealer codger "Skipper" Miller be the culprit? Finding out is part of what makes Mister 880 such fun: We're in on the con pretty early, while Lancaster and the woman he meets while investigating the case, scrappy United Nations interpreter Ann Winslow (Dorothy McGuire), spend a great deal of time scratching their heads, wondering just how this wily character keeps eluding the authorities. Lancaster had made his film debut just four years earlier, to great acclaim, with Robert Siodmak's The Killers (1946). He'd been working steadily since that time, completing two or three films per year. Before launching his acting career, Lancaster had been a circus acrobat, and he would always be an intrinsically physical actor; in Mister 880 he's rakish and mischievous-there's still something of the circus tumbler in him, even though the role requires no gymnastics.
Ace screenwriter Robert Riskin (It Happened One Night , Mr. Deeds Goes to Town ) wrote the script for Mister 880, adapting it from a series of New Yorker stories by St. Clair McKelway. Riskin and Goulding ended up following the real story fairly closely, aside from adding the onscreen romance and some other expected fictionalized Hollywood touches. McKelway's original three-part article, as found in the New Yorker archives, tells the story of Edward Mueller, the alias of Emerich Jeuttner, who began printing one dollar bills in 1938. He was in his sixties at the time, and a widower; his two adult children were leading comfortable lives. But he was having trouble making ends meet, a fact that he hid from everyone who knew him, including his children. And so, on a little press he'd purchased, he would print small batches of bills, which he would then spend carefully at various locations in the city.
By the time the Secret Service caught Mueller, in the spring of 1948, they had come to consider him, according to McKelway, "the most exasperating counterfeiter of all time, and the least greedy." For years the agents called Mueller "Old 880"-tweaked into "Mister 880" for the movie's purposes--because his case had been cluttering up their file cabinets for so long. When Mueller was finally captured and charged, he didn't deny what he'd done. "Of course I admit it," he said. "They were only just one-dollar bills." He went on to explain that he "never gave more than one of them to any one person, so nobody ever lost more than one dollar. I gave them all over the city. I went to the Bronx, I went to Staten Island, I went to Queens-the last few years I travelled all around the city, because I never gave more than one of my dollars to any one person."
Mueller was an extremely likeable, benign character, and the agents and the judge not only took pity on him-they genuinely liked him. His sentence was minimal, and he was assigned a fine of-you guessed it-one dollar. Perhaps not surprisingly, he made more money from the film version of his story than he had as a counterfeiter. Even the New York Times' stuffy crab-apple critic Bosley Crowther enjoyed Mister 880, reserving special praise for Gwenn: "His tender concern and affection for 'Cousin Henry,' his printing press, is a touching demonstration of genuine gratitude, and his innocent way of passing fake bills is sufficient to redeem his guilt. The only trouble with the picture is that we don't see enough of him. If we did, we might all take to 'shoving' out of sheer admiration and respect." Any film that could almost drive Crowther to a life of crime clearly has something going for it.
By Stephanie Zacharek
SOURCES: IMDb The New York Sun The New Yorker The New York Times
Producer: Julian Blaustein Director: Edmund Goulding Screenplay: Robert Riskin (screenplay), St. Clair McKelway (article) Cinematography: Joseph LaShelle Music: Sol Kaplan Film Editing: Robert Fritch Cast: Burt Lancaster (Steve Buchanan), Dorothy McGuire (Ann Winslow), Edmund Gwenn ("Skipper" Miller), Millard Mitchell ("Mac" McIntire), Minor Watson (Judge O'Neil) [black and white, 90 minutes]
Mister 880 -
Walter Huston was originally to have played Skipper Miller, but he died just as production began.
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 September 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 March 2, 1950 Hollywood Reporter news item, Walter Huston was originally to star as "Skipper Miller," but died on April 7, 1950, just prior to the start of production. A March 21, 1950 Hollywood Reporter news item adds that George Cukor was initially slated to direct the film. Other Hollywood Reporter 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 April 10, 1950 Hollywood Reporter 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 October 15, 1952, Lux Radio Theatre broadcast a version of St. Clair McKelway's story, starring Gwenn and Dana Andrews. On October 31, 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.