Based on a Secret Service file, Mister 880 tells the tale of a sweet old counterfeiter who stymies the U.S. Secret Service for over a decade by passing counterfeit single dollar bills with “Washington” misspelled.
Mister 880 (1950) starring Burt Lancaster, Dorothy McGuire, Edmund Gwenn
What’s interesting about Mister 880 is that the counterfeit bills he makes are so bad, they’re almost childish. Printed on ordinary paper, “Washington” misspelled. So, how does he evade detection for over ten years? He only passes 50 counterfeit one dollar bills in a month. Just enough to help him get by.
Steve Buchanan: [to the Chief as he looks through files] So far he’s realize more than $50 a month. Can’t say the man’s been greedy. I guess that’s why he’s been tough to catch. Of course, what’s tougher is the $1 bill. We’ll never educate people to examine $1 bills.
The counterfeiter — a mystery to the characters, but not the audience — is a very kind, sweet old junk dealer. Someone who loves children, and helps them when he can. He befriends a young lady whom he sells a miniature spinning wheel to. And, when she pays him $5 for it, he thinks that’s too much, and gives her back $2 change — when she’s not looking. One of those dollars is one of his counterfeit bills.
That’s what sets the Secret Service agent on his trail. He tracks down the lady, since she tried to spend one of the bogus bills. And, begins a slow romance with her, that builds over time. She legitimately doesn’t know who the counterfeiter is, until late in the picture. And when she discovers that it’s her friend Skipper, she wants to protect him. And even the hard-as-nails agent stands up for him, at his court appearance. Not that he should escape punishment, but that the severity should match the crime.
Mister 880 is a very well done, enjoyable movie with excellent acting all around. Highly recommended.
SYNOPSIS: Based on a true story, Mister 880 is the whimsical tale of an elderly gentleman (Edmund Gwenn) who dabbles in counterfeiting. He makes only enough “funny money” to support himself, but the fact that his work is so amateurish (he can’t even spell “Washington”) arouses the indignation of the treasury department. Burt Lancaster, the hard-nosed treasury agent put on the case, is determined to prosecute the miscreant to the full extent of the law. In tracking down a lead, Lancaster falls in love with Dorothy McGuire, a recipient of one of the phony bills. Lancaster discovers that MCGUIRE lives in the same building as Gwenn, and after piecing together the clues arrests the old fellow. Softened by Gwenn’s naivete, Lancaster and Ms. MCGUIRE arrange for a compassionate lawyer to lessen what would otherwise be a stiff prison sentence.
Cast of characters
- Burt Lancaster (Gunfight at the O.K. Corral) … Steve Buchanan
- Dorothy McGuire (The Greatest Story Ever Told) … Ann Winslow
- Edmund Gwenn (The Walking Dead 1936) … William ‘Skipper’ Miller
- Millard Mitchell (Singin’ in the Rain) … ‘Mac’ McIntire
- Minor Watson (As Young As You Feel) … Judge O’Neil
- Howard St. John (Strait-Jacket) … Chief
- Hugh Sanders (Scared Stiff) … Thad Mitchell
- James Millican … Olie Johnson
- National Emblem
- Music by Edwin Eugene Bagley
- Played as parade music
- I’m Looking Over a Four-Leaf Clover
- Music by Harry M. Woods
- Played when the man guesses Ann’s weight
- Auld Lang Syne
- [Played repeatedly as a motif for Skipper]
- A Kiss To Build A Dream On
- Written by Bert Kalmar, Harry Ruby and Oscar Hammerstein II
- Mam’selle (1946)
- Music by Edmund Goulding
- Lyrics by Mack Gordon
- [Played as Lancaster and McGuire go into nightclub]
- Hold Me (1933)
- Written by Jack Little, Dave Oppenheim (as David Oppenheim), and Ira Schuster
- [Request to dance band from Dorothy McGuire]