“The prison authorities and parole board were confident they had succeeded with Lester N. Gillis — soon to be better known as Baby Face Nelson.”
Famed Depression-era gangster “Baby Face Nelson” (Mickey Rooney) robs and kills while accompanied by his beautiful moll (Carolyn Jones).
Baby Face Nelson received negative reviews upon its release, but has since been lauded by critics as a “vigorous crime thriller” with “anarchic energy” (see the Time Out review link below). On the whole, however, it remains a minor disappointment. While director Don Siegel handles the multiple action scenes well, they’re not particularly unique; and while Mickey Rooney does a fine job as Nelson, not nearly enough time is spent establishing the root of his character’s neuroses. In one nicely-done scene, Baby Face refrains from killing a bank manager simply because he’s just as short as him, offering an intriguing hint of the “little guy complex” which may have driven Nelson’s actions; unfortunately, this is never addressed again.
Carolyn Jones — Morticia on “The Addams Family” television show — emerges as the true find of the film: from the moment we see her pixie face on-screen (she reminds me of Bruce Willis’s lover — played by Maria de Medeiros — in Pulp Fiction), we realize how lucky Nelson was to have such a loyal and sexy moll by his side. Unfortunately, she’s an entirely fictional character. For a better gangster biopic made in the 1950s but taking place in the 1930s, see Dorothy Provine in The Bonnie Parker Story (1958).
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Carolyn Jones as Nelson’s loyal moll
- Mickey Rooney as the psychopathic Baby Face
No. While it’s listed as a cult film in the back of Peary’s book — and has quite a few followers clamoring for its release onto DVD — I think it’s ultimately only must-see viewing for fans of gangster flicks, Don Siegel, and/or Mickey Rooney.