Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Bruce Dern Films
- George Segal Films
- Jack Nicholson Films
- Jason Robards Films
- Prohibition Era
- Ralph Meeker Films
- Roger Corman Films
B-movie producer/director Roger Corman was given a substantial budget and studio backing (from 20th Century Fox) to make this “authentic” docudrama flick about one of the most notorious mass murders in gang warfare history. As Paul Frees’ voiceover narration helpfully informs us during the film’s opening shots:
In the years following the passage of the National Prohibition Act of 1920, the nation’s underworld rises to power and battles amongst itself, just as modern nations and corporations do. Open periods of gang warfare are followed by peace treaties, and attempts at consolidation and monopoly, each of which is shattered as new warfare erupts in quest of the booming bootlegging and vice profits. By 1929, the gangs of Chicago operate 21,207 speakeasies, and their gross income reaches $357 million. 618 members of the city’s underworld are murdered within nine years. Corruption extends from the mayor’s office to the humblest side-street speakeasy.
Robards was given a hard time for looking nothing like the actual Al Capone (Orson Welles was the original choice), but he’s effectively surly as the murderous kingpin who will stop at nothing to see his nemesis destroyed:
… and Meeker seems reasonably well-cast as Bugs Moran.
Meanwhile, throughout the film, the voiceover narration provides us with information about each of the leader’s various followers. Peter Gusenberg (George Segal), for instance, is described thusly:
Peter Gusenberg: born Chicago, Illinois, September 22 of 1898. Ex-convict. Mail-robber. Burglar. Hijacker. Professional killer. When, at the age of 13, he came home from school to find his mother dead, his first act was to pry the wedding ring from her finger and pawn it.
… and John May (Bruce Dern) gets the following description.
John May: born Chicago, Illinois, September 28, 1897. Married. Seven children. Twice arrested on charges of safe-blowing and burglary. No convictions. Has worked occasionally for the Moran gang as an auto mechanic. He has promised his wife he will stay out of further trouble with the law, but he is three months behind in the rent.
For others, we’re informed about the cause and date of their eventual demise as well:
Francesco Nittoni, alias Frank “The Enforcer” Nitti: born Montedoro, Sicily, January 9, 1887. Nitti is in charge of the Capone organization’s punishment squad, made up of accomplished strong-arm men and professional killers. On March 19, 1943, while under indictment for income tax evasion, Nitti will use a gun for the last time, to take his own life.
There are a lot of supporting characters in this tale — but history buffs interested in tracking it all will likely find it engaging. Meanwhile, all-purpose film fanatics may enjoy briefly spotting both Jack Nicholson (see him there?):
… and (of course) Dick Miller.
And, naturally, there’s plenty of violence to be had.
Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:
- Milton Krasner’s cinematography
- Lionel Newman and Fred Steiner’s score
No, though it’s worth a one-time look. Listed as a Cult Movie in the back of Peary’s book.