12 May 2012 | AlsExGal
A mix of fact and fiction
Most of my 7/10 goes to two things - Robert Blake's effective portrayal of completely amoral, calculating, and mentally unbalanced baby-faced mobster Honeyboy Willard and to the rather detached documentary feel of this film as it is narrated by the cop that has vowed to put the Purple Gang away, Barry Sullivan as Lt. William P. Harley of the Detroit Police. It really has the look and feel of "The Untouchables" except with poverty row roots.
There really was a Purple Gang in Detroit in the 20's and 30's, although the character of Honeyboy is a fictional one - the actual power in the real gang was in the hands of four Jewish brothers. The cleaner and dyers war was a real one, except in real life the Purple Gang was allied with the union against non-union independents. There was no rather clean ending to the story of the Purples in real life. Like so many other gangs, Prohibition gave them money and power they could have only dreamed about, and its end sent them on a slow decline with the primary source of their wealth literally dried up.
This film is unusual in that there are no female leads or even substantial female supporting roles here. Women are just the subjects of particularly savage crimes by the Purples, and very little more, meant to underscore the violence of the Purple Gang.
If this film had been in wider release by a bigger studio, maybe Robert Blake wouldn't have had to wait until 1967 and "In Cold Blood" to catapult to stardom. Here he steals the show, kills everyone else, and gives a truly riveting performance of a guy who really loves his work for reasons that seem to have more to do with a need for power and a desire to be feared than just pure greed. Don't believe the low rating on this one - give it a try realizing it is a B feature from a small studio made just as the production code was losing its grip.