22 July 2004 | nfaust1
If you love movies, this Roger Corman entry into the gangster genre is a revelation. The story is told in a series of loosely connected episodes that supposedly document real circumstances leading up to the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. A narrator tells us what we need to know for each scene, moving the action forward with an astonishing speed and clarity. Corman stamps the Docudrama style with this convention, and it really works; the immediate story is constantly informed by the narrator's voice-of-god telling of characters' past, present, and future circumstances. Even though the visual dimension of the film never escapes its studio locations, Corman's staging and his work with the actors gives it a sense of urgency. Corman has never really been talked about as an actor's director, but here he apparently had the time, the script, and I assume the inclination to let the players rip through the ceiling. The performances are all terrific. Jason Robards (looking nothing like Al Capone!) has an insane, maniacal smile that is often more unsettling than his violent rages. The camera seems to follow him around without the interruption of a cut; his mood swings keep his men in line and the viewer disarmed. True, Robards carries on, but it seems appropriate for the movie. George Segal has two great scenes that seem to play out without interruption. The one with Barbara Hale is a doozy. In fact, all through the film, Corman showcases characters in often ironic situations creating a tapestry of collective behavior that gives the film an amazing sense of vitality. Its the odd, subjective character detail that builds this story; we get involved not in the melodramatics of the story, per se, but rather in the lives of those individuals that come together who create the story.
In a very real way, Corman's approach pre-figures and creates the template for Coppola's internal view of the Mafia in the GODFATHER movies. It lacks the scope of Coppola's saga, for sure. But it sets the precedent. Corman was a terrific director. This movie was the only one he did for a major studio, 20th Century Fox. As a director, a major studio suited Corman, the artist. But as a producer, Corman has written about his distain for studio waste and book keeping. So for the next few years, before giving up directing altogether, Corman continued to work on his own under his safe and financially responsible American International umbrella. If you love movies, this is one you will cherish. Please give it a look. It a rich, satisfying, and disarmingly complex little gangster movie; terrifically entertaining.