12 November 2014 | Quinoa1984
Cassavetes the Tough-Guy
As another film in a long-line for Cassavetes, much like Orson Welles did for many years, done more-so to pay the bills for the next feature film as director than for any kind of real 'passion' for the project, Machine-Gun McCain acts, walks and talks like a gangster genre picture. And from Italy no less.
It has a similar kind of beat to it like Point Blank where you have a real tough guy gangster (Cassavetes) who is out of jail and has some payback to deliver to a super-criminal organization and based more on principle than anything else. He decides to pull a rather crazy casino-heist job, but not with the same kind of crew or expertise that Ocean's Eleven might've had. No, instead, when not laying his hot Euro-girl (Britt Eklund), he's preparing by himself to bomb the s**t out of the casino and make off with the cake in a rather twisted premise.
Giuliano Montaldo's film is spare on character exploration - this is not the kind of film that Cassavetes would make himself, not in a thousand years - but is good on making things 'cool' in the heist-movie sense. The little we know about Hank McCain is just enough to keep the story going.
There is some supporting character stuff with Peter Falk's gangster who is in some heat over some bad business going on behind the scenes (lots of tense shouting going on in some of these scenes, it looks fun to play but who knows on the freewheeling Italian productions), and absolutely nothing really to Eklund's character. I wondered throughout the film why she would go on with all of this what Hank was doing. Who is she and what is he to her? I guess who cares ultimately except as someone to carry the explosives and drive the car in a clinch.
More interesting in the film, though sadly underused, is a character Gena Rowlands plays (both Falk and Rowlands being Cassvetes regular players) who was an old flame of Hank McCain's way back when, and Rowlands gives this character a lot of unexpected depth in just five minutes of screen-time.
She shows up since Hank needs some help in the last act of the story, and their chemistry on screen (notwithstanding being real life husband and wife) is electrifying, and she has a dangerous quality that speaks of being a femme fatale but a really good egg to the right people. A scene right after this when she's being questioned by some hoodlums on the trail of McCain is perhaps the best scene of the movie; how much of this was some decent direction or just Rowlands way about the scene I don't know.
Cassavetes, too, thankfully, helps anchor the film when it could get into a lull. He has some kind of concentration about him, whether he's scoping a joint out or gambling at a casino table or if he's talking with a few lunkhead lowlife criminals who are plotting a caper that they want to include him on, that makes Machine Gun McCain so enjoyable.
The story itself is just okay, it moves along at a decent enough pace, but it's mostly just an excuse for the action to take shape - which, admittedly, once you see what McCain has in store in this heist, it's really one of the more incredible and daring scenes in heist movies from the time. But with the star there, it's an odd but compelling presence that makes the film itself much tougher. There's one scene especially where McCain pulls out his machine fun (hence the name), and it's a scene of dark, intense power, mostly from him saying little at all.