BR: St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, The (1967)

October 24, 2015 | By

 

StValentinesDayMassacre_BRFilm: Excellent

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: Good

Label:  Twilight Time

Region: All

Released:  February 10, 2015

Genre:  True Crime

Synopsis: Vivid crime docu-drama chronicling the plotting and execution of the infamous machine gun slaughter of rival gang members by Al Capone during Prohibition era Chicago.

Special Features:  Isolated Stereo Music Track / Interview: “Roger Corman Remembers” (3:30) / Vintage Fox Movietone newsreel (4:41) / Theatrical Trailer / 8-page colour booklet with loner notes by Julie Kirgo / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment.

 

 


 

Review:

By 1967, Roger Corman was at a crossroads in his long and soon-to-be even more ridiculously prolific career, having grown tired of cranking out formula pictures for American International Pictures, his home for roughly a decade, where he directed & produced a flurry of bug-eyed monster movies, Edgar Allan Poe shockers, and later biker and counter-culture films. Corman may have been loving referred to as being ‘cheap’ by his protégés when he founded New World Pictures in 1970, but so was AIP, and there’s a sense Corman the director wanted to expand his horizons and take a crack at making motion pictures for the big studios, especially since former underlings like Francis Ford Coppola were doing pretty well, having gone from the Corman-produced Dementia 13 (1963) to an emerging screenwriter with This Property is Condemned and Is Paris Burning? (both 1966).

Corman had already directed a pair of gangster films – Machine-Gun Kelly with Charles Bronson for AIP and I, Mobster for Fox in 1958, a year before the premiere of the long-running crime series The Untouchables (1959-1963) – and with a reputation for delivering quality on a budget, he inked a deal with Fox to direct was what then for him his biggest budgeted production – $1 million – and Fox’s cheapest of 1967. Both parties couldn’t have been happier, and with Fox’s extensive talent pool and standing sets, Corman was able to pull off what remains one of his best films; alongside The Intruder (1962), it’s probably his best non-horror movie.

The proficiency of his direction, ability to handle a huge cast, and deliver a top-notch crime docu-drama reportedly based on news reports and court documents is clear right from the first scenes, because this retelling of the famous mass killing launched by Al Capone is packed with info, attitude, and moves with extraordinary efficiency.

Corman had made The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre between two AIP counter-culture flicks – The Wild Angels (1966) and The Trip (1967) – so to have this tough, taut crime film pop up in the middle is proof he could, when the subject was right, make a fine picture.

Part of Massacre’s success lies in the no-nonsense script by prolific TV scribe Howard Browne, keeping the dialogue lean and neatly peppered with the occasional period argot, plus periodic, doom-laden commentary by grave-voiced Paul Frees, probably one of the greatest screen voices of the fifties (especially George Pal’s War of the Worlds).

Another major element is the astonishing cast of actors, from starts to bit parts. It’s a virtual who’s who of established, up-and-coming, and veteran faces, with the latter group instantly recognizable to fans of late fifties / early sixties TV series.

In the too-short interview piece on Twilight Time’s crisp Blu-ray, Corman says he wanted Orson Welles for the role of Al Capone and Jason Robards (All the President’s Men) as Bugs Moran, the rival gang leader in Prohibition Chicago who’s core team of lieutenants and enforcers were wiped out by Capone’s gunmen. Fox sais Welles was too problematic, and some swapping resulted in Robards playing Capone with fairly measured cigar-chomping gusto, and Ralph Meeker (Brannigan) taking the Moran role.

Folded into the cast are George Segal as Moran’s sadistic enforcer, Bruce Dern (The Wild Angels) as a doomed mechanic / innocent bystander, and in a barely speaking bit part, unbilled Jack Nicholson (The Little Shop of Horrors). Connoisseurs of Corman will easily spot members of his stock company, including unbilled Dick Miller (A Bucket of Blood) as a faux copper, Betsy Jones-Moreland (Creature from the Haunted Sea) as a poolside interview at the end, and Barboura Morris (A Bucket of Blood) in the opening scene.

One suspects Robards’ involvement in the film may have been contractual, finishing off his demands after uneven A-productions like Tender is the Night (1962) failed to boost his marquee value, while Jean Hale’s feature film fling (The OscarIn Like Flint) pushed the actress back into TV.

The action scenes are taut, and the gunplay is especially well exercised, with many cuts showing Tommy guns mowing down victims, shredding pretty sets, and smoking after the magazines’ have been emptied. (The editing may not be as hyperkinetic as rival period gangster flick Bonnie and Clyde, but it’s interesting to note Corman’s film beat the Oscar-winning classic to the box office by nearly 2 months – a classic trait of the savvy Corman.)

If there’s only one striking flaw in the production, it’s the flat lighting which one has to presume was Corman’s choice, perhaps thinking flat colour lighting would give the film a docu-drama feel instead of the more atmospheric B&W cinematography of his underrated anti-racist drama The Intruder. Prolific cinematographer Milton Krasner had shot a string of classics, including Nicholas Ray’s goofy King of Kings (1961), the gorgeous Boy on a Dolphin (1957), and Fritz Lang’s striking Scarlet Street (1945), so one suspects the film’s look, while nicely composed, was a misstep by Corman wanting the film to look less like a fictional dramatic movie.

TT’s Blu-ray features a stereo isolated music track with (presumably) stock music recorded for the film, and while most of the film features period source tracks, the main & end music (Fred Steiner’s uncredited handiwork) is a great deranged variation of speakeasy music – disjointed and appropriately unnerving for this classic saga of true crime in America.

Julie Kirgo’s excellent essay substitutes for a commentary track, tracking Corman’s brief fling with Fox and the gangster genre, as well as writer Browne, who penned a Prohibition teleplay “Seven Against the Wall” for Playhouse 90 in 1958.

and TT’s ported over a vintage Fox Movietone newsreel on Capone plus the theatrical trailer that appeared on Fox’s basically bare bones 2006 release.

Alongside Fox, Corman also tried to make the leap to the big-time with United Artists, directing Von Richthofen and Brown (1971), and while the period production offered another substantive budget, studio meddling ultimately convinced the director to hang up his hat for practically two decades, and focus on building New World into an established indie exploitation production & releasing company.

Interestingly, Corman would produce Capone (1975), a related gangster drama written by Browne, released by Fox, and offering another small part to stock company actor Dick Miller.

The history of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre has appeared in countless print, TV, and filmic variants, but certain Al Capone remains its most notorious figurehead, after being so vividly dramatized in Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables (1987).

 

 

© 2015 Mark R. Hasan

 


 

External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDB  —  Soundtrack Album — Composer Filmography
 
Vendor Search Links:
Amazon.ca —  Amazon.com —  Amazon.co.uk

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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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