An Offer You Can’t Refuse #18: The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (dir by Roger Corman)


On February 14th, 1929, seven men were murdered in a garage in Chicago, Illinois.  Five of the seven men were known to be associates of gangster George “Bugs” Moran.  The other two men were considered to be innocent bystanders, a mechanic and a dry cleaner who just happened to enjoy hanging out with gangsters.  Though no one was ever convicted of the crime, it was well-known that the murders were carried out on the orders of Al Capone.

In many ways, the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre was a turning point in America’s relationship with organized crime.  Before the massacre, Capone had become a bit of a folk hero.  He knew how to talk to the press and he was viewed as merely breaking a law (in this case, prohibition) that most people opposed in the first place.  However, after the murders, public opinion soured on Capone.

Some of it was the brutality of the crime.  It’s been said that over five hundred bullets were fired in that garage, all to kill seven defenseless men who were lined up against a wall.  Grisly pictures of the victims were released to the press.  Perhaps if the seven men had been carrying weapons and had been involved in a shootout with their murderers, the public’s reaction would have been different.  But this was a cold-blooded execution.

Personally, I think the fact that the killers disguised themselves as cops also played a role in the public’s outrage.  It was a very calculated move on the part of the killers and it highlighted just how much planning went into the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.  As well, it undoubtedly made people paranoid.  If a bunch of killer could dress up like cops, who knew who else they could dress up as?

Finally, I think that Capone’s biggest mistake was carrying out the crime on Valentine’s Day.  You don’t murder people on a holiday.  Anyone should know that.  If Capone had waited until February 20th, he probably could have gotten away with it.

The 1967 film, The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, details the rivalry between Capone and Moran, starting with them fighting for control over the Chicago rackets and ending with the title event.  Moran is played by Ralph Meeker while Jason Robards plays Capone.

Now I know what you’re probably thinking.  Perennial WASP Jason Robards as Al Capone?  That may sound like odd casting and, let’s just be honest here, it is.  However, it actually kind of works.  Robards may not be convincingly Italian but he is convincingly ruthless.  Add to that, one of the major subplots of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre is that, even as the head of the Chicago Outfit, Capone still feels like an outsider in the world of organized crime because, while he is Italian, he isn’t Sicilian.  Capone feels as if Lucky Luciano and all of the major New York crime bosses look down on him and one reason why he’s so ruthless about taking over Chicago is that wants to show Luciano that he can be just as effective a crime lord as any Sicilian.  Capone feeling out of place in the Mafia is reflected by Robards initially seeming to be out of place in a gangster film.  By the end of the movie, of course, Capone has proven himself and so has Jason Robards.

Robards isn’t the only familiar face to be found in The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.  Though this film was released by 20th Century Fox, it was directed by Roger Corman and Corman fills the production with members of his stock company.  Dick Miller, Jonathan Haze, and Jack Nicholson all have small roles as gunmen.  Bruce Dern plays the unlucky mechanic who enjoys hanging out with gangsters.  Buck Taylor, Leo Gordon, and Joe Turkel all have small roles.  John Agar plays Dion O’Bannon and is gunned down in his flower store.  Though not members of the Corman stock company, George Segal and David Canary plays brothers who work for Moran.  There’s a lot of characters wandering through this film but Corman makes sure that everyone gets a chance to make an impression.

It’s a good gangster film.  Though he was working with a larger budget than usual, Corman still brought his exploitation film aesthetic to the material and the end result is a violent, melodramatic gangster film that looks really impressive.  The film’s recreation of 1920s Chicago is a visual delight and looking at the well-dressed and stylish gangsters walking and driving down the vibrant city streets, you can understand why organized crime would have such a draw for some people.

The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre is a classic gangster film and a classic Corman film.  It’s an offer you can’t refuse.

Previous Offers You Can’t (or Can) Refuse:

  1. The Public Enemy
  2. Scarface
  3. The Purple Gang
  4. The Gang That Could’t Shoot Straight
  5. The Happening
  6. King of the Roaring Twenties: The Story of Arnold Rothstein 
  7. The Roaring Twenties
  8. Force of Evil
  9. Rob the Mob
  10. Gambling House
  11. Race Street
  12. Racket Girls
  13. Hoffa
  14. Contraband
  15. Bugsy Malone
  16. Love Me or Leave Me
  17. Murder, Inc.

 

A Movie A Day #107: The Legend of the Lone Ranger (1981, directed by William A. Fraker)


Long before he found fame playing Deputy Hawk on Twin Peaks, Michael Horse made his film debut in one of the most notorious box office flops of all time, The Legend of the Lone Ranger.  

Michael Horse played Tonto, the young Comanche who rescues his childhood friend, John Reid (Klinton Spilsbury), and nurses him back to health after Reid has been attacked and left for dead by the notorious outlaw, Butch Cavendish (Christopher Lloyd).  Reid was a civilian, accompanying a group of Texas Rangers led by his older brother, Dan (John Bennett Perry).  When Cavendish attacked, John was the only survivor.  John wants to avenge his brother’s death but first, Tonto is going to have to teach him how to shoot a six-shooter and how to ride his new horse, Silver.  Finally, John is ready to don the mask and becomes the Lone Ranger.  It’s just in time, because Cavendish has kidnapped President Grant (Jason Robards).

An even bigger flop than the more recent Lone Ranger film starring Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp, The Legend of the Lone Ranger failed for several reasons.  For one thing, the film has a major identity crisis.  The violence is not for kids but most of the dialogue and the performances are.  For another thing, it takes forever for John Reid to actually put on the mask and become the Lone Ranger.  By the time the William Tell Overture is heard, the movie is nearly over.

It was made to capitalize on the same type of nostalgia that previously made Superman a hit and, just as Superman introduced the world to Christopher Reeve, The Legend of the Lone Ranger introduced the world to a football player turned actor, named Klinton Spilsbury.  Unfortunately, the world did not want to meet Klinton Spilsbury, whose blank-faced performance was so bad that James Keach was brought in to dub over all of his dialogue.   Spilsbury did not help himself by reportedly acting like a diva during the shooting, demanding constant rewrites, and getting into bar brawls offset.  Of the two actors who made their screen debuts in The Legend of the Lone Ranger, Michael Horse has worked again.  Klinton Spilsbury has not.

When The Legend of the Lone Ranger went into production, the film’s producers made the incredibly boneheaded move of getting a court injunction barring Clayton Moore (who had played the role on TV) from wearing his Lone Ranger uniform is public.  Since the semi-retired Moore was living off of the money that he made appearing as the Lone Ranger at country fairs and children’s hospitals, this move was a public relations disaster.  (For his part, Moore filed a counter suit and continued to make appearances, now wearing wrap-around sunglasses instead of his mask.)  Moore refused to appear in a cameo and spent much of 1981 speaking out against the film.

Finally, the main reason that Legend of The Lone Ranger flopped was because it opened on the same Friday as a little film called Raiders of the Lost Ark.

The rest is history.

Film Review: Indiscretion (dir by John Stewart Muller)


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Indiscretion is a strange one.

(And by strange, I mean dull and kind of pointless.)

This film premiered on Lifetime last Saturday but, as I watched it, it quickly became obvious that it wasn’t originally produced for Lifetime.

For one thing, the film was shot on location in Louisiana.  Instead of letting Montreal or Toronto stand in for a generic American city, this film was actually shot on the streets of New Orleans.  (Unfortunately, the film also made New Orleans seem kind of boring.)

Secondly, Indiscretion turned out to be one of those films where the soundtrack would suddenly go silent whenever a character said anything stronger than “damn.”  It was odd because you would see a character very obviously saying something like, “Fuck you,” but you wouldn’t be able to hear the voice.  I guess that was to protect the gentle sensibilities of the viewer but what about people who read lips?

And finally, Indiscretion didn’t feature any of the usual Lifetime actors.  Instead, it starred Mira Sorvino as a frustrated wife and Cary Elwes as her politician husband.  Sorvino’s real-life husband, Christoper Backus, played the troubled sculptor who has an affair with Sorvino and then ends up stalking her family.

So, no, Indiscretion was clearly made to, at the very least, be released straight to video.  It was not meant for commercial television.  And yet, somehow, it ended up making a somewhat awkward premiere on Lifetime.

Anyway, Indiscretion starts out well enough.  It doesn’t waste any time arranging for Sorvino and Backus to meet at a fund raiser and for them to end up having a passionate affair.  Sorvino, of course, claims that it was just a weekend fling and that she loves her husband.  Backus refuses to believe her and soon, he’s worming his way into her family.  He befriends her husband and even gets to go on a hunting trip with the governor of Louisiana.  He also ends up having an affair with Sorvino’s teenage daughter.

(Or, at the very least, he takes some pictures of her, which Sorvino later discovers.  It’s a sign of how haphazardly constructed this film is that you’re never quite sure what’s going on with Backus and Sorvino’s daughter.  Backus also uses one of those old Polaroid cameras to take pictures.  Apparently, troubled artists don’t use digital cameras.)

The problem is that, after the first, artfully-shot sex scene, the film itself slows down to an interminable crawl.  It’s as if the film’s director, editor, screenwriter, and producers all forgot that the audience has already seen a hundred movies just like this one.  Nothing surprising happens and, unlike the best Lifetime films, Indiscretion never winks at the audience or indirectly acknowledges the clichéd nature of its narrative.  The whole thing is just painfully dull and no amount of mood lighting is going to change that.  There is a little twist at the end but most viewers will probably be so bored with it all that they probably won’t even notice.  That’s just the type of film this is.

If you want to see an entertainingly over-the-top and pulpy film about people having sex in New Orleans, I would suggest checking to see if Zandalee is still available on YouTube.

Scenes I Love: Tombstone


Tombstone

Weekend was busy, but still found time to catch a few favorite flicks on TV. One of these happened to be the classic early 90’s western Tombstone starring Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer. I already profiled my favorite scene from this film awhile back, but as I watched the film again I realized there was another sequence that totally made the film for me.

So, the latest “Scenes I Love’ once again comes from Tombstone and it does a great job in showing the darker and vengeful side of Wyatt Earp as played by Kurt Russell. The first scene I loved about this film was more about the cool, calm and badass Wyatt Earp who can spot a bullshitter, blowhard, coward from a miles away. This scene shows Earp in his scary, God’s Wrath mode as he begins his vendetta ride against the Clantons and the Cowboys.

Just love the look of fire and brimstone from Russell’s eyes as he confronts a cowed Ike Clanton and lets him know what he has planned for his clan and group. Better yet, in addition to Kilmer’s Doc Holliday, we also see a younger Michael Rooker aka Merle Dixon. He plays one of the members in Earp’s posse.