Roger Corman has never let an exploitable opportunity slip by. A case in point is what we have here. In the wake of the first two Godfather films came this rise-and-fall tale. And because the Godfather movies were handsome, expensive and classy, then this Corman-produced effort is also a nice-looking piece of cinema, even if the budget-conscious element shows through with the use of leftover footage from The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.
Ben Gazzara plays Al Capone, moving up from street-smart hood to mob kingpin through cunning and violence. His mentor is Johnn Torrio (Harry Guardino), who works to unite the various ethnic Chicago gangs, but lacks the bloodthirstiness necessary to impose his will. Capone has the right ruthlessness, and betrays Torrio, taking his place. But Capone has his own right-hand man with high ambitions: Frank Nitti (Sylvester Stallone).
Howard Browne’s screenplay isn’t overly concerned with historical accuracy (Nitti, for example, was in reality 18 years older than Capone), but it’s still closer to the historical record than something like The Untouchables. Gazzara is convincingly psychotic as Capone, giving us a man who comes across as a clenched fist, and whose temper will be both his strength and his weakness. It’s also fun to see a pre-stardom Stallone play a character who is all about strategy rather than violence.
Its relatively modest means and ambitions taken into consideration, this is punchy, tight little gangster movie, and grittily entertaining.
The print is a bit on the murky side, something that is particularly noticeable in the opening night sequence, where some of the shots are almost indecipherable. Elsewhere, grain and minor speckling are in evidence, too. But the colours are generally quite rich, and the blacks (when they are not overpowering) are very deep. The original 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio is preserved.
Things are rougher here. The mono track has its share of hiss and static, and the sound is sometimes hollow, as if badly post-synched. Things don’t ever get bad enough to render the dialogue incomprehensible, but the flaws are noticeable, and can pull one out of the film.
Commentary Track: Nathaniel Thompson interviews director Steve Carver, whose memories of making the film remain vivid, and he has the expected tales of Corman’s legendary cost-cutting measures. An entertaining talk.
Trailers: Four of them, plus one for The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.
Poor Susan Blakely doesn’t have much of a role here, and nor does John Cassavettes, contributing a mere cameo. But the period, the grit and the violence are all great fun.