Baby Face Nelson (1957)
I’ve been wanting to see this film since I was in high school going through film books at the local library. There was a publicity shot of Mickey Rooney and Leo Gordon looking menacing that caught my eye. Since I had seen many of the other titles featuring the glamorized careers of the thirties gangsters like Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde, Oates as Dillinger and even a T.V. Movie on Pretty Boy Floyd, this film was put on my wish list. It took a long time but thanks to youtube……
Despite this being a great casting idea of putting Rooney in the title role it’s all one major disappointment considering the list of top notch character players involved and the fact that it’s listed Don Siegel’s name in the opening credits as it’s director.
It’s an ultra low budget affair with Rooney getting out of jail as the film opens and pretty much being set up by Ted de Corsia to take a murder rap and finding himself right back behind bars. But not for long.
As his “moll” we have Carolyn Jones tagging along like a puppy dog who for some strange reason loves our short villain who carries the tommy gun to give him some added height. After getting even with de Corsia Rooney finds himself enlisted to join the Dillinger gang. Leo Gordon plays the number one man on the Feds wanted list and like Rooney is well suited to the casting. When the famed siege at Little Bohemia takes place the script has been drastically altered in that Dillinger is absent and Rooney’s gangster seems to be in charge. He’s anything but an honorable gangland figure and is frequently cutting down both the Feds and any public citizens who may get in the way. Just ask Dabbs Greer and Emile Meyer who play the agents on Rooney’s tale.
Rooney quickly puts together his own gang which features Elisha Cook Jr joining in the next bank robbery. How about Jack Elam as the man who scouts out the banks to rob. The faces of some outstanding character actors just keep turning up. As it was with all the thirties gangsters, Rooney’s time is about to expire and like a mad dog someone is going to have to put him down. And yes when it comes, it’s all pretty corny.
This is a very condensed and I would assume distorted version of the events in the nefarious career of Nelson. It’s done on the cheap where much of the action is alluded to but not actually filmed. Case in point is Leo Gordon being coerced to go to the theater to see Manhattan Melodrama. If you know anything about your gangland history that is where Dillinger met his bloody demise. Gordon doesn’t get the chance to play the scene. It’s all splashed across newspapers which was a popular effect during the era of this films release.
We also have the likes of Anthony Caruso turning up in a meaningless role and as the doctor who sees to the needs of the wounded gang members we have Sir Cedric Hardwicke.
There really isn’t an actor in this cast I don’t like. I actually go out of my way to see many of these character players turning up ever so briefly in many films. To have them all in one eighty minute movie is really incredible. Too bad the film doesn’t do them or Rooney any justice.