The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (1967)
From low budget two day fodder for AIP to 20th Century Fox, Roger Corman finally was given the keys to a bigger production number and a cast of over 20 faces you know you’ve seen before in this story of the war between Al Capone and Bugs Moran in Chicago of 1929. It’s all going to culminate in the famous massacre orchestrated by Capone and his underworld cronies.
It’s Jason Robards as Capone vs. Ralph Meeker as Bugs Moran. Each has an army of gunsels though Capone’s operation is just a little larger in strength leading to his success at the time in the all out gang war.
Meeker’s boys include : George Segal, David Canary, Joseph Campanella, Alex D’Arcy and Bruce Dern among other “faces” I recognize from playing various hoods and western gunmen on sixties TV,
Robards gang has the likes of: Harold J. Stone, Dick Miller, Charles Dierkop, Paul Richards, Alex Rocco, Richard Bakalyn, John Agar, Leo Gordon and an unbilled one line bit for Corman regular Jack Nicholson.
From start to finish the film is somewhat done in a semi-documentary style due to the narration by the authoritative voice of Paul Frees. Though I usually lay into this format with negative comments, it seems to work this time by giving a background and end result to the underworld figures within as they come and go at a rapid pace.
Robards playing Capone has the necessary suits and over sized cigars to match the pictures one sees of the real life gangster and he plays it restrained until his temper or crazed mind gets the better of him and Robards goes off the deep end. He brings it close to camp at times but reigns himself in just in time. With a big grin on his face he looks to be having fun and brings us along for the ride.
He’s at war with Meeker over the illegal booze trade and who owns which territory and speakeasy. Segal is Meeker’s number one hood and gets just as much screen time as the two head men. Segal fits well into the time frame as an actor with the cash and blonde on his arm. He talks tough when needed and has actor Canary playing his brother. Jean Hale who is the only female member of the cast is playing Segal’s “dame”. Their scenes work until Corman throws a comical bit into the mix over her buying a fur coat that doesn’t quite work and should have been left on the cutting room floor.
The scene might even betray Corman’s roots in low budget efforts as he was frequently looking to pad out the running time of his monster flicks.
Most of the actors are either wearing a suit or carrying around a tommy gun and spraying lead at one another. Admittedly the film seems to “clean” and if Anthony Caruso and Vic Tayback popped up you’d swear that you were watching one of the more popular Star Trek episodes, A Piece of the Action.
Most of the significant moments of gangsterdom are reenacted here. By that I mean the demise of many of the characters portrayed here. With Dierkop and Bakalyan sporting machine guns plenty are sure to fall.
Also unbilled as was Nicholson is Dick Miller who has been in countless bits and small roles over the years. He is usually associated with Corman’s films. A Bucket of Blood perhaps his most notable.
According to Corman’s autobiography, “How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime” he had wanted to cast Orson Welles in the Capone role and had Robards slated for the Moran slot. The studio wouldn’t allow the hiring of Orson so Robards moved over to the Capone role and former Mike Hammer star Meeker was brought aboard for Bugs.
There is no denying this is a colorful gangland effort from Corman, Robards, Segal and the rest. Give it a look and play name that actor.