I’ve always liked that nickname, “Pretty Boy.” Maybe it’s because I saw the Martin Sheen version of the Pretty Boy Floyd story as a youngster on TV ages ago. Wouldn’t mind seeing it again. This earlier version that I believe plays it very loose with the facts stars John Ericson at a time when low budget companies were cranking out bios of the notorious gangsters with colorful nicknames of the 1930’s. Mickey Rooney had Baby Face Nelson in ’57 and Charles Bronson had Machine Gun Kelly in ’58 hitting drive in theaters across the continent.
Minor league director, Herbert J. Leder, made his directorial debut backed by producer, Monroe Sachson, for this surprisingly lengthy tale of the 30’s Robin Hood wannabe clocking in at 96 minutes. Ericson who began his career in the early fifties including a spot on the roster of the now classic Bad Day at Black Rock plays the title character as a loose cannon with violence in his veins and an appetite for the ladies.
“Just kiss me hard Pretty Boy.”
Between boxing gigs and an honest days work, Floyd’s past catches up to him as an ex-con. When he returns to his home in Oklahoma he’ll learn his father as been shot down without a weapon to defend himself and the killer walked free. That’s all he needs to send him down a murderous path mixed with robbing banks. Time to hook back up with an old pal from his stint in the pen played by a young Peter Falk who of course fits his role like a glove, “Don’t move or the teller gets it.”
Falk’s role is a minor one and comes to a close when Ericson’s Floyd is captured by police. Not for long. He’ll escape and head back to his home in Oklahoma where he earns the tag, The Sagebrush Robin Hood.” Yes this gangster who will eventually find himself ranked at number 1 on the FBI’s wanted list steals from the banks and hands out to the poor. It’s while in Kansas City he’ll meet his leading lady, Joan Harvey, who’ll fall under his spell. There’s a notable scene when he first meets her in the hallway of a boarding house. Wrapped in a towel she turns away from him to hide her exposed parts only to unwrap herself and readjust front and center for the camera exposing herself wearing nothing but bra and panties. For the paying gents in the movie houses I suppose.
Ericson remains the focal point over the course of the film running through a succession of partners that don’t make it to the final reel. This even includes a pre Munsters. Al Lewis, making his film debut who gets Ericson involved with the mob in New York. No sense ruining the ending but if you’ve seen any of the films featuring the title character including the Sheen effort, 73’s Dillinger or maybe 2009’s Public Enemies than you’ll know how and where this one is going to end.
Along with the violence on hand and the quick flash of skin from Miss Harvey, it’s notable that her character is also pregnant out of wedlock. Surely that must have rankled the keepers of ‘the code” for the year of 1960. For historians of the Floyd story, they’d know better than I how close this script, written by the director, is to the actual truth. It does include the Kansas City Massacre that may or may not have involved Floyd depending on which historical facts you read. In this script Floyd is clearly involved. The so called massacre was an ill fated attempt at freeing a fellow criminal from police that resulted in the gunning down of four officers and ironically the gangster they set out to free from custody.
One fact the film does get correctly after a quick bit of reference is the date in with Charles Arthur “Pretty Boy” Floyd was himself gunned down, October 22nd, 1934.
John Ericson easily fits into the title role and it’s fun to see a young Peter Falk getting right into “type”. Yeah I’ve had this one on the shelf for longer than I care to admit as it was released on DVD as part of a gangster box set from Classic Media. What really got me looking for it here in the vault is a new addition to the poster collection. Now that I’ve secured a half sheet dated 1960 I figured it was time to catch up with the film.