Despite an lengthy and variously successful career in sci-fi and horror movies, it is this movie that I personally feel is the crowning glory of Roger Corman’s career. It is also, I feel, one of the greatest and most underrated gangster movies of all time. It should definitely be held in the same high regard as movies like ‘Goodfellas’, ‘Once Upon A Time In America’ and, dare one even suggest, ‘The Godfather’.
Everything about this movie is superb. The lush, opulent, colour-saturated widescreen cinematography; the fantastic acting; the meticulous attention to period detail that rivals that of ‘Once Upon….America’. Also, the authoritative voice-over that runs the entire length of the movie pre-dates ‘Goodfellas’ by some 20-odd years.
At first one might think that Jason Robards is woefully miscast as Al Capone, but this is not so. He gives Capone an edgy, lean and utterly menacing persona. The rest of the cast reads like a Who’s-who of exploitation cinema; Ralph Meeker(excellent as Bugs Morant), Dick Bakalyan, Bruce Dern, Alex Rocco and John Agar. Throw in a couple of cameos from Corman regulars Dick Miller and Jack Nicholson, and this really is a cast to die for…quite literally.
If there is a problem with the movie, it’s that with the subject being so viciously evil, and knowing that EVERY character and event is real, the movie has a bit of a sour tone, and can be a bit of a downbeat experience to some people. That said, I suppose the purpose of the movie is to show EXACTLY what happened, and to humanise the victims, rather than treat them as some statistics in the annals of crime. Like all the great gangster movies, this doesn’t glamourise the gangster life, but makes us glad that we are not a part of that dangerous world.