The St. Valentine's Day Massacre (film)
This article possibly contains original research. (December 2008)
|The St. Valentine's Day Massacre|
|Directed by||Roger Corman|
|Produced by||Roger Corman|
|Written by||Howard Browne|
|Narrated by||Paul Frees|
|Music by||Lionel Newman|
|Cinematography||Milton R. Krasner|
|Edited by||William B. Murphy|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Box office||$1.7 million (US/CA)|
691,328 admissions (France)
The St. Valentine's Day Massacre is a 1967 American gangster film based on the 1929 mass murder of seven members of the Northside Gang (led by George "Bugs" Moran) on orders from Al Capone. The picture was directed by Roger Corman, written by Howard Browne, and starring Jason Robards Jr. as a remarkably slender Capone, Ralph Meeker as Moran, George Segal as Peter Gusenberg, and David Canary as Frank Gusenberg.
Corman, better known as a director and producer of low-budget B movies, was given his largest budget to date (estimated at $2.5 million) and the backing of 20th Century Fox to realize what he described as "the most accurate, authentic gangster film ever." With a voiceover narration by Paul Frees, the film depicts in detail the events leading up the massacre in a docudrama-style, with many authentic historical details.
A young Bruce Dern plays one of the victims of the massacre, and Jack Nicholson has a bit part as a gangster. Also featured are Jan Merlin as one of Moran's lieutenants and veteran Corman actor Dick Miller as one of the phony policemen involved in the massacre. Leo Gordon makes an early screen appearance as Heitler.
An organized crime war breaks out between two rival gangs in Chicago during the Roaring Twenties. The leader of the Southside Gang is the notorious Al Capone, who resents his nemesis George "Bugs" Moran's activity in the city. Moran, too, wants control of the town's bootlegging and gambling operations. His lieutenants Peter and Frank Gusenberg use threats and intimidation to make speakeasy owners do business with them in exchange for "protection." Peter Gusenberg also argues and fights with his moll, particularly over her extravagant spending of his money.
Moran gives the order to have a crony of Capone's eliminated as the Chicago body count escalates. Flashback sequences include those of a lunchtime attack on Capone at the Hawthorne restaurant outside of Chicago by Hymie Weiss and Moran in September 1926 and of the murders of Dean O'Banion in November 1924 and Weiss in October 1926 by Capone's gang.
Moran's assassination effort sees him conspire with low-level mafiosi Joe Aiello to kill Patsy Lolordo, Al's Sicilian frontman and envoy. In retaliation, Al tracks down and kills Aiello as he's fleeing the state.[a]
Wishing to eliminate Moran and his gang once and for all, Capone retreats to his winter home in Miami to establish an alibi while his henchmen, some dressed as police officers, ambush and execute five members of Moran's gang, including Peter Gusenberg, in a northside garage on February 14, 1929. Also at the garage, and caught in the attack, were mechanic Johnny May and optician Reinhardt Schwimmer, who enjoyed being around gangsters. Of the victims, only Peter's brother Frank survives and is taken to a hospital. Despite knowing that he will soon die, Frank refuses to tell the police anything. Moran, the apparent focus of the attack, was not in the garage as he had left for a diner, escaping certain death.
In the aftermath, Capone is shown dispatching two of those responsible for carrying out the attack (John Scalise and Albert Anselmi) as he learns of their plans to kill him. Moran dies in prison, dropping a verbal clue to the crime: "Only Capone kills like that." No one is ever charged for the murders, as those responsible either disappear going into hiding or are violently killed.
- Jason Robards as Al Capone
- George Segal as Peter Gusenberg
- Ralph Meeker as George "Bugs" Moran
- Jean Hale as Myrtle Gorman
- Clint Ritchie as Jack McGurn
- Frank Silvera as Nick Sorello
- Joseph Campanella as Albert Wienshank
- Richard Bakalyan as John Scalise
- David Canary as Frank Gusenberg
- Bruce Dern as John May
- Harold J. Stone as Frank Nitti
- Kurt Kreuger as James Clark
- Paul Richards as Charles Fischetti
- Joe Turkel as Jake Gusik
- Milton Frome as Adam Heyer
- John Agar as Dion O'Bannion
- Mickey Deems as Reinhardt Schwimmer
- Celia Lovsky as Josephine Schwimmer
- Tom Reese as Ted Newberry
- Jan Merlin as Willie Marks
- Alexander D'Arcy as Joe Aiello
- Reed Hadley as Hymie Weiss
- Gus Trikonis as Rio
- Charles Dierkop as Salvanti
- Tom Signorelli as Bobo Borotto
- Alex Rocco as Diamond
- Leo Gordon as Heitler
- Rico Cattani as Albert Anselmi
Orson Welles was originally supposed to play Capone, but Twentieth Century Fox vetoed the deal, fearing that Welles was "undirectable." The film's narration has a style similar to that of Welles but was narrated by renowned Hollywood voice actor Paul Frees.
Roger Corman said he wanted produce a film about the "gangsterism" that "played a significant role in the development of American culture" but "I wanted to do it honestly, and not in the usual romanticized man-against-the-system."
Corman was drawn to the idea of making a film about the St. Valentine's Day massacre, which had never been the main subject of an entire film (though it had been frequently referenced in other films). Corman said that the massacre was the day that "... changed the whole public face of gangsterism - public outcry broke Capone's stranglehold on society."
The massacre had been the focus of a Playhouse 90 episode, Seven Against the Wall, broadcast in December 1958 and written by Harold Browne, who had researched the period and the event extensively. Corman hired Browne to write the script for the film. Browne felt that the gangsters were "... complex human beings, shrewd, cunning men whose qualities of leadership, had it been directed into honest channels, might have contributed to this country's history, rather than leaving a scar."
Corman had recently endured an unhappy experience working for Columbia, but still wanted to try working at a major studio. In February 1966, he signed on to make the film from Brown's script with Richard Zanuck at 20th Century Fox. Corman later said that Fox had invited him in to pitch ideas, and he had told them about The St. Valentine's Day Massacre and a biopic about the Red Baron, but as Fox had just made The Blue Max, it opted for the gangster film.
Corman made the film following the great success of The Wild Angels. While The Wild Angels had a budget of $350,000, The St. Valentine's Day Massacre was budgeted at $2.5 million. It was the most expensive film that Corman had made. He later claimed that the film cost $1 million and that the rest was studio overhead.
Corman said, "There comes a time when the public conscience needs jolting and in St. Valentine's Day Massacre this is our intention. It is also certain that the movie will make money - crime is always box office."
Corman wanted classical actors to play gangsters and offered the part of Capone to Orson Welles and that of Bugs Moran to Jason Robards. However, Fox did not want Welles, advising Corman that Welles would try to take over directing; they instead suggested that Robards play Capone. Corman felt that Robards was not physically large enough for the role of Capone and was better suited to play Moran, but did not want to cause trouble after his experience with Columbia and went along with the suggestion.
Corman wanted to cast Jack Nicholson in a key supporting role, but Fox insisted that the director use an actor whom they had under contract. However, Corman did manage to cast Nicholson and Bruce Dern in small roles that were used for the entire length of the shoot, ensuring them a decent payday.
Corman originally wanted to shoot the film on location in Chicago but eventually shot it on the Fox backlot. He filmed the massacre scene in a Desilu lot that was converted to resemble the garage where the crime was committed, as the real garage had been demolished by the time at which the movie started production.
Before filming, Corman found photos of the murder scene. He asked the actors to study the stills before rehearsals and the shoot. After one take, the massacre looked like that of the photos, and each actor's collapse matched the positions in which the victims fell in the real massacre.
The film was one of the few that Corman directed from a major Hollywood studio with a generous budget and an open-ended schedule. However, Corman was disgusted with the great waste of time and money involved with typical film-production techniques. He was given a $2.5 million budget and completed the film with $400,000 to spare. Corman, an independent director, was most comfortable in his own style: shoestring budgets and condensed shooting schedules. The shoot took just over seven weeks, though this marked the longest duration for any of Corman's film. "By the end of the movie I was very weary," he said. Nonetheless, the film is generally considered one of his best as a director.[by whom?]
Corman later wrote that "... physically, it is one of the best films I ever directed because I was able to walk around the lot and pick those fantastic sets."
According to Fox records, the film needed to earn $4,550,000 in rentals to break even and made $4,165,000, meaning it made a loss.
In 2009, Empire magazine named the film #7 in a poll of the 20 Greatest Gangster Movies You've (Probably) Never Seen.
The St. Valentine's Day Massacre was released as a Region 1 widescreen DVD by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment on May 23, 2006. It was issued as a limited-edition region-free Blu-ray by Twilight Time.
- Solomon, Aubrey. Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1. p255
- "Big Rental Films of 1967", Variety, 3 January 1968 p 25. Please note these figures refer to rentals accruing to the distributors.
- Box office information for Roger Corman films in France at Box Office Story
- Corman p 126
- Browning, Norma Lee (25 June 1967). "'not Just Another Tinseltown Gangster Film': MASSACRE MASSACRE MASSACRE". Chicago Tribune. p. i56.
- Martin, Betty (3 Feb 1966). "Warner's Cameras Whir". Los Angeles Times. p. c11.
- Ma Barker to von Richthofen: an interview with Roger Corman Strick, Philip. Sight and Sound; London Vol. 39, Iss. 4, (Fall 1970): 179.
- Canby, Vincent (18 Sep 1966). "Roger Corman: A Good Man Gone to 'Pot'". New York Times. p. 127.
- Chicago Massacre on a Big Budget Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times 8 Nov 1966: c8.
- an interview with ROGER CORMAN Goldman, Charles. Film Comment; New York Vol. 7, Iss. 3, (Fall 1971): 49-54.
- Corman p 128
- Corman 127
- Mark McGee, Faster and Furiouser: The Revised and Fattened Fable of American International Pictures, McFarland, 1996 p266
- Capone p 127
- Silverman, Stephen M (1988). The Fox that got away:the last days of the Zanuck dynasty at Twentieth Century-Fox. L. Stuart. p. 326.
- Corman, Roger; Jerome, Jim (1988). How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime. DaCapo Press.
- In real life, Aiello was killed over a year later by hitmen.