The St. Valentine's Day Massacre (film)

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The St. Valentine's Day Massacre
The St. Valentine's Day Massacre film poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRoger Corman
Produced byRoger Corman
Written byHoward Browne
StarringJason Robards
George Segal
Ralph Meeker
Bruce Dern
Jack Nicholson
Narrated byPaul Frees
Music byLionel Newman
Fred Steiner
CinematographyMilton R. Krasner
Edited byWilliam B. Murphy
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • June 30, 1967 (1967-06-30)
Running time
100 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$2.175 million[1]
Box office$1.7 million (US/CA)[2]
691,328 admissions (France)[3]

The St. Valentine's Day Massacre is a 1967 gangster film based on the 1929 Chicago mass murder of seven members of the Northside Gang (led by George "Bugs" Moran) on orders from Al Capone. It was directed by Roger Corman and written by Howard Browne. Corman called it "the most accurate, authentic gangster film ever".[4]

The film stars Jason Robards as Al Capone, George Segal as Peter Gusenberg, David Canary as Frank Gusenberg and Ralph Meeker as George "Bugs" Moran.

Orson Welles was originally supposed to play Capone, but Twentieth Century Fox vetoed the deal, fearing that Welles was "undirectable."[5] The film's narration has a style similar to that of Welles but was narrated by renowned Hollywood voice actor Paul Frees.

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.


An organized crime war breaks out between two rival gangs in Chicago during the Roaring Twenties. The leader of the Southside Mob 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 tavern 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. Inclusive are flashbacks to a lunchtime attack on Capone at the Hawthorne restaurant outside of Chicago by Hymie Weiss and Moran in September 1926 and the murders of Dean O'Banion in November 1924 and Weiss in October 1926 by Capone's gang.

In a bid to get rid of Moran once and for all, Capone goes to his winter home in Miami, Florida to establish an alibi while his henchmen, some dressed as police officers, ambush and execute seven 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 Johnny May (Bruce Dern), a mechanic, and Reinhardt Schwimmer, an optician who enjoyed being around gangsters. Of the victims, only Frank Gusenberg, Peter's brother 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, left for a diner, and escaped certain death.

Each character is given a verbal voiceover biography as they are introduced, and in some video releases, the biographies of Rheinhard Schwimmer and Adam Heyer, two of the massacre victims, are removed from the soundtrack, possibly due to protest from surviving family members.

In the aftermath, Al Capone is shown dispatching two of those responsible for carrying out the attack 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 of St. Valentine's Day of 1929, as they either disappear going into hiding or are violently killed.




Roger Corman said he wanted to do something about "gangsterism" which "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."[6]

More specifically, Corman was drawn to the idea of making a film about the St Valentine's Day massacre, which had never been the subject of a whole movie (though it had been frequently referenced in other films). Corman said the massacre was the day that "changed the whole public face of gangsterism - public outcry broke Capone's stranglehold on society."[6]

The massacre had been the focus of a CBS Playhouse 90 episode; Seven Against The Wall, broadcast in December 1958, was also written by Harold Browne. Corman hired Browne to write the script for the film. Browne had researched the period and the event extensively. He felt 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."[6]

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 to make the film from Brown's script with Richard Zanuck at 20th Century Fox.[7] (Corman later said Fox invited him in to pitch ideas and he told them about Massacre and a biopic about the Red Baron; Fox had just made The Blue Max so went with the gangster film.[8]

Corman made the film following the huge success of The Wild Angels.[9] While Angels had a budget of $350,000, Massacre was budgeted at $2.5 million.[10] It was the most expensive movie he had ever made.[11] (Corman later claimed the film cost $1 million and the rest was studio overhead.[12])

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."[6]

Corman wanted classical actors to play gangsters and offered the part of Capone to Orson Welles and Bugs Moran to Jason Robards. However Fox did not want Welles, advising Corman that he would try to take over directing; they suggested that Robards play Capone. Corman felt 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.[13]

Corman wanted to cast Jack Nicholson in a key supporting role but Fox insisted the director use an actor 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.[14]


Corman originally wanted to shoot the film on location in Chicago but eventually did it on the Fox backlot.[6]

He filmed the Massacre scene in one of the Desilu lots which got converted to look like the garage where the crime was committed. (The real garage was torn down by the time the movie started production). Another matter was the recreation of the Massacre itself: before filming, Corman found photos of the mass murders. Then he had the actors for the scene study the stills, followed by rehearsals and the shoot. After one take, the massacre came in the way it looked in the old photos and the collapse of each actors followed the positions the murder victims fell in the real massacre.

The film was one of the few that Roger Corman directed from a major Hollywood studio with a generous budget and an open-ended schedule. While most directors would love such an assignment, Corman was disgusted with the incredible waste of time and money involved with "typical" movie production techniques. He was given a $2.5 million budget and made it for $400,000 less.[15] Corman, an independent director, was most comfortable in his own style: shoestring budgets, and shooting schedules measured in days, rather than weeks. Nonetheless, it is generally considered one of his best films as a director.

Towards the end of the film shoot, Corman felt that the movie was too "male heavy" and added a character who was played by Dee Gardner, who resembled Jean Harlow.[16]

The shoot took just over seven weeks, the longest ever schedule for a Corman film. "By the end of the movie I was very weary," he said.[11]

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."[17]


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.[18]



The St. Valentine's Day Massacre was released to DVD by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment on May 23, 2006 as a Region 1 widescreen DVD. It was later issued as a Limited Edition Region Free Blu-Ray by Twilight Time.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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
  2. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1967", Variety, 3 January 1968 p 25. Please note these figures refer to rentals accruing to the distributors.
  3. ^ Box office information for Roger Corman films in France at Box Office Story
  4. ^ Corman p 126
  5. ^ Corman p 126
  6. ^ a b c d e Browning, Norma Lee (25 June 1967). "'not Just Another Tinseltown Gangster Film': MASSACRE MASSACRE MASSACRE". Chicago Tribune. p. i56.
  7. ^ Martin, Betty (3 Feb 1966). "Warner's Cameras Whir". Los Angeles Times. p. c11.
  8. ^ Ma Barker to von Richthofen: an interview with Roger Corman Strick, Philip. Sight and Sound; London Vol. 39, Iss. 4, (Fall 1970): 179.
  9. ^ Canby, Vincent (18 Sep 1966). "Roger Corman: A Good Man Gone to 'Pot'". New York Times. p. 127.
  10. ^ Chicago Massacre on a Big Budget Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times 8 Nov 1966: c8.
  11. ^ a b an interview with ROGER CORMAN Goldman, Charles. Film Comment; New York Vol. 7, Iss. 3, (Fall 1971): 49-54.
  12. ^ Corman p 128
  13. ^ Corman p 126
  14. ^ Corman 127
  15. ^ Mark McGee, Faster and Furiouser: The Revised and Fattened Fable of American International Pictures, McFarland, 1996 p266
  16. ^ Hollywood's 'New Harlow' Would Rather Be Herself NORMA LEE BROWNING. Chicago Tribune 8 Feb 1967: d1.
  17. ^ Capone p 127
  18. ^ 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.

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