The St. Valentine's Day Massacre (film)
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|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 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.
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 actually 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 cops, 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. Ironically, Moran himself, 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.
- Jason Robards as Al Capone
- George Segal as Peter Gusenberg
- Ralph Meeker as George "Bugs" Moran
- Jean Hale as Myrtle
- Jan Merlin as Willie Marks
- Clint Ritchie as Machine Gun Jack McGurn
- David Canary as Frank Gusenberg
- Harold J. Stone as Frank Nitti
- Frank Silvera as Nick Sorello
- Joseph Campanella as Albert Wienshank
- Richard Bakalyan as John Scalise
- Charles Dierkop as Salvanti
- John Agar as Dion O'Bannion
- Joseph Turkel as Jake Gusik
- Bruce Dern as Johnny May
- Paul Richards as Fischetti
- Alex Rocco as Diamond
- Mickey Deems as Reinhardt Schwimmer
- Reed Hadley as Hymie Weiss
- Alex D'Arcy as Joe Aiello
- Leo Gordon as Heitler
- Celia Lovsky as Josephine Schwimmer (Reinhardt Schwimmer's mother)
- Milton Frome as Adam Hyer
- Paul Frees as Narrator
- Mary Grace Canfield as Mrs. Doody (uncredited)
- Barboura Morris as Jeanette Landsman (uncredited)
- Jack Nicholson as Gino, hitman (uncredited)
- Dick Miller as hitman disguised as a cop 1 (uncredited)
- Jonathan Haze as hitman disguised as a cop 2 (uncredited)
- Betsy Jones-Moreland as Poolside interviewer 1 (uncredited)
- Buck Taylor as Poolside interviewer 2 (uncredited)
The St. Valentine's Day Massacre was not, as might be guessed, inspired by the 1959-63 ABC TV series, The Untouchables, but is one of many motion pictures adapted from a CBS Playhouse 90 episode; Seven Against The Wall, broadcast on Playhouse 90 in December 1958, was also written by Harold Browne and featured actors Milton Frome, Celia Lovsky and Frank Silvera in the same roles that they play in the film.
To make certain the film would have the look of a gangster film, Roger Corman shot the film at the Desilu studios and used other sections of the back lot for different locales of Chicago. 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 actual 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. 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.
- In 2009 Empire magazine named it #7 in a poll of the "20 Greatest Gangster Movies You've (Probably) Never Seen."
- The famous cafe shootout in this film, was used again in the 1975 movie Capone with Ben Gazzara as Al Capone and Sylvester Stallone as Frank Nitti.
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.
- 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 Roger & Jerome, Jim How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime DaCapo Press 1988
- Mark McGee, Faster and Furiouser: The Revised and Fattened Fable of American International Pictures, McFarland, 1996 p266