Monday, June 27, 2011

His True Story Can Be Told

Roger Corman produced this 20th Century Fox exploitation film that plays very loosely with the established facts of Al Capone’s life. 44-year-old Ben Gazzara plays 19-year-old Al Capone as the film begins, and when John Cassavetes (HUSBANDS) in a one-day cameo as Frankie Yale calls Gazzara “kid,” I dare you not to snicker. Corman and director Steve Carver, who previously made BIG BAD MAMA and THE ARENA for Corman’s New World Pictures, are more concerned with getting sex and violence on-screen as cheaply as possible, and as a titillating drive-in picture, CAPONE works pretty well.

The screenplay is by Howard Browne, a very fine novelist (THIN AIR) and TV writer (MAVERICK) who also penned Corman’s THE ST. VALENTINE’S DAY MASSACRE, footage from which is recycled here. It rushes very quickly from Capone’s apprenticeship with Johnny Torrio (Harry Guardino) in the Chicago mob through his arrest for income tax evasion and eventual death from syphilis. Carver makes plenty of stops for period car chases and bloody Tommy gun shootouts on the backlot streets that unconvincingly serve as Chicago. One early scene set in rural Joliet features the familiar dirt roads, brown grass, and mountainous terrain of the Fox Ranch (now Malibu Creek State Park).

Corman assembled a heckuva good cast, who seem more interested in their paychecks than the material. The acting is comically bad, particularly Gazzara’s hilariously unrestrained performance, complete with bulging cheeks and foot-long cigars. Sylvester Stallone (between THE LORDS OF FLATBUSH and DEATH RACE 2000) is Frank Nitti, who outlives Capone in this version. Susan Blakely, just prior to heating up the small screen in RICH MAN POOR MAN, is Capone’s mistress Iris Crawford. Also with Royal Dano, Frank Campanella, John Orchard, Martin Kove, John Davis Chandler, Carmen Argenziano, Robert Phillips, George Chandler, Beach Dickerson, and Dick Miller.

CAPONE is not part of Shout Factory's Roger Corman's Cult Classics series, apparently because it was made for Fox and not New World. Shout Factory, as usual, did a terrific job packaging the film for DVD, providing it in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Among the extras are two trailers, two television spots, and the trailer for THE ST. VALENTINE'S DAY MASSACRE. Even better is the audio commentary with Nathaniel Thompson moderating Steve Carver. The director offers some nice stories involving the actors, such as the innovative ways in which good friends Guardino and Gazzara would try to upstage one another, and working on a tight four-week schedule and budget on soundstages and backlots at Universal, Fox, Warner Brothers, and Paramount.

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