Film Review: The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (1967)

Release Date: June 30th, 1967
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Howard Browne
Music by: Lionel Newman, Fred Steiner
Cast: Jason Robards, George Segal, Ralph Meeker, Bruce Dern, Jack Nicholson (uncredited), Jean Hale, Jan Merlin, Clint Ritchie, David Canary, Harold J. Stone, Frank Silvera, Joseph Campanella, John Agar, Joseph Turkel, Alex Rocco, Leo Gordon, Dick Miller (uncredited), Jonathan Haze (uncredited), Paul Frees (narrator)

20th Century Fox, 100 Minutes

Review:

“Wanna know something Jack? I like a guy who can use his head for something beside a hatrack!” – Al Capone

This is definitely in the upper echelon of Roger Corman’s motion pictures. Since I hadn’t seen it until now, it was a pleasant surprise and it actually shows how good of a filmmaker he was in spite of his rapid paced productions while doing everything on the cheap.

The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre is one of Corman’s more serious films. There are no monsters, ghosts or sci-fi shenanigans, this is just a gritty, hard-nosed gangster movie that features a damn good cast with Jason Robards at the forefront, as the world’s most famous real life gangster, Al Capone.

The cast also features several Corman regulars like Bruce Dern, Jack Nicholson, Dick Miller, Leo Gordon and Jonathan Haze. Beyond that, we also get a young Alex Rocco, as well as Frank Silvera, Joe Turkel and John Agar. This is a movie full of iconic character actors who benefit greatly from the type of characters this picture needed to make it something special and authentic.

At its core, this really feels like an exploitation picture due to the level of violence in it yet it plays like more serious cinematic art. Now I can’t quite put it on the same level as the first two Godfather films but I’d say that it is actually a lot better and more impressive than the standard gangster films that existed before it. It is also somewhat surprising that this was put out by a major studio, 20th Century Fox, as opposed to being released by Corman’s regular studio at the time, American International Pictures.

Man, I enjoyed this a lot. There are a lot of characters but they’re not hard to keep track of and this moves at such a brisk pace, it’s over before you know it. Also, 100 minutes for Corman is pretty much an epic, as he tends to like that 65-85 minute mark.

I feel as if this is a flick that has been somewhat forgotten and lost to time, as it came out well after the gangster genre peaked and a few years before it made a comeback. It’s weirdly sandwiched between the two greatest eras of the genre and despite it having a hard edge, it’s groundbreaking feats were quickly overshadowed and surpassed by films of the early ’70s like The Godfather and Chinatown.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: other gangster and crime films of the ’60s and ’70s, as well as Roger Corman’s more dramatic work like The Intruder and The Trip.

Film Review: Killer’s Kiss (1955)

Also known as: Kiss Me, Kill Me (working title)
Release Date: September 21st, 1955 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Written by: Howard Sackler, Stanley Kubrick
Music by: Gerald Fried
Cast: Frank Silvera, Jamie Smith, Irene Kane, Ruth Sobotka

Minotaur Productions, United Artists, 67 Minutes

Review:

“It’s crazy how you can get yourself in a mess sometimes and not even be able to think about it with any sense-and yet not be able to think about anything else. You get so you’re no good for anything or anybody. Maybe it begins by taking life too serious. Anyway, I think that’s the way it began for me. Just before my fight with Rodriguez three days ago…” – Davy Gordon

I consider myself to be a massive Stanley Kubrick fan. However, I’ve yet to see this film, which came very, very early in his career. Like his other early film The Killing, this one is a classic film-noir, shot in black and white but with an extra level of grittiness that can only be described as Kubrickian.

Now this came out a year before The Killing and in a lot of ways, it feels like a rough draft or a practice run before he made that other, superior noir picture.

That’s not to say that this is weak or unworthy of admiration. The Killing was absolutely superb but I don’t think that Kubrick could’ve made it as good as it was without having done Killer’s Kiss first.

This film shows that even if Kubrick hadn’t quite reached greatness, at this point, he was always a visual storyteller. While employing several atmospheric tropes of the classic film-noir style, this movie also uses a lot of interesting angles and it showcases New York City in a way that even in its cold bleakness, it feels alive and becomes a character within the picture.

The story is about an aging boxer, at the end of his career. He falls for a taxi dancer across the courtyard from his apartment but he gets pulled into her seedy world and draws the ire of her villainous employer. One thing leads to another and their world is turned upside down. Luckily, this one surprisingly has a happy ending and the two lead characters are at least good people just trying to escape the hell that has become their lives.

Nothing all that remarkable happens in the movie. The plot is straightforward with a few noir-esque swerves but it’s very, very short and even if the plot has a lot of stages to it, it’s still pretty simplistic.

The film’s greatest quality is its look and its style. Experimenting with the noir genre here, allowed Kubrick’s The Killing to be a much better movie than just its script. But this certainly isn’t a waste of anyone’s time. This is pretty solid and engaging with characters that you care about.

In the end, this isn’t a bad outing from Stanley Kubrick and it helped lay the foundation for one of the greatest careers in film history.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Kubrick’s other noir picture: The Killing.