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AL CAPONE (director: Richard Wilson; screenwriters: Malvin Wald/Henry F. Greenberg; cinematographer: Lucien Ballard; editor: Walter Hannemann; music: David Raksin; cast: Rod Steiger (Al Capone), Fay Spain (Maureen Flannery), James Gregory (Schaefer, narrator), Martin Balsam (Mac Keeley, reporter), Nehemiah Persoff (Johnny Torrio), Murvyn Vye (George ‘Bugs’ Moran), Robert Gist (Dion O’Banion), Lewis Charles (Earl Weiss), Joe De Santis (Big Jim Colosimo), Sandy Kenyon (Bones Corelli); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Leonard J. Ackerman/John H. Burrows; Warner Home Video; 1959)
Rod Steiger gives his Method acting technique a workout as he captures the fiery persona of Al Capone and makes the gangster a lively larger-than-life subject.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Rip-roaring gangster biopic that’s filmed in a semi-documentary style and skillfully directed by Richard Wilson (“Pay or Die”/”Man with the Gun”/”3 in the Attic“). It’s written by Malvin Wald and Henry F. Greenberg. Rod Steiger gives his Method acting technique a workout as he captures the fiery persona of Al Capone and makes the gangster a lively larger-than-life subject. Over the years there have been many pictures about Capone, nicknamed Scarface, but this one might be the most accurate and Steiger in my opinion is the best one portrayed on celluloid of the famous Italian Chicago mobster–seemingly getting his gestures and volatile hot temper down pat. The black and white photography by cinematographer Lucien Ballard brings the Chicago underworld scene of the Roaring Twenties into full effect.

The machine gun paced film picks up with young Brooklynite Al Capone arriving in Chicago in 1919 to work as a bouncer and bodyguard for Johnny Torrio (Nehemiah Persoff), a gangster who works under his political savvy uncle Big Jim Colosimo (Joe De Santis). The opera loving dandy, Big Jim, controls the First Ward, and with Johnny’s management skills they run a number of clubs on the South Side that permit gambling and prostitution. When Prohibition arrives in 1920 Johnny and Big Jim move into bootlegging and become wealthy. When Big Jim is deemed too old and soft and refuses to make a deal with gang leaders O’Banion (Robert Gist), “Bugs” Moran (Murvyn Vye) and “Hymie the Pole” (Lewis Charles) to carve up booze distributing rights in Chicago, Capone convinces Johnny to forget about family ties and make a sound business decision by allowing him to execute Big Jim. The gangsters then throw a big funeral for Big Jim. During the execution of Big Jim, Capone’s goons also kill the waiter husband of Maureen Flannery (Fay Spain). Capone obsesses over her and wins her over as his mistress when he convinces her he had nothing to do with killing her hubby. Their romance was unconvincingly portrayed, and was largely fictionalized for the film.

The film chronicles the uneducated Capone’s ruthless rise to power and becoming top dog in the organization, as he deals with corrupt Chicago politicians on his payroll and a corrupt slimy newspaper reporter (Martin Balsam) also on his payroll, who is used to feed him inside scoops and negotiate payoff deals with the politicians. There are also numerous Roaring Twenties gang wars with rivals in the crime organization (the big one being the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre that eliminates a good portion of Moran’s North Side gang). Capone’s nemesis is honest cop Schaefer (James Gregory), who rises through the ranks to eventually become police inspector and is obsessed with putting Capone behind bars. Schaefer finally gets the backing from the politicians, who see the people revolting against them after the reporter is slain and decide to act before they’re removed from office, and the Chicago police inspector together with the feds get Capone convicted on tax evasion. Serving seven years of an eleven year stretch in Alcatraz, the now mentally impaired gangster when released soon dies from syphilis.Gregory, not only stars, but acts as narrator.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”