GRISSOM GANG, THE(director: Robert Aldrich; screenwriter: from the novel No Orchids for Miss Blandish by James Hadley Chase/Leon Griffiths; cinematographer: Joseph F. Biroc; editors: Michael Luciano/Frank J. Urioste; music: Gerald Fried; cast: Kim Darby (Barbara Blandish), Scott Wilson (Slim Grissom), Tony Musante (Eddie Hagan), Robert Lansing (Dave Fenner), Connie Stevens (Anna Borg), Irene Dailey (Gladys ‘Ma’ Grissom), Wesley Addy (John Blandish), Joey Faye (Woppy), Ralph Waite (Mace), Joe Bailey (Matt Clark), Frank Connor (Michael Baseleon) Sam (Alvin Hammer), Alex Wilson (Jerry McGowen), Dotts Johnson (Johnny Hutchins), Elliott Street (Gas station boy), Hal Baylor (Chief McLaine), Mort Narshall (Heinie, photographer); Runtime: 128; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Robert Aldrich; MGM Home Entertainment; 1971)
“It works best as a complex macabre black comedy on family relations.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Robert Aldrich (“What Ever Happened to Baby Jane”/”Hustle”/”Kiss Me Deadly”) directs a remake of the immodest pulp 1948 British melodrama No Orchids for Miss Blandish. It’s based on the 1939 bestselling novel by James Hadley Chase and written by Leon Griffiths. This malodorous, lurid and gory gangster drama is set in 1931 and is similar in theme to the period gangster film “Bonnie and Clyde (1967),” except it has more mayhem. The rural gangsters here are pictured as cretans, slobs and pathetic misfits, there’s nothing glamorous about them.
It opens (and closes) with Rudy Vallee crooning “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Baby.” Then it focuses on three punks, Joe Bailey, Frankie Connor and Sam, from rural Missouri, just outside of Kansas City, who steal a diamond necklace worth $50,000 from spoiled young heiress Barbara Blandish (Kim Darby) and kidnap her after fatally shooting her drunken college football boyfriend Jerry after a car chase and his attempt to fight them off. Barbara is taken to a run-down farmhouse owned by a black ex-fighter named Johnny Hutchins, who does odd-jobs for gangs. After hearing about the kidnapping on the radio the vicious Grissom Gang, led by the piggish hillbilly Slim Grissom (Scott Wilson), find out from an innocent gas attendant where the girl has been taken and confront the kidnappers. Bailey used to be a member of the Grissom Gang, but that doesn’t stop the gang from brutally killing all the kidnappers; Johnny is given money to clean up the mess. Barbara is taken by them to their farmhouse and is made a captive; the gang is run by the despotic, vile and mean-spirited Gladys ‘Ma’ Grissom (Irene Dailey). She demands a one million dollar ransom payment and plans to kill Barbara after getting the money, reasoning that kidnappings go wrong because the victim is left alive.
Barbara’s cold-hearted father John Blandish (Wesley Addy) hires hard-drinking cynical private detective Dave Fenner (Robert Lansing) to be the go-between to pay the ransom. After the money is paid the gang buys a nightclub and covers their tracks by killing a street photographer who was privy to the original kidnapping and the not too swift gas station attendant. The slick Eddie seduces Frankie’s bimbo nightclub singer girlfriend Anna Borg (Connie Stevens) to make sure she’s unaware of what her boyfriend did.
The only gang member who doesn’t want the heiress killed is the slob Slim, who is smitten with Barbara and cleans up so he can be worthy of her love and uses his influence with Ma to keep her alive. The heart of the film is how the dim-witted and inexperienced with women Slim is manipulated by the petulant gal from the other side of the tracks into a love affair. She at first realizes he’s her only chance to stay alive, but soon learns to respect his honest emotional reactions. Despite the perversity of their relationship, the star-crossed lovers find that a genuine love does grow between them.
When Fenner is able to track Barbara down through pumping Anna at the nightclub, the gang is picked off by the police except for Slim and Barbara who flee to the outskirts. A tipster calls the police that they are in a barn. The heavily armed cops bring reporters and engage in a shootout with the gangster trapped in the barn with his girl. The problem becomes that dad might no longer want his daughter back after discovering she was sleeping with such a degenerate slimeball as Slim.
It’s a Stockholm Syndrome take on a kidnapping that asks us to fully accept its bloodbath scenes, its outlandish grotesque portrayal of the criminals (all overacting) and the love story as a means to redemption, when all of the above were so disturbingly offensive and seemed more cartoonish than real (even the love story can be questioned as only due to dire circumstances blurring the haughty debutante’s senses). It works best as a complex macabre black comedy on family relations that has sport in a nasty way with its deformed characters who seem straight out of “The Beverley Hillbillies.” These ignorant hillbillies now have the upper hand in the power-game played, as they are mingling with a poor little mixed-up rich girl who never was loved and is ever so vulnerable for some kind of affection.
REVIEWED ON 4/29/2007 GRADE: B
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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