KING OF THE ROARING 20’s: THE STORY OF ARNOLD ROTHSTEIN
(director: Joseph M. Newman; screenwriters: from the novel The Big Bankroll by Leo Katcher/Jo Swerling; cinematographer: Carl E. Guthrie; editor: George White; music: Franz Waxman; cast: David Janssen (Arnold Rothstein), Dianne Foster (Carolyn Green), Mickey Rooney (Johnny Burke), Jack Carson (Timothy W. ‘Big Tim’ O’Brien), Diana Dors (Madge), Dan O’Herlihy (Phil Butler), Mickey Shaughnessy (Jim Kelly), Keenan Wynn (Tom Fowler), Joseph Schildkraut (Abraham Rothstein), William Demarest (Henry Hecht); Runtime: 106; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Samuel Bischoff/David Diamond; Allied Artists; 1961)
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Dull biopic on the Prohibition-era gangster, gambler and bootlegger Arnold Rothstein, known as “The Brain.” A miscast suave, tall and lean David Janssen plays the short and chubby soft spoken Rothstein. Writer Jo Swerling bases it on the 1959 nonfiction book The Big Bankroll by Leo Katcher, and manages to get many of the facts wrong and fails to get into the 1919 World Series fix organized by Rothstein that was known as the Black Sox scandal. Joseph M. Newman (“Pony Soldier”/”This Island Earth”/”The Big Circus”) directs this plodding biopic and keeps the pace tediously slow.
Arnold Rothstein was born in the Lower East of New York in 1872 and came from a decent middle-class home. His father Abraham (Joseph Schildkraut) was a respected Jewish businessman. Though a genius with numbers, Arnold dropped out of school and began a life of scams early on.
The film chronicles Rothstein’s rise to fame as a gambling kingpin and his sudden downfall. Rothstein’s lifetime nemesis is a crooked cop, Butler (Dan O’Herlihy), he knew from his neighborhood as someone always on the take. When Rothstein is set-up to run a gambling house by crooked politician ‘Big Tim’ O’Brien (Jack Carson, his last film), crooked cop Butler is part of the syndicate. The gambler’s loyal sidekick from childhood, Johnny Burke (Mickey Rooney), becomes a victim of a rubout organized by Big Tim, after he’s tricked into revealing Butler’s record of graft to a newspaper by his pal Arnold. Rothstein then connives with attorney Tom Fowler (Keenan Wynn) to get his hit men clients to confess that Butler ordered the hit and succeeds in getting Butler fried in the chair. The underworld takes a dim view of this, and they retaliate by bumping Rothstein off during a poker game where he’s holding a royal flush.
Rothstein’s wife is the Broadway actress Carolyn Green (Dianne Foster), but he continues living the debauched life of a crooked gambler and a man about the town. She will eventually leave him.
REVIEWED ON 9/29/2010 GRADE: C https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/