Ray Danton in The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond (1960)


(director: Budd Boetticher; screenwriter: Joseph Landon; cinematographer: Lucien Ballard; editor: Folmar Blangsted; music: Leonard Rosenman; cast: Ray Danton (Jack “Legs” Diamond), Karen Steele (Alice Sniffer), Elaine Stewart (Monica Drake), Jesse White (Leo Bremer), Simon Oakland (Lt. Moody), Robert Lowery (Arnold Rothstein), Warren Oates (Eddie Diamond), Gordon Jones ( Sgt. Cassidy), Joseph Ruskin (Matt Moran), Sid Melton (Little Augie), Dyan Cannon (Dixie); Runtime: 101; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Milton Sperling; Warner Brothers; 1960)

“An unsentimental and inaccurate Warner Brothers action-packed biopic on ruthless twenties gangster Jack “Legs” Diamond.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An unsentimental and inaccurate Warner Brothers action-packed biopic on ruthless twenties gangster Jack “Legs” Diamond, named Legs because he was a dancer. Budd Boetticher (“The Tall T”/”The Killer is Loose”) directs the crime drama as if it were one of his B-Westerns, and seems to have no other concern other than showing that the titular character was a cold-hearted sicko who didn’t care about anyone but himself and would eliminate anybody who stood in his way. Ray Danton brilliantly plays the psychopathic gangster with an unreserved volatility, always coiled like a rattle snake ready to strike. Lucien Ballard provides the vintage glossy black-and-white photography. It has the same quality look as the popular television series of the time The Untouchables.

A dapper Jack Diamond arrives in Manhattan with his sickly brother Eddie (Warren Oates), and targets a jewelry store to rob. He picks up dance teacher Alice Sniffer (Karen Steele) and impresses her when they win a dance contest after he eliminates the competition by setting the lady’s dress on fire. Jack then takes Alice to a movie, and leaves her to make a call in the men’s room but instead climbs out the skylight window and robs the next-door jewelry story of a valuable necklace on display in the window. Jack’s later arrested for theft and serves a year in prison. Upon his release, he schemes to work for gambler Arnold Rothstein (Robert Lowery) as a bodyguard.

After connecting with Rothstein and having an affair with the notorious gambler and racketeer’s girlfriend Monica (Elaine Stewart), Legs learns from her how he transports dope into the country and by making his rounds as a bodyguard learns how the gambling operation works. Rothstein is killed, and though Legs is a suspect the other overlords are happy with their leader’s demise and split up his territory. Legs tries to shake them down for a 25% cut for protection, but their new leader Leo Bremer (Jesse White) objects. But the rise of Legs comes when he forms his own ruthless gang and they hijack liquor shipments and hit the overlords on tips gotten from Legs’s girlfriend Dixie (Dyan Cannon, her first major role). When Legs climbs to the top he’s severely wounded when goons from Chicago are called in, but he survives which gives him the notion that he’s invincible. Legs hooks up with Alice again, who knows he’s scum but has led such a dull life that she marries him despite feeling humiliated that he once dumped her.

Warning: spoiler to follow in the next paragraph.

After a string of double-crosses, some violent shoot-outs, and even letting his brother die rather than risking that the gangs can get to him through his weakling brother, the ice-cold Legs gets his comeuppance from his old girlfriend Monica he previously dumped after using her. The inhuman gangster is pumped full of lead in a Manhattan hotel room in 1931, as his wife exclaims “He never loved anybody, that’s why he’s dead.