“You spend all your time hitting people?”
“I take Sundays off.”
Al Capone is a man who has been depicted or based on the man in films multiple times over the years. Roger Corman definitely saw the potential in making a period piece film and funded a Capone biographical picture. But only the way Corman knows best, which is to add some nudity, have some foul language and throw in a heaping pile of the red stuff throughout, giving this crime film an exploitation era feel that gives it a certain charm.
Al Capone is a two-bit hoodlum in New York City in 1901 when he makes a name for himself by beating up some cops, while trying to help some other criminals who were working for Frankie Yale (John Cassavettes). He doesn’t mention any names while in police custody, which gives him a one way ticket to Yale and his partner Johnny Torrio’s (Harry Guardino) place of business. Pleasantries are exchanged and Yale thanks him but Johnny sees more in Capone. He sees a right hand man to take Chicago by storm.
Capone is a man on a mission though, one that will have to push aside Yale and go to war with every other crime boss, including Hymie Weiss and George “Bugs” Moran. Along the way he meets a beautiful flapper by the name of Iris Crawford (Susan Blakely), who is a hot head like he is and they fall in love. Throughout this film, we see the literal rise and ultimate crashing fall of the most famous gangster of all time, Al Capone.
Roger Corman had a knack with gangster films and this one, after the juggernaut one-two punch of The Godfather films, makes perfect sense why this film was made; to capitalize on the new found adoration of the criminal element. It’s also fun to note that Corman was the man who gave Coppola a shot (he directed Dementia 13 and The Terror) and Corman himself is in The Godfather II (a cameo performance). But to focus mostly on Corman would be a disservice to the director, Steve Carver. A very capable director himself, making such films as Big Bad Mama and Lone Wolf & McQuade, Capone works very well as a period piece film, with a good amount of sleaze that the 70’s produced Corman films were able to produce.
With Carver’s direction, the film would need a star that could handle himself and bring the film a certain amount of class. Luckily they have Ben Gazzara as Capone himself, hamming up the film with that certain style he always brings to his performances. Watching a double feature of this film and the Patrick Swayze classic Road House is a strange thing to behold, because Gazzara’s villainous portrayal in the second film is almost as if Capone kept living and just became situated in a small backwoods town, taking what little bit he could get.
Gazzara is a fun Capone. I wouldn’t say the best depiction (that goes to either Jason Robards or Robert De Niro), but it is a over the top performance, taking control of every scene he is in, usually right away by way of screaming angrily at whoever is in his way, or beating up some no good square that was hitting a woman. It keeps the film going at a breezy pace and it’s never boring. Harry Guardino is also fantastic as Johnny and deserves a lot of recognition for trying to reign in Capone’s anger but ultimately can not do it. Sylvester Stallone, in an early performance, is the smarter than usual bodyguard to Capone, Frank Nitti (not as slimy as Billy Drago’s performance 12 years later in The Untouchables).
Shout! Factory has done a proper release for Capone, cleaning up the picture the best they could (the grime is still intact, so that’s a good thing) and they also give us a ton of trailers for the film, especially one for The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, which a scene was used in Capone (the big drive by shoot-out on Capone’s headquarters). We also get treated to a commentary track with the director himself, Steve Carver, who is very candid and talks highly of his relationship with Roger Corman and with the whole period piece filming. It definitely gives the film repeat watching precedence. Definitely check it out, and it shows why again that Shout! Factory is making us film fans happier with their Roger Corman releases.