CAPONE (1975)
Director: Steve Carver
Shout! Factory

B-movie maverick Roger Corman was never a stranger to the gangster film, early on directing such 1950s examples as MACHINE GUN KELLY and I, MOBSTER, and in the late 1960s, the masterful ST. VALENTINE’S DAY MASSACRE for 20th Century-Fox. Nearly a decade after that venture, Corman would revisit tales of Chicago mobster Al Capone in another film produced for Fox, this time directed by one of his up-and-coming talents, Steve Carver (who had just helmed THE ARENA and BIG BAD MAMA over at New World Pictures).

On the streets of Brooklyn, “kid” Al Capone (Ben Gazzara, THE NEPTUNE FACTOR) comes to the attention of prominent mob boss Johnny Torrio (Harry Guardino, DIRTY HARRY), making enough of an impression to have him brought to Chicago and put on the payroll. Capone quickly works his way up in the family, in constant feuds and gunfire with competing mob operations run by Hymie Weiss (John Davis Chandler, SCORCHY) and Bugs Moran (Robert Phillips, SLAUGHTER). When he’s not arranging hits or dealing with “on the take” policeman, Capone is immersed in bootlegging, prostitution and racketeering, as well as romancing his zestful blonde flapper lover Iris Crawford (Susan Blakely, REPORT TO THE COMMISSIONER). Capone puts his trust in right-hand man Frank Nitti (Sylvester Stallone), and after the infamous “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre”, he’s sent to the slammer for tax evasion, and later becomes a syphilis-ridden crazed shell of his former self.

While CAPONE is certainly no THE GODFATHER or GOODFELLAS in terms of celluloid mobster infamy, the BOMB rating in Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide bestows it is really unfair. Written by Harold Browne (who also supplied the screenplay for THE ST. VALENTINE’S DAY MASSACRE, which a scene from is also re-used here), the mechanical script may be riddled with inaccuracies (the film has Frank Nitti visiting Capone in Florida in 1946, when factually, Nitti committed suicide three years earlier) and may not be the most accurate biopic, it certainly holds up well as entertainment, even if were talking on a Corman drive-in level. Carver does a good, appropriately stylish job of directing what is essentially an exploitation film released by a major studio, shifting from one subsequent date-marked event to the next (most of which end in bloody violence) carrying a great effect where the screen tints blood red during these transitions. The recycled sets, vintage cars and dapper costuming all add to the convincing period setting, but if anything, it’s the cast that’s most impressive.

With his character starting off unconvincingly as a “young” man, Ben Gazzara chews the scenery and relishes being Capone, complete with cheek scar, inner jowl appliances, long cigar and the sufficient amount of vulgarities, barmy facial expressions and public outbursts to make this cinematic caricature as colorful as possible. A pre-stardom Stallone is both serious and restrained as Nitti, and he’s given enough screen time to competently portray the man who crossed his boss to further his own mob career. A fine actress also coming into her own at the time, Susan Blakely (who had just starred with Stallone in THE LORDS OF FLATBUSH the previous year) does a good job with what could have been throwaway role, and also sheds her clothes full frontally during a love scene with Gazzara (nudity, frequent use of the “F” word, and all those bloody shootouts were enough to assure an MPAA R rating). Guest star John Cassavetes (who was only on the set for a day) plays New York gang lord Frankie Yale, but only appears onscreen for a few minutes (probably as a favor to his pal Gazzara). Others in the cast will help remind you this is a Corman production, including the incredible Dick Miller, Martin Kove (who appeared with Stallone in DEATH RACE 2000 the same year), Beach Dickerson and Carmen Argenziano (THE HOT BOX). Veteran character actors Frank Campanella and Royal Dano also have memorable bit parts.

As one of a number of titles Shout! Factory has licensed from 20th Century-Fox, CAPONE finally makes it DVD debut, looking better than ever. With a transfer culled from the original vault materials, the film is presented in its original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement. Colors are vivid, detail is solid throughout and the visual presentation is free of any blemishes (only jumping in quality when grainy footage from THE ST. VALENTINE’S DAY MASSACRE is shown, albeit briefly). The mono audio presents the film in its original English track and is also free of any noticeable defects and sounds absolutely fine.

Director Steve Carver is on hand for a full audio commentary, moderated by Nathaniel Thompson. Carver remembers a lot about shooting the film in a number of different studios and locations, researching photos of the real Capone, how the actors (particularly Gazzara and Guardino) interacted with each other, scenes which played out unscripted on screen and much, much more, making for a revealing account of the film’s production. Also included are two theatrical trailers (one, a longer “red band” trailer with nudity, and both having narrator Ernie Anderson hyping the film as “An American Success Story") and two different TV spots, one which utilizes stills of the real Capone. A widescreen theatrical trailer for THE ST. VALENTINE’S DAY MASSACRE (available on DVD from Fox) is also included. (George R. Reis)