Directed by Steve Carver
December 16 at Anthology Film Archives, part of its Ben Gazzara retrospective
With 57 IMDB credits, the character "Al Capone" is one of film and television's most recyclable, most recently seen in Boardwalk Empire, played by the talented Stephen Graham, who also squeezed tommy gun triggers as Baby Face Nelson in Public Enemies. Lacking the blocky-butch gravitas of previous inhabitors like Paul Muni (unofficial Capone riff Scarface), Rod Steiger (Al Capone) and Neville Brand (The Untouchables TV series and The George Raft Story), the late Ben Gazzara makes up the physical difference with theatrical exaggeration and cotton wads stuffed into his scarred cheeks in this 1975 crack at the life of America's most notorious career criminal. Like all of director Carver's early films, it was produced by Roger Corman, who himself directed 1967's The St. Valentine's Day Massacre, in which Jason Robards was Al. Typical of Corman's shoestring budgets, the chintzy Chicago sets of that earlier film were reportedly reused here, robbing Carver's movie of any sense of urban authenticity.
Though it might also have been true of Capone the life, Capone the movie is leadenly repetitive: the first half is made up of different variations of racketeer mentor Johnny Torio (Harry Guardino) pleading with the fiery "Alphonse" to simmer down, the second half a succession of shootouts. That said, Howard Browne's funny, crass screenplay is consistently amusing (lots of talk of "turlets" and people having "shit for blood"), as is feral-eyed Gazzara who, like Steiger, seems intent on deglamorizing the mobster. This is especially so in the last scene, as a post-Alcatraz, syphilitic Capone raves by his Palm Island pool about "fucking Bolsheviks!" For a bonus, Gazzara chum John Cassavetes drops by as Brooklyn gangster legend Frankie Yale—and kills it.