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Blu-ray Review The St. Valentine's Day Massacre Blu-ray Review (1 Viewer)

Matt Hough

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The St. Valentine's Day Massacre Blu-ray Review

Producer-director Roger Corman got his first taste of directing a big studio project with his 1967 film The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. The movie takes a poker-faced docudrama approach to telling the story of what led up to the fateful day in 1929 when seven Chicago mobsters were rubbed out effectively leading to the police and the FBI ending the reign of terror of mobsters in that city. While it’s filled with incident and lots of information, the movie’s rather antiseptic approach to the narrative makes it less involving that that of a more celebrated criminal-based movie of 1967, Bonnie and Clyde whose innovative cinematic techniques would make the photography and effects in Massacre seem very dated indeed in a very short time.



Studio: Fox

Distributed By: Twilight Time

Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

Audio: English 1.0 DTS-HDMA (Mono)

Subtitles: English SDH

Rating: Not Rated

Run Time: 1 Hr. 40 Min.

Package Includes: Blu-ray

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Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)

Region: All

Release Date: 02/10/2015

MSRP: $29.95




The Production Rating: 3/5

Chicago big shot gangster Al Capone (Jason Robards) whose criminal empire runs all of the speakeasies in the west and south of the city is tired of kowtowing to Bugs Moran (Ralph Meeker) who controls criminal activity on the Northside and decides to put a stop to Moran’s continuous efforts to buck Capone’s control. Instead of giving the job to his enforcer Frank Nitti (Harold J. Stone), Al assigns the job of masterminding an assassination of Moran to his current favorite Jack McGurn (Clint Ritchie) who carefully orchestrates a hit on Moran and his top mob bosses on Valentine’s Day, 1929, in a garage in the Northside. While the hit certainly happens on schedule, fate has a way of interceding and ironically preventing the scheme from coming off exactly as planned.

Narrated laconically by Paul Frees who intercedes continuously through the film by giving background information on the cast of characters and later on relating what happens to the survivors after the events of the film have transpired, the movie jumps back and forth in time catching the viewer up on the reasons for the rivalries between the Northside and Southside gangs and showing us various attempts on the lives of Capone (one of the film’s key sequences as a succession of Moran’s crew each unload full machine gun magazines on a restaurant where Al is dining) and other key players which bring emotions bubbling to a boil on that fateful Valentine’s Day morning. The script by Howard Browne often hits the mark filling in what we need to know at any given moment, but with the succession of gangland characters with lengthy monikers and ever-crazier nicknames, it’s easy to get somewhat lost with which person is on whose side of the skirmish. A couple of scenes could have been excised altogether including a completely unnecessary scene where Moran’s number two man Peter Gusenberg (George Segal) roughs up his girl friend Myrtle (Jean Hale) for trading his birthday gift in for an expensive mink coat. Their knockabout fight where they punch, slap, and kick one another as well as destroy their apartment is one long sequence without any real purpose (we’d already seen Gusenberg brutally intimidate a bartender who was a Capone customer, so this extra scene didn’t tell us anything about him we didn’t already know).

While director Roger Corman must have relished having the resources of a major Hollywood studio at his disposal for the first time, the fact remains that the film doesn’t have much period flavor with the Chicago streets obvious studio backlot locations that rarely suggest the bustling metropolis of Chicago in the 1920s. Had the movie been made a year later, Corman might also have been able to make the film’s ample amounts of violence more visceral than he is able to do here. While there are plenty of shootings, he falls back on the old techniques of using sound effects and cutaways at the moment of impact to keep the violence contained (as well as thick, pasty concoctions dripped on costumes to signify blood). As Bonnie and Clyde’s horrific displays of gut –churning violence would prove later in 1967, a new era in portraying cinematic violence was dawning, and The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre would seem to be one of the last of the old guard attempts of picturing gun sprays and their bloodcurdling aftermath in a more old-fashioned way.

Corman wanted Orson Welles to play Al Capone, and what brilliant casting that would have been had it happened. Jason Robards (who had earlier been penciled-in for Bugs Moran) neither looks nor seems particularly comfortable in the shoes of Chicago’s number one criminal though he blusters and bristles as well as he can. Ralph Meeker does fine as Moran, and George Segal and David Canary do reasonably well as the Gusenberg brothers who back him up. Clint Ritchie is all smiles and charm as pretty boy Jack McGurn while Harold J. Stone makes for a stoic but not particularly threatening Frank Nitti. A wonderful array of character actors portray various members of the Capone and Moran gangs including Frank Silvera, Joseph Campanella, Bruce Dern, Kurt Kreuger, Joseph Turkel, Milton Frome, and even Corman favorite Jack Nicholson in a rather minor role but getting to take part in the film's climactic set piece.



Video Rating: 4.5/5  3D Rating: NA

The film’s Panavision 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio is faithfully reproduced in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Sharpness is excellent with lots of detail to be found in facial features, hair, and clothing. Color has been carefully contained in the transfer (the theatrical trailer present on the disc offers much more saturated color) though flesh tones seem true-to-life if a tad pale (it is winter time so the lack of suntans would be understandable). The transfer is absolutely pristine from an artifact perspective with no age-related problems of any kind. Contrast has been consistently applied. The movie has been divided into 24 chapters.



Audio Rating: 4.5/5

The DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 sound mix offers a hiss-free environment for the easily understandable and well recorded dialogue. Fred Steiner’s music and the many sound effects from this violent era of Chicago’s history complement the dialogue expertly.



Special Features Rating: 3/5

Isolated Score Track: presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo (which sounds marvelous).

Roger Corman Remembers (3:31, SD): an excruciatingly short reminiscence with the producer-director in which he mentions the film’s million dollar budget (his biggest ever to that date though small by Fox standards), his thrill in being able to use standing sets from Hello, Dolly!, The Sand Pebbles, and The Sound of Music in keeping his budget under control, and how he choreographed the final massacre so it could be caught in one take.

Fox Movietone News (4:41, SD): four brief excerpts of news items over the years dealing with Al Capone.

Theatrical Trailer (2:32, SD)

Six-Page Booklet: contains a selection of movie stills, original poster art on the back cover, and film historian Julie Kirgo’s entertaining analysis of the movie.



Overall Rating: 3.5/5

The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre may not have the same kinetic cinematic punch as such gangland classics as Bonnie and Clyde or The Godfather trilogy, but it hammers home its own story in an entertaining fashion and is certainly worth experiencing. There are only 3,000 copies of this Blu-ray available. Those interested should go to www.screenarchives.com to see if product is still in stock. Information about the movie can also be found via Facebook at www.facebook.com/twilighttimemovies.


Reviewed By: Matt Hough


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Professor Echo

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Mention should be made that the film was meticulously researched and most of it is based on solid fact. They fudge a bit on the casting with many of the actors too old to be portraying their characters, but the details of the events leading up to the massacre are presented very well. Corman took immense pride in the realism of the script.


Also, I believe Nicholson, who has a single line in the picture, about rubbing bullets in garlic, is one of Capone's shooters in the garage, not one of the victims. ;)
 

Robert Crawford

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Thanks for the review. I actually first viewed this film during its theatrical run in 1967 at my neighborhood movie theater. Since that was almost 50 years ago the Merritt theater is long gone with the multi-theater explosion in the 1970s and 1980s. One moment in that film has always stayed in my memory bank in which George Segal's character gets in a fight with his girlfriend.
 

Matt Hough

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Professor Echo said:
Also, I believe Nicholson, who has a single line in the picture, about rubbing bullets in garlic, is one of Capone's shooters in the garage, not one of the victims. ;)

Now that I think about it, you're right. I'll alter the wording. Thanks.
 

JohnMor

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I've never seen this and have been mulling a blind buy, but I HATED Corman's Bloody Mama. How does this compare? Is it pretty comparable?
 

Eric Vedowski

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Corman misremembers a bit about using standing sets. "Hello, Dolly!" was a few years away when this was filmed. Al Capone's house is the entry hall from the von Trapp house in "The Sound of Music" with gaudy wallpaper added. The tavern in the first scene with Segal looks like the one where Patty Duke bottoms out in "Valley of the Dolls" and the bordello is from "The Sand Pebbles." The street exteriors were (almost?) all filmed on MGM's Lot 2-remember at this point Fox had almost no backlot left. Heavy TCM viewers like myself can easily spot MGM's backlots.

The fight between Jean Hale (Mrs. Dabney Coleman for years) and George Segal is great. They are really going at it.

For my money this is much better than "Bloody Mama," lots of scenery chewing and action to keep things lively.
 

Professor Echo

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JohnMor said:
I've never seen this and have been mulling a blind buy, but I HATED Corman's Bloody Mama. How does this compare? Is it pretty comparable?
What sells this movie for me are the facts. Capone had such a fascinating story without any need for embellishments, yet just about every film dramatization of him is just that, often embarrassing fiction that clogs up the history to ridiculous degrees. Corman wanted to counter the (albeit often entertaining) fairy tales of the TV series THE UNTOUCHABLES and make this most notorious incident in Capone's life be a larger than life documentary, if you'll pardon the contradiction in terms. For me, he succeeds admirably. Despite its somewhat limited production values and some inevitable digressions and discrepancies with history, given the nature of the media at the time of the incident and all the coverage between then and the time this film was made, it's very compelling and plays out as an old fashioned news story with all its inherent drama soaring to the hilt.

I will wait to buy my copy from TT in case you buy it and don't like it. If that's the case, I will buy your copy from you! That's how much I think you will enjoy this picture.
 

JohnMor

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Eric Vedowski
.

For my money this is much better than "Bloody Mama," lots of scenery chewing and action to keep things lively.


Professor Echo said:
What sells this movie for me are the facts. Capone had such a fascinating story without any need for embellishments, yet just about every film dramatization of him is just that, often embarrassing fiction that clogs up the history to ridiculous degrees. Corman wanted to counter the (albeit often entertaining) fairy tales of the TV series THE UNTOUCHABLES and make this most notorious incident in Capone's life be a larger than life documentary, if you'll pardon the contradiction in terms. For me, he succeeds admirably. Despite its somewhat limited production values and some inevitable digressions and discrepancies with history, given the nature of the media at the time of the incident and all the coverage between then and the time this film was made, it's very compelling and plays out as an old fashioned news story with all its inherent drama soaring to the hilt.

I will wait to buy my copy from TT in case you buy it and don't like it. If that's the case, I will buy your copy from you! That's how much I think you will enjoy this picture.

Thanks guys! I think I'll take a chance!
 

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