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: Baby Face Nelson (1957) Gangster / Bio Noir  ( 119 )
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« : August 24, 2023, 04:36:13 AM »

Directed by Don Siegel (The Big Steal, Riot in Cell Block 11, Private Hell 36, The Line Up, Coogan's Bluff, Dirty Harry).Written by Daniel Mainwaring and Irving Shulman from a story by Robert Adler and Irving Shulman (story). Cinematography by Hal Mohr and Music by Van Alexander.
The film Stars Mickey Rooney (Quicksand, The Strip, Drive a Crooked Road) as Lester M. 'Baby Face Nelson' Gillis, Carolyn Jones (The Big Heat, Shield For Murder) as Sue Nelson, Cedric  Hardwicke (Rope, Bait) as Doc Saunders, Leo Gordon (Riot In Cell Block 11, The Steel Jungle) as John Dillinger. Anthony Caruso Asphalt Jungle as John Hamilton.

Jack Elam (Quicksand, Kiss Me Deadly, Kansas City Confidential, Rawhide, Once Upon A Time In The West) as Fatso Nagel, John Hoyt (Brute Force, The Glass Cage) as Samuel Parker, Ted de Corsia (The Naked City, Crime Wave) as Rocca, Elisha Cook, Jr. (Classic Noir Vet) as Homer Van Meter, Robert Osterloh as FBI Agent Johnson, Thayer David (Dark Shadows) as Connelly, Dabbs Greer as FBI Agent Charles Bonner, George E. Stone as Mr. Hall ? Bank Manager, Lisa Davis as Ann Saper ? the Lady in Red, Emile Meyer (Classic Noir Vet) as Mac ? Detective, Dan Terranova as Miller, Murray Alper as Alex ? Bank Guard, Harry Antrim as Pharmacist, Tom Fadden as Postman Harkins, Duke Mitchell as Solly ? Pool Hall Attendant.

Some interesting factoids...

"The Production Code had recently repealed a ban on dramatizing the lives of real criminals. Producer Al Zimbalist formed ZS Productions with Irving Shulman to make a film based on the latter's unpublished novel about Baby Face Nelson. He originally announced he was seeking Montgomery Clift, Frank Sinatra or Tony Curtis for the lead.[Schallert, E. (May 12, 1955). "'Run for sun' heralded for Eva Marie Saint; Tim McCoy pursued". Los Angeles Times.]

Eventually they partnered with Mickey Rooney's Fryman Enterprises to make the movie.[6] Don Siegel was hired to direct.

Zimbalist wanted to borrow Edd Byrnes from Warner Bros to play John Dillinger, but the studio refused to release him. [Thomas M. Pryor (Jun 19, 1957). "MITCHUM TO MAKE THREE NEW FILMS". New York Times]

Filming started in October 1955. Zimbalist did some second unit filming in Chicago himself.[Schallert, E. (Sep 19, 1955). "Spiegel's 'end as man' to star Gazarra; Jack Palance subject named". Los Angeles Times.]

Shulman was later hired by Sam Katzman to do a script on Pretty Boy Floyd.["Shulman to do script on thug". Los Angeles Times. Jan 12, 1958]

Rooney says he was offered a million dollars to buy out his interest in the film but he refused, confident it would be a success."

From the official FBI Website:

"?Baby Face? Nelson was born Lester M. Gillis on December 6, 1908, in Chicago, Illinois. He roamed the Chicago streets with a gang of juvenile hoodlums during his early teens. By the age of 14, he was an accomplished car thief and had been dubbed ?Baby Face? by members of his gang due to his juvenile appearance. Nelson?s early criminal career included stealing tires, running stills, bootlegging, and armed robbery.

In 1922, Nelson (14 yrs old) was convicted of auto theft and was committed to a boys? home. Two years later, he was released on parole, but within five months he was returned on a similar charge.

In 1928, Nelson met a salesgirl, Helen Wawzynak, whom he married. His wife retained the name Helen Gillis throughout their marriage.

(discrepancy here Helen and Lester were married in 1924 when they were both 16)

Nelson was sentenced to a prison term of one year to life for his January, 1931, bank robbery in Chicago, Illinois. After a year?s confinement, Nelson was removed from the Illinois State Penitentiary, Joliet, Illinois, to stand trial on another bank robbery charge in Wheaton, Illinois. On February 17, 1932, Nelson escaped prison guards while being returned to Joliet.

So even though the Code lifted the ban on dramatizing the life of real criminals the film still jettisons Nelson's whole juvie criminal career, of stealing tires, stealing cars, moonshining, and etc. It combines his various stints in reform schools into his first stretch in Joliet.

The film is entertaining. Rooney and Jones are good and it's fun to see other Noir stalwarts in the cast. Ted de Corsia is doing an authentic sounding Italian accent in this. Cedric  Hardwicke is a believable sleaze ball doctor.  Also there's a lot of subtextual hints along with those out in the open suggesting that what sent Lester off in the first place was his small stature, and him probably getting pushed around by "big" people, until he wasn't going to take it anymore.

There's a couple of anachronisms a 1939 Desoto, and a couple of 1941 trucks show up 5-7 years earlier than they should. I wondered why they are still driving model "A" s, lol, if there were obviously more modern iron out there until I checked on the actual years the tale was set in. But up to the Little Bohemia shootout, its all fiction anyway, and afterward it's not much better.

Watch for the ambush of Rocco. It looks great even in a crappy transfer. Needs a restoration or an upgrade. Worth a look. 6.5 and possibly 7/10 with a better print transfer.








"When you feel that rope tighten on your neck you can feel the devil bite your ass"!
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