The St. Valentine's Day Massacre

  • 1967
  • Movie
  • NR
  • Crime, Historical

As to be expected of this Corman-produced bloodbath, the violence is excessive and the characters are an army of death-dealing thugs. Surprisingly, however, this film has high production values and does a good job depicting the gangland events and personalities as they really were in 1920s Chicago. Even though he's all wrong as Capone--too thin, too old, more

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As to be expected of this Corman-produced bloodbath, the violence is excessive and the characters are an army of death-dealing thugs. Surprisingly, however, this film has high production values and does a good job depicting the gangland events and personalities as they really were in

1920s Chicago. Even though he's all wrong as Capone--too thin, too old, and certainly too intelligent--Robards gives a bravura performance as Scarface, Chicago's public menace No. 1. With Frees narrating a blow-by-blow description of events, heralding the carnage to follow as if he were giving the

background to the Declaration of Independence, the story of Chicago's gangland wars unfolds quickly under Corman's rapid-fire direction. The crime wars between Robards and his rivals on the North Side of Chicago reach epic proportions, especially when Meeker, as George "Bugs" Moran, decides to

eliminate Robards and his seemingly all-powerful Mafia-backed South Side gang. He kills Guayini, playing Mafia don Patsy Lolordo, and this throws Robards into a frenzy. He tells his top aides--Turkel, Stone, and Richards--that he plans on wiping out Meeker's entire mob once and for all, even

though they counsel against it. Robards tells them that Meeker and his gang will stop at nothing and reminds them of the bloody years that have gone before when he tried to be conciliatory toward the North Siders. We then see in flashback various scenes from Robards' first days in Chicago. He is

shown meeting with Agar, playing the feared Irish gangleader Dion O'Bannion, Hadley, as Earl "Hymie" Weiss, and Meeker, agreeing on nonviolent management of their competing bootleg empires only to see the truce broken again and again by both sides. We also see how Robards' men are slain and even

he is attacked in broad daylight while sitting in the coffee shop of the Hawthorn Inn in Cicero (Capone's private fiefdom, 1924-28), as 10 cars full of Hadley's men rake the place with machine guns, driving Robards to cower on the restaurant floor. This spectacular raid (which really occurred in

1925) is visually captioned by Segal, playing Pete Gusenberg, Moran's most feared gunsel, stepping from one of the slowly passing cars, kneeling on the cement in front of the hotel, and methodically destroying the hotel foyer to show his contempt for Robards and his power. The reprisals by Robards

are shown: the gunning down of Agar in his flower shop by Bakalyan and Cattani, Robards' top killers (Scalise and Anselmi), as they ostensibly arrive to pick up a floral arrangement for a funeral of a prominent gangland figure (this was known as the "handshake murder," in that one of the killers

held O'Bannion's hand to prevent him from reaching for one of the three guns he always wore while the other assassin gunned him down) and the killing of Hadley and a group of his men as they step from their auto on Clark Street, all machine-gunned to death. (Weiss was mowed down in 1926 in front

of Chicago's famed Holy Name Cathedral, sprayed with so many bullets that these tore through the gangster's body and smacked into the facade of the church, chipping away the words of its cornerstone). Having convinced his henchmen that the only way to deal with Meeker is with force, Robards goes

about the planning of Meeker's destruction. First, he personally locates D'Arcy, playing turncoat Joey Aiello, who arranged the Guayini killing, on a train about to leave the Windy City, and he slits his throat while the mobster prays on his knees in his compartment. Robards holds many meetings to

work out how to eradicate his North Side rivals and adopts a plan put forth by his top killer, Ritchie, playing the infamous "Machinegun Jack" McGurn. (His real name was Vincenzo DeMora; he took the name McGurn from an old-time boxer he admired.) Ritchie explains that something must occur to

compel all of Meeker's gang members to be present at their headquarters at a garage on North Clark Street. (The front for the Moran Gang was the S-M-C Cartage Company at 2122 N. Clark Street.) He proposes that a decoy, Silvera, call Meeker, telling him that he has a truckload of hijacked imported

booze for sale, and that the Robards gang actually stage a hijacking of the truck to make sure Meeker accepts Silvera's story as the truth. Silvera delivers the booze and is shorted on his payment by Segal, who slaps him around and sends him on his way. Though most of Meeker's gang is present

during the delivery, Silvera notices that Meeker himself is not there. Sometime later, Silvera calls Meeker again to say that he has another hijacked truckload of excellent Canadian booze. Meeker by now accepts Silvera as genuine and tells him that he will take the shipment. Silvera, however,

tells Meeker that the last time he delivered a shipment of booze to Meeker's garage, the North Siders slapped him around and paid him less than the agreed-upon price. He insists that Meeker be present personally when he arrives with the truckload of booze so that he will be treated fairly. Meeker

agrees. Ritchie then posts men in rooming houses around the gangland garage to make sure the entire gang, particularly Meeker, is present before he springs his trap. The day demonically selected by Robards for the delivery is St. Valentine's Day, 1929. (Capone reportedly supervised the entire plan

and chuckled when it was ready to go, saying to Guzik, "I'm gonna deliver a Valentine to Bugs he will never forget.") On the appointed day, Ritchie's lookouts report via phone as each member of the Meeker gang enters the garage. They wait anxiously for the boss, Meeker, to arrive. Then they spot a

man of Meeker's height and build and report to Ritchie that Meeker is in the garage. (They, like their real-life counterparts, erred, seeing instead Weinshank, played here by Campanella, who bore a close resemblance to Moran.) Ritchie and his other top gunners then get into an auto that has been

made over to look like a police car, two of his men wearing policemen's uniforms. They arrive at the garage, the two cops going in first and lining up the seven gangsters inside against a wall as if they are making a routine arrest. The gangsters inside, including mechanic Dern, meekly line up

facing the wall as their weapons are taken from them, telling the uniformed gunmen that they will probably lose their badges for such effrontery, that Meeker's paid-off politicians will be sending them to remote stations for not checking with "downtown." Meeker turns a corner and sees the police

car parked outside his headquarters; he steps inside a coffee shop with his two bodyguards, Reese and Merlin, intending to wait until the routine raid is over. (This actually happened; had not Moran, Newberry, and Marks ducked inside the restaurant, there would have been, undoubtedly, ten

bullet-torn bodies on the floor of the garage instead of seven.) With the seven gangsters facing the wall, their hands spread high against the brick, helpless, the fake cops nod toward a door leading into the garage. Ritchie, Bakalyan, and Cattani step inside, withdrawing machine guns and shotguns

from beneath their long coats and sauntering smugly to stand behind the line of men against the wall, who cannot see them, and then open fire, cutting the men to pieces with devastating accuracy. Quickly, the killers depart their methodical gore, the phony cops aiming the machine guns on their

fellow assassins in civilian clothes, stepping outside to the fake squad car with what appears to be prisoners being taken into custody. The car roars away, and soon cries are heard by Meeker in the street that "they just killed Bugs Moran and his whole gang." Robards, knowing he will be blamed

for the crime, is at his Palm Island, Florida, estate, enjoying the sunshine when he hears the news. He laughs loudly and goes back to a party he is giving for his upstanding neighbors who will later serve as witnesses that he was in Florida during the awful killing. Meeker, terrified, retreats to

a hospital bed where reporters later find him, nervously explaining that the dead men did not work for him, that he is only a businessman taking a rest. When pushed by reporters, Meeker blurts, "Only Capone kills like that!" Narration finishes off the rest of the film, with the stentorian Frees

saying that the St. Valentine's Day Massacre aroused an apathetic public into pressuring the police and politicians into waging a crusade against the gangsters. He adds that this event brought down Capone and all of the crime kingpins of Chicago, ending with the grossly inaccurate statement that

"though no one is ever brought to trial for the slaughter, the killers all die violent deaths within 22 months." Capone, the mastermind of the slaughter, did not die until 1947; his nemesis Moran died of cancer in Leavenworth 10 years later while serving time for bank robbery. The actual

machine-gunners, according to Jay Robert Nash's Bloodletters and Badmen, were McGurn, who did not die until 1936, gunned down in a Chicago bowling alley with a comic Valentine pinned to his shirt as a gruesome prank; and Scalise and Anselmi, both personally killed by Capone about a year later--he

took a baseball bat to their heads for attempting to usurp him. The man who actually did the firing of the machine guns that mowed down the Moran gangsters was Fred R. "Killer" Burke, an out-of-town gunman. He kept the weapon, which was found by Chicago police during a search of his rented house.

In the first significant case where ballistics played a major role, the gun was matched to bullets dug out of the bodies of Moran's men. Burke, tipped that the police had irrefutable evidence to convict him of the mass killing, drove madly into Michigan, looking for a policeman to kill. He spotted

a traffic cop, started an argument, and gunned him down in full view of witnesses, knowing he would be quickly convicted and sent to prison for life (Michigan had no death penalty). If convicted of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, he would be sent to the electric chair in Illinois. Corman

admittedly does a good job with a complex story (at least the element of how the massacre was engineered). This production looks expensive but had a budget of only $1.5 million. Corman's documentary approach often goes awry, especially when Frees must try to give credence to a slugfest between

Segal and his whore, Hale. Robards seems to have little direction and is allowed to gnaw on everything during his incessant tirades, including his automatic. The actor obviously attempts to make up for his lack of Latin persona by growling his way through the part of Capone. Segal is good as the

psychotic killer Gusenberg, and Capone's advisors, Richards, Stone, and Turkel, are convincingly oily. Meeker shines as the stubborn Bugs Moran, and so does the slippery Silvera as the Judas goat who sets up the slaughter. Jack Nicholson was offered a strong supporting role in this film but turned

it down after figuring out that he would stay with the production longer and receive more money if he took a bit part. Look for him as one of Ritchie's henchmen setting up the massacre. He has one line of dialog. Asked what he is rubbing on his bullets, he replies, "It's garlic.... If the bullets

don't kill ya, ya die of blood poisoning." Actually, this was a technique of Scalise and Anselmi, two uneducated Sicilian thugs who brought such Mafia beliefs with them when they migrated to Chicago to kill exclusively for Capone. This movie was the best production in the many films chronicling

the tawdry history of gangsters Corman produced or directed over the years. Others include MACHINE GUN KELLY (1959), starring Charles Bronson, and BLOODY MAMA (1970), starring an excessively overweight Shelley Winters as Ma Barker, both as loaded with blood, guts, and gore as THE ST. VALENTINE'S


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  • Rating: NR
  • Review: As to be expected of this Corman-produced bloodbath, the violence is excessive and the characters are an army of death-dealing thugs. Surprisingly, however, this film has high production values and does a good job depicting the gangland events and personal… (more)

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