This effort starts in Brooklyn 1918 with a burst of violence and an ethnic slur (far from the film’s last), as Capone (Ben Gazzara) jumps two cops. Impressed, the city’s crime bosses (John Cassavetes and Harry Guardino) bring him in. “I just don’t like cops,” he explains. From there, he ascends the nogoodnik ladder to become Public Enemy No. 1, the most notorious bootlegger of the Prohibition era.
Capone — rhymes with “baloney” until he becomes a big shot — doesn’t take his influence lightly, letting all the power go to his head, to where director Steve Carver (“Big Bad Mama”) does all he can to make the man flat-out unlikable. Even when Capone cracks a joke, he’s still not someone with home you’d want to smoke a stogie … and not just because he might crack your skull.
“Do you spend all your time hitting people?” asks love interest Iris (Susan Blakely). Answers Capone, “I take Sundays off.” Despite his immoral way of life and their sexual relationship — which results in a view of Blakely that preceded Sharon Stone’s much-ballyhoed one in “Basic Instinct” by almost two decades — he’s unnerved by her smoking and drinking, and gets visibly upset when she talks about menstruation.
With fresh-faced Sylvester Stallone also aboard as Frank Nitti, the film feels like it’s skimming over Capone’s life, including his syphilitic stay at Alcatraz. Initially good, Gazzara grows too over-the-top, even if the hilarious ending calls for it. But all in all, it’s OK. Just don’t expect a case of goose bumps, à la Brian De Palma’s “The Untouchables.”
Strangely not part of their continuing “Roger Corman’s Cult Classics” line, Shout! Factory’s DVD includes a trailer for another Corman true-crime piece of gangsters and guns: 1967’s “The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre,” which is superior in star power and sure-fire thrills than this average one. —Rod Lott