Color, 1975, 101m.
Directed by Steve Carver
Starring Ben Gazzara, Harry Guardino, Susan Blakely, Sylvester Stallone, John Cassavetes, Frank Campanella
Shout Factory (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)

Director Roger Corman's affection for period gangster films has gone back to the beginnings of his career, arguably climaxing with his 20th Century-Fox Chicago-and-Capone epic from 1967, The St. Valentine's Day Massacre. When Corman began New World Pictures, he still couldn't get that "guns and bathtub gin" out of his system, greenlighting a string of successful '70s gangster films in the wake of the success of Bonnie and Clyde like Steve Carver's Big Bad Mama and its successors. Back at Fox in 1975 as a producer, he brought over action helmer Carver and concocted another '30s Capone saga, this time exclusively about the infamous mob boss' life with all the vintage cars and snazzy clothes the screen could handle. Along for the ride was a very surprising cast including Ben Gazzara as Capone and his frequent director, John Cassavetes, cashing a paycheck as Frankie Yale. If that's not enough, how about a young Sylvester Stallone just before Rocky as Frank Nitti, and Susan Blakely (at the end of a career hot streak following The Towering Inferno, Report to the Commissioner, and another Stallone film, The Lords of Flatbush), giving the film its biggest claim to infamy by offering a gynecological flash that will still make you wonder how this got an R rating. And just to remind everyone that this is indeed a Corman-involved film, you get Dick Miller and Royal Dano in small parts, too.

Covering most Capone's life story, the film begins with him as a young (or in Gazzara's case, young-ish) disciple thug who goes under the wing of mob honcho Johnny Torrio (Guardino) and quickly making a name for himself in Chicago during the Prohibition era. He becomes involved with a blonde moll named Iris (Blakely), a composite of various real characters, and shows a skill for keeping the cops under his thumb as his strongarm tactics ascend to the grisly heights of a fateful Valentine's Day. However, his reliance on right-hand man Nitti (Stallone) leads to complications, as does a nasty little health secret waiting in the wings along with some crafty feds.

Critics had fun punching holes in Capone's veneer of historical accuracy, but if watch this as part of the lineage of Corman's fast-and-furious gangster classics, it's much more satisfying. Gazzara has a field day as Capone, dramatically smoking cigars and rolling dialogue around in his smirking, stuffed cheeks with great aplomb; meanwhile Carver demonstrates the solid eye for blocking action scenes (especially the volatile car chases) that would later distinguish two of his strong Chuck Norris vehicles, An Eye for an Eye and Lone Wolf McQuade. No one will ever make a claim that this is up to the level of a Scorsese classic or its obvious stylistic inspiration, The Godfather, but for cheap, fast thrills, it more than delivers the goods.

Shout Factory's DVD marks the first official appearance of Capone on home video since its long-extinct VHS days courtesy of Key Video. The image quality is terrific and nicely captures the shadowy, sometimes red-tinted visuals much better than the soggy-looking version shown occasionally on the Fox Movie Channel. Extras include the original theatrical trailer and an audio commentary track with Carver and yours truly moderating; obviously I can't really review the track, but it was fun to record and hopefully you'll enjoy it.