Producer Walter Wanger, who had just been released from a prison term after shooting a man he believed was having an affair with his wife, wanted to make a film about the appalling ... See full summary »
George "Babyface" Nelson becomes one of the most important gangsters of 1920s Chicago by making brutal robberies. In order to compete with Al Capone he allies himself with John Dillinger... Written by
Baby Face Nelson is directed by Don Siegel and co-written by Daniel Mainwaring, Robert Adler and Irving Shulman. It stars Mickey Rooney, Carolyn Jones, Cedric Hardwicke, Leo Gordon, Anthony Caruso and Jack Elam. Story is based on the notorious criminal who became public enemy number one in the first half of the 1930s.
Gangsters have always been a profitable source for film makers, with many of them proving to be the basis of classic cinema. The story of Baby Face Nelson is ideal for cinematic treatment.
Don Siegel's 57 movie is tight and taut, yet still briskly paced, and in the main as per the characterisation of Nelson, it's pitched right by Siegel and Mickey Rooney. Nelson is seen as a pocket rocket of inferiority complexes, a deluded bully held in the grip of jealousies. He's a trigger-happy punk with anger issues, while Siegel is professional enough to ensure the little thug is not glamorised (the film opens with a written statement pouring praise on the FBI). The recreation of the period is grand, those cars, those guns, the latter of which get a good amount of screen time as Siegel gives us gun play aplenty. While visually (Hal Mohr on cinematography duty) it's lighted for shadows and period starkness. There's even a pitch black noir ending to round it off.
The flaws? Rooney never fully convinces in the role of Nelson, where perhaps he is a mere victim of following in the footsteps of greater characterisations in the genre? Or maybe it's just a case of being familiar with him in more airy roles? But with Hardwicke doing fine work as a boozy lecher, Jones appealingly knowing and sexy as Nelson's moll, and Elam and Elisha Cook Jr bolstering the support ranks, film is in capable acting hands. Narrative is a bit scratchy, not quite a complete whole, more a case of a number of great scenes inserted here and there, but it doesn't hurt the picture too much. Overall it gets in and does its job in next to no time, never out staying its welcome, it overcomes its faults and entertains the genre fan with ebullience. 7/10
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