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Jack Diamond and his sickly brother arrive in prohibition New York as jewellery thieves. After a spell in jail the coldly ambitious Diamond hits on the idea of stealing from thieves himself, and sets about getting close to gangster boss Arnold Rothstein to move in on his booze, girls, gambling, and drugs operations. Written by
Jeremy Perkins <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The biographical gangster picture returns, chilly and detached
The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond is Budd Boetticher's cold look at a cool customer. The low temperature extends to Lucien Ballard's crisply composed black-and-white cinematography and to Ray Danton's chilly assumption of the title role. With his `matinee-idol' looks and devil-may-care attitude, he prefigures another kind of `cool' that would arrive on screen a year or so later, that of James Bond.
Like Bond, Diamond thinks faster than anybody around him; his quick wits and ready charm get him out of scrapes as a jewel thief who came down the Hudson from Albany to try his luck in Manhattan. But that luck fails him and he ends up doing a short stretch; when he gets out, he resolves to steal from only those who `can't call the police' - other criminals. And he starts his way up in the Arnold Rothstein operation.
His fatal flaw is that he cares for nobody but himself, using people ruthlessly. The women in his life (Karen Steele, Elaine Stewart and the young Dyan Cannon) suffer particularly from their sub-zero lover, but even his sickly brother (Warren Oates) ends up cast out into the blizzard. Diamond's estrangement increases apace with his sense of his own invincibility; having survived, against all odds, a spray of bullets, he convinces himself that he can't be killed. He's wrong.
Though he's right for Boetticher's conception of the part, Danton had less of a career than he might have. He appeared in a few late films in the moribund noir cycle (as the psychotic killer in The Night Runner and as the Aspirin Kid in The Beat Generation) but, after this film, worked mostly in European cinema (by which such names as Fellini, Bergman or Godard should not be inferred).
Boetticher has a few noir credentials as well (Behind Locked Doors, The Killer is Loose) but seems uneasy in how, on the cusp of Camelot, to spin this jazz-age tale. He opts for detachment, structuring the movie as a choppy series of vignettes - almost tableaux - that don't flow (several of the incidents clamor for more explanation, but he leaves us to fill in the missing pieces). And finally, neither director nor actor gives a sound accounting of the changes in Diamond: How the winsome scoundrel of the opening turns into the cold-blooded shark of the finish.
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