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The Gun of Zangara (1960)

Dramatization of events leading up to the attempted Assassination of president Elect FDR in Miami Beach 1933.





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Cast overview:
... Eliot Ness (archive footage)
... Giuseppe 'Joe' Zangara (archive footage)
... Mayor Anton J. Cermak (archive footage)


Dramatization of events leading up to the attempted Assassination of president Elect FDR in Miami Beach 1933.

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Crime | Drama





Release Date:

25 February 1960 (USA)  »

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Technical Specs

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Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?


Originally shown on television 25 February 1960 as The Unhired Assassin, a two-part episode of The Untouchables (1959) See more »

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Who was the target in Miami?
6 November 2004 | by See all my reviews

On February 15, 1933 an assassination occurred in Miami that shook the U.S., then in the midst of the Great Depression. In November of 1932 Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Democratic Candidate, defeated the President Herbert Hoover. President - elect Roosevelt was the hope of most of the country. He was going to deliver a speech in Miami, in company of his friend Vincent Astor. Another person attending the speech (and there for political discussions with F.D.R.) was Mayor Anton Cermak of Chicago. During the speech shots were fired at Roosevelt in his open touring car. The gunman (who was seized after shooting several people) was one Giuseppi Zangara. He missed Roosevelt but injured several others due to a woman pushing his arm when he raised his gun. Unfortunately one of the people he hit was Mayor Cermak. Cermak died about three weeks later. Zangara was executed after a trial at the end of March. By then F.D.R. was inaugurated.

Cermak was not the first Chicago Mayor who was assassinated. Forty years before Mayor Carter Harrison Sr. (his son - Carter Harrison Jr. - would also be Mayor of Chicago years later), was shot and killed in his home by Patrick Eugene Prendergast, a madman who thought Harrison had reneged on making him Corporate Counsel. Prendergast was defended by Clarence Darrow at his trial, but found guilty and hanged in 1894.

There is no movie about Harrison and his assassination. Cermak was the subject of several films, as he was an example of the immigrant lad (Bohemian in his case) who made good. After the misrule of Big Bill Thompson, Al Capone's stooge mayor, Cermak managed to clean up the city a bit - though this was a matter of some dispute. Many insisted that Cermak only went after Capone's mob (then being run by Frank Nitti), but had made deals with Capone's rivals. However the overall effect was to improve the city's administration. So Cermak was enshrined in public opinion as a martyr for good government and for Roosevelt's New Deal (which he would have supported).

However, there is a second theory. I first heard of it in Law School. The theory is that Cermak was the target, not F.D.R.

The main support for the theory is Zangara's personality. He was a perfect example of a psychotic hot head. He claimed he had stomach pains, caused by the rich and powerful. He claimed he had planned to shoot the King of Italy (Victor Emmanuel II) and President Hoover, but then he turned towards Roosevelt. He said all powerful men were evil, and he wanted to kill them. Perfect psychotic - but was he just pretending this as a cover to a successful attack on Cermak?

The other part of the theory is what happened the previous month in Chicago.

Nitti was in his office (apparently doing nothing particularly evil - just some paperwork) when some Chicago police barged in. One shot Nitti, severely wounding him. But he survived. His gang and his lawyers started questioning what was the reason for the attack. It turned out that there was no reason, and the cop who shot Nitti apologized (Nitti actually accepted the apology - he knew who had ordered the hit). The result was that a poor immigrant, Zangara, was made an offer he did not mind taking. He would have a chance to gain some fame/infamy in trying to kill a big-shot (the President-elect) but would actually shoot Cermak. His family would be taken care of afterwards.

Which is the truth? Was it a combination of the two? We really don't know.

This film, based on two episodes of the popular UNTOUCHABLE series, is one of two television movies about the incident (the other is in a television film about the career of Frank Nitti). If you liked the series with Robert Stack you will enjoy this film. See it also to see that great movie villain, Robert Middleton, in a sympathetic performance as Cermak.

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