Review: The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

Blu-ray: The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (1967)

Director Roger Corman is probably best known for producing (414 at the moment!) and directing low budget horror and sci-fi movies, and when his work is discussed it is usually about his Edgar Allan Poe adaptations with Vincent Price, or his ‘monster’ movies such as It Conquered the World and Attack of the Crab Monsters. It is unfortunate that The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre is often overlooked within Corman’s oeuvre, as it is certainly one of his best pieces of work.

Telling the true story of the 1929 St. Valentines Day Massacre in Chicago, Corman’s rendition is regularly citied as being the most accurate portrayal among the many versions that have been committed to the screen, both at the cinema and on television.

Filmed in a ‘docudrama’ style, complete with somber narration, the tale of Al Capone and all of Chicago’s feuding underworld is told in an unflinching style which shows the lengths that these men would go to for power and money.

Though Jason Robards angular features are far removed from the more chubby faced Al Capone, this physical disparity does not in any way detract from his heated performance. In fact, one of the many fantastic special features on this disc tells how the casting for the movie morphed during pre-production, and actors originally considered for one role were then swapped to another.

Interestingly enough, The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre eschews from using the traditional pseudonyms of the characters as used in most tellings of this story, and all are referred to by their real names.

The acting at times does tend to go slightly over the top, but overall the performances are very good and give a sense of character to all involved. Special mention has to go to a young George Segal, whose portrayal of Peter Gusenberg encapsulates the demeanour of what you would expect these power hungry men to be like.

The violence, while frequent and quite shocking at times, is fairly bloodless by today’s standards. Though this takes nothing away from the fear when watching a procession of cars drive by a restaurant full of people and unload their machine guns through the windows and doors.

The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre isn’t just a great Roger Corman movie, it is a great gangster movie and one which should not be missed, especially accompanied by some fantastic special features and a widescreen picture that belies its 50+ year age.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

• 4K restoration from the original negative
• Original mono audio
Roger Corman Remembers (2014, 4 mins): the director discusses the making of The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre
Scenes of the Crime (2018, 14 mins): a critical analysis by Barry Forshaw, film historian and author of American Noir
The Man of a Thousand Voices (2018, 11 mins): a new appreciation of the great voice actor Paul Frees by Ben Ohmart, author of Welcome, Foolish Mortals: The Life and Voices of Paul Frees
• Super 8 version: original cut-down home cinema presentation
• Original theatrical trailer
• Roger Corman trailer commentary (2013, 3 mins)
• Image gallery: promotional photography and publicity material
• New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
• Limited edition exclusive 40-page booklet with a new essay by Neil Sinyard, archival interviews with Roger Corman, contemporary critical responses, and film credits
• UK premiere on Blu-ray
• Limited Edition of 3,000 copies

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Review by Dave (host of 60 Minutes With) from a disc kindly supplied by Powerhouse Films.