More involving than 1961’s other restrospective gangster film, King of the Roaring ’20s. This one focuses on Vincent ‘Mad Dog’ Coll, a truly psychopathic gangster, killer of Dutch Schultz, among many others.
A very creepy John Davis Chandler portrays Coll, Vincent Gardenia takes Schultz’s role, Coll’s dance-hall girlfriend Clio is Kay Doubleday. Jerry Orbach plays Coll’s long-time partner Joe Clegg. Telly Savalas plays gritty police Lieutenant Darro. There’s also Elizabeth (Brooke Hayward), buddies Rocco (Neil Burstyn), Ralphie (T.J. Castronovo), and Harry (Glen Cannon).
The plot is similar in many respects to King of the Roaring ’20s, in that Coll, like Arnold Rothstein in the other film, starts out as a small-time punk, but quickly rises to become a formidable criminal mastermind, dogged by the cop who knew him as they were both coming up. Both hoods even have dancehall girlfriends.
What really makes this film jump out at us is Chandler’s performance–he is truly a mad dog. Coll is not just ruthless, he’s out-and-out sadistic, relishing in pay-back or revenge against adversaries and rivals. His jack-o’-lantern grin is so repulsive, it’s macabre. There’s bizarre close-ups of his crazed eyes boring down on his victims.
Anyway, after Clio’s introductory narration, there’s a quick-and-dirty sequence marking Coll’s difficult childhood, and his quick shift to the wrong side of the law; the clear implication is that crime gives him the power and respect that his father denied him. After meeting Elizabeth at a bar, he’s rousted by Darro for a recent truck heist, but let off with a convincing threat.
Soon, that is, five years later, Vince has a tommygun, which he figures will let him “run the show, the whole she-bang” regardless of Dutch Schultz’s headstart. Anyway, after a few protection and hijacking capers, Clio narrates about her nightclub act, a routine that Vince appreciates. Outside one of his haunts he and Joe run into Elizabeth. She doesn’t know that the guys are in the rackets.
She’s without a doubt a ‘nice girl,’ and plays the fiddle for him. He can’t resist being a jerk–to the point of slapping her around–because she calls him “a momma’s boy.” Then he forces her to carry hot money inside the fiddle box (he’s destroyed her instrument) past a lurking Darro. The cop tells him “You’re on one-way street, Vincent, and the only place it leads is to the cemetery.” It almost does right away, as Elizabeth, pretty much abducted and tossed in his car, opens up on him with the handy tommygun.
Unfortunately for everyone but him, he’s just grazed. “Here comes momma’s boy!” he crows, sardonically, lunging at her. Meanwhile, ‘The Dutchman’ isn’t happy about Vincent’s interference. Back to Clio’s bit at the club. What’s the attraction for her? Ok, he “rains twenty dollar gold pieces.” She’s touted as his “present.”
He’s about as affectionate as a lizard. She gets a mink coat–but not until she becomes a blonde. Back in civilization, Joe tries to have a normal date with Elizabeth, but Vince finds a way to mess that up too–racket business calls. At a boxing match, Vince’s latest victim complains to Schultz. That means a ‘torpedo’ from Philly is tasked with rubbing out Coll.
Unfortunately, Ralphie wears Coll’s distinctive overcoat; so the gunman kills Ralph, thinking he’s Coll. Well, so much for loyalty “Say goodbye to a stiff?” is all Vince can say when the boys ask him about his dead friend. They go searching for the gunman, ambushing him in his hotel room. Schultz sends a peacemaker; to split the territory, etc. “You know what I’m gonna do? Rub out the Dutchman personally.”
The Dutchman responds “The finger’s on Coll, $50k worth!” A cool shootout ensues down at the docks. Three dark sedans pull up as he’s splitting with Clio–he tommyguns their way out. Clio isn’t exactly keen on playing second fiddle to a tommygun. At least he let’s go enough to kiss her; she wants him to propose…Meanwhile, at a basement poker game, Rocco gets it. At least Vince shows a touch more emotion than when Ralphie got his.
Joe wants out, but, true to form, Vince replies that he’s just getting started. An informer points out to a patrolmen where Coll’s hiding out; but the cop’s taken down. Need to say, Darro is going nuts. Joe says it straight “Everyone in town wants us dead!” Elizabeth and Joe go to Darro. They’re engaged. Joe’s in no position to bargain, as Darro says “mad dogs don’t have friends!”
With a goofy disguise, Coll goes to see Schultz. Larry’s being held hostage for $25k ransom. When asked if they get him back alive, he replies “more or less.” Hmm, doesn’t sound good for Larry. Vincent recounts the story (actually the opening scene) when he shoots up his father’s grave, ‘killing’ him after death, for good measure.
He talks also about his over protective mom; very weirdly, he hallucinates that Larry is both of his parents. Joe finally gives Darro the drop on Vince. The drugstore shootout denouement is tense and exciting; an unsuspecting kid is scooted away safely, then tons of gunplay. Darro gives Vince a chance to surrender. No dice, even the tommygun isn’t enough. Injured, he stumbles out on the street. Great last words “I hate.” He means everything, and everyone.
The performances are fairly convincing all around. The strength of loyalty through friendship (which Vince really could take or leave) proves the only thing that binds Ralphie, Joe, and Rocco to Vince. Love doesn’t really exist for Vince, even affection is rarely on his agenda. Only Joe and Elizabeth have an actual loving relationship.
As in the ‘The King of the Roaring 20s, the gangster’s ‘love interest’ is all on the woman’s side. Clio has none other than a monetary incentive to give a hoot about the fascinating, but dangerous, and deliberately disgusting Vince. I suppose that’s a problem showing anyone’s relationship with a guy who literally only hates for a living.
Farmermouse thought the various old cars were cool, especially the speeding Chrysler, the Franklin in Dutch’s gang, and the Duesenberg in the garage. Seven hood ornaments. 7/10.