Machine-Gun Kelly (Roger Corman / U.S., 1958):

Roger Cormanís Macbeth, morbid and raffish: "You wanted the jungle... now live in it!" The preamble shows off the swift, racy technique, a tight flurry that registers a bank robbery via a single, slightly elevated shot of shadows on the floor and a glass door that's promptly shattered. The Depression hoodlum (Charles Bronson) is a saturnine hunk of granite until the sight of a hearse stops dead him in his tracks, the fist clutching the Tommy gun suddenly trembles before Thanatos. "Run away, brave boy," cackles the bordello madam whose daughter (Susan Cabot) becomes Bronsonís razzing moll, the raven mercilessly pecking at his necrophobic insecurities. The old gang disperses and kidnapping becomes the new business, all the skull-and-crossbones omens point to the protagonistís showdown with the G-men on his trail and the terrors in his mind. "When rabbits roar, itís a bad time." A coffin lid inexorably lowered onto a macho gangster fantasy, overflowing with jazzy resourcefulness and sardonic vaudeville turns: Morey Amsterdam as a queer little pickup man patiently nursing a vengeful streak, Frank DeKova as a gimpy accomplice keeping caged mountain lions in a backwoods gas station, Connie Gilchrist laying the raucous groundwork for Shelley Winters. As an anticipation of the dread-suffused Poe hallucinations of the 1960s and a template for the AIP drive-in barnstormers of the 1970s, itís a key Corman work. The St. Valentineís Day Massacre and Bloody Mama complete the genre demolition, but nothing beats Bronsonís lunkhead bully crumbling down and a still-life glimpse of his eponymous weapon, "just a pop-gun." With Richard Devon, Jack Lambert, Wally Campo, Barboura Morris, Lori Martin, and George Archambeault. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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