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September 10, 2019

I Mobster

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Roger Corman - 1958
Sony Wonder Region 1 DVD

Even if this film is one of Roger Corman's lesser loved efforts, it deserves a bit better than a crude pan and scan transfer of the CinemaScope original. Aside from being Corman's first wide screen film, this was the first Corman directed film to be distributed by a major studio, 20th Century-Fox. It's not classic Corman by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a very watchable mix of older talent with a couple of stars whose own career peaks were firmly in the Fifties.

The main narrative is a flashback. Joe Sante, called before a Senate committee investigating racketeering, thinks back on his life of crime. Starting as a school age collector for a local bookie, Joe climbs his way up the ladder, not quite the top, but very close. The story uses some of the familiar template of the criminal son of immigrants, with the distant relationship with the father, and the always emotionally supportive mother. There is also the neighborhood good girl, Teresa, who keeps her distance, at least until her love for Joe makes her a willing accomplice in his organization.

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And there is a good reason why the story elements would seem so familiar. The screenplay is by Steve Fisher, one of his last for a theatrical film. Fisher's credits include a couple of movies starring Humphrey Bogart, as well as the twice filmed novel, I Wake Up Screaming. At any rate, I'm not going to begrudge dialogue such as Steve Cochran murmuring to Lita Milan, "You dumb broad. You beautiful dumb broad." There is also a James Cagney connection with producer Edward Alperson taking it on the financial chin for the flop, The Great Guy, while one of Steve Cochran's early roles was with Cagney in White Heat. If I Mobster has nothing on the classic Warner Brothers gangster movies, keep in mind that Warner Brothers had pretty much let the genre die out after the explosive conclusion of White Heat.

I have to wonder what was going on in Steve Cochran's mind going from Michelangelo Antonioni to Roger Corman. In his journal, Antonioni complained about Cochran over-analyzing his part in Il Grido rather than taking specific directions from Antonioni. From what I know of Corman, Cochran probably had a free hand in shaping his performance. And while the forty year old actor looks too old as the younger Joe Sante, he looks just right as the custom suited crime boss. Joe talks about using his brains, but it's more about brute strength and animal cunning, which Cochran conveys convincingly. Lita Milan is one of those actresses who came and went briefly, typecast as the all purpose exotic beauty. Spicing things up in single scenes are Fifties B-movies bad girl Yvette Vickers, and Lili St. Cyr performing a strip tease filmed and edited for family viewing.

I don't know if I will ever see all of Roger Corman's films from the Fifties, but that doesn't mean I'm going to stop trying. I let a friend catch the impossible to see Rock All Night playing with Carnival Rock in my place, when a Corman retrospective was held in New York City's Kips Bay Theater in March, 1971. There are a handful of films that I have yet to see in any format that also includes Sorority Girl, and Machine-Gun Kelly, the first starring role for Charles Bronson. Even if this very imperfect version of I Mobster is as good as it gets for my attempt at being a Coman completist, I enjoyed this lesser known diversion.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at September 10, 2019 08:30 AM