Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond 1960

Made on the cheap this is an entertaining if  somewhat fictionalized look at the life of Legs Diamond that was directed by Budd Boetticher who is best known for his minimal elegiac westerns that he made with Randolph Scott. As I said it was made cheaply and it shows in the back lot sets and the on again off again look of the period, which takes place in the 1920’s but has the look and feel of the late 50’s in style, sets and costumes.  Cast as Diamond the nasty and unfeeling gangster is the very handsome but wooden Ray Danton who does the best he can with the role considering his limitations as an actor.  The film opens with some stock footage of the skyline of New York City and then we are plopped down in generic New York City sets where Legs (still called Jack) lands in the big city with his ill brother played by a very young Warren Oates. Before long Jack is hatching a plot to steal some diamonds with the help of a naïve and unsuspecting dance instructor played by Karen Steele who was a regular in Budd’s Western’s and gives a nice little performance here considering what she had to work with. Jack soon finds himself in lockup and manages on a jailhouse visit from the sweet Karen to smooth dance with her out on a parole and into a gig as a dancing duo headlining at the Hotsy Totsy Club where one night Jack spots Arnold Rothstein and hatches a plan to maneuver his way into his gang. Jack is soon working his way up the ladder and Arnold gives him the nickname Legs because of his dancing chops, but in reality he got the nickname for his ability to snatch and run' in the garment district.  Legs is soon making it with Rothstein’s double crossing mistress played by the legendary starlet Elaine Stewart, and at the same time making enemies with some of the other boys in the gang especially the really good pock marked Joseph Ruskin who plays Matt Moran. There are a couple of memorable sequences in the movie especially the one where Diamond mows down 3 would be assassins from a tenement window and Boetticher shows them laid out in the street which makes for a well known still that usually pops up in books on the gangster crime genre. The other well known sequence is a clever montage like series of scenes of Diamond and Steele (who he finally married not out of love but to prevent her from testifying against him) on a vacation in Europe to avoid the heat coming down on him that consists of the two of them bored watching movie newsreels in various capitals that show the changes in the criminal underworld including the downfall of Mayor Jimmy Walker and the imprisonment of Al Capone for tax evasion. Diamond who shows more and more discomfort watching these newsreels realizes that it’s time to get back home but its too late as the crime world has changed and Legs is a now a relic of the past with a price on his head. I don’t need to say that it all ends badly for Legs and fade to black. The film boasts better than it deserves cinematography by the great Lucien Ballard whose long career ranged from B movies to unaccredited work on several of Von Sternberg films to his long collaboration with Sam Peckinpah. Also of note is the music score by  Leonard Rosenmann who is most known for his beautiful scores for East of Eden and Rebel Without A Cause and the costumes by Howard Shoup who received an Oscar nomination for his designs. Also in the good cast are a bushel full of great character actors including Jesse White, Simon Oakland, Frank DeKova and Sid Melton and look for a very young Dyan Cannon in her first movie role.   



Post a Comment

<< Home

Site Meter