25 January 2009

Machine Gun Kelly

United States - 1958
Director – Roger Corman
RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video, 1991, VHS

With a repertoire as long as both your arms, it is impossible to stand outside of the shadow of the megalithic and unforgettable Charles Bronson (can you tell I’m a fan?). He’d been playing bit parts in TV shows and movies since 1951, many under his given name Charles Buchinski before Corman gave him his first starring role as superstitious 30’s bank robber Machine Gun Kelly. This was pulp film history in the making.

This flick starts off with a bank robbery in which Kelly and his gang, a bunch of heavies and whiners, just like you’d expect from an old gangster-era film, grab a bunch of loot and, with a complex series of simple tricks, evade a police dragnet and get away with a large amount of cash. In the process though, Kelly ruffles the feathers of some of his colleagues. This guy is really kindof a jerk, beating up on his boys and generally being an unattractive personage.

Kelly’s girl is something else entirely. Ok, she might not exactly be an angel, but I wasn’t looking at her wings, and Flo (Susan Cabot of Corman's The Wasp Woman) can talk shit to me anytime. She acts as Kelly's co-conspirator and sultry yes-woman, assuaging his damged ego when he starts to spiral into self pity, and as the friendly palatable liason between the coarse hostile Kelly and everyone else. Kelly himself is actually a whimpering superstitious coward who lashes out like a caged animal when threatened and, getting courage from his tommy-gun and Flo’s pep talks. It’s her manipulative charisma and sycophantic encouragement that make Kelly what he is, and hell, I’d turn to a life of crime too for a woman that could throw her weight around like that.

The job that does them in is a botched kidnapping, but the real cause is Kelly’s bad attitude, and their mimeographic adherence to the romanticized myth of Bonnie and Clyde which has to make the woman the evil corruptive force of mans ruin. Unless you count the swing of Flo’s hips, there’s not much action here, really it’s a picture about Machine Gun Kelly’s cowardice, and Bronson does a pretty good job of pulling it off, with a gun a grimace, and an armful of girl.

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