John Cassavetes' artistic legacy is largely built around his role as the prototypical American indie filmmaker with works like Shadows
, and The Killing of A Chinese Bookie
. In spite of his directing prowess, Cassavetes mostly made his living as a film and television actor. He was in a lot of great stuff including Rosemary's Baby
and The Dirty Dozen
. He was also in a lot of dodgy stuff like Incubus.
One of his more obscure roles was in Machine Gun McCain, a 1969 Italian gangster film directed by Giuliano Montaldo. Blue Underground has pulled this film from the depths of obscurity with a new Blu-Ray release. It's an interesting choice because Machine Gun McCain doesn't have the punishing ruthlessness of similar films by Fernando Di Leo or Sergio Sollima. Ultimately, it is a strong but minor work whose biggest draws are the performances of Cassavettes and his cohort Peter Falk.
Hank McCain (Cassavetes) is in prison for armed robbery; his partner Rosemary Scott (Gena Rowlands) got out early. Hank's son Jack shows up out of nowhere, waves a wad of cash at prison officials, and gets his dad out of the joint. There is a catch: Jack wants some help in robbing a casino. What Jack doesn't mention is that he works for ambitious mafiaso named Charlie Adamo (Peter Falk) who is trying to expand his mob-approved territory. Unfortunately for everybody, the casino is secretly run by the mob. With a submissive young woman (Britt Ekland), McCain goes up against Adamo and the mob to get in his way.
Machine Gun McCain represents the first time that Cassavetes and Falk, both of whom were good friends, appeared in the same film. Interestingly, they never actually appear in the same scene, which seems like a missed opportunity. Nonetheless, these two actors are the main attractions in the film. Hank McCain is a crook who, after being imprisoned for a dozen years, is thrust into a brand new world. The girls are freer, the dudes are tougher, and the lights are brighter. Cassavetes plays this role just right -- mostly cool and reserved, but explosive when the circumstances call for it. After years of seeing Peter Falk as an absent-minded detective in Colombo, it is easy to forget how good of an actor he once was. He brings a tight-faced intensity to the part. Britt Ekland doesn't do much except look pretty. Less of her and more of Gena Rowlands, who only shows up in the third act, would have been welcome. Oh well.
The action in Machine Gun McCain mostly comes in the form of big set pieces, including an inordinately complicated casino robbery. The film isn't particularly violent, especially when compared to other Italian gangster films of the era. It is, however, tough and cynical with the anti-hero flavor that one would expect.
The direction is stylish and the pacing is brisk. Erico Menczer, who shot films for Lucio Fulci, Franco Prosperi and Dario Argento, delivers a familiar late 60s Italian look: dark and shadowy with a lot of colored lights bouncing off walls and faces. Machine Gun Mccain was filmed on location in the United States so there are a lot of vintage exterior shots of San Francisco, New York and Las Vegas. Ennio Morricone serves up an abstract jazzy score -- think of the music for Four Flies on Grey Velvet andThe Bird With the Crystal Plumage -- as well as a catchy John Barry style theme song.
Blue Underground's transfer, which is in the 2:35.1 aspect ratio, is pristine. The image is crisp without visible signs of digital trickery. The sole audio track is English DTS-HD Mono. English, Spanish, and French subs are provided. An interview with the director and English and Italian trailers are the sole extras.
Rarely does a Blu-Ray menu warrant attention in a review, but the menu on this disc deserves consideration. It opens with an animated sequence that presents the film's title and then riddles it with bullets. A series of scenes from the film unfold at the top of the menu screen while film's theme music plays in the background. This fancy menu doesn't add any functionality but it sure does look and sound cool.
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