An occasional series on missing films. They are rarely, if ever, shown on TV and have never been released on video in any form. If anyone has any knowledge where these films have been shown, TV, a film festival or in a basement in your house please let me know.
The next film in this series is “Baby Face Nelson” directed by Don Siegel.
Siegel’s other films include the original 1956 verison of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, “Coogan’s Bluff”, “Madigan”, “Dirty Harry”, “Two Mules for Sister Sara”, “The Shootist” and many other great films. Mickey Rooney stars in the 1957 film about the violent and uncontrollable Baby Face Nelson, bank robber and killer. His real name was Lester Gillis and he became a member of John Dillinger’s gang participating in numerous crime sprees. After Dillinger’s death outside a movie house, Nelson became Public Enemy Number 1.
The film co-stars Leo Gordon as John Dillinger who starred earlier in another rare Siegel film, “Riot in Cellblock 11.” The film also co-stars Carolyn Jones as Sue, Nelson’s girlfriend.
In 2006, the Film Forum in New York City had a Don Siegel retrospective and “Baby Face Nelson” was given a rare showing. Elliot Stein in a review of the series in the Village Voice, said, “a ferocious Mickey Rooney gives the finest dramatic performance of his career.”
The film received mostly negative reviews when first released (see New York Times review here ) however, since then the film has been praised by many film critics for Rooney’s performance and it violent action scenes. See this short review in the Chicago Reader.
The late 1950’s and early 1960’s saw a rash of low budget gangster films. Along with “Baby Face Nelson”, there was “Al Capone”, “Machine Gun Kelly”, “The Purple Gang”, “The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond” and “Mad Dog Coll.”
In addtion to the Film Forum Don Siegel retrospective, “Baby Face Nelson” has been shown at a few other venues including a 2005 salute to Don Siegel at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The real question is when will this film be released on home video or shown on TCM?
In fact, many of Siegel’s film are among the missing, the previously mentioned “Riot in Cell Block 11”, the teenage gang film “Crime in the Streets” with John Cassavetes, Sal Mineo and Mark Rydell, “The Lineup” with Eli Wallach, which had a rare showing on TCM last year and “Private Hell 36” with Ida Lupino to name a few.
I saw “Baby Face Nelson” at the time of its original release. We (my father took me) saw it at the Loew’s Commodore on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The Commodore in the 1960’s would gain legendary status when it became the Fillmore East rock venue.
Here is a list of the films mentioned in this post that are not available on home video.
Crime in the Streets
Riot in Cell Block 11
Private Hell 36
Mad Dog Coll
Al Capone (released on VHS OOP – No DVD release)
The Purple Gang
The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond (released on VHS OOP – No DVD release)
Machine Gun Kelly (released on VHS OOP – No DVD release)
OOP VHS can still be found in some video stores and local libraries. Certainly worth checking out.