Love is in the air and An Alan Smithee Podcast will not be spared this February. Our double feature for this month is a pair of love letters from Hollywood to the holiday, albeit obliquely. Roger Corman’s The St Valentine’s Day Massacre is a kind of valentine to the studio system which he worked outside of independently: a big 20th Century Fox movie utilizing a large, talented cast with enormous backlot sets and widescreen photography that’s workmanlike but well utilized. There’s no readily available explanation as to why Corman did work –for-hire on a relatively high profile studio movie like this in between his own low budget productions for American International Pictures, although president James H. Nicholson did move on to 20th Century Fox five years later in 1972. A sweetheart deal? Some romance behind the scenes? Typical to his legend, Corman brought the film in under budget. Unfortunately the margin of money saved wasn’t enough to compensate for the film’s financial failure – audiences in 1967 were way past gangster movies about Al Capone and the roaring twenties. Even The Untouchables had been off the air for four years, and the Playhouse 90 episode which screenwriter Howard Browne had penned was almost ten years old. Adult audiences probably felt such material was old-fashioned and young audiences wouldn’t take an interest in tommy guns until later that Summer when Bonnie and Clyde mythologized gangsterism into a glamorous countercultural myth. The St Valentine’s Day Massacre is conspicuously cynical in its depiction of Al Capone’s Chicago, filtering the strutting violence of the faded Cagney / Bogart / Robinson era through post-noir attitudes about the desperate ugliness of crime. This is especially apparent in supporting performances by Bruce Dern as a hapless mob driver with a family to feed and Frank Silvera as a recent immigrant who’s pathetically eager to please his new mob employers. While the principals are all bigger than life – Jason Robards as Capone, Ralph Meeker as Bugs Moran and George Segal as Moran’s enforcer, Peter Gusenberg – they’re never underdogs the way Paul Muni or Al Pacino came off in their respective versions of Scarface. Corman’s bleak and gritty take on the gangster genre is a real hidden gem.
Our second film really needs no introduction – if anything, it’s a little overhyped. Some Like It Hot is the kind of film that effete closeted geezers would declare the funniest film ever made, and so they did on June 13, 2000. Their #2 pick for the funniest film ever made? Tootsie (!!!) Of course Mrs. Doubtfire placed at #67 above Caddyshack (#71) and Victor, Victoria placed at #76, just edging out Preston Sturges’ The Palm Beach Story (#72.) AFI’s love of cross-dressing aside, Some Like It Hot manages to take the painfully hacky premise of two guys forced to disguise themselves as women and make a funny movie regardless. Billy Wilder and co-scripter I.A.L. Diamond get the most mileage out of the farcical possibilities, and the best laughs come from Jack Lemmon’s weird personal arc of realizing that marriage to the doofy rich guy who’s crushing on him, Joe E. Brown, may not be such a bad thing for a struggling musician with bills to pay. Co-star Tony Curtis isn’t nearly as funny as the ladies’ man of the duo, but gets to shine with Marilyn Monroe in the scenes where he’s leading her on as a similarly doofy rich guy – a farce within a farce.
All this gender-bending identity-swapping romance isn’t the main reason we chose Some Like It Hot for our Valentine’s Day episode, however. By the end of the film’s first 20 minutes, Lemmon and Curtis are on the run from the Chicago mob circa 1929 because they were accidentally in the garage on the day of the massacre and the ONLY way to hide out is by dressing as members of a women’s band en route to Florida, naturally. In Billy Wilder’s world, the St Valentine’s Day Massacre is never mentioned as such, and doesn’t even involve Al Capone or Bugs Moran – rather, it’s the messy result of a minor squabble by fictional gangster “Spats” Colombo, played by gangster movie icon George Raft in the first of many self-parodying gangster roles throughout the next 20 years (reaching a nadir with one of our worst Alan Smithee Podcast movies, Sextette.) Trivia: In order to gain the greatest insight into the gender identity politics of Some Like It Hot for this episode, Andrew and I recorded the second half entirely in drag. We couldn’t think of anything gangster-ish to do for the St Valentine’s Day Massacre portion, but nobody’s perfect.
NEXT EPISODES: M-M-M-MARCH MADNESS! TWO EPISODES, FOUR MOVIES IN THE MONTH OF MARCH! RED PLANET (2000, ANTONY HOFFMAN) & MISSION TO MARS (2000, BRIAN DE PALMA) & INVADERS FROM MARS (1953, WILLIAM CAMERON MENZIES) & INVADERS FROM MARS (1986, TOBE HOOPER)