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Machine Gun McCain (1969)

by on 2012/03/11

“You’re gonna be small change all your life.”

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I first became interested in John Cassavetes (Rosemary’s Baby) when I heard the song “Asshole” by Dennis Leary. I believe Leary was indicating, in his subtle and ineffable way, that Cassavetes was extremely manly and good in a fight.

Yes, yes, I know, I am a complete philistine. You may commence pelting me with empty cigarette packages, whiskey bottles and Doritos …now.

Because my movie collection runs a little light on film noirs – I really must correct that – I am tackling hard-boiled mob flicks this month.

Turns out Mr. Leary was correct, John Cassavetes was pretty manly. In fact, there’s so much testosterone in this 1969 movie about gangsters, casino heists and men not sharing their feelings, that it should come with a health warning.

Cassavetes is the taciturn Hank McCain, a crusty, hard-bitten armed robber just recently sprung from the clink. More specifically, he’s released from jail by his son, Jack (Pierluigi Aprà). Jack is a shallow-chested, weedy disappointment to his uncommunicative father. His son uses stacks of ill-gotten cash to get his pop to help him knock off a brand new casino, The Royal.

And a family that robs together … well, it isn’t exactly a matching sweaters in a Sears Portrait Studio pretty picture.

Along the way, Hank McCain looks for his long-lost lady love Rosemary Scott played by Cassavetes’ real-life wife Gena Rowlands (The Notebook). When he can’t find Rosemary, he hooks up with Irene Tucker (Britt Ekland).

Quiet, lovely Irene must really love long silences, face-mashing, stubbly kisses and being called “Dumbo” because she sticks with Hank to the bitter end.

As Hank, Cassavetes barely says a word. When he does speak, it is a sneer. Everything he does is brutal. The way he kisses, tears into a cardboard box, puts on a sports coat, runs down an alley, takes a shot of brown, brown liquor and throws a punch. Hard-charging, hard-edged.

In Machine Gun McCain,  Cassavetes comes up against the immortal Peter Falk (The Princess Bride). Falk plays a sociopathic mob boss named Charlie Adamo who is pulling the strings and manipulating the weak-minded Jack.

Falk is mad-dog crazy in this movie. No sweet, doddering Columbo here. I read that this film would spark a collaboration between Cassavetes and Falk that would span five films. That’s something worth seeking out in my books.

If you like watching complex, anti-heroes flex their jaws and stare into the middle distance, this is your movie. If you like your gun play with a side of existential angst, then definitely run, don’t walk to get a copy of this Giuliano Montaldo-directed Cassavetes film.

Now, as Mr. Cassavetes shared in the film: “Do me a favour, hey? Screw off.”

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96 minutes


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  1. A Goth’s Month in Review: March 2012 « Geek vs Goth

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