Machine Gun McCain (Gli intoccabili)

Director: Giuliano Montaldo
Screenplay: Giuliano Montaldo & Mino Roli (based on the novel by Ovid Demaris)
Stars: John Cassavetes (Hank McCain), Britt Ekland (Irene Tucker), Peter Falk (Charlie Adamo), Gabriele Ferzetti (Don Francesco DeMarco), Luigi Pistilli (Duke Mazzanga), Margherita Guzzinati (Margaret DeMarco), Claudio Biava (Barclay), Steffen Zacharias (Abe Stilberman), James Morrison (Joby Cuda), Florinda Bolkan (Joni Adamo), Tony Kendall (Pete Zacari), Salvo Randone (Don Salvatore), Gena Rowlands (Rosemary Scott)
MPAA Rating: GP
Year of Release: 1969
Country: Italy
Machine Gun McCain Blu-Ray
Machine Gun McCainAt no point in Machine Gun McCain is John Cassevetes’s character Hank McCain actually referred to by that marquee-ready nickname, and he only wields a machine gun twice in the film, but it’s still a great, trashy title that grabs your attention, even if it’s for all the wrong reasons. Knowing that it is an Italian-produced mafioso thriller made in the late 1960s with a mixed American and European cast might lead one to believe that it is a throw-away bit of gutter-exploitation junk, and it is, but with a veneer of existential crisis that gives it depth--at least enough to gain entry to the 1969 Cannes Film Festival.

In one of the many acting gigs he took in order to finance his own independent films, Cassavetes stars as the titular criminal, who gets out of San Quentin after serving 12 years of a life sentence for armed robbery. His early release is at the behest of Charlie Adamo (Peter Falk), the recently minted West Coast mafia boss. Adamo hires Hank’s estranged son Jack (Pierluigi Aprà), a petty crook, to convince Hank to help rob the Royal, a massive new Las Vegas casino that Adamo has unsuccessfully tried to buy into and is now trying to muscle. That is only the first of a number of lies, double-crosses, and revelations that eventually pit the West Coast and East Coast mafia bosses against each other with Hank and his new girlfriend Irene Rucker (Britt Ekland) caught in the middle. The film’s high point is McCain’s eventual one-man robbery of the casino, which involves setting off multiple time bombs around Las Vegas and within the casino and then impersonating a firefighter to get to the loot amidst the chaos; it is both brilliant and utterly absurd.

Within the vast terrain of mafia films, Machine Gun McCain is a relatively obscure title, even at the time of its release in the U.S., where it generally played as the second half of a double bill with largely forgotten westerns and crime thrillers like Land Raiders (1969) and Cisco Pike (1972). Its having fallen through the cracks for so many years is likely a result of its never quite committing to a tone or direction. Director Giuliano Montaldo and co-writer Mino Roli “freely adapted” (according to the credits) a novel by Ovid Demaris, who had previously had a novel adapted for Gang War (1958), a Death Wish prototype that starred a young Charles Bronson. The resulting film is a bit too serious for exploitation junkies, but likely too disjointed and despondent in its violence for mainstream audiences (for example, Hank’s meeting and marrying Irene is done with such speed and lack of explanation that it feels borderline surreal). It is at heart an existential art movie, but the mechanisms of its narrative and the thrust of its characters are pure pulp, only moderately lifted by Ennio Morricone’s provocative score and the quality of the actors playing the roles (in explaining why she took the bit role of McCain’s former lover, Gena Rowlands joked in an interview with Cassavetes in The New York Times, “I really adored the part. They also gave me a lot of money and a huge villa in Rome … and what can I say?”).

Cassavetes is particularly effective as McCain, as he has always had a slight distance about him on-screen, which Roman Polanski exploited to such great effect a year earlier in Rosemary’s Baby (1968). As with his character in that film, who never felt quite right, even when he was in full husband-provider mode, there is something slightly off about Hank McCain; he’s an antihero, but not one we immediately want to cheer on, like Warren Beatty’s Clyde Barrow in Bonnie and Clyde (1967). Rather, his distance encourages us to study him, to try to figure out what makes him tick, and if you’re surprised to find that he never fully adds up, even with the introduction of Rowlands as Hank’s former partner in crime and eternal flame, then you haven’t seen enough ’60s cinema.

Montaldo had been directing films since 1960 and had learned the craft primarily under the tutelage of the politically radical director Gillo Pontecorvo (Montaldo directed second unit on Pontecorvo’s 1966 masterpiece The Battle of Algiers, and he also worked under Sergio Leone and Francesco Rosi). His career is filled with politically active filmmaking, including such films as The Fifth Day of Peace (1969) and Sacco & Vanzetti (1971), and you can sense strains of social politicism in Machine Gun McCain, if only because mafia films inherently tend to deal with the mechanisms of power, family, and social control. The subtext never quite coheres, but the film is still an absorbing mixture of dramatic pathos and criminal intrigue, one of those rare gems of late-1960s international filmmaking that is all but unthinkable today.

Machine Gun McCain Blu-Ray

Aspect Ratio2.35:1
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 monaural<
  • SubtitlesEnglish, French, Spanish
  • Interview with director Giuliano Montaldo
  • English trailer
  • Italian trailer
  • DistributorBlue Underground
    Release DateAugust 24, 2010

    Outside of Europe, Machine Gun McCain has been missing on home video, so Blue Underground’s new disc is a welcome addition to their collection. Presented in a strong 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC transfer, the film looks great, at least to my eyes. Colors are strong without being heavily oversaturated, and the image is generally sharp and well-detailed, especially for a low-budget film made more than 40 years ago. Certain shots are definitely softer than other, and the film has a fine sheen of grain throughout, with some of the longer shots (many of which are probably stock shots) displaying significantly more noise. Nevertheless, this is an excellent presentation that should make fans of the film who have been making do with DVD-R recordings of television broadcasts very happy. Blue Underground has elected to maintain the film’s original English-language monaural mix in a clear, lossless DTS-HD Master Audio presentation. The soundtrack certainly betrays the limitations of the era, with a slightly tinny quality and lack of depth, but that goes with the territory. It’s too bad they couldn’t have included the Italian dub, as well.
    The primary supplement on the Blu-Ray is a 23-minute video interview with director Giuliano Montaldo (presented in standard-def), which was recorded a few years ago and was available on the 2008 French DVD. It’s a fascinating, entertaining interview with lots of information about Montaldo’s background and his work on the film, particularly his relationship with John Cassavetes and the quirks of shooting in San Quentin and Las Vegas. The only other supplements are both the U.S. and Italian trailers, both of which are presented in high-def.

    Copyright ©2010 James Kendrick

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    All images copyright © Blue Underground

    Overall Rating: (3)

    James Kendrick

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