Saturday, October 21, 2023

#2,932. The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond (1960) - Double Feature of Off the Beaten Path Gangster Films


Jack ‘Legs’ Diamond was spawned in the 1920’s -
An era of incredible violence

This is the way it happened”.

Budd Boetticher, who helmed some of the finest westerns of the 1950’s (7 Men From Now, The Tall T) brings his patented style to the gangster genre with 1960’s The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond.

And what a gangster movie it is!

Inspired by true events, The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond opens soon after its title character - a professional thief played by Ray Danton - and his sickly brother / partner-in-crime Eddie (Warren Oates) move to New York City. Their first robbery, a well-executed jewelry heist pulled off with the unwitting help of dance instructor Alice Scott (Karen Steele), lands Legs in prison.

A few years later, when he’s scheduled to appear before the parole board, Legs somehow convinces Alice, still reeling from being duped years earlier, to get him a job as a dancer (being employed will give him a better chance at parole). Legs is released, and for a while he and Alice perform regularly at a New York night club.

One evening, while he and Alice are dancing, Legs recognizes infamous gambler / underworld figure Arnold Rothstein (Robert Lowery) in the crowd. His mind spinning, Legs leaves Alice and, with Eddie in tow, tries to land a job as Rothstein’s new bodyguard.

Thus begins Legs’ rocky climb to the top of the New York underworld, and he never lets anything, not even being shot, damper his ambitions to be the mob’s Numero Uno.

Ray Danton is ruthless as hell as Jack “Legs” Diamond, a criminal who will do whatever is necessary, and step on anyone, to get what he wants. After breaking poor Alice’s heart (twice), he sets his sights on Arnold Rothstein’s main squeeze, Monica (Elaine Stewart), seducing her, then telling Rothstein all about the affair. The only person Legs truly cares about is Eddie, but even that relationship becomes a burden after a while.

By the end of the film, I was convinced Danton’s Legs Diamond was among the most heartless, vindictive gangsters I had even seen portrayed on film. I put him right up there with Cagney in The Public Enemy, Pacino in Scarface, and Joe Pesci in both Goodfellas and Casino. Also keep an eye out for a young Dyan Cannon, making her big-screen debut as Dixie, yet another moll who falls for Legs.

Along with Danton’s fiery performance, The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond is expertly directed by Boetticher, who keeps the story moving along at a brisk pace. The film seldom slows down, and for a movie made in 1960, it is surprisingly violent.

For me, Budd Boetticher was always one of the best at directing westerns. He still holds that distinction. But with The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond, he proved genre didn’t matter. Budd Boetticher was a great director… period!
Rating: 9.5 out of 10

1 comment:

Hal said...

Agreed, this one is a real hidden gem. Some of Danton's best work as an actor. And Karen Steele is welcome anytime. TCM airs it fairly frequently.