Baby Face Nelson (1957)

85 mins | Drama | November 1957

Full page view
HISTORY

Although the onscreen credits list the production company as Fryman-ZS Prodcutions, the copyright claimant is listed as F-ZS Productions. A written and spoken foreword states: "A tribute to the FBI. Under J. Edgar Hoover, its director for thirty-five years, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has been forged into America's most formidable weapon against all crimes. To these special agents, living and killed in the line of duty, to these men who sacrifice themselves to help smash the citadels of crime, we respectfully dedicate this motion picture!" Before the opening credits, voice-over narration describes the 1930s era and the criminals it produced.
       According to a 16 Jan 1950 HR news item, producer Al Zimbalist and Herb Golden co-wrote the original story for Baby Face Nelson . That item stated that Jack Bernhard had purchased the story and planned personally to adapt it into a screenplay and direct it as an "exploitation special." In Dec 1953, DV reported that Zimbalist and Jack Rabin had signed a two-picture deal with Carl Dudley, the second film of which would be Baby Face Nelson . At that time, the producers planned to shoot the picture in Vistarama and were hoping to cast Frank Sinatra as the lead. However, neither Golden, Rabin or Dudley are credited in the final film, and Golden's contribution to the screenplay, if any, has not been confirmed.
       Although the film's onscreen writing credits read: "Screenplay by Irving Shulman and Daniel Mainwaring, story by Irving Shulman," a 23 Jun 1958 advertisement placed by Fryman-ZS Productions in HR reads: "Through no fault of The Writers Guild of America, West, the writing credits on ... More Less

Although the onscreen credits list the production company as Fryman-ZS Prodcutions, the copyright claimant is listed as F-ZS Productions. A written and spoken foreword states: "A tribute to the FBI. Under J. Edgar Hoover, its director for thirty-five years, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has been forged into America's most formidable weapon against all crimes. To these special agents, living and killed in the line of duty, to these men who sacrifice themselves to help smash the citadels of crime, we respectfully dedicate this motion picture!" Before the opening credits, voice-over narration describes the 1930s era and the criminals it produced.
       According to a 16 Jan 1950 HR news item, producer Al Zimbalist and Herb Golden co-wrote the original story for Baby Face Nelson . That item stated that Jack Bernhard had purchased the story and planned personally to adapt it into a screenplay and direct it as an "exploitation special." In Dec 1953, DV reported that Zimbalist and Jack Rabin had signed a two-picture deal with Carl Dudley, the second film of which would be Baby Face Nelson . At that time, the producers planned to shoot the picture in Vistarama and were hoping to cast Frank Sinatra as the lead. However, neither Golden, Rabin or Dudley are credited in the final film, and Golden's contribution to the screenplay, if any, has not been confirmed.
       Although the film's onscreen writing credits read: "Screenplay by Irving Shulman and Daniel Mainwaring, story by Irving Shulman," a 23 Jun 1958 advertisement placed by Fryman-ZS Productions in HR reads: "Through no fault of The Writers Guild of America, West, the writing credits on Baby Face Nelson are incorrect and we wish to correct them now: Screenplay by Daniel Mainwaring, story by Robert Adler."
       Although, as noted by many reviewers, the basic facts of the film represent the life of ruthless 1930s gangster "Baby Face" Nelson, the majority of the picture is fictionalized. As shown in the film, the diminutive Nelson was born Lester M. Gillis in 1908, served time in Joliet for robbery and later escaped prison guards while being returned to jail. He then joined John Dillinger's gang, robbed many banks and in 1934 died of gunshot wounds inflicted by the FBI agents chasing him.
       Although a Jul 1957 HR news item adds William Phipps and Myron Healey to the cast, their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. Modern sources add Paul Donnelly and Richard Donnelly to the cast. After the film's release, it was attacked by California Representative H. Allen Smith, who claimed that it contributed to juvenile delinquency. Despite the fact that the film was dedicated to him, Hoover also denounced the film as glorifying crime, according to a Mar 1958 LAMirror article, and called for studios to practice more restraint. In a 14 Feb 1958 HR article, Zimbalist and Red Doff, president of Mickey Rooney's Fryman Productions, countered that Allen's attack was a mere ploy for attention during his re-election campaign, and pointed out that Los Angeles FBI chief John J. Malone served as a consultant throughout the film's production. That article also noted that UA's distribution fee was 30%. A Jul 1970 HR news item reported that the film cost $168,000 and had grossed $7 million to that date.
       DV stated in Sep 1969 that Zimbalist planned to remake the film under his newly formed production-distribution company, American Artists Associates, and that it would star Dustin Hoffman. That film was never made. In May 1971, according to a HR news item, Zimbalist was in discussions with UA about reissuing the film, which the producer owned but UA had retained distribution rights to for ten years after its original release. In Jun 1996, J. Hoberman of the Village Voice called Baby Face Nelson "a decade ahead of its time," pointing to its "absurdist violence and perverse love angle" as a precursor to 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70 ). More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
16 Nov 1957.
---
Daily Variety
21 Dec 1953.
---
Daily Variety
6 Nov 57
p. 3.
Daily Variety
9 Sep 1969.
---
Film Daily
18 Nov 57
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Jan 1950.
---
Hollywood Reporter
16 Jul 1957
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
26 Jul 1957
p. 13.
Hollywood Reporter
29 Jul 1957
p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter
2 Aug 1957
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Aug 1957
p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter
19 Aug 1957
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Nov 57
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
14 Feb 1958.
---
Hollywood Reporter
23 Jun 1958.
---
Hollywood Reporter
30 Jul 1970.
---
Hollywood Reporter
17 May 1971.
---
Los Angeles Mirror
24 Mar 1958.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
9 Nov 57
p. 593.
New York Times
12 Dec 57
p. 35.
Variety
6 Nov 57
p. 6.
Village Voice
4 Jun 1996.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Fryman-ZS Production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
Asst dir
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTOR
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Exec ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Prop master
MUSIC
Mus comp and cond
SOUND
Sd dir
Sd eff
VISUAL EFFECTS
Titles and optical eff
MAKEUP
Makeup supv
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod exec
Exec asst
Tech consultant
STAND INS
Dir of stuntmen
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
SOURCES
MUSIC
"I'm So in Love with You" by Mickey Rooney and Harold Spina.
DETAILS
Release Date:
November 1957
Production Date:
late July--19 August 1957
Copyright Claimant:
F-ZS Productions
Copyright Date:
13 November 1957
Copyright Number:
LP9886
Physical Properties:
Sound
Ryder Sound Services
Black and White
Widescreen/ratio
1.85:1
Duration(in mins):
85
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
18765
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In Chicago during 1933, robber Lester M. Gillis is released from Joliet prison and plans to go straight. He is immediately coerced back into a life of crime, however, by gangster Lou Rocca, who has arranged for Gillis’ release in order to employ him as a henchman. Although Gillis refuses his first assignment, the murder of a labor organizer, he accepts a job more to his liking, the roughing up of some policemen refusing to join Rocca’s racket. Before starting work, Gillis visits his girl friend, Sue Nelson, to set up a date for later that night. Noting a newspaper story that the labor organizer has been killed, Gillis is pleased that he has avoided the job. As he awaits Sue in his apartment that evening, however, police barge in and, upon searching the toilet, find a gun taped to the underside of the tank. Rocca has framed him for the murder and Gillis is soon back in jail, where he formulates an escape plan. While he is being transported to another prison, he manages to beat up the guard and jump into Sue’s waiting getaway car. Although Gillis warns Sue that he plans to kill Rocca, she refuses to leave him, despite the danger. They return to Chicago, where Gillis shoots Rocca and two henchmen in cold blood and then, exhilarated by his success, holds up a pharmacist to obtain illegal liquor. The pharmacist shoots back, however, and hits Gillis in the shoulder, forcing the couple to seek treatment from the seedy, alcoholic Doc Saunders. As Gillis recovers, he meets fellow patient John Dillinger, who has received plastic surgery to alter his features and fingerprints. Dillinger nicknames the ... +


In Chicago during 1933, robber Lester M. Gillis is released from Joliet prison and plans to go straight. He is immediately coerced back into a life of crime, however, by gangster Lou Rocca, who has arranged for Gillis’ release in order to employ him as a henchman. Although Gillis refuses his first assignment, the murder of a labor organizer, he accepts a job more to his liking, the roughing up of some policemen refusing to join Rocca’s racket. Before starting work, Gillis visits his girl friend, Sue Nelson, to set up a date for later that night. Noting a newspaper story that the labor organizer has been killed, Gillis is pleased that he has avoided the job. As he awaits Sue in his apartment that evening, however, police barge in and, upon searching the toilet, find a gun taped to the underside of the tank. Rocca has framed him for the murder and Gillis is soon back in jail, where he formulates an escape plan. While he is being transported to another prison, he manages to beat up the guard and jump into Sue’s waiting getaway car. Although Gillis warns Sue that he plans to kill Rocca, she refuses to leave him, despite the danger. They return to Chicago, where Gillis shoots Rocca and two henchmen in cold blood and then, exhilarated by his success, holds up a pharmacist to obtain illegal liquor. The pharmacist shoots back, however, and hits Gillis in the shoulder, forcing the couple to seek treatment from the seedy, alcoholic Doc Saunders. As Gillis recovers, he meets fellow patient John Dillinger, who has received plastic surgery to alter his features and fingerprints. Dillinger nicknames the young-looking Gillis, who has taken Sue’s last name as an alias, “Baby Face.” Soon, Baby Face is working with Dillinger’s gang robbing banks, and his eagerness to murder anyone in his way earns him the second slot, after Dillinger, on the FBI’s Most Wanted list. As federal agent Markie trails the gang, Baby Face chafes under Dillinger’s leadership. When Dillinger orders him to hide out at a lodge, Baby Face complies but secretly sets up another robbery, with the help of Fatso Nagel. The agents have followed Nagel, however, and the gang barely manages to avoid arrest. During the escape, Baby Face insists on stopping the car to shoot the lodge proprietor and several agents. Their car later runs out of gas and Baby Face orders Sue to entice the driver of the next car into stopping to help them. When the kindly driver recognizes Baby Face, the gangster kills him, to Sue’s horror. Soon after, Dillinger is murdered and Baby Face takes control of the gang, who cower at his ruthlessness. Now the number one Most Wanted criminal in America, Baby Face has his fingerprints removed by Saunders, but after the doctor botches the operation, the gangster kills him. Baby Face continues his bank-robbing spree, killing many hostages along the way but allowing one, a bank manager who happens to be of small stature, to live. Markie then arrests Nagel and forces him to set up a fake robbery in which the agents will be able to capture Baby Face. The gangster guesses the ploy, however, and after sneaking the gang into the bank disguised as a guards, locks his accomplices in the vault and takes off with the stolen money. He and Sue hide out at the lodge, assuming no one will look for them there. One day, two young boys wander onto the property, and Sue watches as Baby Face trains his gunsight on them. When the boys turn to leave, Baby Face lowers his gun, and later Sue asks him to lie to her that he would not have killed them. Soon, Markie learns about the hideout, and Baby Face and Sue once again flee. They are trapped by a roadblock, however, and although they try to crash through it, the agents shoot their car's tires, forcing the couple to run. Baby Face is shot multiple times, and struggles, with Sue’s help, into a graveyard. There, he begs Sue to “finish him off,” and when she refuses, tells her over and over that he would have shot the boys. Finally, Sue shoots her lover, then collapses in grief. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

TOP SEARCHES

CASABLANCA

During World War II, Casablanca, Morocco is a waiting point for throngs of desperate refugees fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe. Exit visas, which are necessary to leave the country, are at ... >>

CITIZEN KANE

Seventy-year-old newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane dies in his palatial Florida home, Xanadu, after uttering the single word “Rosebud.” While watching a newsreel summarizing the years during which Kane ... >>

REAR WINDOW

Laid up with a broken leg during the height of summer, renowned New York magazine photographer L. B. “Jeff” Jeffries enters his last week of home confinement, bored and ... >>

RAGING BULL

In 1941, at a boxing match in Cleveland, Ohio, pandemonium breaks out when Jake La Motta, an up-and-coming young boxer, loses a decision to Jimmy Reeves, suffering his first ... >>

CITY LIGHTS

At an outdoor dedication ceremony, a tramp is discovered sleeping in the arms of a statue as it is being unveiled before a crowd. He is chased into ... >>

The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.