Machine-Gun Kelly (1958)

84 mins | Biography | May 1958

Director:

Roger Corman

Producer:

Roger Corman

Cinematographer:

Floyd Crosby

Editor:

Ronald Sinclair

Production Designer:

Daniel Haller

Production Company:

El Monte Productions
Full page view
HISTORY

The film carries an onscreen copyright statement for El Monte Productions, it was not registered for copyright at the time of its release. A Dec 1957 HR news item indicates that Dick Miller was to portray "George Kelly." The film was based on the criminal exploits of George Kelly “Machine-Gun” Barnes (1895--1954), born in Memphis, TN. After dropping out of college, Barnes was arrested several times for bootlegging and, to protect his family, changed his name to George R. Kelly. Kelly served time for bootlegging in Leavenworth penitentiary where he made a number of underworld connections. The character of “Flo Becker” is based on Kelly’s girl friend and later wife, Kathryn Thorne (born Cleo Brooks, 1904--19??). As in the film, Thorne took credit for creating the image of “Machine-Gun Kelly,” and purportedly gave Kelly his first Thompson sub-machine gun. Thorne encouraged Kelly to become proficient with the gun and assisted him in several crimes. Eventually Kelly was wanted in three states on charges of murder, kidnapping and robbery.
       The kidnapping in the film was very loosely based on Kelly’s notorious Jul 1933 kidnapping of wealthy Oklahoma oil tycoon Charles F. Urschel, for whom a $200,000 ransom was paid. Upon his safe release, Urschel provided invaluable information to the FBI, who arrested Thorne’s parents as conspirators. A number of Kelly’s cohorts were put on trial for assisting in the Urschel kidnapping. Kelly and Thorne wrote threatening notes vowing to murder Urschel and his wife if they testified against them. Although the film vaguely implies that Flo may have been behind the “Vito” phone calls ... More Less

The film carries an onscreen copyright statement for El Monte Productions, it was not registered for copyright at the time of its release. A Dec 1957 HR news item indicates that Dick Miller was to portray "George Kelly." The film was based on the criminal exploits of George Kelly “Machine-Gun” Barnes (1895--1954), born in Memphis, TN. After dropping out of college, Barnes was arrested several times for bootlegging and, to protect his family, changed his name to George R. Kelly. Kelly served time for bootlegging in Leavenworth penitentiary where he made a number of underworld connections. The character of “Flo Becker” is based on Kelly’s girl friend and later wife, Kathryn Thorne (born Cleo Brooks, 1904--19??). As in the film, Thorne took credit for creating the image of “Machine-Gun Kelly,” and purportedly gave Kelly his first Thompson sub-machine gun. Thorne encouraged Kelly to become proficient with the gun and assisted him in several crimes. Eventually Kelly was wanted in three states on charges of murder, kidnapping and robbery.
       The kidnapping in the film was very loosely based on Kelly’s notorious Jul 1933 kidnapping of wealthy Oklahoma oil tycoon Charles F. Urschel, for whom a $200,000 ransom was paid. Upon his safe release, Urschel provided invaluable information to the FBI, who arrested Thorne’s parents as conspirators. A number of Kelly’s cohorts were put on trial for assisting in the Urschel kidnapping. Kelly and Thorne wrote threatening notes vowing to murder Urschel and his wife if they testified against them. Although the film vaguely implies that Flo may have been behind the “Vito” phone calls giving “George” away, Thorne nearly betrayed Kelly in exchange for a promise of leniency for her parents. Kelly and Thorne were arrested in Sep 1933, convicted of kidnapping and sentenced to life imprisonment.
       According to popular legend, Kelly coined the term “G-Man” (short for “Government Man”) when he pleaded with the FBI not to shoot him upon his arrest, but modern sources indicate that the legend was a public relations ploy by the FBI. Thorne served time in Ohio and Michigan before being released in 1958 on a $10,000 bond pending an appeal. Refusing to release their files on the Urschel kidnapping case, the FBI allowed the case to lapse and Thorne was freed. Kelly served out his sentence in Leavenworth, then Alcatraz and returned to Leavenworth just before his death of a heart attack. The film marked the motion picture acting debut of writer-comedian Morey Amsterdam (1908--1996) More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
14 Jul 1958.
---
Daily Variety
3 Jul 58
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
19 Dec 1957
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Jan 1958
p. 13.
Hollywood Reporter
31 Jan 1958
p. 15.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Jul 58
p. 3.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
5 Jul 58
p. 897.
Variety
9 Jul 58
p. 16.
DETAILS
Release Date:
May 1958
Production Date:
mid January--early February 1958
Physical Properties:
Sound
Ryder Sound Sevices
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
84
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
18991
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In the early 1930s, small-time thief and ex-convict George Kelly holds up a bank with gang members Howard and Maize, killing a security guard with a tommy-gun during the robbery. George and the others elude the police and pass the stolen money to their courier, Michael Fandango, before separating. George’s girl friend, Florence Becker, picks him up in her car and they evade a police roadblock, then continue to their hideout at Harry’s Gas Stop. When Harry, a member of the gang, refuses to arrange to pick up Maize until he receives his share of the robbery, George insists it is impossible to split the proceeds until the gang is safely reunited. Harry, a hunting aficionado, shows George his wild mountain lion caged behind the station and threatens to turn the animal loose on George unless he hands over his share. George relinquishes Harry’s cut, but after the lion’s cage is re-locked, George strikes Harry, then allows him to be clawed by the lion as retaliation. Eventually the gang is reunited at Harry’s, but when Fandango arrives with the money, Flo discovers that he has pocketed his portion, which infuriates George, who beats him. While the police turn their investigation over to criminal machine-gun experts, George and the gang remain in hiding. After several days, Flo arrives from surveying a nearby bank that is expecting an armored car delivery. Despite Howard’s concerns about the robbery’s difficulties, George believes the small gang can handle the pinpoint-precision timing required. Before the robbery, Flo cautions George that Fandango still resents the humiliating beating that George gave him and may seek revenge. ... +


In the early 1930s, small-time thief and ex-convict George Kelly holds up a bank with gang members Howard and Maize, killing a security guard with a tommy-gun during the robbery. George and the others elude the police and pass the stolen money to their courier, Michael Fandango, before separating. George’s girl friend, Florence Becker, picks him up in her car and they evade a police roadblock, then continue to their hideout at Harry’s Gas Stop. When Harry, a member of the gang, refuses to arrange to pick up Maize until he receives his share of the robbery, George insists it is impossible to split the proceeds until the gang is safely reunited. Harry, a hunting aficionado, shows George his wild mountain lion caged behind the station and threatens to turn the animal loose on George unless he hands over his share. George relinquishes Harry’s cut, but after the lion’s cage is re-locked, George strikes Harry, then allows him to be clawed by the lion as retaliation. Eventually the gang is reunited at Harry’s, but when Fandango arrives with the money, Flo discovers that he has pocketed his portion, which infuriates George, who beats him. While the police turn their investigation over to criminal machine-gun experts, George and the gang remain in hiding. After several days, Flo arrives from surveying a nearby bank that is expecting an armored car delivery. Despite Howard’s concerns about the robbery’s difficulties, George believes the small gang can handle the pinpoint-precision timing required. Before the robbery, Flo cautions George that Fandango still resents the humiliating beating that George gave him and may seek revenge. George then arranges to meet Fandango at Harry’s, where he purposely allows Harry’s lion to severely maul Fandango. On the day of the robbery, the gang surrounds the bank to wait for the armored car, but George’s well-timed approach to the bank is interrupted by a coffin delivery to the mortuary next door. Deeply superstitious, George freezes in fear, leaving Howard alone in the bank. Howard tries to shoot his way into the vault without success. During their escape, Maize is killed and Howard is nearly caught. In the aftermath of the failed robbery, George and Flo temporarily move in with Flo’s parents, Frank and Ma, who, unimpressed by George's press nickname, “Machine-Gun Kelly,” treat him with disdain. Several days later at a local bar, Flo is approached by an associate of Fandango, who reveals that Howard has joined another gang and, blaming George for Maize’s death and the failed theft, plans to kill him. Upon returning home, Flo insists that George take Howard’s threat seriously. Goaded by Flo and Ma’s cynical taunts, George discovers Howard’s hideout and kills him and his gang. Exalted by his success and the newspaper headlines, George declares that he must take on bigger crimes for higher payoffs and decides on kidnapping. After two weeks of careful stalking, George and Flo settle on nine-year-old Sherryl Vito, daughter of a wealthy businessman. George and Flo intercept Sherryl walking home from school, but when her nurse, Lynn Grayson, approaches, George insists on taking her too. A new cohort, Apple, assists George and Flo in taking Lynn and Sherryl to a small, secluded shack. Flo brings Ma and Frank to help calm Sherryl, which angers George. The group listens to the radio announcement of the kidnapping and their ransom demand for one hundred thousand dollars. The following day, George stops Apple’s attempt to sexually assault Lynn. Later, during a radio appeal from Mr. Vito, George is stunned when Vito pleads for whomever telephoned him regarding the abduction to call again. Flo suspects that Frank may have tried to betray them for the reward money and drives to a general store to telephone home to silence him. At the store, Flo calmly answers a few questions from a local patrolman before placing her call. After Flo’s departure, the patrolman has her call traced and reports to the primary investigating team, which includes Detective Clinton. Clinton’s team knows of Flo's association with George and has linked the bank robberies and the slaying of Howard's gang by the use of George’s machine-gun. Back at the cabin, when Flo confronts George over his indecision and paralyzing superstitions, then claims credit for his successful crimes, George strikes her. When Apple intercedes on Flo’s behalf, George shoots him. George then calls Fandango to entreat him to return to the gang to serve as courier again. Despite having lost an arm in the lion mauling, Fandango agrees, but shortly thereafter is picked up for questioning by Clinton. Fandango refuses to cooperate but, just after leaving headquarters, telephones Clinton anonymously to declare that George is behind the kidnapping. That night, Fandango picks up the money Vito drops at a secret location, then confronts Harry, who is following him at George’s orders. Fandango then telephones the police to reveal George’s hiding place. The police surround the hideout and demand that George and the gang surrender. When Fandango triumphantly declares that he has given George away, Harry shoots him, then recklessly begins firing at the police, until they kill him. When Flo threatens to harm Lynn and Sheryl unless the police retreat, Clinton responds that they have arrested Ma and Frank. Flo wants to try to escape, but George is certain they will die and refuses. Flo then declares her disgust with George’s cowardice and as he blames her for his downfall, the police break in and arrest them. +

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.