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Guns, Girls and Gangsters

"A Cheating Blonde...A Crazed Con...The Biggest Armored-Car Robbery in History!"
Tagline for Guns, Girls and Gangsters

It's target Las Vegas in this fast-moving heist film from Edward Small's Imperial Pictures, the production company that helped propel director Anthony Mann to the big time with T-Men (1947) and, as Theme Pictures, helped produce one of Billy Wilder's best pictures, the courtroom drama Witness for the Prosecution (1957). This 1959 crime caper may not have been in the same elevated league as some of Imperial's earlier films, but it provided a diverting 70 minutes of exactly what the title promised, with blonde bombshell Mamie Van Doren at her most delectable as the cheating blonde.

Ex-con Chuck Wheeler (Gerald Mohr) has hatched a plan with cellmate Mike Bennett (Lee Van Cleef) to rob the Vegas casinos, but he needs the help of big-time racketeer Joe Darren (Grant Richards). When he learns that Darren is involved with Bennett's sultry wife (Mamie Van Doren), Wheeler blackmails her into getting Darren in on the deal. All three have a part to play in the carefully timed heist, but just as Wheeler starts falling for the blonde beauty, her husband escapes from prison determined to reclaim his wife and his place in the plan.

Agent turned producer Small started making films in 1929 with Song of Love (1929), which marked the screen debut of Eve Arden under her birth name, Eunice Quedens. He released A films like The Count of Monte Cristo (1934), The Corsican Brothers (1941) and Brewster's Millions (1945) through United Artists, but after the war turned increasingly to low-budget pictures. He maintained a number of production companies, which may have disguised the number of films he turned out quickly and cheaply. In fact, Guns, Girls and Gangsters was originally announced for a different one of his companies, Vogue Pictures, a title used by both Small and associate Robert E. Kent.

The story for Guns, Girls and Gangsters came from Paul Gangelin, a veteran of low-budget horror films and Westerns, and Jerry Sackheim, who had been working primarily on television series like Science Fiction Theatre and My Friend Flicka. Small then turned scripting and producing chores over to Kent. For director, they turned to another Small favorite, Edward L. Cahn, a specialist in low-budget production. His films for Small included the sci-fi cult favorite It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958), often cited as an unofficial inspiration for Alien (1979), and Invisible Invaders (1959), an alien invasion film with similarities to Night of the Living Dead (1968).

To play gangster Chuck Wheeler, Kent and Small turned to Mohr, a veteran of Orson Welles's Mercury Theatre and a popular radio actor, best known for playing Philip Marlowe and providing the introductions for both the radio and television versions of The Lone Ranger. Lee Van Cleef, one of the screen's most beloved villains, was cast as Wheeler's nemesis, the hot-tempered, quick-on-the-trigger escaped convict. From his film debut in a silent but well-remembered role in High Noon (1952), Van Cleef was typecast as bad guys, though he would always say "Being born with a pair of beady eyes was the best thing that ever happened to me." He would not achieve any level of true stardom, however, until Sergio Leone cast him opposite Clint Eastwood in For a Few Dollars More (1965).

For today's fans, however, the film's major draw is leading lady Mamie Van Doren, who, with fellow blonde bombshells Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield, was referred to as one of "The Three Ms" in the 1950s. The Howard Hughes discovery had been signed to a starring contract at Universal in 1953, but despite her beauty and talent, she did not rise at the box office until Warner Bros. cast her in the women's prison drama Untamed Youth (1957). When the Legion of Decency condemned the film, it took off at the box office, and Van Doren had arrived. At the time Small announced her for the female lead in Guns, Girls and Gangsters, he also said her husband, band leader Ray Anthony, would play a small role, but they never worked out the details.

Three years after its release, Guns, Girls and Gangsters was in the news again when Art Estrada sued Small for plagiarism. He claimed that he and co-writer Steve Masino had submitted a script called "Blueprint for Crime" to Small, who rejected it. After they sold their script to another producer, Guns, Girls and Gangsters appeared with a similar plot, leading their producer to cancel the deal. Estrada asked $150,000 in damages but eventually settled out of court for $10,000.

Producer: Robert E. Kent
Director: Edward L. Cahn
Screenplay: Robert E. Kent (screenplay); Paul Gangelin, Jerry Sackheim (story)
Cinematography: Kenneth Peach
Art Direction: William Glasgow
Music: Buddy Bregman
Film Editing: Fred Feitshans
Cast: Mamie Van Doren (Vi Victor), Gerald Mohr (Chuck Wheeler), Lee Van Cleef (Mike Bennett), Grant Richards (Joe Darren), Elaine Edwards (Ann Thomas), John Baer (Steve Thomas), Paul Fix (Lou Largo), Carlo Fiore (Tom Abbott)
BW-70m.

by Frank Miller

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