Cast & Crew
In a 1920s metropolis, when dance instructor Alice rejects charming petty thief Jack Diamond's invitation for a date, stating that she has entered a dance competition with Mr. La Tour, Jack injures La Tour's foot so that he might replace him. Unaware of Jack's malicious act, Alice accepts him as her partner, but the two win the trophy only after Jack surreptitiously sets their competitor's dress on fire. Later that evening, after he takes Alice to the movies, Jack exits through a bathroom window, robs a nearby jewelry store and quietly returns to his seat without Alice realizing the deception. When Lt. Moody interrogates theater patrons later, Jack uses Alice as his alibi, thus escaping further scrutiny, but is later sentenced to jail for the crime. When he is paroled, Jack asks Alice to give him a job as her dance partner, but upon completing his parole one year later, Jack abruptly quits and leaves Alice. Seeking to avoid another prison sentence, Jack tells his tubercular brother Eddie, also a petty thief, that they will start stealing from criminals who cannot call the police, and decides to become underworld czar Arnold Rothstein's bodyguard to gain access to the racket. After being refused an audience with the gangster and learning that Rothstein is Miami, Jack and Eddie steal from a small-time money launderer and use the money to send Jack to Miami. Charging over $4,000 worth of merchandise in Miami to Rothstein's account, Jack prompts the gangster to have his bodyguards drag Jack in to see him. Although Rothstein will not hire him, jovial gangster Little Augie does, but shortly after, the McDermitt brothers shoot both Augie and Jack. Although Augie dies, Jack miraculously survives, leading him to believe that "a bullet hasn't been made that can kill me." After mastering both a right- and left-handed draw and perfect aim from retired Sgt. Cassidy, a retired police officer, Jack easily kills the McDermitt brothers and then presents the murders as proof to Rothstein that Jack should be his bodyguard. Rothstein introduces him to crime syndicate bosses Leo Bremer, Waxey Gordon, Big Harry Weston and Frenchy La Marr, and hires him, giving him the nickname "Legs." Rothstein then sends his girl friend Monica to discern Jack's motivations. Inviting him to her apartment, Monica seductively suggests an affair, but Jack tells her to wait until he is wealthy and Rothstein is dead. After leaving Monica's apartment, Jack listens at the hotel switchboard as Monica calls Rothstein to report on his conduct. Instead of firing him, Rothstein promotes Jack to a collector and gives him a pocket watch as a token of his trust. Jack takes notes as he makes his collection rounds from prostitutes, bootleggers and the gambling ring at the Hotsy Totsy nightclub. In order to learn how Rothstein's smuggles narcotics into the country, Jack has sex with Monica, who gratefully divulges the underworld czar's secrets. When Rothstein questions them about having an affair, Monica refutes the accusation, but Jack calmly reveals that they have been seeing each other for two months. Rothstein ends his relationship with Monica without reprimanding Jack, but later frames him by alerting Moody to the heroin hidden in the watch's face. Although Rothstein bails him out and offers him his old job back, Jack kills Rothstein the night he is released and steals the black book containing his business details. Walking into the Hotsy Totsy club with his guns drawn, Jack announces to the remaining crime bosses that they will now pay twenty-five percent of their profits to him for protection. When the bosses refuse, Jack destroys their businesses over the next few weeks, having seduced one of the bosses' girl friends into giving him information about their business operations. When the bosses' henchmen finally find and shoot him, a severely wounded Jack hails a cab and forces the driver to pursue the men, whom Jack then kills. Although he has had no contact with Alice since he left her years ago, Jack goes to her apartment where he calls in an underworld doctor to attend to his wounds. Jack then orders Eddie to go to a Denver tubercular clinic, knowing that the crime bosses will be hunting him down. Conscious that Jack will destroy her in the end, Alice nevertheless marries him and submits to his will, having been unable to cure herself of loving him. Meanwhile the bosses send gangster Matt Moran to shoot Eddie in the legs as a warning to Jack to leave them alone. Learning of the incident, Jack goes to Moran's apartment and kills Moran and two henchmen. Weary of the murders and mayhem, Alice is prepared to turn Jack in to Moody, but learns that since she has married the gangster she cannot testify against him. One night, after humiliating Leo into begging for his life at gunpoint, Jack sends him back to the syndicate as a warning. Days later, Jack goes to the Hotsy Totsy, where he demands fifty percent of the bosses' profits and ownership of the club. Under the threat of death, the bosses cave into Jack's demands. After refusing to send money to Denver for treatment to save Eddie's life, the now psychopathic Jack tells his two remaining henchmen that he cannot care about Eddie or anyone else because the bosses will use them to get to him. After a drunken Alice laments that they never go to the movies anymore, Jack takes her on a tour of Europe, where Alice remains inebriated and insists they spend their time in theaters. Jack returns home to find that the Hotsy Totsy is closed due to the Prohibition Act, and new bosses have taken over. At the new syndicate's "Allied Enterprises" office, the new bosses explain to Jack that stealing from criminals is bad public relations for the underworld. Jack, however, insists on collecting protection money, warning them that he will not be deterred by any threat, even to his wife. He returns to Alice's apartment to discover his henchmen, Sal and Fats Walsh, have left him. Alice, guilt-stricken and fatally depressed, also leaves, saying that he is "as good as dead now." Later, Jack falls into a drunken sleep after a night with Monica, who secretly takes his gun and alerts the two henchmen of Jack's location. The henchmen arrive at the apartment with their guns drawn and an unarmed Jack loudly proclaims, "You can't kill me, I'm Jack Diamond." Fearing the gangster's reputation, one henchman flees, but the other proceeds to shoot him over and over to ensure his death. As the ambulance carriers roll Jack out of the building, Alice sagely tells the crowd, "A lot of people loved my husband, but he never loved anyone. That's why he's dead."
Robert "buddy" Shaw
Norman Du Pont
Gene Anderson Jr.
William Robey Cooper
Samuel F. Goode
Fritzy La Bar
Clarence I. Steensen
Best Costume Design
The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond
Like most Hollywood movie biographies, The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond is a mixture of fact and fiction but Boetticher streamlines the important details into a lean, mean narrative that has little sympathy for its protagonist, who is nonetheless a compelling, heartless piece of work. The story opens in New York City in the 1920s as petty thieves Jack Diamond (Ray Danton) and his brother Eddie (Warren Oates) plot a jewelry store robbery. Using Alice (Karen Steele), a naive dance instructor as a cover and his brother as an alibi, Jack makes off with a priceless necklace but is later captured and sentenced to jail for the crime. After he's released, he hatches a new scheme - to rob from rival gangsters, because they wouldn't report it to the police for obvious reasons. Diamond's mercenary nature soon earns him an underworld reputation and he eventually muscles his way into working for Arnold Rothstein, one of the most notorious and successful crime bosses in New York City's history. Diamond not only has designs on stealing Rothstein's mistress (Elaine Stewart) but taking over his boss's businesses as well. Through double crosses, murder and intimidation, Diamond eventually reaches his goal and ends up controlling the bootleg liquor trade in the city, but it's only a matter of time before his kingdom will topple.
There are conflicting reports of how the real "Legs" Diamond got his nickname; some say it was due to his skill as a dancer but others attribute it to his fleet-footed expertise as a thief. Boetticher's biopic also suggests that Diamond murdered Arnold Rothstein, though most accounts of the crime state that the Jewish mafia don was murdered for not paying gambling debts. A suspect, George "Hump" McManus, was arrested but later released for lack of evidence; another theory intimates that gangster Dutch Schultz shot Rothstein in retaliation for the murder of a close associate, Joey Noe. One fact that is generally agreed on by almost everyone is that "Legs" Diamond was a cold-blooded, ruthless killer with a grandiose ego. Boetticher once told director Bertrand Tavernier that his film was "a hoax," and that "In real life Diamond was a son of a bitch, probably the worst man who ever lived."
After Boetticher agreed to direct The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond, he began to have second thoughts. "As I progressed in my research," he recounted later, "I realized I couldn't possibly make a film out of it, and I didn't want to. I'd seen the crowds of films like Scarface (1932) and I decided the public would be sick of all those mass killings and bursts of machine-gun fire. So I decided to make a comedy about Legs Diamond and Alice; I mean that inside a serious framework I adopted a comic style and a comic tone, treating tragic scenes in quite a light manner, with gags." While Boetticher may be overstating his case in this regard, the movie does take an almost gleefully cynical approach to the events and Diamond as a character.
Boetticher and his cinematographer Lucien Ballard also took great care to make sure The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond would capture the look of its era and with its striking black and white art direction it conjures up a noir universe of gambling dens, back alleys, mobster penthouses and death in the bright sunshine. Despite this, Milt Sperling, Boetticher's producer on the film, was aghast at what he saw. "So at the first day of rushes," the director recalled, "here came my producer, and he said, 'Budd, I thought you said that Lucien Ballard, was a good cameraman?' and I said 'Quote me correctly; he's a great cameraman.' He said, 'Well my god, this stuff looks like it's been shot in 1920.' So how you gonna win?"
Initially there had been rumors that actors as diverse as George C. Scott, Martin Landau, James Drury and Robert Vaughn were being considered for the lead, but Ray Danton won the part and is well cast in the role. He was an actor who excelled in playing handsome but reptilian sociopaths in such crime dramas as The Beat Generation (1959) as a serial rapist and The Big Operator (1959) as Oscar "The Executioner" Wetzel. The supporting cast of The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond is also notable and includes Warren Oates in one of his first substantial parts as Diamond's sickly, doomed brother, prolific character actor Jesse White as Diamond's arch rival Leo Bremer and Dyan Cannon, billed here as Diane Cannon, in a brief bit as a bubble-headed gangster moll. Karen Steele, who plays Diamond's long-suffering mistress and eventual wife, was romantically involved with Boetticher at the time of filming though their volatile relationship would end after the making of this film. On the rebound, the director would meet and marry actress Debra Paget after an introduction by his cameraman Lucien Ballard.
At the time of its release, The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond was considered as little more than a B-movie gangster film and generally overlooked by most of the major critics. And even though Boetticher's reputation as a distinctive auteur director was already being touted in some cinema circles, it took a long time for this 1960 film to find its champions and admirers. For example, Carlos Clarens, author of Crime Movies: An Illustrated History, admired Boetticher's "taut, minimal Westerns" but found this "a joyless film about one of the most colorful personalities of the twenties." In Clarens' opinion, "Ray Danton was more Vegas than Broadway, his early chutzpah and later moaning intonations being peculiarly inappropriate for the wild Irishman that Diamond is reputed to have been. But even more frustrating was the misuse of the real Diamond story...A crack shot who dominated New York nightlife for a decade, he survived enough shootings to earn the nickname of the Clay Pigeon, supported a loving wife and a string of mistresses, and was finally killed - presumably on orders from Dutch Schultz...In an improbable, downbeat ending, the film makes Legs a victim of the newly formed Syndicate, which regards him as an outmoded embarrassment."
Boetticher's status as a filmmaker and The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond enjoy a much more lauded assessment today with David Thomson proclaiming, "The career of Boetticher is one of the most interesting ever confined to B pictures" and Geoff Andrew of the TimeOut Film Guide calling The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond "a ferocious gangster biopic [that] indulges in none of the nostalgia for the Depression or glamorisation of its anti-heroes so prevalent in most such movies....With superb noir photography from Lucien Ballard, the tone is almost existential: wisely, Boetticher defines his protagonist not through psychology but through action. Indeed, the very form of the film mirrors the speed, intelligence, and amoral cunning of its hell-bent mobster."
Producer: Milton Sperling
Director: Budd Boetticher
Screenplay: Joseph Landon
Cinematography: Lucien Ballard
Art Direction: Jack Poplin
Music: Leonard Rosenman; Howard Jackson, William Lava, Max Steiner (uncredited)
Film Editing: Folmar Blangsted
Cast: Ray Danton (Jack 'Legs' Diamond), Karen Steele (Alice Shiffer), Elaine Stewart (Monica Drake), Jesse White (Leo Bremer), Simon Oakland (Lieutenant Moody), Robert Lowery (Arnold Rothstein), Judson Pratt (Fats Walsh), Warren Oates (Eddie Diamond), Frank DeKova (Chairman), Gordon Jones (Sergeant Cassidy).
by Jeff Stafford
"Ride Lonesome: The Career of Budd Boetticher" by Sean Axmaker, www.sensesofcinema.com
Warren Oates: A Wild Life by Susan Compo (University Press of Kentucky)
The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond
The working title for the film was The Life and Death of Legs Diamond. The following prologue appears after the opening credits: "Jack 'Legs' Diamond was spawned in the 1920's-an era of incredible violence. This is the way it happened." The real Jack "Legs" Diamond (1899-1931) was a car thief in the 1920s who turned to bootlegging during the prohibition era. He gained notoriety as a powerful gangster and survived four shootings. According to the Beverly Hills Citizen review of the film, Diamond won his nickname for his dancing skill, while the Los Angeles Examiner review stated that the name was given to him for his swiftness as a thief. Arnold Rothstein was also an underworld figure; however, unlike the film's depiction of Diamond possibly killing him, Rothstein was murdered because of gambling debt.
August and September Hollywood Reporter news items noted that George C. Scott, Martin Landau, Robert Vaughn and James Drury were all considered for roles in the film. October Hollywood Reporter new items add the following actors to the cast, however, their appearance in the film has not been confirmed: Harvey Perry, Charles Fredericks, Lennie Breman, Ted Domaine, Clarence Straight, Bernard Fein and Eddie Shaw. A modern source credits Wally Rose, who plays a cab driver in the film, as stuntman. The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond was the first released film for actress Dyan Cannon, who was billed as Diane Cannon. Her first acting role was This Rebel Breed (see below), which was released after The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond.
Released in United States April 1994
Released in United States on Video June 19, 1991
Released in United States Winter February 1960
Shown at USA Film Festival in Dallas April 21-28, 1994.
Released in United States Winter February 1960
Released in United States April 1994 (Shown at USA Film Festival in Dallas April 21-28, 1994.)
Released in United States on Video June 19, 1991