Color, 1969, 96m.
Directed by Giuliano Montaldo
Starring John Cassavetes, Britt Ekland, Peter Falk, Gabriele Ferzetti, Luigi Pistilli, Pierluigi Apra, Gena Rowlands, Florinda Bolkan, Tony Kendall
Blue Underground (DVD & Blu-Ray, US R0 NTSC/HD) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)

Inexplicably absent from home video for decades and very rarely seen on TV, this delirious gangster saga is a major rediscovery for a number of reasons. First of all, well, look at that cast! The late John Cassavetes had already earned something of a critical reputation for directing pioneering indie films like Shadows and Faces which he largely financed by taking surprisingly good paycheck roles in films like The Dirty Dozen and Rosemary's Baby, which he followed with two Italian productions, this film and the even rarer (and far less interesting) Bandits in Rome. He and his co-star here, Peter Falk, immediately hit it off and began a partnership that continued with Husbands, A Woman under the Influence, and Mikey and Nicky. Cassavetes' wife, Gena Rowlands, also appears here in a key supporting role, and the gorgeous Britt Ekland is seen in her prime as the female lead. Meanwhile Eurocult devotees will get a huge kick out of most of the major Italian character actors from the time who would go on to star in many key crime films and gialli over the next decade. This is also one of the big three commercial releases for director Giuliano Montaldo in between Grand Slam and Sacco & Vanzetti. On top of that you get a major, infectious score by Ennio Morricone and plenty of terrific on-location footage of Las Vegas in its '60s prime, sandwiched in between its other big cinematic snapshots in Viva Las Vegas and Diamonds Are Forever. The fact that it's a really solid crime film, too, is just icing on the cake.

Released from jail after twelve years with a pardon he doesn't quite understand, Hank McCain (Cassavetes) is approached by his shifty son, Jack (Apra), who offers him a quarter of a million dollars to spearhead a robbery of the newest big Vegas casino, the Royal Hotel; however, the entire operation is being funded by California crime boss Charlie Adamo (Falk), who has his own reasons for wanting McCain back on the streets. McCain's main accomplice is bar girl Irene (Ekland) whom he impulsively marries in Vegas, and even though Adamo decides to back out of the robbery after finding out the hotel is secretly operated by a big New York mob boss (Ferzetti), McCain and Irene decide to go ahead anyway with an explosive plan that should go off without a hitch... but as usual, the aftermath has more than a few surprises.

Swift, stylish, and very entertaining, Machine Gun McCain (released in Italy as Gli intoccaibili) overcomes its minor faults (a predictable storyline, an odd mix of live sound and dubbing, and the fact that Cassavetes barely touches a machine gun) with pure energy and excellent performances throughout. The great heist sequence is essentially an even more elaborate extension of the central caper from Grand Slam, and the bloody protracted aftermath contains enough gunfire to keep action fans more than happy as well as the long-awaited appearance by Rowlands as Cassavetes' jailbird wife and former partner in crime, Rosemary.

Blue Underground's first new title on the market for far too long, Machine Gun McCain marks the company's welcome return to Italian crime films and is easily the most high-profile of their essential releases in that genre to date. The new HD transfer is a real beauty with a natural, film-like texture and often vibrant colors, especially the sparing but effective use of red; only a couple of badly-lit night and alley scenes pose any problems, and that's a challenge inherent in the original cinematography. The English mono track sounds fine; no gimmicky remixes here. For reasons no one can quite seem to ascertain, the running time of the film has been listed in press materials as anywhere from 91 minutes to 116. The version here clocks in at 96 minutes and feels quite complete; maybe there are some Italian-only scenes lying around in a vault somewhere, but if so, they don't seem to be missed. The American and Italian trailers are included along with a 23-minute interview with Montaldo in which he discusses a wide range of topics: his early acting career, his segue into directing, the mounting of Grand Slam, and the difficult creation of his rapport and eventual friendship with Cassavetes, who initially regarded him with suspicion. Score another hit for Blue Underground's solid roster of BD releases, though if you don't have a player, it's easily worth grabbing on DVD as well.

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