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March 10, 2012

Movie Review: Machine Gun McCain (1969)

For those of you who think that Italy in the late 1960s and into the 1970s was a place where only gritty westerns, strange Giallo films and rip-off zombie/cannibal films were made can benefit from this. Italy, at the time, was churning out some wonderful genre product tailored to all tastes. The aforementioned zombies and cowboys and zipper-mask killers aside, there were sci fi epics (like Alien 2, hee hee), action films, dramas and even the mobster movie. There is a general misconception that the United States was the only place the mobster genre was popular. There were Mafioso films made worldwide so why wouldn’t the home of the Cosa Nostra, Italy, get in on the act? Using some familiar American names (John Cassavetes and Peter Falk) and international sex symbols (like future Bond girl, Britt Ekland), director Giuliano Montaldo has put together an effective Mafia/crime caper/double cross flick. Thanks to Blue Underground, we can now watch this in glorious 1080p.

This thriller is a little more complicated than its average American cousin and, if filmed in the states, would star Steve McQueen in all likelihood. Luckily, this was shot in Italy and Las Vegas and John Cassavetes plays our titular character, Machine Gun McCain. Cassavetes is pitch perfect (like the blurb on the cover says) as the three time loser, sprung from prison to do a job. He is hired by his own disenfranchised son to pull a big caper and that is where the double crosses, ulterior motives and big time Mafioso shenanigans (courtesy of Columbo himself, Peter Falk). The plot twists and the lies that characters heap upon one another make for compelling viewing.

There are issues with the film, though. Aside from our leads, the cast is rounded out by competent, but non-English speaking actors. This is a hallmark of the low budget Italian Film Renaissance of the 60s and 70s. They are speaking English in the film so the nuance of language is sometimes lost. This also means that the entire film is dubbed as well with American voice actors in place of the Italians and the English-speaking leads recreating their own dialogue. The out of sync issues are less prevalent here than in other Italian films (the most egregious offender, in my opinion, being James Franciscus and Karl Malden’s poor ADR in Cat O’ Nine Tails). Once the viewer gets through this, the vibrant color and camera work that even low budget American films exhibit are not evident here. Again, it only really dates the film and doesn’t impact the powerful storytelling.

Machine Gun McCain, dear readers, is a fine entry in the Spaghetti Mobster genre and well worth your time.

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