review for Machine Gun McCain on AllMovie

Machine Gun McCain (1969)
by Mark Deming review

Watching Giuliano Montaldo's Machine Gun McCain (aka Gli Intoccabili), it's hard not to get the feeling you walked in after the movie has been running for a while, even if you watch it from the very start. Mino Roli's screenplay all but throws exposition out the window, and for most of the picture, it's hard to say how the characters know one another and why they're doing what they do -- why is it Hank McCain (played by John Cassavetes) barely knows his twenty-something son? Does McCain know Irene (Britt Ekland) at all before he picks her up in a bar and marries her the next day? And exactly how does the big robbery tie in to the other major plot thread of rogue Mafia boss Charlie Adamo (Peter Falk)? By the time the film comes to a close, most of these questions are still hanging in the air, and to compound the confusion, Machine Gun McCain moves pretty slowly in its first act; the film is tough going early on, watching a bunch of characters that are hard comprehend going through their deliberate paces. The story picks up its pace considerably at the half-way point as McCain puts an elaborate and destructive caper into motion, and while there are still holes in the plot, at least there's enough momentum that the movie can roll over them. Cassavetes delivers a mannered, method-style performance in the lead, but he crackles with enough edgy energy to keep the film interesting when all else fails. Peter Falk also does solid work as Adamo, keeping the character as tough and unsympathetic as the story demands. Gabriele Ferzetti gives a strong supporting performance as a suave but ruthless crime boss, and Gena Rowlands is impressive enough in a small role as one of McCain's former flames that it unwittingly points out just how wooden Britt Ekland is as McCain's new bride. Montaldo's visual style is clean and imaginative, stylish without calling attention to itself, and the camerawork by Erico Menczer is sharp and attractive; the film looks great, and if it had been as good in its first half as it is in its second, this would be an outstanding Italian crime thriller. As it stands, Roli's screenplay (and the surprisingly cliché-ridden dialogue from playwright Israel Horovitz) leaves Machine Gun McCain too foggy to hit its target, through for ardent fans of late 60s/early 70s crime cinema it merits a quick look, and the location footage of Las Vegas offers a curiously nostalgic look at Sin City in the good old days when Jack Jones and Nipsy Russell were headliners.