The Grissom Gang
is director Robert Aldrich's take on British author James Hadley Chase's once-notorious novel No Orchids for Miss Blandish
, which was itself a synthesis of the plot of William Faulkner's Sanctuary
with the lurid exposes of the criminal rampage of Arizona Clark "Ma" Barker and her alleged criminal brood. Aldrich sticks surprisingly close to Chase's plot, although he considerably deepens all the characterisations and cuts through the prurient sex sensation to create a surprisingly moving and complicated relationship between kidnapped heiress Barbara Blandish (Kim Darby) and the homicidally psychopathic but also childish Slim Grissom (Scott Wilson), the most feared member of the gang headed by the grotesquely horrible Ma (Irene Dailey). Barbara is abducted after a jewel heist gone wrong by a trio of inept small-timers, who are swiftly rubbed out by the more organised Grissom mob, and though Ma insists that after the girl's father has come across with the million-dollar ransom she will be mercilessly put down, Slim becomes enchanted with the girl, who eventually becomes his lover. In the book, the girl was drugged and raped, but here we get a delicate, creepy shifting of power to the point when Miss Blandish can browbeat her fearsome captor into mixing her a perfect martini, and the new attachment between crook and captive creates a rift with the rest of the gang that inevitably pays off in various hails of machine gunfire as the plan falls apart and the authorities close in. Aldrich manages the kind of claustrophobic black comedy games of terror and flirtation he perfected in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
, but attacks the rat-tat-tat tommy gun scenes with action skills honed on The Dirty Dozen
. Most of these films trusted costumes, cars and music to evoke the 1920s, but screenwriter Leon Griffiths takes care with period slang and the supporting cast have a real Depression era Warner Brothers feel, with Connie Stevens as a dumb but ferocious blonde showgirl, Tony Musante as the slick-haired official ladykiller in the gang and Robert Lansing as an impeccably down-at-heel but compassionate private detective.
On the DVD: The advertised extras--notes, trivia and photo gallery--are disappointingly thin, but the 16:9 letterboxed print is almost flawless, with lovely pastels for the clothes and sets and bright scarlet for the many bursts of blood. --Kim Newman