There aren't many of Cassavetes "jobs for hire" that mean much to fans of the films he directed. Sure, it's fun to see DePalma do a ZABRISKIE POINT on his head in THE FURY, and he brings a certain refined sense of evil to his role as CIA spook... Occasionally there's a fire to his performance in Mazursky's THE TEMPEST that outshadows the rest of the film and makes you wish he were the director... Franco in THE DIRTY DOZEN is a fun enough creation but not really a Cassavetean character... Generally speaking, whatever of St. Cassavetes' magic might be glimpsed in his commercial film work is fleeting, there by accident or snuck in through the cracks, and not particularly significant to Cassavetes' own body of work. With obvious exceptions - MIKEY AND NICKY - the films he acted in but didn't direct don't deserve substantial treatment alongside his "real" films.
It's really, really hard for me to feel that way about MACHINE GUN McCAIN, though.
I'm basing this on a European PAL DVD that came out a couple of years ago; I haven't seen the new R1 version, but assuming it's the same... What you get here is a very straightforward tale of the committed little guy (Hank McCain, a smalltime bankrobber) using guts and integrity and ruthlessness to take on the Mafia. Initially he is sprung from prison by a gangster (Peter Falk) to do a job - rob a casino for him. When the gangster discovers that the casino is actually owned by his bosses, he tries to call off the robbery, but McCain is unstoppable. Along the way, he enlists an innocent young woman's help (Britt Ekland); eventually, he's on the run with her, seeking shelter briefly with his old flame, played by Gena Rowlands. How much influence Cassavetes, Rowlands, and Falk had on Montaldo I can't say, but anyone who has read Ray Carney on GLORIA and THE KILLING OF A CHINESE BOOKIE - and I'm assuming true Cassavetes fans have - will understand that Cassavetes was fascinated by gangsters and often used them to figure the Hollywood system he was so at odds with, the money men and thugs and controllers who stifled creativity and true expression. Unlike either of those films, tho', here we have Cassavetes himself sinking his teeth into the role of an "independent" battling "the system." Cassavetes crackles in this role like he was born for it, and makes the whole doomed romanticism of the story arc (as the costs of his rebellion get higher and higher) that much more poignant. I'm not saying it's an art film, mind you - it's a hardboiled Italian gangster film with some pretty badly dubbed secondary roles and lots of violence and melodrama (and even a bit of sex) - but it's about as Cassavetean as it could be, taking themes that are important to Cassavetes (or would be) and expressing them through the medium of unabashed pulp. (I'm not the only Cassavetes fan I know who has great fondness for this film). And Hank McCain's a lot easier to root for than poor doomed Cosmo, too, I'll tellya, and Falk and Rowlands are pretty damned good, too! BTW, fans of the film should check out Mike Patton's terrific "reading" of the theme song on the extended, Tzadik version of John Zorn's BIG GUNDOWN.