If Ed Wood had more competence and less passion he’d have been Roger Corman. I,MOBSTER is an entertaining Corman flick that is educational for fans of Martin Scorsese, as it shows how someone without Scorsese’s artistry would handle the material he worked into MEAN STREETS and GOODFELLAS. This is a rise-and-fall mobster story about a lower-class guy who ascends to a nice apartment, not a compound, a late-fifties bridge between Hawks’ SCARFACE and the Scorsese films.
Back in the days when strippers put clothes on and took baths onstage, Joe Sante runs errands for the local bookies, though he doesn’t get a mailman tossed into a pizza oven. He longs for something more and all that. His parents want him to be a good boy, and they are played by suspiciously elderly actors. We jump ahead to his teenage years, where he’s played by then-40-year-old Steve Cochran. Yes, 40, playing a teen, thus explaining his old parents. He’s on his way up the criminal ladder, spurning the advances of hot heroin customers.
Joe knocks off his first stoolie the same night he meets Good Girl Teresa Porter, played by Lita Milan in her final movie appearance before she retired. Good Girl Teresa won’t have anything to do with mobster Joe and his criminal ways, but she’s still hanging around, for some reason. When she needs a job cuz of the recession, she goes right to Joe Evil Money for a job, though. This suggests a lack of long-term thinking in our Good Girl.
Joe has that bad-boy disregard for the rules that turns on the chicks and makes men respect him. His boss, Black Frank, becomes Joe’s underling, making us wonder when retribution is coming. As Joe becomes a hit with the underworld, he’s also making enemies, of course, because even outsider Corman has to tell the audience that crime does not pay.
You can guess the rest of the story, but I, MOBSTER is surprisingly watchable as well as cynical. Teresa resist’s Joe’s advances until she witnesses him killing her brother, which makes her fall for him, finally. So she wouldn’t go near him for shooting a stranger years ago, but seeing her freakin’ brother getting popped does it for her?
Steve Cochran brings a little life to the proceedings. This is an achievement for a guy who ended up dying on his boat while a couple of underage girls couldn’t figure out how to drive back to the marina. Yes, that is indeed a stretch. Corman and FANTASY ISLAND scriptwriter Steve Fisher keep things moving, and the treatment of such things as graft and corrupt politicians in a B-movie from 1958 is fascinating. The snappy dialogue really hits the spot: “Gentlemen: The broads.” “You wonderful, dumb broad!”
It’s not some lost treasure of outsider art but it held my interest, mostly because I wanted to see what crazy shit the screenwriter would come up with to get Teresa and Joe together after establishing that she hated him, and how much stock footage they could cram in to cover the ‘rise to power’ montages. The ‘rug cleaning’ angle might’ve been ripped off by Tarantino for The Wolf scenes in PULP FICTION, and a climactic junkyard shootout is rich with symbolism about the trash heap of our American dream. Or it’s just the only place Corman could get to film without paying five bucks for a permit.
Gerald (STAR TREK) Fried’s score sounds like outtakes from his one for HIGH SCHOOL BIG SHOT, but he’s probably the only guy who scored movies for both Corman AND Stanley Kubrick, so I’ll let him live.
With Lili St. Cyr as Lili St. Cyr, and Yvette Vickers as The Blonde who gets turned down by a teenage boy, the most unbelievable moment in any movie I’ve ever seen.