The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in Real-Life and Pop Culture
We have a history of the real St. Valentine's Day Massacre for you, as well as its impact on movies and popular culture.
Flower shops and Valentine’s Day have a special link. Dean O’Banion’s floral arrangement was paid off on a cold St. Valentine’s Day in 1929. The garage at 2122 N. Clark St. had no heat. When the cops got there that morning seven guys were on ice. They had been lined up against a whitewashed wall like a firing squad. Almost a hundred bullets from submachine guns, shotguns, and a revolver riddled their bodies. Everybody thought Al Capone was behind the biggest mob hit in history, but Capone was in Florida at the time.
Al Capone was battling to be the head of crime in Chicago against George “Bugs” Moran. Moran inherited the Northside Gang from Hymie Weiss after he inherited it from Dion O’Banion after his stems were clipped. Weiss was taken out in Oct. 1926. Moran and Capone did not get along. Moran called Capone “The Beast.” Moran and Joe Aiello, who’s family represented the Mafia in Chicago, gunned down Pasqualino Lo Lordo, one of Capone’s men, in early 1929.
Capone’s gang cased Moran’s joint by renting an apartment across the street. Capone had someone call Moran to tell him that some hijacked whiskey from Detroit’s Purple Gang would be delivered to his garage at 2122 North Clark Street. The garage was owned by Adam Hayer, one of Moran’s friends.
2122 N. Clark St. was the address of the SMC Cartage Co. Bugs Moran used the garage as a kind of headquarters, the same way O’Banion used the flower shop. At about 10:30 a.m., four men burst into the garage and announced that it was a raid. Two of the men were in police uniforms. They ordered the men to line up against a wall and then let loose. Witnesses saw the four jump into the same kind of black Cadillac touring car that cops used. The car even had a siren.
Inside the garage, dead or dying, was Frank “Hock” Gusenberg and his brother, Peter “Goosy” Gusenberg. Hock was one of Moran’s strongmen. Along with Johnny May, an ex-safe cracker who worked as a mechanic at the garage, Albert Kachellek, aka James Clark, Moran’s brother-in-law, Albert Weinshank and Adam Heyer, two other enforcers who also worked for Moran. The last dead guy was not a gangster. He was Dr. Reinhardt Schwimmer, an optician who got his kicks hanging out with gangsters. Ain’t that a kick in the head. Bugs Moran slept through it. But he was done in the Chicago rackets. Happy fucking Valentine’s Day.
Actually Moran and one of his men, Ted Newberry, saw the cop car pull up and decided to grab some coffee instead of shelling out for what he figured was a shakedown. Hock didn’t die in the initial gunfire. He crawled to the middle of the garage and died a few hours later. Before he died Police Sgt. Clarence Sweeney asked Hock who shot him and Hock insisted no one shot him. The word on the street is that the shooters were Albert Anselmi, John Scalise, and “Machine Gun” Jack McGurn.
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Capone’s alibi was that he was on vacation at his place on Palm Island, Fla. Capone did a stint in a Pennsylvania jail on gun possession instead of facing the cold Chicago heat, conducting business as usual from the warden’s office. There have been reports that Capone was haunted by one of the victims, James Clark, starting when Capone was in jail. Witnesses say Moran’s brother-in-law tormented Al Capone for years. Capone wasn’t the only person to see the ghost. His driver did too.
The Clark Street garage was demolished in 1967, but people still hear the sounds of machine gun fire and screams by the tree where the garage once stood. The blood-splattered bricks were sold to a Canadian businessman who opened up a gangster-themed bar with the wall reconstructed. He later sold it. Reports say the bricks were haunted. People who own the bricks supposedly die quicker than cement can dry.
St. Valentine’s Day Massacre at the Movies
The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre didn’t play a big part in the first movie based on Al Capone. Little Caesar starring Edward G. Robinson and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., was made before the code in 1931. That means, they could have gotten away with more than they would have just two years later when movies started censoring themselves.
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Director Mervyn LeRoy didn’t use that freedom to shoot something as gory as a massacre. LeRoy used it to put a little bit of the old romantic in Rico, touching cheeks and legs and giving loving looks at a guy who’s gone sissy on account of a girl. William R. Burnett, who wrote the book Little Caesar was living in Chicago during the St. Valentine’s Day massacre, but it was cinematically problematic.
The St. Valentine’s Day massacre is alluded to in Scarface from 1932 with Paul Muni as Antonio “Tony” Camonte. Muni’s guys dress as cops and do a mass whack in a garage, beautifully shot in shadows. George Raft flips a coin as Rinaldo, the guy who pops Boris Karloff’s Gaffney in his flower shop. Raft makes a paper doll out of Ann Dvorak, Tony’s sister.
Scarface with Al Pacino isn’t about Capone, but that snowblowing climax could have been done in a Chicago garage. The first time the St. Valentine’s Day massacre was dramatized was in the 1958 Playhouse 90 production Seven Against the Wall. While there don’t appear to be any clips of that one on the internet, it’s still worth a mention.
The classic 1959 Billy Wilder film Some Like It Hot opens at the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. It’s the reason Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon are on the run. They saw it. Some Like It Hot also has George Raft, now in spats, the man who dared to dance with Scarface’s sister.
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Wilder stages it as it was described in the papers. Of course we mainly get to see the shoes and two of those shoes are very identifiable. Spats should have gone to Miami to give himself an alibi. Raft would probably have preferred Havana. He had friends there who were friends of friends of Capone himself.
An allegory of The St. Valentine’s Day massacre also opens the colorful 1990 film, Dick Tracy. The heads that were grotesquely disfigured by bullets in the garage are put on full living display in the establishing shot card game, with the grotesquely disfigured head of classic Dick Tracy villain Flat Top doing the shooting.
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Once again, there is a new boss in town, but Alfonse “Big Boy” Caprice is no Capone. Can’t even smoke a cigar right.
Roger Corman’s 1967 film The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre is great. The history’s a little choppy, but it gets the point across in big brush strokes. Jason Robards is a blast as Capone, all his lines sliding out of one side of his mouth while the other side enjoys a good Cuban.
The set up of the massacre is faithful to the newspaper accounts. The dialogue of course is conjecture, but Robards’ grin when it’s all done ties it all together to a graphic and giggly conclusion.
What, you don’t giggle at massacres?
“Snaps” Provolone was at the massacre, according to the 1991 movie Oscar. Sylvester Stallone also played Frank Nitti in Capone from 1975. Al Capone was played by Ben Gazzara in that film, which was directed by Steve Carver. Capone was the second Al Capone movie produced by Roger Corman and the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre is all over it. Shot on the same lot, using the same cars, turning the same corners over and over again. There’s this one corner during a chase scene that those cars must have passed six times. Johnny Torrio was played by Harry Guardino and Frankie Yale was played by John Cassavetes. The St. Valentine’s Day massacre is shot with the usual Tommy gun flare, but it’s more historically accurate than the rest of the movie.
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The Untouchables was set after the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, so Brian De Palma only references it, and the movie never gets to recreate it. According to reports De Palma was planning on making a prequel called Capone Rising where he’d shoot a version of the massacre as an allegory for the war between Capone’s gang and fictitious Irish gangsters rallied by an equally fictional Irish-American cop. Unfortunately, that movie never happened.
So, Happy St. Valentine’s Day Massacre Day. In my house we follow the Ramones or Bugs Bunny pronunciation of massacre. Oh, like you don’t?