Baby Face Nelson (film)

Baby Face Nelson is a 1957 film noir crime film based on the real-life 1930s gangster, directed by Don Siegel, co-written by Daniel Mainwaring—who also wrote the screenplay for Siegel's 1956 sci-fi thriller Invasion of the Body Snatchers—and starring Mickey Rooney, Carolyn Jones, Cedric Hardwicke, Leo Gordon, Anthony Caruso, Jack Elam and John Hoyt.

Baby Face Nelson
Theater release lobby card
Directed byDon Siegel
Produced byAl Zimbalist
Screenplay byIrving Shulman
Daniel Mainwaring
Based onstory by Irving Shulman
Music byVan Alexander
CinematographyHal Mohr
Edited byLeon Barsha
Fryman Enterprises
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • December 11, 1957 (1957-12-11)
Running time
85 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$1.25 million (US rentals)[2]


Chicago mob boss Rocca manages to get Lester Gillis sprung from jail in Joliet. His motive is to have Gillis kill a labor organizer, but Gillis refuses, preferring to work with Rocca's gang on robberies instead. He meets mob moll Sue Nelson and they start a relationship. He is relaxing, alone in his hotel room, when cops burst in, finding a gun Rocca has planted to frame Gillis for the labor leader's murder. Gillis vows revenge, escapes from the cops with Sue's help, then guns down Rocca and two henchmen. He adopts Sue's surname as an alias.

In a holdup at a pharmacy, Gillis is winged by a gunshot. He goes to Doc Saunders (Cedric Hardwicke), whose patients include America's most wanted criminal, John Dillinger (portrayed by Leo Gordon). Acquiring a nickname, "Baby Face Nelson", a grateful Gillis joins up with Dillinger and quickly becomes the FBI's second most wanted man.

The ruthless Baby Face goes on a shooting spree, even killing innocent motorists just to steal a car. He doesn't like playing second fiddle to Dillinger, but after the arch-criminal is shot in Chicago, it becomes Baby Face's turn to be public enemy number one. He commits multiple murders, even killing Doc in a fit of anger, and frightens Sue by placing a rifle sight on children.

Trapped by a roadblock, Baby Face flees on foot and is shot several times. Stumbling to a graveyard, he pleads with Sue at first, then taunts her, to put him out of his misery, and she does.



The Production Code had recently repealed a ban on dramatising the lives of real criminals. Producer Al Zimbalist formed ZS Productions with Irving Shulman to make a film based on the latter's unpublished novel about Baby Face Nelson. He originally announced he was seeking Montgomery Clift, Frank Sinatra or Tony Curtis for the lead.[3]

Eventually they partnered with Mickey Rooney's Fryman Enterprises to make the movie.[4] Don Siegel was hired to star.

Zimbalist wanted to borrow Edd Byrnes from Warner Bros to play John Dillinger.[5]

Filming started in October 1955. Zimbalist did some second unit filming in Chicago himself.[6]

Shulman was later hired by Sam Katzman to do a script on Pretty Boy Floyd.[7]

Rooney says he was offered a million dollars to buy out his interest in the film but he refused, confident it would be a success.[1]


When the film was released film critic Bosley Crowther panned the film writing, "Baby Face Nelson, heading the double bill on the Loew's circuit, is a thoroughly standard, pointless and even old-fashioned gangster picture, the kind that began going out along with the oldtime sedans. As a matter of fact, one of the few absorbing sights in this United Artists release, starring Mickey Rooney, is a continual procession of vintage jaloppys, chugging in and out of the proceedings ... The other distinction, also mild, is Sir Cedric Hardwicke's professional portrait of a seedy, lecherous and alcoholic physician who consorts with criminals."[8]

The Los Angeles Times called it a "bitter bloody drama".[9]

The film was a financial success and kicked off a series of movies where Rooney played a tough guy, including The Last Mile and The Big Operator.[10]

See also


  1. Hopper, H. (1958, Feb 16). Rooney, back on top again, has big plans. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  2. "Top Grosses of 1957", Variety, January 8, 1958, p. 30
  3. Schallert, E. (1955, May 12). 'Run for sun' heralded for eva marie saint; tim McCoy pursued. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  4. By THOMAS M PRYOR Special to The New York Times. (1957, Jun 19). MITCHUM TO MAKE THREE NEW FILMS. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  5. Schallert, E. (1957, Jul 02). Cornel wilde readies hungary saga; george sanders stars abroad. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  6. Schallert, E. (1955, Sep 19). Spiegel's 'end as man' to star gazarra; jack palance subject named. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  7. Shulman to do script on thug. (1958, Jan 12). Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  8. Crowther, Bosly, film review, The New York Times, December 12, 1957. Accessed: July 6, 2013.
  9. Scott, J. L. (1957, Dec 12). Rooney's killer in grim tale. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  10. Scott, J. L. (1959, Feb 01). Rooney to quit in 5 years. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
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