The Big Bankroll

King of the Roaring 20s: The Story of Arnold Rothstein is a 1961 American, biopic, drama, crime film directed by Joseph M. Newman, produced by Samuel Bischoff and starring David Janssen, Dianne Foster, Diana Dors and Jack Carson.[1] During the prohibition era the gangster Arnold Rothstein rises to be a major figure in the criminal underworld. It is also known by the alternative title The Big Bankroll. It was based on a book by Leo Katcher.

King of the Roaring 20s: The Story of Arnold Rothstein
Directed byJoseph M. Newman
Produced bySamuel Bischoff
David Diamond
Screenplay byJo Swerling
Story byLeo Katcher
Based on1959 nonfiction book The Big Bankroll: The Life and Times of Arnold Rothstein, King of the Roaring 20s by Leo Katcher
StarringDavid Janssen
Dianne Foster
Diana Dors
Jack Carson
Music byFranz Waxman
CinematographyCarl E. Guthrie
Edited byGeorge White
Distributed byAllied Artists
Release date
June 11, 1961
Running time
106 min.
CountryUnited States


Arnold Rothstein gains a reputation in 1920s New York City as an expert gambler. He so impresses mob boss Big Tim O'Brien that he is given a job in his illegal enterprises.

Rothstein has a lifelong pal, Johnny Burke, and makes a deadly enemy, Phil Butler, a corrupt cop. He rises to become rich and well known in gambling circles, often using ruthless tactics, like tricking business partner Jim Kelly into sacrificing his half of their arrangement.

Although he has little time for a personal life, Rothstein impulsively marries Carolyn Green, an attractive actress. He devotes little effort to their marriage, his principal obsessions being to build a huge bankroll and to someday win a poker hand with a royal flush.

As his empire grows, so does his arrogance. Rothstein eventually sells out his only friend, resulting in Burke's being gunned down by thugs. He and lawyer Tom Fowler conspire to make sure Butler is exposed and convicted for his criminal activities. But at the precise moment a royal flush is dealt to him, Rothstein is dealt with by Butler's associates.



The film was based on a 1959 non fiction book The Big Bankroll.[2] The New York Times called it a "galloping account".[3]

The book was a best seller and several companies were interested in film rights. In October 1959, film rights were bought by Allied Artists, who had enjoyed a big commercial success with Al Capone (1959) and were interested in making more gangster films. The purchase price was described as "well into six figures as against a percentage of the gross."[4]

David Diamond was assigned to produce and he wanted Dean Martin to play the lead.[5] Gene Kelly reportedly expressed interest in starring and directing.[4]

Allied Artists were undertaking their most ambitious film program in five years, announcing 15 films would be made over 6 months. Several of these had a gangster theme including The Big Bankroll and The George Raft Story.[6][7][8]

Producers Sam Bischoff and David Diamond had previously made The Phenix City Story.[9]

The producers could not get releases from the real-life people depicted in the film apart from Rothstein's wife Carolyn. So the only people using their real names as Arnold Rothstein, his wife and his father.[9] People like Tim Sullivan were renamed Tim O'Brien. "To this generation there's no difference between Sullivan and O'Brien - it's an honest precaution," said Diamond.[9]

The lead role went to David Janssen who had recently made Hell to Eternity and Dondi for Allied.[10]

Mickey Rooney's son Tim played the character depicted by his father as a child.[11]


  1. "King of the Roaring 20s The Story of Arnold Rothstein (1961)". BFI.
  2. BOOKS AND PEOPLE: 'Scientists' Gives Exciting Account Kirsch, Robert R. Los Angeles Times 1 Feb 1959: e6.
  3. Master Criminal: THE BIG BANKROLL: The Life and Times of Arnold Rothstein. By Leo Katcher. By EMANUEL PERLMUTTER. New York Times 26 July 1959: BR4.
  5. 2 Long Run Films Going Strong Tinee, Mae. Chicago Daily Tribune 9 Aug 1959: e11.
  6. Wald Rushes Plans for 'Hell Raisers': Niven and Other Stars Sought for Boxer Rebellion Feature Scott, John L. Los Angeles Times 08 Sep 1959: C9.
  7. Of Local Origin New York Times 8 Sep 1959: 42.
  8. HOLLYWOOD KNACK: Allied Artists Chief Offers Format For Profitable Low-Budget Films By MURRAY SCHUMACH. New York Times 19 Feb 1961: 123.
  9. WARY HOLLYWOOD: The Law Being What It Is, Cautious Producers Make Facts Fictitious By GLADWIN HILL. New York Times 4 Dec 1960: X7.
  10. JANSSEN EYES MOVIES BUT WON'T RAP TV Alpert, Don. Los Angeles Times 29 Jan 1961: d4.
  11. Star's Son Making Debut Wirephoto, A P. Chicago Daily Tribune 7 Dec 1960: 3.
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