Ma Barker and Her Boys
The six-hour battle in Florida between the Barker gang and police with Ness’s squad begins the little epic, fought with Tommy guns on both sides and hand grenades from the besieged house.
She is seen singing in the church choir. The pastor has a word with her about the boys. She brooks no criticism. She has a weakness for her sons, and a weakness for a husband. She swears on a Holy Bible to a policeman her sons are innocent, after hiding their loot.
The gang expands from Tulsa after one of the boys is killed in a burglary. When a bank guard is killed, Ma drills the boys on proper procedure.
No girls are allowed. One son leaves for Chicago with his. A birthday cake from Florida fingers them all.
Like J. Carrol Naish as “Bugs” Moran, Claire Trevor is all but unrecognizable. The writing and performances are so sharp they cut the air with psychological implications and never pause for effect. The direction takes all this in its stride, easily. Ma’s birthday streamers tied to a chandelier are the apron strings cut by death, in Winchell’s words, and the Chicago guns around the stray on his bed.
A slight up-angle gives a powerful perspective of Ma and Pa (Vaughn Taylor) early on. Pa’s last stand is a brave thing, as Ma slaps his face and threatens to sic the boys on him. He makes the decision to leave, and later turns them in to Ness, who’s alone on the street at night waiting for reinforcements as they make their getaway in St. Paul, exchanging shots.
In Florida, Ma and the two sons with her remember the old days with “Rock of Ages”. The command to surrender is given, they open up a closet arsenal. After a few hours, the captured lover is sent in to bargain. He offers his back to Ma, who just can’t bring herself to do it.
Another son surrenders and is cut down by his brother, who dies before Ma. “Rock of Ages” plays on a phonograph at the end.
The prisoner is shown the bodies. He fingers the “Mother”-and-heart tattoo on the back of his hand, under Ness’s look.
The George “Bugs” Moran Story
Moran bids to increase union membership dramatically and secure a contract. This is the proposal to the rank and file as he and his lieutenant Joseph Carroll are nominated for vice-president and executive secretary after Moran has kidnapped the president’s son.
Patterson & Sons is a family firm whose patriarch regards union organizers as gangsters, against whom he hires thugs of his own. These send the union president to the hospital when he pleads for a contract between Patterson and the United Truckers Union to stop Moran.
Ness is in Washington, Agent Flaherty takes the case. Moran kidnaps one of Patterson’s sons, an executive, to get his own contract. Flaherty now can act, Patterson & Sons is an interstate trucking firm. The raid is blown by a tip, the son and a flirting moll are executed.
Carroll tells the press it was a “love nest” killing, Moran is a hero against “union-busting”. Subversion of truth like this is the public tale, in private it’s the soft-spoken manner of Moran’s insidious operation, his complete control of force by quiet means, his manipulation of circumstances to tip the whole array into his hands. The brazen unctuousness of the lot mounts to a bizarrely perplexing conundrum.
The bruised and battered president goes to the union meeting, armed with the facts.