Cast & Crew
After gunshots ring out at Tommy's, a notorious gangland nightspot, Tommy, the second in command in gangster Duce's crime empire, slumps over dead. Moments later, Joe MacBeth, Duce's trigger man, reports to Duce that he has killed Tommy as ordered. Joe then drives to the church to marry his waiting bride Lily, who berates him for being two hours late. Afterward, at the wedding celebration, Rosie, a flower vendor turned soothsayer, reads the tarot cards and foretells that Joe will ascend to Tommy's position. Rosie's prophesy comes true when Duce installs Joe in Tommy's palatial mansion by the lake. The ambitious, grasping Lily remains dissatisfied, however, and goads Joe to displace Duce as "kingpin." Soon after, Banky, Joe's loyal foot soldier, and Banky's son Lennie come to the house to inform Joe that Duce has ordered them to eliminate Big Dutch, a gangster who is trying to topple Duce's empire. As Dutch gluttonously devours oysters at his favorite restaurant, word comes that his warehouses have been torched. When Dutch drives off to investigate, Joe, Lennie, Banky and Marty, their driver, follow, but one of Dutch's thugs peppers their car with gunshots, causing Marty to swerve and plunge over an embankment. Upon learning that Joe has been injured in the crash, Lily demeans her husband for performing Duce's dirty work and presses him to overthrow his boss. After Duce excoriates Joe for failing to eliminate Dutch, Joe visits the restaurant in which Dutch is dining and signals the waiter to poison his food. Once Dutch devours a complete order of crepes suzettes, he keels over and dies. When Joe returns home, he finds Lily huddled over a crystal ball with Rosie, who portends that someone will die in the house, after which a flock of birds will take flight. Proceeding with her plan to make Joe "kingpin," Lily persuades him to kill Duce and frame Banky for the crime. To accomplish her goal, Lily invites the unsuspecting threesome to spend the night at a housewarming party. After they all retire for the evening, Joe broods and Lily hands him a gleaming knife to perform the "deed that must be done." In the hallway, Lily unexpectedly encounters Duce, who complains that he is unable to sleep and invites her for a swim in the lake. After Duce dives off the pier, Joe jumps in the water and stabs him, leaving the knife embedded in Duce's body. Fearful that the blade will incriminate them, Lily plunges in and retrieves it just as a flock of birds screeches overhead. The next morning, when Duce's driver arrives to pick him up, Lily, feigning shock, walks into the living room and announces that she found Duce's dead body near the pier. Pretending outrage at Duce's death, Joe immediately assumes command and calls for a meeting of his troops. Before Joe arrives at the gathering, Lennie, who has always resented him, rails against Joe's tactics. Soon after, Rosie warns Joe to beware of someone associated with Banky, causing Banky to worry about his son's welfare. Heeding Rosie's warning, Joe summons two out-of-town assassins to eliminate Lennie. On the day that Banky goes to Lennie's apartment to alert his son to danger, the killers break in with blazing guns. In the melee, Banky is killed but Lennie escapes, prompting the now paranoid Joe to swear vengeance on all his foes. At a dinner party slated for that evening, Joe remarks that Banky and Lennie will not be attending. Just then Lennie walks in and is greeted by stunned silence. When Lennie declares that his father is dead, Joe starts to rant insanely and hallucinates that Banky is seated beside him at the table. After the embarrassed guests disperse, Lily angrily blames her husband for their predicament and storms out of the room. As Lennie plots a coup against Joe, Joe instructs his assassins to checkmate Lennie by abducting his wife Ruth and their infant son. The killers lose control, however, and murder their intended victims. Unaware of the slaughter, Lily goes to see Ruth to reason with her about Lennie and finds the bodies. Learning of his family's fate, Lennie vows revenge and sends Marty to notify Joe that he is on his way. At the mansion, meanwhile, Lily, convinced that blood is on her hands, raves hysterically. Soon after, Marty pounds at the door with news that Lennie and two of his henchmen are coming to kill Joe. Tense moments pass as Joe and his hired assassins prepare for the onslaught. The silence is pierced by Lily's screams, calling to Joe, and when Joe goes to her, the killers desert, and as they run into the driveway, Lennie and his thugs gun them down. Hearing the sound of gunfire, Joe goes to face Lennie alone. Proclaiming that he is the kingpin, Joe wildly fires his gun toward the living room door. Through the open doorway, Lily falls, dead, and Lennie then shoots Joe in the back and declares that he plans to shut down the rackets.
M. J. Frankovich
Peter Rolphe Johnson
Philip Yordan's original story, Joe MacBeth (1955), which laid the events of Shakespeare's infamous tragedy within the context of the American underworld and recast its protagonist as a Chicago mobster, was an attempt to soften the culture shock by updating the material and allowing the principals to speak in unembroidered, modern day speech. In 1947, independent producer Eugene Frenke bought the property as a potential United Artists release, to star Robert Cummings. Two years later, the property passed to theater owner-turned-film backer James Nasser, who touted Lew Ayres and Shelley Winters as its stars. By the time producer Mike Frankovich seized control of Joe MacBeth, he announced that real-life married couple John Ireland and Joanne Dru would be his Lord and Lady Macbeth but when cameras began turning on the soundstages of Shepperton Studios in the United Kingdom the names above the title were Paul Douglas and Ruth Roman.
Pushing fifty, burly Paul Douglas was an awkward fit for Shakespeare's ambitious young Scottish general. Douglas had originated the role of gangster Harry Brock in the original Broadway production of Garson Kanin's Born Yesterday but allowed the part to pass to Broderick Crawford for Columbia's big screen adaptation. Douglas' size and working man mien vaguely channeled the ghost of Chicago's most famous racketeer, Al Capone, but in fact the Pennsylvania-born actor played more cops than crooks. Backing Douglas' play was Ruth Roman, who had risen from uncredited bits in Gilda (1946) and A Night in Casablanca (1946) to solid roles in Mark Robson's Champion (1949), Alfred Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train (1951) and Anthony Mann's The Far Country (1954). Career gains to one side, the dark-eyed beauty made more of an impression with the public when she and her four year-old son survived the sinking of the Italian ocean liner Andrea Doria, which had collided with the Swedish ship MS Stockholm in a fog bank off of Nantucket in July 1956.
Tapped to helm Joe MacBeth was jobbing British director Ken Hughes. Known as a reliable craftsman, able to squeeze the maximum yield out of the most miserly budget, Hughes specialized in crime films and mysteries early in his career but his enduring legacy rests on the strength of the discomfiting kiddie classic Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968). Hughes set to work on the film between May and July 1955, employing veteran cinematographer Basil Emmott, who later shot Don Sharp's similarly shadow-hagged Curse of the Fly (1965). Joe MacBeth's supporting cast is proud in such local talent as Sid James, Grégoire Aslan, and Kay Callard but buried on the call sheet in the role of the First Murderer is Canadian actor Al Mulock. At one time a theatrical impresario in his native Ontario, Mulock emigrated to England and later Italy and Spain, where he earned pop culture immortality with his iconic appearances in Sergio Leone's The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) and Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) prior to his death, a presumed suicide, in 1968.
Producer: Mike Frankovich
Director: Ken Hughes
Screenplay: Philip Yordan, based on the play by William Shakespeare
Cinematography: Basil Emmott
Music: Trevor Duncan
Editor: Peter Rolfe Johnson
Cast: Paul Douglas (Joe MacBeth), Ruth Roman (Lily MacBeth), Grégoire Aslan (The Duke), Sid James (Banky), Bonar Colleano (Lennie), Minerva Pious (Rosie), Harry Green (Big Dutch), Kay Callard (Ruth), Beresford Egan (Sandwich Board Man).
by Richard Harland Smith
The film opens with the following written prologue: "'Not in the Legions of Horrid Hell can Come a Devil more damn'd In evils to top MacBeth.' Act 4, scene 3 MacBeth William Shakespeare." The film closes with the following written epilogue: "'It will have blood, they say. Blood will have blood," Act 5, scene 4 MacBeth William Shakespeare." Although not otherwise acknowledged in the credits, Joe MacBeth is loosely based on Shakespeare's play Macbeth (London 1605-06). The Variety review noted that "although Joe MacBeth is far removed from the famous Shakespearean character, there is an analogy between the modern gangster story and the bard's classic play." The Hollywood Reporter review commented that "the whole idea of transferring the Scottish tragedy to a modern underworld setting is both pretentious and sophomoric. The result is a ridiculous travesty of a gangster drama..."
According to a February 1947 Los Angeles Examiner news item, Philip Yordan's story was originally bought by Eugene Frenke, the head of California Productions, who assigned Yordan to work as associate producer. The proposed United Artists release was to be shot in Chicago and star Robert Cummings. In April 1949, James Nasser bought the rights to Yordan's story and signed William Bacher to produce, according to a Hollywood Reporter news item. At that time, Lew Ayres was rumored as the likely star. In August 1949, a Los Angeles Times news item stated that Bacher was seeking Shelley Winters to star. An October 1954 Los Angeles Examiner news item reported that Mike Frankovich had bought Yordan's story and was considering Joanne Dru and John Ireland for the starring roles. At that time, Frankovich planned to release the film through United Artists. By March 1955, a Daily Variety news item announced that Frankovich was producing the film in London for release through Columbia. For a list of other films adapted from Shakespeare's play, see the entry for the 1948 film Macbeth in AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50.