Summary: Steve Cochran remembers his past rise as a gangster
Roger Corman directed this lively movie. In my use of the noir-o-meter, it comes in at 100.
"I, Mobster" (1958) is a traditional gangster story and a marginal film noir, coming in just at the cusp of that category. Nearly all gangster stories at least since "Scarface" (1932), "Little Caesar" (1931), "Doorway to Hell" (1930) and "The Public Enemy" (1931) have the same pattern: the rise and fall of the main character, the gangster. This continued more recently with movies about Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd, Legs Diamond, Lepke and remains to this day. That part of a gangster story is as predictable as rounding up or shooting down the bad guys in most westerns.
I've yet to see "I, Mobster" in its widescreen version in which we might appreciate the camera work.
This is a film with good pacing and energy. Steve Cochran plays a different kind of gangster, one who is exceptionally kind to his friends and their families and who is stuck on one girl (Lita Milan) and doesn't play around with flashy women. He uses muscle and murder to drive his rise and union rackets, but he's not a psychopath. He's materialistic and has a sense of fashion and taste. Cochran plays the part with ease and magnetically, making the film a must for his fans. His career had peaked, although this may not have been obvious at the time, but his skill as an actor was still rising. Milan, a good girl, keeps her distance from him because of his gangster ways, but in an interesting shift, goes over to his side rather than testify against him. Her younger brother is a Sword of Damocles to Cochran.
The mentor and first boss of Cochran is Robert Strauss. Setting aside the boisterous side to his acting skills, he comes in as tough but overtly friendly, really more sly and cold than he appears, and a calculating survivor in a game that ends lives prematurely. He's a strong actor who is cast well in his role.
In the lead parts, then, the film has several well-etched characterizations. In support, Celia Lovsky does what she can with the hackneyed part of the mother to whom Cochran is devoted. Corman inserts two night club acts, one a vocal by jazz artist Jeri Southern and the other, an exotic dance by the feline Lili St. Cyr, playing herself and hugely enjoying it. Smaller roles add interest, being filled by some recognizable actors like Grant Withers, Yvette Vickers, Wally Cassell, Robert Shayne, and Ed Nelson.
The volume on the jazz score is turned up at times, but it's a good score.
Although the film has these strong points that make it watchable and enjoyable, the story is overly familiar and this prevents it from achieving a greater impact.