A rotten would-be farce about Depression-era criminals, Bad Charleston Charlie represents a failed attempt by actor Ross Hagen to create a star vehicle. In addition to playing the leading role, he cowrote the script (with Ivan Nagy, who directed) and produced the project. Set somewhere in the American heartland, the picture begins with Charlie Jacobs (Hagen) and his buddy Thad (Kelly Thordsen) quitting their jobs at a mine after one too many humiliating demands for payoffs from a corrupt union boss. Declaring their intent to become “important” people, they take inspiration from the exploits of Al Capone and begin careers as gangsters. Eventually, Charlie and his rapidly growing cadre of followers antagonize a corrupt local cop and the members of a KKK cell, so they find themselves with enemies on both sides of the law. Prostitution figures into the mix, as well, since Charlie makes most of his money peddling female flesh. Despite antiauthoritarian themes and high-spirited action, Bad Charleston Charlie is a world apart from the myriad similar films that Roger Corman produced in the ’60s and ’70s to draft off the success of Warren Beatty’s Bonnie and Clyde (1967). Even the worst of Corman’s gangster pictures has a clearly defined narrative, but this flick just trundles from one pointless episode to the next, striving for a lighthearted tone but missing the mark because the characters are repugnant and the jokes aren’t funny. Not helping matters is Nagy’s horrendous camerawork; although he later became a serviceable hack making junk for TV and the straight-to-video market, he’s out of his depth throughout this project, which was his directorial debut. On the plus side, Hagen recruited a few decent actors to play supporting roles (watch for John Carradine as a drunken reporter), and Hagen’s buddy-comedy shtick with Thordsen almost works.
Bad Charleston Charlie: LAME