Jack Diamond (Ray Danton) gets his start in the criminal world as a small-time crook in New York. He wants to start dating dance instructor Alice Scott (Karen Steele), but when she turns him down, he sabotages her intended dancing partner so she’ll choose him instead and when they’re in the middle of a dance competition together, he sabotages their top competition to win. Later that night, while he’s at a movie with Alice, he sneaks out and robs a jewelry store. But he has his eyes set on bigger and better things.
Working with his ailing brother Eddie (Warren Oates), he decides he wants to get ahead by stealing from criminals because he knows they can’t call the cops on him. Not wanting to start small, Jack decides to go after the notorious Arnold Rothstein (Robert Lowery) by trying to get a job working as his bodyguard so he’ll have access to all his tricks of the trade. Of course, Arnold Rothstein is not an easy man to get close to and Jack has to resort to buying thousands of dollars worth of clothes and charging it to Rothstein, knowing he’ll send some of his men to bring him to Rothstein to explain. Rothstein is impressed, but not enough to hire him — not yet anyway. But he does get there eventually and he begins to think he’s invincible.
It isn’t long before Jack plans to kill Rothstein and takes over his crime syndicate. He runs the syndicate with ruthless abandon, his yearning for power never satiated. But sooner or later, Jack learns the hard way that what must come up must come down when even his closest henchmen and Alice, now his wife, can’t deal with him anymore.
I love a good gangster movie, so The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond was naturally a hit with me. I don’t know much about the life of Legs Diamond, so I have absolutely no idea how historically accurate it is, but it was at least entertaining. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a Ray Danton movie before, but I was very impressed by his performance as Legs Diamond. I’m not sure why it isn’t better remembered as one of the all-time great gangster performances in film, but he was really fantastic. The movie, as a whole, may not be one of the all-time best gangster flicks, but it’s still a very entertaining movie. Absolutely worth seeing for Ray Danton and Lucien Ballard’s great cinematography.