Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Guys and Molls Tour - Mobster Movies

Greetings to our visitors to the Guys and Molls
event by Splash of our Worlds

Top 15 vintage mobster movies
Guest Post by Sasha Soren

There' ve been mob movies in every decade of filmmaking, from 1920s silent films like Underworld (1927), through 1970s classics like The Godfather (1972), starring a quietly menacing Marlon Brando as the titular character, and films releasing in the 2000s which looked back to earlier gangland times in history, like The
Gangs of New York
(2002) or Road to Perdition (2002). The 1930s, however, were the golden age for mob films. Why? Because most movies tend to reflect their times, and the 1930s were a time of upheaval in the U.S., in particular - home to the movie studios of Hollywood, California.

The preceding decade, the period of the Roaring Twenties, was marked by economic prosperity - it was the age of jazz, flappers, Art Deco, bold couture and jewelry, the introduction of the mass production of automobiles, and nightly diversions like movies and clubs and dancing - and jazz, which is why the 1920s were also called, in retrospect, the Jazz Age .
Shown above: Cover of Life magazine, 1922. Artwork is The
by F. A. Leyendecker.
People spent lavishly, and all life was a party. This could be directly attributed to the influence of the Lost Generation , a group that came of age during the horrors of World War I. Now that the war was over, they lived like every day would be their last. Writers F. Scott Fitzgerald, T. S. Eliot, John Dos Passos and Erich Maria Remarque were all artists of this particular generation, and their works all contain subtle threads of the same freewheeling love of life and recognition of the futility of war.

The bright young things of the Jazz Age - on both sides of the Atlantic - ate, drank and were merry , for tomorrow they might die. Many of their friends and family had, in fact died in the years just prior; World War I, also called the Great War, lasted from 1914-1918 and the death toll was in the millions. According to H.P. Willmott in World War I  (2003, Dorling Kindersley), the Great War was the sixth deadliest conflict in world history.

Shown above: Fashion plate illustrating dancer and silent film actress
Paulette Duval . Dress by Georges Doeuillet. February 1920.
Peace arrived in 1918, and the 1920s became a round of celebrations. Prohibition in the U.S. took effect in 1919, making alcohol illegal, but the revelers just went underground, enjoying cocktails, jazz music and parties at speakeasies from New York to San Francisco.

This widespread cultural joie de vivre came to a brutal and sudden halt with the Wall Street Crash of 1929 (Oct. 29, 1929, or Black Tuesday). Former millionaires were left penniless overnight, as the market lost over $30 billion in just 48 hours. Consumer spending plummeted, and bread
lines  became a regular sight during the worldwide Great Depression that followed. One of the cheaper luxuries still available was a movie theater ticket, and attendance at picture houses swelled to record heights.

Amid grim economic realities , mobsters and outlaws - bold men or women who came from nothing and took what they wanted - rose to become near folk heroes to a struggling
public, who were fascinated by the lives of the lawless.

Mobster Al Capone even opened a soup kitchen at the start of the Great Depression, which won him gratitude from the public if not from law enforcement. Elsewhere, outlaws like John Dillinger and Bonnie and Clyde were real-life anti-heroes and news of their doings appeared continually in newsreels that played before motion pictures in theaters nationwide - so it was only a matter of time before their colorful exploits in real life found their way to the screen.

And that's just what happened. Three mob movies, destined later to become classic films, were released in quick succession.

Shown above: Movie poster for Little Caesar
There was Little Caesar in 1931, featuring Edward G. Robinson -he went on to play a series of mobster characters throughout the 1930s. There was The Public Enemy, starring James Cagney, and Scarface, featuring Paul Muni as crime boss Tony Comante.
These were brutal and violent films, but at least mildly sympathetic to their anti-hero leads - many of whom were based on real-life mobsters. The Public Enemy, for example, is at least partly based on the life ofgangster Dean O'Banion
, who died in a hail of bullets in 1924. Scarface is partly based on the life of Al Capone, and even incorporates some biographical details from Al Capone into the storyline, and Little Caesar was inspired by the life of Al Capone.

As noted, gangster films can be found in nearly every decade, but the 1930s generated nearly all of the best mob movies ever made. Not only that, but mobster films dominated the cultural landscape for 1930s moviegoers, as well - there were nine gangster films released in 1930, 15 in 1933, and 26 and 28 apiece in 1931 and 1932.

So, yes, it can definitely be agreed upon that the 1930s were really the golden age for mob films. We've collected 15 video clips for you here, featuring the top films from that decade, so that you can enjoy
sampling some of them.

Note: Do keep in mind that these films were made in the 1930s, hence, in some aspects they're dated and cultural mores might not be identical to those you might be more used to or comfortable with in
the 21st century. Rather than excluding any particular clip, there is one included for each title mentioned, in the interest of creating the most comprehensive list of classic mob films.

Shown above: Clip from Little Caesar

Little Caesar (1930)
About: Small-time criminal Caesar Enrico 'Rico' Bandello and his friend, Joe Massara, move to Chicago to seek their fortunes. Together, they join the gang of Sam Vettori, but Joe's more interested in fame
and women. He eventually meets Olga and drifts away from the gang and its activities. Rico, meanwhile, relishes mobster life and seizes control of Sam's organization and muscles his way to the top of Chicago's crime syndicate. Movie based on the novel, Little Caesar, by W.R. Burnett.  (Brief summary via Wikipedia)

Shown above: Clip from The Doorway to Hell

The Doorway to Hell (1930)
About: The Doorway to Hell is a 1930 Pre-Code  crime film starring Lew Ayres, and James Cagney  in his second film role. James Cagney went on to play several gangster characters in later films. The film's title was typical of the sensationalistic titles of many Pre-Code films, and marketed with the tagline, 'The picture that gangland defied Hollywood to make!' Ayres plays a young Chicago man who attempts to go straight, but is continually pulled into the gangster lifestyle.
(Brief summary via Wikipedia)

Shown above: Clip from Smart Money

Smart Money (1931)
About: A barber who goes to the big city to become a gambler but finds himself rooked by a blonde and a gang of thugs - whereupon he vows to take revenge, with the help of his own henchman. Smart Money was the only time Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney made a movie together, despite being the two leading gangster actors at Warner Brothers studios all through the 1930s. (Brief summary via Wikipedia)

Shown above: Clip from The Public Enemy

The Public Enemy (1931)
About: One of the earliest and best of gangster films from the 1930s. The film's screenplay was based on the novel Beer and Blood by John Bright and Kubec Glasmon. The lead character is portrayed as a sexually magnetic, cocky, completely amoral, emotionally brutal, ruthless, and terribly lethal individual.However, the protagonist (a cold-blooded, tough-as-nails racketeer and 'public enemy') begins his life, not as a hardened criminal, but as a young mischievous boy in pre-Prohibition city streets, whose early environment clearly contributes to the evolving development of his life of adult crime and his inevitable gruesome death. Unlike other films, this one examined the social forces and roots of crime in a serious way. Cagney's character was based on real-life Chicago gangster Earl 'Hymie' Weiss (who also survived a machine-gun ambush) and
bootlegging mobster Charles Dion 'Deanie' O'Banion (an arch-rival to Al Capone). (Brief summary courtesy FilmSite)

Shown above: Trailer for Scarface

Scarface (1932)
About: Scarface: The Shame of the Nation (1932) is one of the boldest, most potent, raw and brutal mobster films ever made. The sensational production chronicles the predictable but tragic rise and
fall of a notorious gangster figure. (Brief summary courtesy Filmsite)

Shown above: Clip from 'G' Men

'G' Men (1935)
About: A year after graduation, lawyer Brick Davis has no clients. His friend Eddie Buchanan tries to recruit him as a federal agent or 'G' man (government man), but Brick isn't interested. However, when Eddie is killed by a gangster, Brick changes his mind, determined to bring the killer to justice. He bids farewell to his mentor, 'Mac' MacKay, a gang boss who financed his education to keep Brick on the right side of the law, and Jean Morgan, the star of MacKay's nightclub who has feelings for Brick, and sets out to avenge the death of his friend. (Brief summary via Wikipedia)

Shown above: Clip from The Petrified Forest (SPOILERS)

The Petrified Forest (1936)
About: Alan Squier, a British intellectual and writer, wanders into a roadside diner in the Petrified Forest area in northern Arizona. The diner is run by Jason Maple, his daughter Gabrielle, and her grandfather. Gabrielle dreams of moving to Bourges to become an artist and shows Alan her paintings. Alan arranges a ride from wealthy tourists Mr. and Mrs. Chisholm, but before they can leave, Duke Mantee, a famous gangster fleeing a massive police pursuit, invades the diner with his gang and takes the entire group hostage. Everyone is of course terrified, except Alan, who has little to live for. Indifferent to the danger, he engages Duke in lively conversation, eventually proposing an unusual deal. (Brief summary via Wikipedia)  (DVD including featurette and radio adaptation available here.)

Shown above: Trailer for Bullets of Ballots

Bullets or Ballots (1936)
About: A detective infiltrates a crime syndicate.

Shown above: Clip from Dead End (SPOILERS)

Dead End (1937)
About: Just blocks from some of the worst slums of New York is a particular street where wealthy people own luxury apartments with a picturesque of the East River. At the end of the street is a dock on the East River; to the left are the luxury apartments and to the right are the slums. The Dead End Kids, led by Tommy Gordon, are a petty gang of street urchins already well on the path to a life of crime. Tommy's sister, Drina, dreams of marrying some dashing, rich stranger who will save her and Tommy from this miserable life of poverty and help prevent Tommy from growing up to be a mobster like Baby Face Martin. Martin has returned to the neighborhood to visit his mother and old girlfriend, but finds that his current wealth can't solve anything and he's already lost everything he ever cared about. Meanwhile, the kids roughup a rich kid who lives in the apartments. When the boy's father tries to intervene, Tommy stabs him in the hand. He escapes the police and goes into hiding. The young Tommy's fate is foreshadowed in Martin's fate by the end of the day. An adaptation of the Sidney Kingsley 1935 Broadway play of the same name. (Brief summary via Wikipedia)  (A subtitled and closed-captioned DVD of this film is available here.)

Shown above: Clip from King of the Underworld

King of the Underworld (1938)
About: Dr. Niles Nelson is lured by the promise of easy money into becoming doctor to crime boss Joe Gurney and his gang. When Niles is killed by police while attending to one of Gurney's men, his wife, Dr. Carol Nelson, falls under suspicion of also being in league with the gangsters. (Brief summary courtesy TCM)

Shown above: Trailer for Angels with Dirty Faces

Angels with Dirty Faces (1938)
About: Rocky Sullivan and Jerry Connolly are childhood friends who robbed a railroad car as kids. Rocky saved Jerry's life during the chase by pulling him out of the way of a steam train while running
from the guards that saw them. Rocky was then caught by the police, but Jerry - who could run faster - escaped. Rocky, after being sent to reform school, grows up to become a notorious gangster, while Jerry has become a priest.Rocky returns to his old neighborhood, where Jerry is the parish priest and intends to keep young boys away from a life of crime. Six of those boys idolize Rocky, and Jerry attempts to keep his former friend from influencing them to follow him into mobster life. (Brief summary via Wikipedia)

Shown above: Clip from The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse

The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (1938)
About: Dr. Clitterhouse is a wealthy society doctor in New York City who decides to research the medical aspects of the behavior of criminals directly - by becoming one. He begins a series of daring
jewel robberies, measuring his own blood pressure, temperature and pulse before, during and afterwards, but yearns for a larger sample for his study. From one of his patients, Police Inspector Lewis Lane, he learns the name of the biggest fence in the city, Joe Keller. He goes to meet Keller to sell what he's stolen, only to find out that 'Joe' is actually 'Jo' (Claire Trevor). The doctor impresses Jo and a gang of thieves headed by 'Rocks' Valentine with his exploits, so Jo invites him to join them, and he accepts. Afterwards, Clitterhouse announces he is quitting - his 'vacation' time is up. He returns the gang to Rocks' control. However, Rocks learns Dr. Clitterhouse's real identity and shows up at his Park Avenue office with a proposition. (Brief summary via Wikipedia)

Shown above: Clip from The Roaring Twenties

The Roaring Twenties (1939)
About: A classic crime thriller, based on the short story 'The World Moves On,' by Mark Hellinger, a columnist who'd been hired by a studio head to write screenplays. The film follows three men who meet in a foxhole during the waning days of World War I: Eddie Bartlett, George Hally and Lloyd Hart, and depicts their trials and tribulations throughout the Prohibition era of the early 1920s through the early 1930s.(Brief summary via Wikipedia)

Shown above: Clip from Brother Orchid

Brother Orchid (1940)
About: Crime boss Little John Sarto retires suddenly, giving leadership of his gang to Jack Buck. Sarto decides to return home and take back his gang after five years, but Buck has him thrown out of his office. The only ones who remain loyal to Sarto are his girlfriend Flo Addams and Willie 'The Knife' Corson. Sarto raises a new gang and starts encroaching on Buck's territory, until Buck tries to have him assassinated. Sarto escapes, but is shot several times. He manages to make his way to a monastery, run by Brother Superior. Finding it a good place to hide out, Sarto signs up as a novice, naming himself 'Brother Orchid.' At first, he treats it as a joke, calling the monks the 'biggest chumps in the world,' but the kindness and simple life of the brothers begins to change his opinion. (Brief summary via Wikipedia)

Shown above: Clip from
It All Came True

It All Came True (1940)
About: Comedy film starring Humphrey Bogart as a gangster who hides from the police in a boarding house. (Brief summary via Wikipedia)

Shown above: Promo poster for Underworld (1927)
If you enjoy vintage movies with mobster characters or themes, you might also enjoy some of these other films:
When the Kellys Were Out (1923)  (More info on Ned Kelly films) , Underworld (1927) ,
The Racket (1928) , Sinners' Holiday (1930), Lady Killer (1933) , and The Mayor of Hell (1933) .

Other titles of interest:  
The Little Giant(1933) , When the Kellys Rode (1934) , Tough Guy (1936) , Kid Galahad (1937) , That Certain Woman (1937) , Racket Busters (1938) , Each Dawn I Die (1939), Mickey the Kid (1939) and The Last Gangster (1937) .

This is a guest post for Guys and Molls  by Sasha Soren (Random Magic). Here's one last trailer. It's not for a gangster movie, it's just fun to look at!:

Shown above: Trailer for Random Magic

More about Random Magic can be found below, feel free to browse.
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  1. I haven't seen any of these mobster movies but love how they look.
    ~ Cassandra Ruiz

  2. I haven't seen any of these movies, but I might check out some of them. Great post!


There is lot of spam lately at the posts, so for a while i will put up the comment moderation. Sorry for that, i really don't like it but i thought it might stop the spamming. It will be down soon enough! Thanks a lot :)

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