California Literary Review

100 Greatest Gangster Films

100 Greatest Gangster Films: Scarface, #16

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May 14th, 2013

A remake of the 1932 classic of the same name starring Paul Muni, Al Pacino’s Scarface is more often compared to his other underworld epics, The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II. All four movies are about the immigrant experience and a charismatic figure from the underclass using any means possible to realize the American dream. The dream, of course, becomes a nightmare.

100 Greatest Gangster Films: White Heat, #17

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May 13th, 2013

This was film noir, movies where evil not only exists, but flourishes. Cagney’s Cody Jarrett isn’t a charismatic outlaw who viewers could vicariously admire, but rather a despicable embodiment of immorality, a man who takes what he wants whenever he wants it, mocking and abusing all those he comes in contact with—including the cops, members of his own gang and his less-than-virtuous wife, Verna (Virginia Mayo).

100 Greatest Gangster Films: A Bronx Tale, #18

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May 12th, 2013

A Bronx Tale is more than a wonderful portrait of growing up around the mob in the 1960s. Written by Chazz Palminteri, directed by Robert De Niro and starring both, the movie is a primer on life. No film this side of The Godfather provides as many valuable life lessons.

100 Greatest Gangster Films: Bonnie and Clyde, #19

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May 10th, 2013

“Young people understood this movie instantly,” director Arthur Penn told the Los Angeles Times. “They saw Bonnie and Clyde as rebels like themselves. It was a movie that spoke to a generation in a way none of us had really expected.”

100 Greatest Gangster Films: Carlito’s Way, #20

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May 9th, 2013

Brian De Palma was worried about doing another Hispanic drug kingpin movie after Scarface. But the story and the acting in Carlito’s Way go in such a different direction that there ended up being few similarities between the two films. This is a personal look at one man’s attempt at redemption. Scarface, on the other hand, is a saga about one man’s one-way trip to hell.

100 Greatest Gangster Films: The Pope of Greenwich Village, #21

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May 8th, 2013

To appreciate just how well director Stuart Rosenberg and writer Vincent Patrick captured wiseguy street corner ethos in this classic mob tale, you have to understand the meaning of an Italian phrase that has come to define the way certain mobsters act. The phrase is faccia una bella figura. Literally, it means “make a good impression.” But in fact the phrase conveys much more. It describes an attitude, an approach to life that is more typically found in the southern half of Italy, especially in Naples and points south.

100 Greatest Gangster Films: Gangs of New York, #22

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May 7th, 2013

Before there was John Gotti, before Carlo Gambino, before Lucky Luciano, there was Bill “the Butcher” Poole. The 19th-century boxer, fixer and, yes, actual butcher, was a forerunner of the mobsters who later controlled New York City.

100 Greatest Gangster Films: The Public Enemy, #23

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May 6th, 2013

Cagney, along with Edward G. Robinson, Paul Muni and, later, Humphrey Bogart, invented the film gangster. Each brought a sense of the street and gritty realism. For Cagney, that came naturally. He grew up on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and had to drop out of college after one semester when his father died. He knew how to be tough, in an argument or in a rumble.

100 Greatest Gangster Films: Sexy Beast, #24

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May 5th, 2013

Sir Ben Kingsley becomes the ruthless Logan in Sexy Beast, and he’s 90 percent of the reason to watch the movie. The plotline here is straightforward, nothing special really. The action is sporadic. The supporting cast is strong—led by British veteran Ray Winstone, who’s actually the film’s lead, and Ian McShane, who can always dial up ominous. But it’s Kingsley—throwing off Gandhi’s loincloth and round spectacles—who becomes the savage bully you’ll remember long after viewing Sexy Beast.

100 Greatest Gangster Films: Road to Perdition, #25

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May 3rd, 2013

Road to Perdition, a period piece about one branch of the Chicago crime family in the 1930s, is really a story about fathers and sons.

100 Greatest Gangster Films: Get Shorty, #26

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May 2nd, 2013

One year after reviving his career in Pulp Fiction, John Travolta gracefully slipped back into the role of a mobster. Like Vincent Vega, Get Shorty’s Chili Palmer is ultracool, sharp-witted and drawn to dressing in black. He can shatter your nose with a punch or fire his Colt Detective Special accurately enough to add a part to your hairline.

100 Greatest Gangster Films: Rififi, #27

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April 25th, 2013

That these guys are, as the French say, sympathique, is evident from the beginning of the robbery when Tony tucks a pillow behind the head of the elderly woman to make her more comfortable after she and her husband have been gagged and tied up. A clock ticking on a mantel provides a time line for the heist, which begins shortly before midnight and doesn’t end until six the next morning. In film time, the robbery takes about 30 minutes. And during those minutes, not a word—NOT ONE WORD—is spoken.

100 Greatest Gangster Films: The Untouchables, #28

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April 18th, 2013

In the midst of a dinner party in his honor, Capone (Robert De Niro) takes out a Louisville Slugger and delivers a tribute to baseball as the All-American sport. As his underlings smoke cigars and chuckle in agreement, Capone circles a huge round table—finally stopping behind one nodding toadie. He briefly speaks of betrayal and then applies a few Ruthian swings to the employee’s skull.

100 Greatest Gangster Films: Eastern Promises, #29

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April 12th, 2013

The diary of Tatiana (Tatiana Maslany), a 14-year-old, drug-addicted prostitute who dies while giving birth to a daughter in a London hospital, sets the film in motion. Her account of how and why she came to London—provided by periodic voice-overs as the diary is translated from Russian—offers a back story of the mob’s involvement in white slavery and English brothels.

100 Greatest Gangster Films: The French Connection, #30

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April 4th, 2013

New York City is more gritty than pretty in this period piece, which was shot before the Big Apple’s late-20th century revival. The skies are gray, vacant lots are strewn with debris and there’s a doomed look to the city—right down to the rusty Rheingold beer signs. It’s not attractive, but the urban tangle is a genuine representation of a time and place.

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