California Literary Review

100 Greatest Gangster Films

100 Greatest Gangster Films: The Petrified Forest, #31


March 28th, 2013

Watching The Petrified Forest you can see Bogey developing his craft. Riffing off of John Dillinger, he holds his arms at a curious angle, like he is about to reach for a gun. (For decades, Bogey impersonators would ape that posture.) Bogart studied films of Dillinger and tries here to recreate the famous bank robber’s battered facial expression and insolent demeanor.

100 Greatest Gangster Films: City of God, #32


March 21st, 2013

The frantic pace and relentless violence drive home the promotional tagline that so accurately described the film: “Fight and you’ll never survive. . . . Run and you’ll never escape.”

100 Greatest Gangster Films: American Gangster, #33


March 14th, 2013

Based loosely on the life and times of Harlem drug kingpin Frank Lucas, American Gangster was an attempt to do for America’s black underworld what the Godfather films did for the American Mafia.

100 Greatest Gangster Films: The Long Good Friday, #34


March 7th, 2013

There’s a fascinating blend of flag waver and felon in the English bulldog character created by Bob Hoskins in The Long Good Friday. Comparing his homeland with that of a visiting American Mafiosi, Shand says, “Look what England has given to the world: culture, sophistication, genius. A little bit more than the hot dog, know what I mean?”

100 Greatest Gangster Films: In Bruges, #35


February 28th, 2013

Two Irish hit men, Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson), are sent to Bruges, a picturesque medieval city in Belgium, to hide out after a hit in London goes awry.

100 Greatest Gangster Films: Pépé le Moko, #36


February 21st, 2013

Pépé le Moko is described as a foray into poetic realism and as the precursor to what became known as film noir. The movie works in large part because of Gabin, who portrays the gangster Pépé as a multidimensional character whose flaws are also his charms.

100 Greatest Gangster Films: A History of Violence, #37


February 14th, 2013

Joey Cusack was the nastiest guy in Philadelphia’s Irish mob. He killed dozens, sometimes without the go-ahead from his bosses. Had a real vicious side. Carved up a made man with barbed wire once, scraping out his eye. And then, he wanted out.

100 Greatest Gangster Films: The Friends of Eddie Coyle, #38


February 7th, 2013

There is no glamour in the underworld of Eddie Coyle, nor is there any attempt by the director to pretend that there is. This is a gritty, realistic look at “the life.” And while those who love the movie compare it favorably to The Departed, this film’s hard-luck lead protagonist and his inevitable fate are more reminiscent of Al Pacino’s role in Donnie Brasco. But either comparison is high praise.

100 Greatest Gangster Films: Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, #39


January 31st, 2013

The twisting, amusing heist movie was written and directed by Guy Ritchie, a 29-year-old Brit who never went to film school and learned his craft by creating music videos and TV commercials. Unfortunately, as we see it, this feature-length debut also serves as the high point of Ritchie’s career—unless you count his eight-year marriage to Madonna.

100 Greatest Gangster Films: Miller’s Crossing, #40


January 24th, 2013

In a cast as deep as the 1998 Yankees, two performances stand out. Character actor Jon Polito is riveting as Johnny Caspar, the perspiring old-school gangster who also serves as Miller’s Crossing’s street-level philosopher. And John Turturro steals scenes as Bernie, the double-crossing bookie at the center of all the trouble.

100 Greatest Gangster Films: Infernal Affairs, #41


January 17th, 2013

Martin Scorsese used this movie as the framework for The Departed. And while Infernal Affairs has received high praise and dozens of awards, the feeling here is that Scorsese took an interesting plot and made it into a classic film.

100 Greatest Gangster Films: Underworld, U.S.A., #42


January 10th, 2013

Underworld, U.S.A.’s original opening—in which prostitutes joke of starting a union and holding a “stand-up strike”—was deleted. Shots of hardcore drug use were edited out, as was a pioneering nude scene. The number of killings was sliced from 18 to five. More than 20 pages of script were blue-penciled.

100 Greatest Gangster Films: True Romance, #43


January 3rd, 2013

This is an old-fashioned boy-meets-girl love story, filtered (perhaps scrambled is a better word) through the artistic lens of Quentin Tarantino, who wrote the screenplay for director Tony Scott.

100 Greatest Gangster Films: A Prophet, #44


December 27th, 2012

As a prison movie, it would rank in our all-time Top 10. As a gangster movie, not as high, but we do heartily recommend it. The film is directed by Jacques Audiard, whom critics delight in calling “The French Scorsese.”

100 Greatest Gangster Films: M, #45


December 20th, 2012

A child murderer is terrorizing the city. The police hunt is intense, but fruitless. So the cops redouble their efforts—rousting bars, hassling citizens walking the night streets, turning a bright spotlight on the creatures of the back alleys. The killer still remains at large, but there’s an unexpected side effect: with every flophouse and crime den being raided on a nightly basis, the underworld pimps, thieves and pushers cannot operate.

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