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Gangster Movies Past & Present

Gangster movies have been showing the dark and seedy side of life to viewers for years. The stories have tough characters hardened by a life of crime. Violence and murder are the most commonly used tools to gain respect, power, and money. Gangster movies show a rainbow of criminal activity like drug dealing, robbery, extortion, murder for hire, racketeering, and human trafficking. Name an illicit business and it’s probably been shown in a gangster movie. The darker side of life has always captivated some movie viewers. It might be because everyone has a choice to be a John Q. Citizen or a Public Enemy outside of the law.

There are plenty of well researched books, articles, and documentaries about the place of the gangster in movie history. 123movies  This article is the opposite of those. It’s a light snack for the gangster movie buff that wants something that’s not filling and easy to digest.

Lighting up the big screen in the 30’s was The Public Enemy starring James Cagney as Tom Powers and directed by William Wellman. This about a young gangsters rise in the criminal underworld during the murderous prohibition era. Aside from the fact it is a hard boiled story and social commentary it has some larger than life characters like a gangster’s gangster Tom Powers and street hoodlum Putty Nose. A point of controversy for it’s era was character Tom Powers smashing a grapefruit in his girlfriend’s face. Also coming out in that era was Little Caesar (1931) starring all time bag guy actor Edward G. Robinson as snarling psychopath Rico and directed by Mervyn LeRoy. Little Caesar is story of ambitious gangster Rico’s rapid rise and fall in the criminal underworld. The cool thing is the focus of the movie is on the character flaws of Rico aka Little Caesar instead of the action going on around him. This movie has been called the mother of modern gangster movies.

The Godfather (1972) and hardcore sequel The Godfather, Part II (1974) directed by Francis Ford Coppola and co-written by Coppola and best selling author Mario Puzo who’s books the movies are based on is one of Hollywood’s all time best selling gangster movies. It stars Marlon Brando as Mafia Chief Vito Corleone and Al Pacino as Michael Corleone. Too many big name stars to give a full cast list here. The Godfather tells the epic tale of a Mafia family taking roots and gaining power in America. It has stylized on screen violence that shows no matter the air of respect you try to promote when you’re a gangster it still comes down to shedding blood to keep power.

Movie audiences were given a whole new look with Scarface (1983) starring Al Pacino as Tony Montana and directed by Brian De Palma. Never has a movie gangster become such an icon. The image of Tony Montana can be found on posters, shirts, and all kinds of items. The character captured the imagination of viewers across the world. Lines from this modern classic are massively quoted.

Scarface is the brutal depiction of the Miami cocaine business from the eyes of hungry Cuban deportee Tony Montana. The movies brutal violence, explicit language and lack of good guy characters has made Scarface controversial and disliked by some movie critics. In my opinion the language had to be explicit, the violence brutal, and characters shown that lacked good guy qualities. If you look into that time during the Cocaine Cowboy Wars I don’t think these drug traffickers were polite, non-violent, and working with orphans. It was a brutal world ran by brutal people.

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