Category Archives: Gangster

Some Like It Hot

Cropped screenshot of Marilyn Monroe from the ...

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One of the golden rules in comedy is that men dressed in women’s clothing are universally funny. I don’t know why this is but it is the premise of the humour in Some Like It Hot. Unlike most other films that feature men dressed in drag, this is not just a one joke comedy, and is one of the funniest films ever made. After Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon witness a gangland shooting, they disguise themselves as female musicians to get away from the gangsters.

Whilst they are pursued by ‘Spats’ (played by George Raft) and his gang they meet up with Sugar Kane, played by Marilyn Monroe. The fun begins when Joe/Josephine, played by Curtis, falls for Sugar.

Jack Lemmon is hilarious in this movie as Gerald/Daphne, and the closing line by his/her fiancé when it is revealed that Daphne is a bloke, is one of the funniest in movie history.

Nobody’s perfect!”

One of the things that I found interesting was the casting of Raft as Spats. In real life Raft was a low-level hoodlum before he became an actor in the late 20s, and rose to prominence in the original Scarface. One of the in-jokes that I found funny was when Spats chides a rival gangster who is constantly tossing a coin, something that Raft’s character did in Scarface. In another scene he picks up a grapefruit and looks as though he is going to squish it into someone’s face ala Jimmy Cagney in The Public Enemy.

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The Untouchables

Cover of "The Untouchables (Special Colle...

Cover via Amazon

Directed by Brian De Palma
Produced by Art Linson
Executive: Raymond Hartwick
Written by David Mamet
Based on The Untouchables by Oscar Fraley and Eliot Ness
Starring Kevin Costner
Sean Connery
Andy García
Charles Martin Smith
Robert De Niro
Patricia Clarkson
Billy Drago
Music by Ennio Morricone
Cinematography Stephen H. Burum
Editing by Gerald B. Greenberg & Bill Pankow
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date June 3, 1987 (1987-06-03)
Running time 119 minutes
Country United States
Language English 

The Untouchables is a very good picture about one man’s ruthless pursuit of justice at any cost. It is a semi-fictionalised account of Eliot Ness’ efforts in trying to bring down Al Capone’s criminal empire in the early 1930s, yet it is full of historical inaccuracies which do detract a little from the enjoyment of the film.

The main inaccuracy would be the portrayal of the death of Frank Nitti, one of Capone’s top henchmen. The movie depicts Ness throwing Nitti off the top of the courthouse during Capone’s trial, when in reality Nitti committed suicide in 1943, over a dozen years after Capone’s trial. (The only reason I know this is because I have watched numerous documentaries on Nitti and Capone on the Criminal Investigation channel!) De Palmer and Mamet are really taking liberties with the truth here.

Another thing I found a little incomprehensible is the fact that Ness would fight his battles with Capone and his cronies so openly and that many members of the public ended up becoming innocent victims. The prime example of this is the scene at the crowded station when they are trying to arrest Capone’s book keeper and a gun fight breaks out. Surely Ness and any other law enforcement officer would have tried to avoid this.

Robert De Niro’s portrayal of Capone is almost as a cartoon villain, although I am not sure if the reason for this is due to De Niro going over the top or the way it has been written. Sean Connery gives a good performance as Ness’ mentor Malone though, a role which won him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, while Costner is alright as Eliott Ness.

The Untouchables is one of those popcorn films in which the best thing to do is to switch your brain off before viewing it, and to look at it as being just a piece of entertainment rather than being a serious look at a historical event.


The Public Enemy

Cover of "The Public Enemy"

Cover of The Public Enemy

Directed by William A. Wellman
Produced by Darryl F. Zanuck
Written by Kubec Glasmon, John Bright &Harvey F. Thew
Starring James Cagney
Jean Harlow
Edward Woods
Joan Blondell
Mae Clarke
Cinematography Devereaux Jennings
Editing by Ed McCormick & Edward McDermott
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date April 23, 1931
Running time 96 minutes
Country United States
Language English

The Public Enemy was the first of many gangster films that Warner Bros. made in the 1930s starring Jimmy Cagney as Tom Powers. It features one of cinemas most iconic scenes where Cagney shoves 1/2 a grapefruit into the face of Mae Clarke. It is a great film and Cagney’s performance is quite menacing and the evil Powers, although a lot of the time he does have a weird smile on his face which I don’t know whether to attribute to Cagney having a lot of fun with the role, or whether it just shows the smug conceit of Powers.

It is worth comparing Cagney’s portrayal of Tom Powers with that of another of the great 30s cinematic gangsters in Paul Muni’s Tony Camonte from Scarface. Whereas Camonte wants to prove himself a bigshot and his bravery turns out to be a mere facade without any support from his family or friends, Powers is an angry young man who seems to have no fear. While Camonte is seduced by power and money, Powers only motivation seems to be that he is a truly evil person.

You can also make a comparison about the two gangster’s mothers. Whilst Camonte’s mother knows that what he is doing is wrong and will cause the downfall of the family, Powers’ Ma is oblivious, or at the very least turning a blind eye to, all of his criminal activity. When Powers’ dead body is dumped at his family home we know his Ma is in for the shock of her life, whilst Camonte’s mother seems to be expecting his doom.

I think that the only disappointment with The Public Enemy is the brief performance of Jean Harlow as a gangsters moll. Her accent is all over the place.

Either way both The Public Enemy and Scarface are gret films featuring truly charismatic performances from the lead characters.


Scarface

Scarface (1932 film)

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Directed by Howard HawksRichard Rosson
Produced by Howard Hughes
Written by
Scarface by Armitage Trail
Screenplay by Ben Hecht
Starring Paul Muni
George Raft
Ann Dvorak
Karen Morley
Boris Karloff
Cinematography Lee Garmes &  L.W. O’Connell
Editing by Edward Curtiss
Distributed by United Artists
Release date April 9, 1932
Running time 93 minutes
Country United States
Language English & Italian

Firstly this is the original Scarface – AKA Scarface Shame of a Nation, not the 1983 version featuring Al Pacino. This is the 1932 version featuring Paul Muni and George Raft and directed by Howard Hawks. It is probably one of the most celebrated gangster films of the 1930s, with Paul Muni giving a great, charismatic performance as the ambitious villain Tony Camonte. His performance is perhaps the equal of James Cagney’s in Public Enemy or Edward G Robinson in Little Caesar, although he seems to be rather forgotten today. One criticism of the picture I have is that I do think that Boris Karloff was horribly miscast as the rival gangster Gaffney. It is very hard to believe that someone with a proper English gentleman’s voice (and what a voice) would be a hard-nosed gangster from Chicago.

This was a very controversial film in its time, with the censors demanding lots of cuts and even am alternative ending because it was felt that this movie glorified the life of gangsters. Fortunately the film was being financed by the richest man on Earth at that time, Howard Hughes, and he was able to make these changes to the picture, although when the censors still would not pass the movie he just released the original version in states that had very relaxed censorship regulations.

There were also several accidents on set with Gaylord Lloyd, brother of silent screen comedian Harold Lloyd, losing an eye after being shot by live ammunition!!!


Robin And The Seven Hoods

Directed by Gordon Douglas
Produced by Frank Sinatra
Written by David R. Schwartz
Starring Frank Sinatra
Dean Martin
Sammy Davis, Jr.
Bing Crosby
Peter Falk
Edward G. Robinson
Music by Nelson Riddle
Cinematography William H. Daniels
Editing by Sam O’Steen
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date June 24, 1964 (U.S. release)
Running time 123 min.
Language English

Robin And The Seven Hoods is nothing more than a vanity project for Frank Sinatra and the ‘Rat Pack’ in which Frank gets to fulfil his fantasy on screen by playing a gangster.
This movie is supposed to be a musical comedy but it’s really not that funny and with the exception of Frank singing ‘My Kind Of Town’ the songs aren’t that great. The film is a bit of a mish-mash in that it doesn’t know whether it is a film for adults with the gangster theme and talk about people being killed, or a family film with songs and a kid-centric sub-plot that is very annoying. The movie is still interesting in its own way due to the charm and personality of its stars Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy David Jr., as well as Bing Crosby and Peter Falk. Like all ‘Rat Pack’ movies the guys basically just play themselves but here, with the exception of Frank, neither Dino or Sammy receive nearly enough screen time in my opinion. Peter Falk has more screen time as Dean and Sammy combined.

I guess that the really interesting story in regards to Robin And The Seven Hoods is what happened behind the scenes and why Peter Lawford was not a part of the film. He was scheduled to play the part that eventually went to Bing Crosby and was cut from the film by Sinatra because Frank felt that Lawford’s brothers’ in law, President John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy snubbed him by not staying at his house. The Kennedy’s were going to stay with Sinatra but got cold feet due to a few of Frank’s indiscretions and with him openly cavorting with real life Mafioso. Brother-in-Lawford was unofficially kicked out of the ‘Rat Pack’ and ostracised by Sinatra.

Overall the film is not great but it is watchable although it is probably half an hour too long.

Useless Trivia

  • Victor Buono who plays Deputy Sherriff Potts went on to play King Tut in the Batman TV series. Caesar Romero who starred in the previous ‘Rat Pack’ movie Oceans 11 also appeared in the Batman TV series as The Joker.
  • This film probably holds a record for having the most actors who have a ‘glass eye’. Sammy Davis Jr. lost his left eye as a result of a car accident in 1954, while Peter Falk had his right eye removed at the age of three because of a tumour.

The Ghost Breakers

Directed by George Marshall
Produced by Arthur Hornblow, Jr.
Written by Walter DeLeon
Starring Bob Hope
Paulette Goddard
Richard Carlson
Paul Lukas
Music by Ernst Toch
Cinematography Charles B. Lang
Editing by Ellsworth Hoagland
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date June 21, 1940
Running time 83 min.
Country United States
Language English

The Ghost Breakers is another one of the 1940s comedy/horror films that were made during that time. (I realise that this sentence sounds awkward) This one starred Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard and is a sequel of sorts to the haunted house comedy The Cat And The Canary from a year earlier.

While it probably wasn’t as funny as Abbott & Costello’s similar type film Hold That Ghost, this film did have a few more scary scenes in it. Hope has a few good lines and is quite funny but I found Goddard’s performance to be a little disappointing, especially when compared to her other big role from 1940 in The Great Dictator. My favourite role of Goddard’s so far is in Modern Times. In The Ghost Breakers she has a few good scenes but doesn’t really do anything funny. I guess you could stereotype her role as standard damsel in distress.

The Ghost Breakers was still quite an enjoyable film to watch and one that I enjoyed a lot.


Ocean’s 11

Directed by Lewis Milestone
Produced by Lewis Milestone
Written by Harry Brown & Charles Lederer
Story by:George Clayton Johnson & Jack Golden Russell
Starring
Frank Sinatra
Dean Martin
Sammy Davis, Jr.
Peter Lawford
Joey Bishop
Angie Dickinson
Music by Nelson Riddle
Cinematography William H. Daniels
Editing by Philip W. Anderson
Distributed by Warner Brothers
Release date(s) August, 10, 1960 (U.S. release)
Running time 127 minutes
Country United States

Firstly I must say that the original version of Ocean’s 11 is much cooler than the George Clooney/Brad Pitt franchise of movies from the 2000s. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, but Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. are just so much cooler than George, Brad and Matt Damon. Even Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford are sort of cool, but perhaps the only reason for that is because they hung around Frankie and Dino.

This is not to say that the original is a great movie… it’s not even a really good movie as I undoubtedly think that the remake from 2001 is a lot better, it’s just that the Rat Pack are so much cooler than anyone else. It could be because they were just mucking around during the filming of this film and spent most of their time partying, or that Sinatra was a part owner of The Sands or that he was hanging around real gangsters.

I think that this is such a cool film perhaps solely due to the mystique of the Rat Pack. This film is so cool that Quentin Taratino paid homage in Reservoir Dogs. George Clooney may be considered cool to some, but he is just play acting when compared to Sinatra. The finale of the film has also become so iconic and is an instant image of the coolness of the Rat Pack. Who else would have their characters walk past a huge sign featuring their own names? I think that if you want to see how cool a film can be, just watch Ocean’s 11.

It also features a couple of Dean and Sammy’s hit songs too.

The film is just one big party rather than a movie. And you better believe that, Charlie!