Crime/Gangster


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Charlie Chan In London

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

Released - September, 1934  Charlie Chan In London Charlie Chan In London

Directed By - Eugene Forde

Starring – Warner Oland (Charlie Chan), Drue Leyton (Pamela Gray), Ray Milland (Neil Howard).

Description – When all others failed…she turned to Charlie Chan!

Pamela Gray’s brother Paul has just been convicted of murdering a weapons inventor and sentenced to be executed. She refuses to believe that Paul is guilty in spite of the doubts of his lawyer Neil Howard and her own fiancee.

Distraught over the disclosure of their feelings she breaks off her engagement and asks for the help of visiting detective Charlie Chan. There is not much time as Paul is scheduled to be executed in 65 hours.

Believing Pamela’s feelings about her brothers innocence, Charlie promises to find the real killer. This case offers quite a list of possible suspects ranging from a housekeeper to a lawyer.

At the estate of family friend Geoffrey Richmond, where the murder took place, Chan gathers together all of the suspects and sets a trap to reveal the real killer before time runs out.

NOTABLE: Charlie Chan In London was the sixth film with actor Warner Oland playing the role of Charlie Chan and is considered one of the better entries in the series.

This film was the first not based on one of Earl Derr Biggers stories featuring detective Charlie Chan.

Manhattan Melodrama

Sunday, October 17th, 2010

Released - May, 1934  Myrna Loy and William Powell Collection Manhattan Melodrama

Directed By - W. S. Van Dyke

Starring – Clark Gable (Edward J. ‘Blackie’ Gallagher, William Powell (Jim Wade), Myrna Loy (Eleanor Packer), Leo Carrillo (Father Joe).

Description- Edward ‘Blackie’ Gallagher and Jim Wade were both orphans and lifelong friends. That’s where the similarity ends as both chose different paths in life.

Gallagher would become a gambler and racketeer while Wade would become District Attorney and run for Governor. Their friendship remained strong even after Gallagher’s girlfriend leaves him and marries Wade. So strong, in fact, that Gallagher murders an attorney who tries to prevent Wade from becoming Governor.

This act would lead to Jim Wade’s last act as District Attorney. He now must capture and prosecute his friend Blackie Gallagher for the murder.

Blackie is found guilty and sentenced to death. This case turns out to be the deciding point in the mind of voters, and Wade is elected Governor.

As Governor, Wade now has the authority to change Blackie’s sentence from death to life in prison. Eleanor tries very hard to get Jim to change the sentence and reveals a secret regarding the killing that was unknown to Jim.

What is the secret and will Jim compromise his principles and commute Blackie’s sentence? The decision is not as easy as it may seem and the outcome included another surprise.

NOTABLE: Manhattan Melodrama won the Academy Award for Best Writing, Original Story.

This film provided one of the first roles for Mickey Rooney, who played Gable’s character as a child and also was the first pairing of William Powell and Myrna Loy who would go on to star together in fourteen films.

Manhattan Melodrama earned an unusual place in motion picture history as the film gangster John Dillinger had just seen prior to being shot to death by federal agents.

Scarface

Saturday, December 19th, 2009

Released - April, 1932  Scarface Scarface

Directed By - Howard Hawks, Richard Rosson

Starring – Paul Muni (Antonio ‘Tony’ Camonte), Ann Dvorak (Francesca ‘Cesca’ Camonte), Karen Morley (Poppy), Osgood Perkins (John ‘Johnny’ Lovo), C. Henry Gordon (Inspector Ben Guarino), George Raft (Guino Rinaldo), Boris Karloff (Gaffney).

Description - A classic gangster film with a simple premise. Rival gangs fighting over control of the city. Gangster Tony Camonte is looking to rise to the top of his profession, and it’s doesn’t hurt that he happens to be insanely violent.

In the world of organized crime, be careful what you ask for. Tony’s ruthless ambition has the police breathing down his neck and has resulted in strong dissatisfaction among the other crime bosses.

In addition, Tony’s overprotected sister Cesca is looking to become more independent and may have taken up with another gangster.

NOTABLE: In 1994 this film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.

The movie is based loosely on the life of Al Capone who liked the film so much he had his own print. As much as he enjoyed the similarities, it was rumored that some of Capone’s men visited writer Ben Hect to be sure the story wasn’t too close to real life.

Disturbed by the violence and the possibility of glamorizing a gangster the Hays Office demanded a rewrite of the script. In defiance, Producer Howard Hughes ordered Director Howard Hawks to shoot the film as realistic and grisly as possible.

The filming was cursed by several accidents; one of which was the accidental shooting with live ammunition of comedian Harold Lloyd’s brother Gaylord who lost an eye.

Look for the letter ‘X’ to be prominently used whenever a murder takes place.

This was one of the first films to feature the use of a ‘tommy gun,’ the Thompson Machine Gun.

This motion picture is rated #6 in AFI’s 10 Greatest Gangster Films.

Personal Comment: If you are a fan of the Crime/Gangster genre this film is a must. Along with Little Caesar, The Public Enemy, and The Roaring Twenties, the years 1931 and 1932 were the year of the gangster.

In 1983 Brian De Palma remade Scarface with Al Pacino and the film went on to become a cult favorite.

Little Caesar

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

Released – January, 1931  Little Caesar Little Caesar

Directed By - Mervyn LeRoy

Starring – Edward G. Robinson (Little ‘Rico’ Caesar), Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. (Joe Massara), Glenda Farrell (Olga Stassoff).

Description – Historically, this is the film that started the ‘gangster genre’. It tells the story of small-time hood Caesar Enrico (Rico) Bandello who will stop at nothing to reach the top. Along with his friend Joe Massara they head for the big city – Chicago to make their fortune.

Gradually pushing his way to the top Rico, now known as ‘Little Caesar’ and Joe begin to take seperate paths. Joe has met a girl and has decided to pursue his dream of becoming a dancer.
During a night-club robbery Rico murders the Crime Commissoner with Joe witnessing the killing.

Fearing Joe or his girlfriend Olga will betray him, Rico threatens Joe telling him to leave the girl and come back to a life of crime. Joe refuses, and with Olga’s influence betrays Rico. Now on the run and in hiding with the newspapers calling him a coward, Little Caesar returns with guns blazing.

NOTABLE:  This motion picture received one Oscar nonimation for Best Writing, Adaptation.

In 2000 this film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.

The popular rumor at the time claimed that the character of Little Caesar was loosely based on gangster Al Capone. However, the character was actually based on Chicago gangster Salvatore “Sam” Cardinella.

Uncomfortable with guns, in one scene Edward G. Robinson had his eyes held open with tape to prevent them from closing when he fired his gun.

It has long been speculated that the federal anti-crime law – The Racketeering Influence Corrupt Organization Act, or RICO was based on Robinson’s character.

Warner Brothers set an all-time record attendance record for their studio with the weekend opening of this film.

Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.’s character was based on fellow actor George Raft who was believed to be associated with Owney Madden who organized New York City’s taxi racket.

This film as been rated #9 on the American Film Institute’s list of the 10 greatest films in the “Gangster” genre.

Personal Comment:  I recently viewed this film again along with the others included in the Warner Bros. Gangster Collection Vol. 1. Although the films production value, and occassionally even the acting, may seem a little dated it is still a very enjoyable movie. It is an original and a must see for all ganster genre fans.

The Public Enemy

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

Released – April, 1931  Public Enemy The Public Enemy

Directed By - William A. Wellman

Starring – James Cagney (Tom Powers), Jean Harlow (Gwen Allen), Edward Woods (Matt Doyle), Joan Blondell (Mamie), Donald Cook (Mike Powers).

Description – This is the fast-paced story of vicious criminal Tom Powers and his rise in the probation-era underworld. There is a fortune to be made in the bootlegging business and Tom wants it all.

Using violence as his tool, Tom soon gets what he wanted – and more. Strongly devoted to his widowed mother, and increasingly distant from his war veteran brother Mike, Tom success as a gangster continues until greed gets the better of him.

A great Cagney portrayal with a “crime doesn’t pay” finale, The Public Enemy is a classic.

NOTABLE:  This film was nominated for and won an Oscar for Best Writing, Original Story.

In 1998 the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.

This film as been rated #8 on the American Film Institute’s list of the 10 greatest films in the “Gangster” genre.

James Cagney was not originally considered for the role of Tom Powers, but after Director William A. Wellman saw Cagney in rehearsals he realized the actor would be perfect for the role. The rest is cinematic history as Cagney’s portrayal was excellent.

Enjoy the famous grapefruit in the face scene with Cagney and actress Mae Clarke. Originally done as a joke on the crew, Director Wellman liked the scene so much he kept it in the film. In fact, for a number of years afterward, when dining in restaurants James Cagney often had grapefruits sent to his table from other diners. And most graciously, he would eat them.

The scene where Cagney’s character shoots and kills a horse was based on an actual event as noted in Carl Safikis’, ‘Encyclopedia Of American Crime’.

Personal Comment:  This film is also included in the great Warner Bros. Gangster Collection Vol. 1 and has to also be considered a must see for gangster movie fans. Another excellent movie experience.