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Hollywood Continues Its Life-Long Love Affair with the Mob

Posted on September 17 2010 10:00 am
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No, I don’t mean Hollywood’s submission to the Clinton Machine or lust over the Obama Mafia. Though, these would be fair guesses. I am talking about the film genre that never ceases to be and has not fallen off the map like the western has. While audiences didn’t take to last year’s throwback to 1930s crime films, Public Enemies, we know that America still loves its gangsters as long as the success of The Sopranos teaches us anything.

This upcoming Sunday, HBO will debut a new series that will likely keep the gangster figure solidified in popular culture. Boardwalk Empire is produced by mob movie icon Martin Scorsese and written by Terrence Winter who worked on The Sopranos. So why has the allure for the gangster stayed as strong as it has for so long? Each film follows a similar trajectory; the gangster slowly rises to the top only to have his riches taken from him in a fast fall from grace usually resulting in death. Regardless, our interest rarely wanes. We hate to love the gangster yet always keep coming back for more.

During the Great Depression, gangsters were seen as heroic because they did not let anything get in the way of their “success.” The helpless public loved John Dillinger and Bonnie and Clyde not because they were violent but because they had the courage that most did not in the toughest of times. The Hollywood studios knew this and figured why not let the audiences live vicariously through these villains for an hour and a half of entertainment? Warner Brothers understood this better than anyone and began churning out films like The Public Enemy, Little Caesar and Angles With Dirty Faces.

In a country where the economy and president’s approval rating is in the toilet, people are still losing homes and jobs, why not give them a fantastical journey that allows them to take back some of what they lost? In the 1930s a gangster was nothing more than a gun and a fedora (as Michael Mann rehashed for Public Enemies), however, other filmmakers have brought the character into a deeper realm. Films like The Godfather and Goodfellas are gold standards but productions like The Sopranos have created a new experience. We saw the two “families” of Tony Soprano, the hard and soft side of a crime boss, the gangster has become human, but is he one of us?

It is impossible to deny that these films offer a certain amount of satisfaction to audiences. Of course, that doesn’t mean us fans all lust for crime. The gangster film gives us a window into something we do not know personally and likely will never see. The gangster figure has reached such an iconic status that the collective public will always be curious as to what goes on in these circles. We may not have agreed with most of what Tony Soprano did, but since we had a seat in his own living room we couldn’t help but watch.

It should be no surprise that Scorsese and Winter, who have both had great success in this genre are a part of this new series. Boardwalk Empire takes place in the prohibition days of the 1920s, which feels timely today when government is out of control. While legalization of alcohol is no longer an issue today, seeing people fight against Big Brother during any time period is certainly bound to be a successful and rewarding experience.

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