Early Gangster Films: - ‘Musketeers of Pig Alley’ (1912) Dir. DW Griffith - ‘Scarface: Shame of a Nation’ (1932) Dir. Howard Hawks
Key Questions: What gave birth to the Gangster Genre? Was society influenced by the Genre? How has gangster culture influenced Codes And Conventions in Gangster Film Genre?
‘ Musketeers of Pig Alley’: 1912
The first significant gangster film that has survived, though not the first ever made: The Moonshiners (1904); A Desperate Encounter Between Burglars And Police (1905); The Black Hand (1906)
Shot on location in New York’s east side. It used real ‘hoods’ as extra’s in the film and laid the foundation for the Codes and Conventions of the genre.
Griffiths got the idea to shoot the film from reading the headlines of the day. In 1912, there was a series of gangster killings and vice scandals that implicated the police. The climax came with the shooting of a gambler named Herman Rosenthal.
The social realism of stories and situations based on newspaper reports that we have come to associate with the gangster genre began when the Biograph Company capitalised on these headlines and the subsequent cries for reform.
St Valentines Day massacre
History on Al Capone
America's first well known publicised and most ruthless gangster was Al Capone aka Scarface based in Chicago he and his men earned the following sums in a single year:
$60,000,000 from beer and liquor
$10,000,000 form racketeering
£25,000,000 from gambling dens and dog tracks
$10,000,000 from dance halls and vice .
His Most famous murders took place on 14 th February 1929 , Five members of a bootleg gang were in their hideout with two other crooks when a car drew up outside the building. Four strangers got out two in policeman's uniforms. They marched straight into the building and killed all seven of the opposite gang. When they left the building the two men in plain clothes had their arms raised as if they had just been arrested . This deceived onlookers who were wondering why gun shots had gone off and the victims, one of which survived long enough to tell detectives “it was coppers, that’s all I know . Coppers done it”.
1920`s Gangsters and their effect on gangster culture
Al Capone clearly had the largest effect on gang influence at the time, a modern day gangster of the 1920`s, usually drank in excess as a way of rebelling against the prohibition laws, they had to dress smartly normally in suits to be associated with these gangsters.
1920`s Gangsters and their effect on film
In the 1920`s the prohibition act was in place which made the era a haven for the crime known as bootlegging this industry was ruled by Al Capone, in 1932 Capone was sent jail shortly after followed the release Scarface: shame of a nation, the films main character was loosely based on Al Capone
Codes & conventions and influences of the time
The typical conventions of 1930`s gangster genre are smart suits, acts of violence, murder, weapons and luxury items associated with the lifestyle such as cigars and fine liquors, the influence from the time is obvious here as Al Capone was well known for fulfilling all the above conventions. He wore the most expensive suits money could buy, constantly smoked cigars and once stabbed someone to death at a dinner party with a fork rather than a knife.
Scarface: Shame of a Nation
‘ Scarface: Shame of a Nation’
Stars Paul Muni as a power-mad, vicious, immature and beastly hood in Prohibition-Era Chicago (Muni’s character Tony Comonte is loosely based on Capone). A script based originally base on a novel that exposed the exploits of Capone, but was most informed by Chicago-based headlines that the writers had been inspired by.
This ultra-violent, landmark film is a depiction of Italian-American immigrant gangsters that includes twenty-eight deaths, and the first use of a machine gun by a gangster in film .
The gangsters in the film are often portrayed as ignorant, remorseless, and childish criminals who don't comprehend the enormity of their actions.
To give the film respectability, to de-glamorize the folk-hero nature of the gangster, and to appease the forces of censorship, a number of restrictions or changes were imposed before the film could be released with the MPAA seal of approval:
an added sub-title was required [its original title was simply Scarface, and the first suggested retitle was The Menace] to illustrate that the film was not a glorification, but an indictment of gangsterism
an apologetic, moral statement was tacked to the beginning of the film
various cuts, erasures, voice-overs and changes were made throughout
Tony Camonte's mother was shown expressing disapproval of her son's behavior - she calls him "bad" and "no-good”
Before ‘Scarface: Shame of a Nation’ could be released:
although there are almost 30 deaths in the film, blood is never shown, and even more deaths occur off-screen
moralistic, denunciatory speeches, in a prologue and epilogue, were added by a Chief of Detectives and a newspaper publisher (several scenes were directed by Richard Rosson)
"the public" is blamed for the existence of gangs, rather than law enforcement officials: "Don't blame the police. They can't stop machine guns from being run back and forth across the state lines. They can't enforce laws that don't exist”
an alternative, moralistic, sermonizing (and emasculated) second ending (substituted for the shootout) was created to condemn the gangster as cowardly and show his sentencing and retributory punishment (hanging) by an effective justice system
muted hints of an incestuous attachment between the main protagonist and his sister, one of the film's sub-themes, supposedly went uncontested, or the most obvious references to incest were removed by Hawks himself