Gangsters On Screen

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In early depictions during the Pre-Code Hollywood era, the ‘gangster’ image was highly romanticised by films such as The Public Enemy (1931), but as the threat of gangsterism grew in many cities around the world, the impetus on controlling its portrayal grew rapidly. Since those times the modern cinema and television audience has had the privilege of witnessing reconstructions of this era in Hollywood classics such as The Godfather, without the baggage of experiencing it firsthand. Attempts to entertain an audience with an appetite for gangster films has since spawned a great number of films looking at gangsters from both the modern age and more period pieces. With the TV series and subsequent box set release of modern gritty Italian drama GOMORRAH released on DVD and Blu-ray this week, we take a look at the similarities this television series shares with some of the finest gangster epics ever made.

Adapted from Robert Saviano’s groundbreaking book exposing the inner-workings of the Neapolitan mafia, GOMMORAH paints a brutal portrait of crime organisation the Camorra, as seen through the eyes of Ciro Di Marzo – the up-and-coming right hand man of clan godfather, Pietro Savastano. With Pietro locked up in solitary confinement, and facing an ever-increasing sentence, Ciro is left to do his boss’ dirty work, running the empire alongside the dysfunctional Savastano family.

The Godfather (1972) – Arguably the most notable gangster epic in cinema history is The Godfather. Ageing crime dynasty boss Don Corleone of the New York Italian-American Mafia transfers his power to his reluctant son. With Al Pacino in his defining role, The Godfather is widely regarded as the best gangster film of all time. Similarly Gomorrah’s Ciro is left to do Pietro’s dirty work whilst he rots away in prison, but taking control of his empire alongside the Savastano family proves to be a lot more work than he first imagined.

The Sopranos (1999-2007) – Following the life of a well respected fictional New Jersey mob boss, Tony Soprano, this America television series looks at his daily troubles from family to business life. Based heavily on writer David Chase’s experiences of growing up in New Jersey The Sopranos gives a further insight to the family dynamic of organised crime in American and draws on the Italian-American culture of criminal activity commonly associated with the mafia. Gomorrah too looks at the issues of gangster life within the family and business but unlike to the Soprano’s, Ciro and the Savastano’s have a slightly more dysfunctional approach to dealing with their troubles!

GoodFellas (1990) – From academy award winning filmmaker Martin Scorsese, GoodFellas tracks the lives of three men seeking to break into the life of a gangster, and gradually work their way up the ranks in the mob. Building on the success of The Godfather, GoodFellas delivered a gangster epic that battles for its place in the top 100 films of all time. Like many other big screen gangster dramas, money is no issue, with lavish suits, cars and women all . By contrast, modern day drama Gomorrah offers a stark and realistic view of a modern day life of crime, opting for a hoodie and jeans combo, concrete estates and tacky white limousines.

Little Caesar (1931) – The fictionalised tale of one Caesar Enrico “Rico” Bandello played by Edward G. Robinson, looks at the archetypal rise and fall associated with gangsters of the time and is arguably the start of all great gangster epics. Rico rapidly ascends the criminal underworld and rises through the ranks of the upper echelons with determination and fearlessness to be the best. Eventually resulting in his downfall Rico goes into hiding and delivers his iconic line, “Is this the end of Rico?” It may be Caesar’s end but this one line marked a turning point in gangster cinema that paved a new path for Hollywood studios.

Gomorrah is available now as a DVD & Blu-ray box set from Arrow Films’ Noir label

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Alton started BRWC as a bit of fun, and has grown into what you see today, and he can only apologise. Some of the films he loves are Rear Window, Superman 2, The Man With The Two Brains, Clockwise, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Trading Places, Stir Crazy and Punch-Drunk Love.