Issue 7: Article—Real Gangsters on Screen

Each issue, RSL offers up that perennial internet favourite: the themed list. For this issue, we take a look at some gangsters who were brought to life on the big screen…

Scarface (1932)

ScarfaceWho’s the man? Maybe the most notorious gangster of all time, Al Capone, who reigned over Chicago for seven years during the Prohibition era.

What’s the story? OK, yes, the 1983 Al Pacino version is more famous. And, yes, this is only a loose telling of the Capone story. But this is early Hollywood at its finest. Howard Hawks directs (with Richard Rosson), Howard Hughes produces and Paul Muni stars as Antonio ‘Tony’ Camonte, a small time criminal who claws his way into the big time, only for it to all go wrong. It’s adapted from Armitage Trail’s 1929 novel, Scarface.

Donnie Brasco (1997)

Donnie BWho’s the man? The actual criminal is Lefty Ruggiero, but the titular character is the alias of an undercover FBI agent, Joseph D. Pistone, who infiltrated the Bonanno crime family in New York City during the 1970s.

What’s the story? Johnny Depp (soon to be seen as Boston gangster, Whitey Bulger, in Black Mass) gains the confidence of Al Pacino’s ageing hitman, only to find the line between federal agent and criminal increasingly blurred. Directed by Mike Newell, the film was adapted by Paul Attanasio from the book, Donnie Brasco: My Undercover Life in the Mafia, by Pistone and Richard Woodley. Pistone also served as a consultant on the film.

The Untouchables (1987)

The UntWho’s the man? Yup, it’s that man Capone again…

What’s the story? While Scarface is a loose telling of the Capone story, The Untouchables is an attempt to tell the true story of Federal Agent Eliot Ness’ mission to take down the Chicago gangster. Kevin Costner is Ness, Robert De Niro is Capone, and Sean Connery is, well, Sean Connery; infusing his Irish-American cop with a distinctly Scottish brogue. Directed by Brian De Palma and written by David Mamet, this film has plenty of classic elements to enjoy – including the baseball bat scene, the climactic gun battle and a Ennio Morricone score.

The Krays (1990)

The_Krays_UK_posterWho the man? In this case, men – they’re Ronnie and Reggie Kray, twin gangsters who terrorized the London underworld of the 1960s.

What’s the story? While in the upcoming Kray flick, Legend, Tom Hardy takes on both roles, for The Krays, we get to enjoy brothers Gary and Martin Kemp (better know as members of 1980s pop group, Spandau Ballet). The film charts the brothers’ lives, from childhood through their ascent to notorious crime lords. A British classic with impressive performances from the Kemps and also Billie Whitelaw as the twins’ doting mother.

American Gangster (2007)

Amer GangWho’s the man? Frank Lucas, a heroin kingpin operating in 1970s New York.

What’s the story? Denzel Washington is the imaginative drug importer who corners the heroin market and Russell Crowe is Richie Roberts, the detective determined to ruin the party. It was directed by Ridley Scott and written by Steven Zaillian from a New York Magazine story, ‘The Return of Superfly’, by Mark Jacobson. The film successfully reunites two acting giants and was generally well-received. However, the real Lucas and Roberts were among those to dispute its historical accuracy.

Mesrine Part 1: Killer Instinct / Mesrine Part 2: Public Enemy #1 (2008)

mesrine1Who’s the man? French gangster, Jacques Mesrine, who became notorious during the 1960s and 70s.

What’s the story? While we referenced this two-parter back in Issue 1, we felt it only right to give another nod towards Mesrine in this list. Vincent Cassel stars as the titular gangster, whose violent escapades captured the imagination of the public and frustrated the authorities. Known as Public Enemy No. 1 and The Man of a Thousand Faces, Mesrine became as infamous for his daring jail breaks as for his crimes. The film was directed by Jean-François Richet and the script was adapted by Richet and Abdel Raouf Dafri from the real Jacques Mesrine’s book, L’instinct de mort.

Issue 8 of RSL is out on 31 August.