Not for nuthin’

To mark the occasion of the final episode of HBO’s Meadowlands Mafia series The Sopranos, our colleagues at Court TV have posted an essay dedicated to “The Most Memorable Movie Mobsters” in cinema history.  Aggressive alliteration aside, the piece is well-written and well-argued but should rightly be called “The Movie Mobsters I Remember Most” because it shows a flagrant disregard for—perhaps even outright ignorance of—any gangster movies made pre-1972.  I don’t know the author, Mindy Laster, but she seems like a sweet kid.  I’ll guess she’s in the ballpark of 25 and grew up in a well-manicured suburban neighborhood, read a lot of Jane Austin and dated clever young boys named Rand, Tripp and Bradley.  If she ever fed slugs into a pay telephone, sharpened a spoon into a schoolyard shank or played a single game of ringalevio I’ll eat my snapbrim. 

Ray BrownNot for nothing, but I do have some family ties to organized crime.  My maternal grandfather (pictured left), whom we called Daddy Ray, was friends with Mad Dog Vinnie Coll back in his youth in the Bronx.  Nicolas Cage played a fictionalized version of Vinnie Coll in The Cotton Club (1984) but there have been three other film versions of Mad Dog Coll; the first in 1961 starred John Davis Chandler, Jerry Orbach, Telly Savalas and Vincent Gardenia (as Dutch Schultz).  In the 1970s, my sister Lisa’s second husband was a low ranking goon in the Rhode Island Mafia, whose turf was the notorious Federal Hill.  This wiseguy wannabe was nicknamed Gaspipe because his raspy voice sounded like gas leaking out of a rubber hose.  All this goes the long way around saying I have strong thoughts about the depiction of crime and criminals on the big screen.

Mindy Laster’s Top Ten Movie Mobsters runs as such:  1.  Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) in The Godfather.   2.  Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) in Godfellas.  3.  Tom Reagan (Gabriel Byrne) in Miller’s Crossing.  4.  Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci) in Casino.  5.  Don Logan (Ben Kingsley) in Sexy Beast.  6.  Tony “the Tiger” Russo (Dean Stockwell) in Married to the Mob.  7.  Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) in The Departed.  8.  Tony Montana (Al Pacino) in Scarface.  9.  Al Capone (Robert DeNiro) in The Untouchables.  10.  Vinnie Antonelli (Steve Martin) in My Blue Heaven. 

There are many praiseworthy candidates among the above (especially the under-valued Miller's Crossing) and Ms. Laster has some valid observations but her rundown is a little too Maxim magazine for my taste, far too impressed by grandstanding performances and dialogue seemingly written to be parroted by frat boys.  Worse yet, this list completely ignores both the classic Warner Brothers gangsters (Paul Muni’s original Scarface, James Cagney’s Public Enemy, Edward G. Robinson’s Little Caesar) and the entire film noir school.   

The Long Good Friday

I’m not going to make my own Top 10 list but I will point out several glaring omissions.  Right from the jump… oi, Harold Shand (Bob Hoskins) in The Long Good Friday – this dark horse cult classic spawned a slew of flash but empty headed imitations; if you’ve seen Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels but not The Long Good Friday, you’re a tall drink o'piss.  Tommy Udo (Richard Widmark) in Kiss of Death – the perfect psychopath and a sharp dressed man.  Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb) in On the Waterfront – the jewel in Cobb’s crown of movie heavies.  Cody Jarrett (James Cagney) in White Heat – without whom we’d probably never have Ringo Lam’s City on Fire or Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs.  Al Capone (Jason Robards) in The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre – many actors have worn Big Al’s plus-size double-breasted but the scrappy Robards shows the brains behind the bully.  John Dillinger (Warren Oates) in Dillinger – the ultimate character actor playing the ultimate gangster.  Frog One (Fernando Rey) in The French Connection – as charming as he is deadly and backed by the inimitable Marcel Bofuzzi as Frog Two.  Henry Silva in Johnny Cool – you can’t go wrong with Sammy Davis, Jr. singing your theme song.  Stanley Baker in The Criminal – a criminally neglected classic British rise-and-fall crime drama.  Machine Gun Kelly (Charles Bronson) in Machine Gun Kelly – this early starring role for Mr. Death Wish shows Chuck always had it locked and loaded.   

White Heat

Most of these are readily available on DVD.  Get to rentin’.

24 Responses Not for nuthin’
Posted By MDR : June 8, 2007 6:59 am

I'm always amused to read such lists, even if they are good, because (like you) I wonder why so many classic movies are left off of them.  It's usually because the writer's knowledge of film history is limited.  Thanks for supplementing the original list!

Posted By MDR : June 8, 2007 6:59 am

I'm always amused to read such lists, even if they are good, because (like you) I wonder why so many classic movies are left off of them.  It's usually because the writer's knowledge of film history is limited.  Thanks for supplementing the original list!

Posted By MikeJ : June 8, 2007 7:20 pm

I often wonder if the lack of older movies is because of ignorance, or because of a directive from above. I've been told that no one in the target (youngish) demo will understand a reference I've made, even when I'm a member of the demo myself.If  Machine Gun Kelly counts, Bonnie and Clyde should certainly be on the list.  Kelly may have been around during the "gangster era" (as were Bonnie and Clyde), but he wasn't part of the Chicago gang wars. Bonnie and Clyde had a gang, but were not members of what we would consider traditional "organized crime".  Kelly didn't even have a gang.  Both good movies either way. We could also count Fahrenheit 911 as a documentary of a more modern crime family. I still wish the rest of the movie morlocks would learn from medusa how to use hyperlinks in stories.  

Posted By MikeJ : June 8, 2007 7:20 pm

I often wonder if the lack of older movies is because of ignorance, or because of a directive from above. I've been told that no one in the target (youngish) demo will understand a reference I've made, even when I'm a member of the demo myself.If  Machine Gun Kelly counts, Bonnie and Clyde should certainly be on the list.  Kelly may have been around during the "gangster era" (as were Bonnie and Clyde), but he wasn't part of the Chicago gang wars. Bonnie and Clyde had a gang, but were not members of what we would consider traditional "organized crime".  Kelly didn't even have a gang.  Both good movies either way. We could also count Fahrenheit 911 as a documentary of a more modern crime family. I still wish the rest of the movie morlocks would learn from medusa how to use hyperlinks in stories.  

Posted By RHS : June 8, 2007 7:29 pm

I still wish the rest of the movie morlocks would learn from medusa how to use hyperlinks in stories. I'm normally a hyperlinking fool but computer problems forbid me from either including hyperlinks or images today, much to my chagrin. 

Posted By RHS : June 8, 2007 7:29 pm

I still wish the rest of the movie morlocks would learn from medusa how to use hyperlinks in stories. I'm normally a hyperlinking fool but computer problems forbid me from either including hyperlinks or images today, much to my chagrin. 

Posted By MikeJ : June 8, 2007 7:40 pm

My apologies. The Maddin post is pretty much the only one I've seen here that uses links, which seem to me to be the soul of the medium. Nevertheless, I enjoy the writing, and am glad to see TCM attempt a blog like this.  I'd just like to see it be the best it can be. 

Posted By MikeJ : June 8, 2007 7:40 pm

My apologies. The Maddin post is pretty much the only one I've seen here that uses links, which seem to me to be the soul of the medium. Nevertheless, I enjoy the writing, and am glad to see TCM attempt a blog like this.  I'd just like to see it be the best it can be. 

Posted By MDR : June 8, 2007 8:08 pm

MikeJ, I'm not sure how you replied to a future (6/10) post of mine as it doesn't appear on the site (perhaps you received it via RSS?), but I had to temporarily remove your comment for now.  I should be able to restore it on Sunday, thanks for your patience.

Posted By MDR : June 8, 2007 8:08 pm

MikeJ, I'm not sure how you replied to a future (6/10) post of mine as it doesn't appear on the site (perhaps you received it via RSS?), but I had to temporarily remove your comment for now.  I should be able to restore it on Sunday, thanks for your patience.

Posted By MikeJ : June 8, 2007 8:39 pm

Yep, RSS feed.  Half of the reason I responded (besides my stunning insights to I Spy) was simply to see if it could be done. So no offense taken at having it removed.

Posted By MikeJ : June 8, 2007 8:39 pm

Yep, RSS feed.  Half of the reason I responded (besides my stunning insights to I Spy) was simply to see if it could be done. So no offense taken at having it removed.

Posted By marah : June 9, 2007 12:27 am

You'd think the young journalist would at least have known what a big  fan Tony Soprano is of Cagney (in mobster roles, anyway).

Posted By marah : June 9, 2007 12:27 am

You'd think the young journalist would at least have known what a big  fan Tony Soprano is of Cagney (in mobster roles, anyway).

Posted By Mindy : June 11, 2007 7:14 pm

Richard, This list was originally going to go back much earlier in time, but we ended up compiling a list of films post-1970 because of the breadth of the genre. I absolutely understand how you would take issue with the omission of James Cagney, for instance, and our parameters should have been noted with the list.  We also chose the word “memorable,” not “most important” or “most influential”—that would be an entirely different list altogether. In my own defense, I’ve watched many gangster films made prior to 1972. But at the end of the day, we wanted to put together an entertaining list of recognizable movie mobsters. You are clearly well-informed about gangster films and a fan of the genre as well.  I must admit, I never “sharpened a spoon into a schoolyard shank” during recess. And I doubt you ever did. My grandfather claimed that he sold cars to Al Capone and his cohorts (he owned a car dealership in Benton Harbor, Michigan in the 1920s). This does not make me part gangster. Not even remotely. I also don’t think your family background makes you an authority on the matter either. You’re about as gangster as I am. But you know your film and that speaks for itself. I appreciate your insights and thank you for checking out the list. – Mindy Laster

Posted By Mindy : June 11, 2007 7:14 pm

Richard, This list was originally going to go back much earlier in time, but we ended up compiling a list of films post-1970 because of the breadth of the genre. I absolutely understand how you would take issue with the omission of James Cagney, for instance, and our parameters should have been noted with the list.  We also chose the word “memorable,” not “most important” or “most influential”—that would be an entirely different list altogether. In my own defense, I’ve watched many gangster films made prior to 1972. But at the end of the day, we wanted to put together an entertaining list of recognizable movie mobsters. You are clearly well-informed about gangster films and a fan of the genre as well.  I must admit, I never “sharpened a spoon into a schoolyard shank” during recess. And I doubt you ever did. My grandfather claimed that he sold cars to Al Capone and his cohorts (he owned a car dealership in Benton Harbor, Michigan in the 1920s). This does not make me part gangster. Not even remotely. I also don’t think your family background makes you an authority on the matter either. You’re about as gangster as I am. But you know your film and that speaks for itself. I appreciate your insights and thank you for checking out the list. – Mindy Laster

Posted By RHS : June 11, 2007 8:49 pm

I must admit, I never “sharpened a spoon into a schoolyard shank” during recess. And I doubt you ever did.Actually, it was a popsicle handle.

Posted By RHS : June 11, 2007 8:49 pm

I must admit, I never “sharpened a spoon into a schoolyard shank” during recess. And I doubt you ever did.Actually, it was a popsicle handle.

Posted By Mrs. Rutledge : June 11, 2007 10:23 pm

In true gangster tradition, let me say “the broad’s got class.” Good on you Mindy for writing in (and kudos to the Morlocks for apparently getting pretty famous). I think the problem with Mindy’s list has less to do with shanks, and more to do with that old devil fear of black and white movies. Not many people really know the great gangster films anymore! As much as I love Al Pacino, DeNiro, even crazy Mr. Pesci, they can’t measure up to the pure terror of Jimmy Cagney losing his temper. It’s surprising that after all the blood we’ve seen spilled on the screen since the ‘30s, Cagney can still inspire chills. And by the way, Richard…ringalevio!!!? My God, does that take me back!

Posted By Mrs. Rutledge : June 11, 2007 10:23 pm

In true gangster tradition, let me say “the broad’s got class.” Good on you Mindy for writing in (and kudos to the Morlocks for apparently getting pretty famous). I think the problem with Mindy’s list has less to do with shanks, and more to do with that old devil fear of black and white movies. Not many people really know the great gangster films anymore! As much as I love Al Pacino, DeNiro, even crazy Mr. Pesci, they can’t measure up to the pure terror of Jimmy Cagney losing his temper. It’s surprising that after all the blood we’ve seen spilled on the screen since the ‘30s, Cagney can still inspire chills. And by the way, Richard…ringalevio!!!? My God, does that take me back!

Posted By gablesgirl : June 13, 2007 8:17 pm

Well said, but I believe you left out one of my favorites,  the original SCARFACE with Paul Muni and Boris Karloff.  Definitely not as colorful or explosively gory as the Pacino version, but just as menacing and very effective. 

Posted By gablesgirl : June 13, 2007 8:17 pm

Well said, but I believe you left out one of my favorites,  the original SCARFACE with Paul Muni and Boris Karloff.  Definitely not as colorful or explosively gory as the Pacino version, but just as menacing and very effective. 

Posted By JH : December 2, 2007 3:25 pm

I am doing some research on Mad Dogg for someone who also had family that were friends with him and hung around with him  (Iadarola brothers who were also killed in their  twenties ..0ne was gunned down in a bowling alley and the other was gunned down on the street by a cop on the street in the Bronx) This was within the year that Mad Dog also was killed  I was wondering if your grandfather is still alive ..or was he also gunned down ..   

Posted By JH : December 2, 2007 3:25 pm

I am doing some research on Mad Dogg for someone who also had family that were friends with him and hung around with him  (Iadarola brothers who were also killed in their  twenties ..0ne was gunned down in a bowling alley and the other was gunned down on the street by a cop on the street in the Bronx) This was within the year that Mad Dog also was killed  I was wondering if your grandfather is still alive ..or was he also gunned down ..   

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