Going back to the earliest days of the silent era, Hollywood has been fascinated with the gangster movie. But it wasn’t until sound came into full bloom that the genre became a tried and true staple.
Prior to the enforcement of the Motion Picture Production Code in 1934, movies like The Public Enemy (1931) and Scarface (1932) caused an uproar for their excessive use of violence and the glamorization of their main characters.
Still, audiences flocked to theaters to see the stars like Paul Muni, Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney give life to Al Capone-like gangsters, who rise to the top of the criminal world only to suffer a rapid fall that often ended in a violent death.
In the 1950s and early 1960s, the gangster film fell out of favor, giving way to variants like the heist movie. But with Arthur Penn’s groundbreaking hit Bonnie and Clyde (1967), the genre was suddenly back in vogue. Five years later, Francis Ford Coppola flipped the genre’s conventions on their head to make an American masterpiece with The Godfather (1972).
Whether constricted by the censorship of the Production Code or gritty and realistic portrayals, the gangster film remains a popular genre that has given rise to some of cinema’s greatest films.
Paul Muni makes his last stand in ‘Scarface’ (1932)/Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Marlon Brando as ‘The Godfather’ (1972)/Paramount Pictures