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Classic Mob Directors: 6 Filmmakers Who Stand Out

Image: Classic Mob Directors: 6 Filmmakers Who Stand Out
Top L-R: Martin Scorcese, Brian De Palma, Francis Ford Coppola; bottom L-R: Howard Hawks, Willaim Wellman, Raoul Walsh. (imdb.com)

By    |   Friday, 01 May 2015 12:22 PM

Classic mob movies are a tantalizing mix of criminal underworld and family love and loyalty that intrigues viewers and filmmakers alike.

These six directors have created some of the best mob movies around:

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Martin Scorcese

Nobody can deny that Scorcese is a master of the genre, directing several timeless mob movies beloved by audiences and critics. He’s been nominated for 11 Academy Awards and won once for “The Departed.”

Scorcese started his exploration of mob movies on a small-scale with “Mean Streets.” It wasn’t until “Goodfellas,” though, that Scorcese became known as a classic mob movie director. He redefined the genre, finding morality and complicated characters in a previously one-dimensional genre. Entertainment Weekly wrote, “Scene for scene, GoodFellas is often mesmerizing.”  

But he didn’t stop there, returning to mob movies when he made “Casino,” starring Scorcese regulars Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci. This stirring drama followed the mob as it built Las Vegas, earning Sharon Stone a nomination for Best Actress at the Academy Awards.

His most recent work might be his best, as he finally won the Academy Award for Best Director for his work on “The Departed.” Critic Peter Siegel of ABC News agreed, writing, “It's one of the year's best pictures. It's also one of Martin Scorsese's best. And when you think of some other films he's made, that's saying something.” 

Brian De Palma

De Palma’s most famous mob movies, “Scarface” and “The Untouchables,” have remained classics since their inception, both taking an unflinching look at the mob. In “Scarface,” De Palma focused on a different type of gangster than the ones previously seen on screen. Al Pacino, starring as the Tony Montoya, was louder, more aggressive, and more violent than any character that preceded him, making it an unforgettably fresh take on an old genre.

IGN wrote, “Scarface is the gangster drama to end all gangster dramas. It's cool, it's violent, it's scary, it's unforgettable. And it's inspired generations of fans and filmmakers, evolving into a cultural icon.” 

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Francis Ford Coppola

Coppola defined the mob movie genre for generations with his transformative “Godfather” trilogy. Starring Pacino, DeNiro, and Marlon Brando in his last major role, “The Godfather” set the bar for all other mob movies. “This gangster film re-invented the gangster genre, elevating the classic Hollywood gangster film to a higher level by portraying the gangster figure as a tragic hero,” Filmsite wrote. 

“Godfather One” won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Screenplay, while receiving nominations in seven other categories, while Part Two improved on that with 11 nominations and six Oscar wins. Coppola took a previously overlooked genre, mob movies, and turned into one of the most celebrated forms in film.

Howard Hawks

Hawks didn’t direct many gangster films, but he made one of the most lauded when he directed the original “Scarface.” Starring renowned actor Paul Muni, the film was an enormous risk for both the actor and the studio, as it depicted violence in a way that hadn’t been screened for American audiences previously. As explained in The New Yorker, “It was shot in 1930 but not released until 1932, due to the censors’ concerns regarding its violence and ostensible glorification of crime.”

“Scarface” was an innovation, inventing many of the tropes that later became prevalent in contemporary gangster films. Filmsite.org elaborated, “The ultra-violent, landmark film in the depiction of Italian-American immigrant gangsters included twenty-eight deaths, and the first use of a machine gun by a gangster.”

Willaim Wellman

“The Public Enemy,” Wellman’s Oscar-winning John Dillinger biopic, was a sensation when it came out in 1931. Audiences loved the subject matter and its star, James Cagney, in his first starring role. This film propelled him from an unknown vaudeville performer to worldwide celebrity upon its release.

“The Public Enemy” was such a huge hit with audiences, grossing over $1 million, according to Film.com, that it ushered in a wave of gangster films. Film.com wrote, “Inspired by the success of ‘The Public Enemy’ and ‘Little Caesar,’ Hollywood cranked out numerous gangster pictures over the next few years.”

Raoul Walsh

When Walsh directed James Cagney in classic mob movie “White Heat,” the famed actor had already made a name for himself starring in gangster films. However, he appeared here after taking a prolonged absence from mob movies, in an effort to prevent audiences from stereotyping him. But the role of Cody Jarrett was too good for him to pass up, and it paid off, as Walsh’s unforgettable psychodrama will go down in film canon as one of the greats. Noiroftheweek.com wrote, “Superbly directed by Walsh, with the great director maintaining a pace and rhythm to match Cody Jarrett's state of mind.”

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Classic mob movies are a tantalizing mix of criminal underworld and family love and loyalty that intrigues viewers and filmmakers alike. These six directors have created some of the best mob movies around.
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Friday, 01 May 2015 12:22 PM
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