Film genres are categories, classifications or groups of films that have a similar, familiar or instantly recognizable patterns, techniques or conventions that include one or more of the following: setting, content, themes, plot, motifs, styles, structures, situations, characters, and stars (filmsite. org and notes). There are many categories of film genre. These categories can cover practically any film ever made by man, although film categories can never be precise.
By isolating the various elements in a film and categorizing them in genres, it is possible to easily evaluate a film within its genre and allow for meaningful comparisons and some judgements on greatness. Some genres are considered period-specific, occurring primarily in one time period. One such example is film noir (filmsite. org). One specific type of film genre is the crime and gangster genre. These films are developed around the actions of criminals and/or gangsters. They are often based around bank robbers or ruthless hoodlums who disobey the law. They make their way through life by stealing and murdering people.
There are many ways to identify crime and gangster films. A few ways to do so is to look at the story line and characters(randomhouse. com). Crime stories in this genre often highlight or glorify the rise and fall of a particular criminal (s), gang, bank robber, murderer or lawbreakers in personal power struggles or conflict with the law and order figures, or rival gang. Real-life gangsters and crime reports are often the basis for many crime and gangster films. A significant plot characteristic in these films is often a rivalry with other criminals in gangster warfare.
These plots include questions to how the criminal is going to apprehended by the law. According to Horatio Alger gangster films are morality tales. They are stories in which the criminal lives in an inverted dream world of success and wealth. Although criminals are doomed to fail and an inevitable death, they are portrayed as the victims of circumstance, because they are often told from the criminals point of view (filmsite. org. ). The characters in gangster films are usually materialistic, street-smart, immoral, meglo-maniacal, and self-destructive.
By using a tough cruel faade while showing an ambitious desire for success, they rise to power. The criminal is the product of his harsh environment, violent, laconic and tough, but his involvement in crime seems a matter of chance rather than choice. An urban wolf can equally well be killer or detective, warden or prisoner. They all speak the same discursive language (Baxter 7). Crime films are often set in a large, crowded city. Exotic locals for crimes often add an element of adventure and wealth. Writers dreamed up appropriate gangland jargon for the tales, such as tommyguns. (Ebscohost)
Film technique of these films showed a more graphic representation of moods and ambiance due to the light and camera effects, as often seen previously in the Expressionist cinema of pre-war Germany. During the end of the thirties, the influx of European cinema technicians, writers and directors into the USA was bringing Hollywood a fresh set of approaches to cinema as a technique and as an art form. (geocities. com/filmlis) Another influence on gangster films was the French cinema of the thirties.
French directors had more freedom and were generally more concerned with the artistic rendition of filming in their scripts (imdb. m). Often they compensated for their lack of financial means by improvisation and creativity. Also, the contestataire stand taken by the plots of French films, with the very existential approach of the characters, had a strong influence on the development of gangster film in the USA.. (geocities. com/filmlis) Crime in America was an important vice, too. Many migrants during this time brought their underworld elements of European cities with them. In 1920 the United States government introduced prohibition of liquor, the nations most disastrous social experiment.
Gangsters found themselves with the ingredients to an illegal industry, bootlegging. Already dissatisfied with a lax and cynical government, the public was not incline to obey a puritan injunction to abstain, and welcomed the illegal liquor merchant and secret bar (Baxter 8). All of these elements were a huge factor in the rising of the crime/gangster film. Murder in gangster films comes easy. Death is usually but the drop of a gun away. Because the gangster is closely associated with the gun, most of the killings in film mobsterland have been done with bullets.
Film gangsters dont die in peace with a few exceptions. Gangsters dont get poisoned, nor do they die of old age. They tend to get shot to death in a hail of bullets. (Hossent 133) Gangsters molls were also a part of the legend of the gangster movie. These gorgeous dames dangled cigarettes from their sultry lips, chewed gum and drank gin by the bath-tub load. They even, sometimes, got knocked out. Quite often they terrorized their menfolk by throwing plates and hairbrushes this made the gangsters home look like a fairground coconut shy.
Those gangsters molls were rough, tough and ruthless. (Hossent 121) The silent era was when the first mark of gangster/crime films began. One of the first was D. W. Griffiths The Musketeers of Pig Alley (1912) (class notes). Two of the most influential films that helped launch this genre were Dr. Mabuse (1922) and The Gambler, two of Fritz Langs films. Dr. Mabuse was a film in which a super crook controlling a vast empire of crime seemed to rob banks and fight law and order more with the intention of destroying Germanic civilization than of making a dishonest mark.
It wasnt until the sound era that gangster/crime films really took off and became interesting to the public. The talkie era accounted for the rise in these films because these films couldnt come to life without the sounds of machine guns, screeching tires, and screams. When sound technology and mobile cameras came to perfection the popularity of gangster films exploded (filmsite. org). The first 100% talkie was The Lights of New York (1928). Its about two country boys who set up a barbershop and turn their business into a bootlegging industry.
It enhanced the urban crime drama with exciting sound effects of squealing tires and gunshots (class-notes). Weekly movie attendance skyrocketed from about 57 million to 90 million in 1929. It continued at that level into 1930, when most other industries began to feel the full effects of the economys plummet (Yaquinto 26). The gangster/crime genres popular acceptance started a wave of gangster films in the 1930s. By the mid 1930s, the darkest days of the depression were gripping every corner store and main street in America.
The government said in order to restore confidence in banks they would have to treat the crooked presidents of the banks the same way they treated Al Capone. Thus, creating the Robin Hood films. The Robin Hood theme was echoed in the journalistic accounts of real-life outlaws, such as, pretty boy Floyd, Bonnie and Clyde, and Roy Earle. Their favorite targets were in local, rural areas with unprotected banks. (Yaquinto 72) As the 1930s drew to a close and the 1940s approached, America faced new threats from abroad as the world approached another full-scale war.
Yet the movies largely maintained their commitment to escapist cinema. Thus, gangsters turned into patriots. Films that include the gangster going to war are Lucky Ladd (1942) and All through the Night (Yaquinto 75). The 1940s, also, started to focus on film noir, rather than the classic gangster film. Film noir is a French phrase meaning dark cinema and describes a mood or attitude in filmmaking rather than a genre. Noir focuses on unusual placement of human figures in a frame, stark and meaningful lighting, and irregular views.
All this heightens the sense of dislocation, danger, and mystery. Filmmakers who used the noir approach were not aware that they were developing a distinctive style. The French film scholars labeled these American films in the 1950s (Yaquinto 76). Noir was a perfect marriage into the gangster genre. Noir lived on into the early 1950s with several gifted directors (Yaquinto 81). The gangster genre has evolved quite a bit since the 1950s, owing to fashion, morality, and the prevailing definition of what constitutes illegal and immoral activities.
There is even a recognizable gangster look, regardless of the era, that depends on an insatiable appetite for flamboyant clothes that marks him as a strutting peacock and a social misfit (Yaquinto xii). The faces of the gangsters have also changed over the years, not just because movie stars shine and fade away, but because the images of real-life criminals have changed. Gangsters have nearly always come from the bottom of society and get their start in the gangs that thrive on Americas meanest streets (Lexis-Nexus).
The personnel of gangs has changed over the years to reflect the newest wave of underdogs who stir together anger and unrealized ambition to cook up the gangster persona (Yaquinto xiii). In a society that doesnt value these people, they find employment and abundant reward in the Underworld. In the 1960s, after the womens movement, a womans finger is becoming placed on the trigger more and more. All the exciting elements in gangster films keep drawing us to them and make us love them and they will continue to do so, even if we know it is all make-believe.