Evolution of the Gangster and America

When one thinks of a gangster they may think of speakeasies and classy cars or maybe drive-bys, but they will always imagine a man who is not afraid to get his hands dirty to grasp for a higher place on the social ladder. They will think of a man portrayed in a genre of cinema more American than any other, the gangster film. This genre began in the early thirties and has been re-adapted each decade to fit a new time. Although gangster films may mold themselves to fit into a certain cultural era, they still stay deeply tied to the foundations of the genre and its historical relevance to the american dream. This is apparent when comparing the differences and similarities between The Public Enemy and American Gangster. To better understand this comparison one needs to understand the origination of some of the classic conventions of the gangster film genre.
The classic gangster film focusing on a host of norms defined by some of the first gangster films. This genre originated as an escapism from the negative depression era. People would flock to see the gangsters go from rags to riches with their glitzy lifestyle and beautiful women. As Shadoian puts it, “The gangster’s fizzy spirits, classy lifestyle, and amoral daring were something like Alka-Seltzer for the headaches of the depression” (Shadoin 29). Not all this came easily for the gangsters though, bloodshed is defined as a part of business with guns a constant motif. Despite these negative outcomes, it’s easy to see how this genre was such a great elusion from the everyday where the American Dream seemed like it might not even exist anymore.
The Public Enemy and American Gangster both follow the classic gangster film plot convention of rags to riches, a lust to achieve the Ame...

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...e and every changing history. The United States adapts and changes as certain eras come and go, but hold true to certain values, just like the gangsters do. It seems then, that many conventions of the gangster film genre are part of a bigger metaphor for conventions of American history. A country who started from very little and became a world super power through, what some would say, questionable means. One can hope that the one convention that doesn’t hold true is that of the rise and fall of the gangster.

Works Cited

Barry, , Keith, and Grant, ed. Film Genre Reader III. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2003. Print.
Shadoian, Jack. Dreams and Dead Ends The American Gangster FIlm. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2003. Print.
Silver, Alain, and James Ursini, eds. Gangster Film Reader. Pompton Plains, NJ: Limelight Editions, 2007. Print.
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