From cinema’s infancy, audiences have been fascinated by the seamier side of human nature. Beginning in 1912 with D.W. Griffith’s The Musketeers of Pig Alley—widely considered to be the first film to deal with gangster themes—the gangster genre has endured through today. While some genre cycles fall in and out of favor, gangsters continue to be a source of fascination, likely due in part to the fact that their lifestyle is unfamiliar to most people. Extortion, violence, embezzlement, gambling, and drinking are but some of the errant behavior exhibited by these tragic heroes, whose rise and fall always makes for compelling entertainment.
Throughout May and June we will pay tribute to the evolution of the gangster film, showcasing key works spanning over seventy years of cinema history. We set the tone with Josef von Sternberg’s dark, moody Underworld (the first full-fledged gangster film), balancing loud, pugnacious, and intimidating gangsters with well-crafted, intelligent filmmaking. Underworld is followed by two blazing ’30s thrillers: William Wellman’s incredible, rambunctious James Cagney vehicle The Public Enemy, and Howard Hawks and Richard Rosson’s highly influential Scarface—both worthy representatives of the genre’s most fruitful era.
We continue with two lesser-known foreign masterpieces: Akira Kurosawa’s brilliant Drunken Angel and Jacques Becker’s impossibly cool Touchez Pas au Grisbi. We conclude the series with some of the genre’s most memorable modern entries—from Fred Williamson’s breakout performance in Black Caesar to Matthew Broderick’s dynamic onscreen chemistry with Marlon Brando in The Freshman. Rounding out the series is Brian De Palma’s ultraviolent, controversial remake of Scarface (always a crowd-pleaser) and the recent British classic Sexy Beast, which stars a menacing Ben Kingsley.
Thursday, May 1, 8 p.m.
(Josef von Sternberg, US 1927, 80 min., 35mm)
Thursday, May 8, 8 p.m.
The Public Enemy
(William A. Wellman, US 1931, 83 min., 35mm)
Thursday, May 15, 8 p.m.
(Howard Hawks and Richard Rosson, US 1932, 93 min., 35mm)
Thursday, May 22, 8 p.m.
(Yoidore tenshi, Akira Kurosawa, Japan 1948, 102 min., Japanese w/ subtitles, 35mm)
Thursday, May 29, 8 p.m.
Touchez Pas au Grisbi
(Jacques Becker, France/Italy 1954, 83 min. French w/ subtitles, 35mm)
Thursday, June 5, 8 p.m.
(Larry Cohen, US 1973, 87 min., 35mm)
Thursday, June 12, 7 p.m.
(Brian De Palma, US 1983, 170 min., 35mm)
Thursday, June 19, 8 p.m.
(Andrew Bergman, US 1990, 102 min., 35mm)
Thursday, June 26, 8 p.m.
(Jonathan Glazer, UK/Spain 2000, 89 min., 35mm)