With my recent review of the longtime ace bestseller “Wiseguy,” I’ve been thinking about how long I’ve been a fan of gangster stories. “The Godfather” entered large audiences when I was too young to understand except that Michael had the last word and everyone died if he said so. Years later, I did grow to appreciate the films (the first two, anyway).
“Goodfellas” marked the catapult from my casual entertainment by soap opera level gangsters into the Scorsese film nut that I am today. Since then I gobble up Scorsese films like I do rocky road ice cream. My brother has scolded me several times over my gangster film obsession, saying that they “glamorize” the gangster. OK, point made, but in the long run, when does it work out favorably for the gangster? Better question: What is it about gangster stories that make them so popular? What do they bring to the table of entertainment, fact-based or fiction?
Humor: For starters, many gangster stories have colorful characters that bring an element of humor to an otherwise violent world we see as fantasy (and would be a horrible reality). How many times have I heard “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.” One of my favorites was “Casino” when Nik said, “I’ll leave you wherever I find you.”
Intrigue: Gangsters generally find a nine to five job boring and stupid, so they steal, sell drugs, bootleg liquor, etc. with bribery, lying, and use of thinking on their feet to evade punishment from their own crew as much as, if not more from law enforcement.
Romance: In most gangster stories I know of (not an expert here) these guys are usually married, often with mistresses. There’s marital fighting, problems with girlfriends, and when it comes to wives of the other crew members, let’s not go there (The Valachi Papers).
Action: With gangsters, one can count on action, and with action, one can count on violence. I know some that can’t stomach these stories, and I can’t handle them all myself. While I can read/watch some violence, I still need to purchase sausage and have a good feeling of knowing what I’m buying.
Resolution: Most gangster stories have solid endings. Either they live or die, or the former is usually not in comfort. All good things come to an end, and so are true of the dangerous lives of gangsters.
While I’m a magnet for big-name writers/directors of organized crime stories, I still like to see what new authors come up with. On my recent reading marathon I uncovered a couple of interesting stories. New authors, if gangsters are your thing, go for it, and tweet us about it. The badfellas have a huge following and I doubt will be living “literally” with the fishes anytime soon.