The Appeal Of The 1930’s Gangster Film

In the episode “Public Enemies” everyone is agog over the new Gangster Picture showing at the Town’s Theater. In the 1930’s Gangster Films were hugely popular, but why did so many people buy into the violence and hard living that was depicted in these movies?


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One theory is that the people depicted in the Gangster Films stand outside of the law, showing freedom in a time that left a lot of people feeling constrained by financial hardship. During the depression era people perhaps became cynical of all sources of moral authority, so being able to see someone break free and spit in the face of that authority, even in a fictionalized account, was inspiring. The way that these characters were depicted, almost as outlaw heroes, allowed viewers to sympathize with them. They were not just criminals; society had made them into what they were and it was only natural, in fact perhaps expected, for them to rebel against that and take back what they needed.


Another theory, according to Crime Culture, is that “Cinema audiences experienced the double satisfaction of vicarious participation in gangster violence and of seeing violence turned against the gangster himself. This enabled them, on the one hand, to identify with criminal rebellion against a corrupt, hypocritical society, and, on the other, to enjoy fantasies of revenge against criminals who could be cast as ‘the root of evil’.”


Whatever the reason, Gangster Films, like Public Enemy and G Men would continue to be popular for many years to come, eventually evolving into classics like White Heat, The God Father, and The Untouchables.

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