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Who was the best screen gangster?


doctorxx
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Tie between Edward G. and Cagney. Both possessed a kind of defiance in their screen persona that the others, good though they are, don't quite attain. ( And I love Bogart...but he went on to develop a different kind of screen persona. Not to say the first two didn't diversify quite a bit, too, especially E.G.R. )

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Edward G. was great to watch but Key Largo, really more of a morality tale than a gangster epic, was the only good film in which he was a gangster, in my opinion. Little Caesar is verrry dated,though Robinson is wonderful in it.

 

 

Cagney gets my vote. He was an exciting personality who could also bring depth to his tough guy performances who also appeared in Warners best gangster films of the 30s and 40s. (Acknowledging the fact that Paul Muni's Scarface is pretty darned impressive too). With White Heat, I think that Jimmy was in a class of his own.

 

 

 

 

 

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Cagney in "White Heat." Psycopathic nut case brought chillingly to life. And what about his mother, Margaret Wycherly "Best screen gangster's whacko mother." Great film, never bore's me. Bogart in "High Sierrra." Mad Dog Earle, gangster with a soul. Of course Edward G in "Key Largo" (not a great movie but a great performance). Widmark, Duryea, oh yeah. And we can't forget Lee Marvin in "The Big Heat." Gloria Grahame won't.

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But are we talking about gangsters, or villains, or maniacs? Although certainly a character could encompass all three in one movie, I don't think of them necessarily as the same thing at all.

The last two posters seem to think being a maniac or psycho means the same thing as gangster; Tommy Udo, for instance, is most undeniably one of the best and most extreme psycho/maniacs of classic moviedom, as is Cody Jarrett in *White Heat*.

But does that make them the most memorable screen gangster ?

 

Depending on what you think of when you think of gangsters...in many ways Robert de Niro as the young Vito Corleone in *The Godfather ll* is the best gangster, in terms of organizing and consolidating his power.

To me, the essence of "gangster" is about that - acquiring and maintaining control and power - much more than it's about maniacally killing people. A gangster - the leader, anyway - kills only to assert his power and to rid himself of his enemies, and sometimes for revenge or to "teach a lesson". But not for the (dubious) kick of murder for its own sake.

 

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And that Miss Wonderly (may I call you Brigid) is part of the problem of internet communication: not being able to explain the question in depth; not being there in person to give the question more nuance and depth. I suppose because TCM is such a wonderful channel dedicated to movies especially (though not exclusively) set in the studio system I often limit myself to movies from the 30's to the 50's. I don't think I'm being very clear. I guess I didn't even think of including the "Godfather" films.

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misswonderly, it's been a while since I've seen Widmark as Tommy Udo but the primary memory I have of him is with that high pitched giggle as he pushes the old lady strapped in a wheelchair down the stairs. I honestly can't recall if his character was a gangster, though.

 

Cody Jarrett in White Heat most certainly was a gang leader and, with the psychotic aspect of his character thrown in for good measure, an even more memerable one. But psycho or not, he's still a gangster. I can't recall Jarrett killing anyone in that film without some kind of motive for it, even though, admittedly, it was easier for Cody to feel motivated than most.

 

Cagney is my favourite screen gangster, not just because of this film, but because of Public Enemy, Angels With Dirty Faces and Roaring 20s, as well. When he had the opportunity to play Jarrett, however, I think Cagney reached an even greater career high point.

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Robert Ryan in House of Bamboo is hard to top for a combination of cunning and viciousness. Pacino's the best of the modern lot. For sheer unadulterated thuggishness, unsullied by any sign of intelligence, Bogart in almost any of his early gangster roles like Bullets or Ballots or The Roaring Twenties can't be beat. If Lon Chaney hadn't shown a bit of humanity in the closing scene of The Penalty , he might've won my vote, as even with the ending his Blizzard character was every bit as memorable as Cody Jarrett. There's really a lot of greats to choose among. And if you count his innumerable comic gangster roles, Edward G. Robinson was certainly Hollywood's most versatile hood.

 

But sometimes the most obvious choice is also the best one, and for King of Gangsters, there's really been only one James Cagney. From The Public Enemy to White Heat , he defined the gangster role for generations.

 

 

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Everyone mentioned here is great. My sentimental favorite is James Cagney.. But a few Honorable Mentions:

 

Joe Pesci- "Goodfellas"

Tom Hanks- "The Road to Perdition"

Ben Kingsley-"Sexy Beast"

Denzel Washington "American Gangster"

Samuel Jackson & John Travolta- "Pulp Fiction"

James Caan- "The Godfather"

 

There are many other great gangster roles and I'm sure others will mention them here... B-)

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All great choices, but a few solid "B's" and maybe some wobbly À`s`were overlooked:

 

 

Warren Oates in "Dillinger"

 

 

Robert Blake in "The Purple Gang"

 

 

Ray Danton in " The Rise and fall of Legs Diamond"

 

 

Vic Morrow as "Dutch Schultz"

 

 

Peter Falk as Abe (kid twist) Reles in `Murder Inc.``

 

 

David J. Stewart as Lepke in ``Murder Inc.``

 

 

Charles Bronson in `The Valachi Paper`s`

 

 

James Davis Chandler in `Mad Dog Coll`

 

 

and finally

 

 

Robert De Niro as Noodles in ``Made in America`

 

 

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Robert DiNero as "Noodles" in "Made in America"

 

I think you mean "Once Upon a Time in America" which was based on one of the greatest gangster novels ever written called "The Hoods" by Harry Grey. If you can find a copy of this forgotten masterpiece get it and read it. Before "Godfather" or "Goodfellas" there was this book ........

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George Raft, without a doubt. He took his inspiration from the real life gangsters that he associated with. He may have not been the actor that CAGNEY, BOGART, and ROBINSON were, but he brought a degree of restrained menace to his gangsters that the above three with all their histrionics could not match. A shame his ego got the best of him.

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Peter Falk as Abe (kid twist) Reles in `Murder Inc.``

 

I'd forgotten about Reles, as it's been years since I've seen that movie, but God, yes. Falk was perfectly cast for as bone chilling a character as you could imagine.

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I'd like to say Edward G. but I actually prefer him as an actor in non-gangster roles or in films that are gangster comedies or spoofs. My absolute favorite movie of his is "The Whole Town's Talking" (1935) because you get the best of both worlds--he plays both a ruthless gangster and a timid accountant. No question though, this gentle man sure could play a convincing heavy.

 

Humphrey Bogart is also very good at playing thugs and as his performance in 1955's T+he Desperate Hours+ more than proved to me.

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If you mean "Gangster" as the leader of an organized crime syndicate, you'd have to list any actor who ever played the CEO of an insurance company.

 

 

Otherwise, put me down for Cagney, too.

 

 

Sepiatone

 

 

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how about E.T.? just kidding i don't think i could putr a finger on just 1. i mean there has been so many at different stages of direction. i don't think 1 was better than the other just the writers did good jobs writing for a good actor.

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