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Best Gangster Movies of the 1920s-1930s

We all know of Tony Montana in the film Scarface, and you’re probably are aware of Casino, The Godfather Trilogy, Once upon a time in America, and so on…

But these are all very modern gangster movies, what about older gangster movies? Can older gangster movies really pitch it against today’s modern day gangster movies?

I’d like to think so. In my mind, there was no better gangster actor then James Cagney — sure he did other movies, but Cagney, for me, is the man who defines what gangster movies are about.

Even if you disagree with Cagney as my choice, there are lots other choices out there… Here’s my list of movies, in no particular order, that any gangster movie lover should watch at least once.

  1. Scarface (1932)
    Tony Montana might be this generation’s Scarface, but before him was Antonio ‘Tony’ Camonte. The two movie’s aren’t dis-similar in material, plot outline or in sheer vengenance. I liked this movie; but I still liked Roaring Twenties better. It is quite a savage attack on the Government on the time to do something against the racketeers that Camonte represented.
  2. The Public Enemy (1931)
    Widely considered to be the best 30’s gangster movie and rightly so. Strong, powerful performances and a gripping storyline
  3. The Roaring Twenties (1939)
    A film that covers the highs and lows of the 13-year-long prohibition and follows the metoric rise and subsequent fall of James Cagney’s character Eddie Bartlett and his foray into the illegal liquor racket business. It has a good cast, including James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart and Gladys George as Panama Smith
  4. Little Caesar (1931)
    The movie that introduced the world to the acting talent of Edward G. Robinson. This movie is perhaps most memorable for the very memorable “nasal”-like accent that G. Robinson used throughout this movie and would be parodied so much in later times. I also like this movie because Rico (Robinson’s character) is very ambious and obviousily very arrogant, he’s a lot closer to Tony Montana, but at the same time he offers something much more than Montana did.

I recently saw a Christina Aguilera pop video. I don’t actually like Aguilera, but in the video it showed a Black/Afro-American gangster rising to the top, much like the Rico’s and the Camonte’s of this world – it got me thinking; were they any major black figures in the Prohibition? The only movies I could find were Blaxploitation movies like Black Ceasar, which is a remake of Littel Caesar – and of course, Shaft.

But, I guess it doesn’t really matter. Most of these movies won’t be seen by today’s generation – and that’s a shame, cause I feel these movies are timeless, and a lot of fun to watch.