You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Hollywood’s Always Had a Crush on Gangsters

Long before Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed” (2006) won the best picture Oscar, Academy voters had a soft spot for bad fellas. From the first Academy Awards, voters have taken crime tales and gangster yarns seriously. In 1929, “The Racket” was “best picture, production” nommed, and Ben Hecht won the screenplay award for “Underworld.” In 1931, the classic James Cagney-starrer “The Public Enemy,” competed in the original screenplay category, while Edward G. Robinson’s iconic “Little Caesar” competed for the adapted screenplay award.

In 1935, the gangster film not only won its second Oscar (for original screenplay for the Clark Gable hit, “Manhattan Melodrama”), but that movie became part of American crime lore when John Dillinger met his fate at the hands of the G-men’s Tommy guns when he made the mistake of escorting a certain lady in red to a screening of the picture in Chicago.

As evidence of the genre’s respectability back in that era, perhaps no “serious” actor from stage was more sought for movie roles in the early sound era than the great Paul Muni. A star of Yiddish Theater in New York and then Broadway, here’s how Variety described his first major role on the New York stage in 1926:
“Muni, as the aged father (he was 30 at the time!), registers with a memorable and inspired performance. From Yiddish legit, as are most of the rest of the cast.

Popular on Variety

There’s no question but that those Yiddish legits know how to troup. Similar histrionics from a Lambs’ clubber would place (him) among the theatrical Immortals.”
In 1932, the same year that Muni appeared in Howard Hawks’ massively

influential “Scarface,” Muni was nominated for the lead actor Oscar for “I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang.” By 1935 he had scored Hollywood’s highest honor for his role in “The Life of Louis Pasteur” and went on to score four more lead actor Oscar noms before his passing in 1967.

For Muni, crime obviously did pay, and as evidenced by the kudos and views for Scorsese’s “The Irishman,” it still plays.

More Film

  • The Lion King

    Italy Box Office Up 14% in 2019 Thanks to Summer Releases of Hollywood Titles

    Box office returns in Italy rose 14% in 2019 to €630 million ($706.5 million), an uptick prompted by a joint effort from Hollywood and the local industry to schedule more summer releases after the country suffered its worst ticket sales in a decade last year. Italian ticket sales in 2019 reached 97 million, a 13% [...]

  • Visual futurist Syd Mead at Art

    Syd Mead, Visionary 'Blade Runner' Artist and Futurist, Dies at 86

    Visual artist and futurist Syd Mead, who helped shape the look of influential sci-fi films including “Blade Runner,” “Tron,” “Aliens” and “Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” died Monday of complications from lymphoma in Pasadena, Calif. He was 86. Autoline journalist John McElroy first reported the news, which was confirmed by his spouse Roger Servick to [...]

  • Mahershala Ali

    Golden Globes 2020: The Ultimate Party Guide

    Say goodbye to the holiday season and hello to the Golden Globes. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association hosts its annual shindig at the Beverly Hilton on Sunday, but some actually get an early start on the partying four days before at the Palm Springs International Film Festival’s opening night awards gala. Then it’s time to [...]

  • Travis Knight Departs 'Uncharted' Over Tom

    Travis Knight Could Depart 'Uncharted' Over Tom Holland's Scheduling Conflict

    Sony might be back to the drawing board with “Uncharted,” the studio’s long-in-development adaptation of the popular video game starring Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg. Sources tell Variety that scheduling constraints for Holland, who will be busy filming the next “Spider-Man” sequel for Sony, will halt production of “Uncharted.” If the movie is delayed, director [...]

  • Year End Box Office Report Variety

    Why 'Star Wars' and 'Avengers' Weren't Enough to Set a Box Office Record in 2019

    Not even the potent combination of the Avengers, Buzz Lightyear, and Luke Skywalker could push the 2019 box office to new heights. When the year wraps up, domestic ticket sales will be down more than 4% at $11.4 billion and admissions should dip by roughly the same percent. Looking ahead, most movie industry observers believe [...]

  • Sharon Stone Bumble

    Sharon Stone Blocked From Dating App Bumble

    Actress Sharon Stone’s profile was temporarily blocked on the dating app Bumble after users incorrectly reported her account as fake. “I went on the @bumble dating sight [sic] and they closed my account. Some users reported that it couldn’t possibly be me,” she tweeted on Sunday night. “Hey @bumble, is being me exclusionary? Don’t shut [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content