Analysis of Gangster Movies

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Final Paper Option #2: Three "Larger-Than-Life" Gangsters

Gangster movies have always appealed to a large public crowd through its central theme of its characters being "larger-than-life. Their interactions, demeanors, and even appearances attracted those who wished to live the dangerous yet luxurious lifestyle. Beyond these simple understandings of the movie, however, directors of these gangster movies insert far more profound cues and details. The way the characters spend their money, create a first impression, interact with the non-business world (i.e. family, friends), interact with business partners, and so on, all are crucial to the understanding of the director's intentions and purpose. In the movies Pulp Fiction (1994), White Heat (1949), and Bugsy (1991), the three directors portray their actors in very distinct and unique ways that adhere to the "gangster" image. Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) in Pulp Fiction, Cody Garret (James Cagney) in White Heat, and Benjamin Siegel (Warren Beatty) in Bugsy are the three fictional and non-fictional characters who slowly develop into the "larger than life" men that viewers desire to become.

Money is always the present issue behind gangster films, as it is the initial greed and desire to purchase all of their hearts' desire which drives the men initially to their evil lifestyles. Cagney is the stereotypical gangster, treating money as his life force and using all means to obtain it. Before he turns himself in to the police, he steals money from a train. Although the viewers never know what he spends it on, it can be assumed that it is used quickly for his hedonistic ideals. After he breaks out from the prison and kills Eddie for revenge, he spends rest of the time figuring out how to steal even more money and become rich again. Cagney's cunning and greed is exemplified in the scenes in which he learns from the story of Troy and cleverly drives an opening at the bottom of a gas tank to hide the gang. Thus, Cagney's treatment of money follows along with other gangsters. This adeptness for gangsters to incorporate their biggest intellect in their money schemes is also seen in Bugsy. The movie itself is about the birth of Las Vegas, sin city of the world, and how Siegel began going about it. Las Vegas is the idealistic gangster money-maker, as it was a legit operation and a huge success in later years. However, the love for money wasn't quite apparent in Ben, as Beatty acts numerous scenes which show that he, in fact "didn't respect money." The beginning scene of Bugsy shows Beatty buying nice shirts, as is expected from gangsters who like to show off their wealth. Surprisingly, however, these shirts are simply props, as Beatty shows a "humorous" side to Siegel, using the phrase "take the shirt off my back" literally in his encounter with a business associate who steals from him. As Beatty kills the man, the shirts he just bought are splattered with blood, ruined, and then left at the building. Surprisingly, although Beatty has a lot of it, money doesn't quite seem to be as appealing to him as it was for Cagney. Beatty treats money as simply a tool to get what he wants, and he nonchalantly throws it away. For example, when buying the house of his favorite opera singer, Beatty simply pulls out $10,000, one after another, and overpays for the house greatly. This recklessness with money is also shown in the initial venture for the Flamingo hotel. Millions appear to be nothing for Beatty, as he carelessly says, "Don't worry about it," even when dealing with huge amounts of money. Although he is an adept businessman and entrepreneur, he is very ignorant and irresponsible when it comes to accomplishing what he truly wants. The hotel, which was supposed to be $3 million, quickly grows to costing double. In trying to raise money for the hotel, Beatty sells 400% of shares. When he throws Virginia's brother out the window, he quickly tries to consolidate her by...
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