Exploring Good vs Evil: The Godfather vs The Untouchables
Good vs. Evil, a universal theme seen throughout the history of story telling, can find itself to be especially malleable and suprising in the modern gangster movie. In the classic depiction of this struggle, the Gangster was looked upon as the criminal, the bad guy, while today this is not always the case. In this paper I will be explaining the early gangster films restrictions on who could be good or evil, and then introduce the two films I will be comparing. After a brief summary, a comparing and contrasting will take place between them, offering insights into how the two different films offer up this classic struggle.
Early on in the gangster film genre, when the Hays Code was in effect, crime was not allowed to be something that was glamorized. The Hays Code was basically a set of moral standards films had to measure up to before being passed for distribution. It lasted from 1930 until 1968. The Hays code made things like profanity, violence, and sex completely unmentionable or undoable on the big screen. In the case of the gangster film, the gangster, as stated above, was always to be portrayed as the bad guy, and was almost always met with demise by the end of the film, to give the idea that “crime doesn’t pay.”
As discussed in class, the antagonist to the gangster in these early films was usually the detective. The detective was the “good guy,” that is, usually a white, clean cut, god fearing American man who takes it upon himself to rid his city of crime after the rise of the gangster. This example of “good vs evil” was apparent to me in the film we watched earlier in the year, Little Caesar (1931). It doesn’t quite develop the detective as well as other films, but you could clearly see the Hays Code at work. The gangster in this film is portrayed as a stereotypical immigrant; uneducated, not speaking very good English, and destined for a life of crime. The life of crime would be short lived, however, as the police (all very Americanized white men) take Caesar down in the end, keeping their city safe from the treachery of the gangster.
After the Hays Code ended, films could explore more things in the realms of which characters would be good or bad. Criminal types could now be portrayed in a favorable light, and in some cases, the audience may even feel sympathetic towards their cause, as perhaps they are the underdog, trying to make a living in any way possible. The classic “good guys,” police, politicians, or the like, could now be portrayed as corrupt, thus turning the tables on the audience, who would normally expect them to be the heroes of the story. The Godfather (1972) portrays these points perfectly.
The Godfather tells the story of the Corleone Family- a family from Sicily who comes to America to attain the “American Dream.” Led at first by Vito Corleone, and later his son Michael, The Godfather takes a very different approach to the classical image of the gangster as the “bad guy.” As the movie progresses, one feels sympathetic toward the family and their struggles, even though their lives are based around organized crime and extreme violence. Through the characters of the movie, one can begin to understand that the life of crime is the only one that will allow the family to attain the “American Dream” of prosperity. One even begins to root for the family to succeed- they become they “good guys.” especially after Vito dies, and his son Michael assumes control of the family’s affairs. The morality of the family is also warped in a way that makes one sympathetic towards their cause. Although they kill, extort, and bribe their way to power, there are certain things they stand against as well. The only people who get killed are men; no women and children are harmed. They also do not get involved in drugs, as this is considered to be too immoral a means of prosperity.
The antagonists, or “evil” to the Corleones are...
Bibliography: "Synopsis of The Untouchables (1987)." IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 30 Apr. 2013. .
"Synopsis of The Godfather (1972)." IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 30 Apr. 2013. .
Bynum, Matt. "The Motion Picture Production Code of 1930 (Hays Code)." The Motion Picture Production Code of 1930 (Hays Code). Arts Reformation, n.d. Web. 30 Apr. 2013. .
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