Screening the Mafia (2010) – By James L. Neibaur

George S. Larke-Walsh explores contemporary gangland crime films in this latest study that covers the sub-genre from THE GODFATHER (Coppola, 1972) thru the HBO cable TV series THE SOPRANOS.  The author appreciates his subject with a solid frame of reference for earlier examples, paying some homage to the gangster and film noir sagas that precede the period covered by his study.

His approach is first from the perspective of stereotyped masculinity via the central characters of the films, as well as their ethnicity (usually Italian) and dedication to  family, be it blood-related or via the ranks of their criminal brethren.

Within its pages, the book uses BONNIE AND CLYDE (Penn, 1967) as the springboard for what he calls the post-classic era of American gangster films.  This modern day updating of these Depression era gangsters gives them the more contemporary wild-child sensibilities of the sixties.  Their folk hero status translated to a new generation.

It is interesting how the author explores the myths Hollywood has created for its mafia ethos, some completely accepted aspects being nothing like the real life counterpart.  Films like THE GODFATHER, MEAN STREETS (Scorsese, 1973), and ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA (Leone, 1984) are examined for their presentation of masculinity through ethnicity and the stereotypes they perpetuate while sustaining a narrative with interesting characters.

The study is fully annotated with a bibliography and a nice filmography containing not only those films produced in the wake of BONNIE AND CLYDE, but also a separate listing that offers titles from earlier in the genre (ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES (Curtiz, 1938), WHITE HEAT (Walsh, 1949).

The popularity of THE SOPRANOS and continued reverence for the GODFATHER films makes this study an especially interesting and enlightening look at one of American cinema’s most stirring, passionate sub-genres.  A must for libraries with a section on film genres, especially universities with cinema studies programs.  Casual fans will also find the author’s assessments clear and enlightening.