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#56550 - 07/04/11 10:26 PM The Gangster - a Review
MatthewJ1
Unregistered



My fascination with film noir continues with this recent purchase.

This film had been in the back of my mind for more than ten years. It was one of those situations where you think: yeah I would like to get that one, but something else crops up, so you never quite buy it or never quite do it.

I became actively interested in buying this film about two years ago and I went searching Amazon etc. but discovered that the film was unavailable. I went back to Amazon every month or so and it continued to remain unavailable.

Well, finally The Gangster came back and I now have my copy, which I received yesterday.

Here is the reason why I became so interested in this old black and white film. Hereís a quote:

ďThis is a small and neglected film. Itís almost a lost one. It opens and ends with a Satanic statement, and you know that the man, played by Barry Sullivan, is doomed. This is not a Legs Diamond or an Al Capone story; itís a psychological tale about a gangster who is perhaps too cultured and too sensitive and too kind to be a ruthless gangster. He has risen from the slums into the only role he could, into his destiny. Much like Lucifer, the fallen angel, he finds himself a victim of his circumstance. At the end, just before heís shot down in the rain, which is typical film noir, heís castigated by this young girl whose father wants to hide him. She refuses him refuge, and just before he plunges into the rain to his death, he delivers a bitter diatribeÖ Itís a purely Satanic soliloquy, of a victim in a role he should never have been thrust into.Ē

Anton LaVey, taken from The Secret Life of a Satanist. Page 150.

I think Dr. LaVey nailed the basics of this film, but I thought I might provide some further thoughts on it.

The Gangster was released in 1947 and was directed by Gordon Wiles. It really is a good film and one I would recommend to people who havenít seen it yet.

The Mask of Shubunka

I have never seen such a hard face before in mainstream film. Other actors of the 1940ís such as Jimmy Cagney and Edward G. Robinson had hard cynical faces, but Barry Sullivan as Shubunka has the hardest. Shubunka has impassive cold eyes and a face so tough and leathery that it looks frankly reptilian at times. He wears a great scar, no doubt compliments of a knife fight he fought at some earlier stage.

Shubunka very rarely letís his guard down, very rarely expresses a feeling. His cynicism and his misanthropy are traced on his face. He has had to be tougher than everybody else, he has had to live by his wits at all times and he has expected to find himself cornered and under attack whenever he least expected it. He canít afford to really trust someone even though he may wish to, nor can he really allow anyone to get close to him, lest he become vulnerable.

There are seemingly no illusions for this for this quintessential outcast, only a grimy reality beyond the comprehension of the lambs, whom he has no problem taking advantage of. He doesnít seem to maintain any warm human relations with other people: he is a big wolf with apparently no conscience, who has kept the other wolves in line, and who has gone to war again and again when a younger, aggressive wolf stepped out of the shadows to take what was his. Shubunka has had to fight and think his way up from being a nobody to being a respected and feared racketeer and it shows in his face - he canít afford to care, to let anyone in, he canít trust anyone lest he be exposed.

His Dear Sweet Nancy and Her Mask

The love relationship between Shubunka and Nancy is one of the more unusual and interesting ones I have seen in film. She is beautiful and seemingly loving towards him, while he looks uncomfortable and out of place in her presence. The change in the hard mask of Shubunka, however, betrays his inner feelings towards Nancy. The cold implacable mask of Shubunka changes shape and his reptilian eyes close softly as he pulls Nancy into his arms and holds her.

Shubunka canít quite trust Nancy though, even though he desperately wants to, just as he cannot quite trust anybody and he holds her off at a distance, while desperately needing her. He spends all his money on her and winds up broke. He hopes and believes that maybe she will somehow save him from his dark fate, from the inevitable last war. He hopes that she will run away with him. Shubunka seems to lose his edge while Nancy is in his life, but he cannot to do without her and she reveals his other side to the audience, the face under the mask.

Shubunka is Trapped and Alone - He is Cornered

Dr. LaVey mentioned that this film has a claustrophobic and oppressive feel and I feel he was right. I donít know how anybody can step out into the street and casually go walking in this movie. There seems to be a sharp distinction between the interior and the exterior in film noir movies in general and the outside seems to always be represented as a place where you are being watched and you may just end up dead. The street is dark and blasted with cold rain and men in dark suits wait in darker corners watching.

Shubunka spends a great deal of his time at a soda shop, looking after his business concerns. He is such an anomaly in this environment in his dark suit, with his hard attitude. He is out of place in this rather light ďsanctuaryĒ of sorts. In the end, however, even this place of light and safety from the dark outside is invaded by the young wolves, who are in search of power and control at any price.

The camera is too close to the action at times in this movie and the framing of the interiors tends to make me feel as though there is almost no room to move. This combined, with the angles of the filming, does add to the rather frightening and oppressive nature of the film, particularly when that angle of sight is from above and is framed in darkness.

This movie describes the final fate of a man, the last war he will fight. It pictures the group of young aggressive wolves who will finally defeat the great gangster by being more aggressive, more organised and more cold Ė blooded than Shubunka.

Shubunka has lost the support of his muscle - he has no one to rely on, including the frightened business owner Jammey, who betrays Shubunks in order to survive the war. The gangster maintains a carefully arranged mask of self Ė confidence and arrogance, but he knows he is in trouble and he must compromise and get out, if he can.

He tries to escape with his love Nancy, but Nancy has betrayed him to the other side. Shubunka is a broken man. The one person who seemingly could save him, could go away with him into a new form of life has betrayed him as he expected she might. It is this expectation of betrayal, from the outset, with the distance and distrust it engenders, which leads to the disintegration of Nancyís love for Shubunka, and her desire to betray and to destroy Shubunka.

He is warned by the other side not to harm the business owner Jammey, but Jammey is murdered by someone else and Shubunka is mistakenly held to be responsible. He is now actively being hunted.

Shubunka remembers the home address of the salesgirl at the soda shop, and fearing for his life, runs there. The salesgirl hates Shubunka because of his cynicism and his brutality and so refuses to give him the refuge he needs to survive.

His parting words to her and her father are classic. A portion of them, which I will take from Bartonís SLOAS run:

ďMy sins? My sins are that I wasnít tough enough. I wasnít low or dirty enough, I should have trusted no one; never loved a girl. I should have smashed first. Thatís the way the world is.Ē

Shubunka faces the machine gun fire in the murky gritty darkness, which film noir exemplifies. It is pouring with rain as he is murdered and he rolls into the gutter, a black sodden giant - the latest victim in the harsh dog eat dog world of the underground.

Great film.

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#56660 - 07/09/11 04:29 PM Re: The Gangster - a Review [Re: ]
Michael A.Aquino Offline
stalker


Registered: 09/28/08
Posts: 2551
Loc: San Francisco, CA, USA
 Originally Posted By: MatthewJ1
Great film.

After reading your review, i rather feel compelled to ask "Why?". It sounds like an unrelieved bummer of a film: Life is terrible, then you die.

I can see Anton liking it in a Schadenfreude sort of way, because he had, to borrow from the Compleat Witch, that personal "demonic self" at war with his creative genius; Fowles' self-destructive nemo. Falls right into line with Nightmare Alley and The Sea Wolf. The only thing needed to round out the film festival is this.
_________________________
Michael A. Aquino

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#56661 - 07/09/11 04:50 PM Re: The Gangster - a Review [Re: Michael A.Aquino]
Jake999 Offline
senior member


Registered: 11/02/08
Posts: 2230
Well, it IS a kind of long walk in the rain without an umbrella kind of movie at times. And Dr. LaVey did like the film on several levels, part of which (at least to my mind) the "demonic self" angle and he definitely appreciated Shubunka's closing soliloquy about where he had gone wrong.

But overall, it was a movie with some psychological and philosophical lessons to be learned about power in evidence and power behind the scenes. And it was filmed in the noir style... LaVey definitely liked that. One of his favorite writers was Cornell Woolrich, whose novels he had read in his youth, later to be made into movies that often had the same texture and "feel" of The Gangster.
_________________________
Bury your dead, pick up your weapon and soldier on.


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#56674 - 07/09/11 07:38 PM Re: The Gangster - a Review [Re: Jake999]
Michael A.Aquino Offline
stalker


Registered: 09/28/08
Posts: 2551
Loc: San Francisco, CA, USA
This is moir my kind of noir, see?
_________________________
Michael A. Aquino

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#56682 - 07/10/11 05:48 AM Re: The Gangster - a Review [Re: Michael A.Aquino]
MatthewJ1
Unregistered



Yes, there are a couple of points I want to make here.

I think that The Gangster is a tragic film. I cannot help but feel sorry for Shubunka, even though, he must have done what many people would regard as terrible things to get to the top of the pile and stay there for as long as he did.

These hard boiled film noir movies exemplify something for me. They describe a dark sinister atmosphere, where the adversarial, the savage, the tribal are played out in a relatively modern setting.

This world is not a pretty one, but it focuses my attention on an aspect or side of the Satanic, which is there: the hard, brutal side, the gritty real side, of the tough minded, but more or less principled outcast.

I feel that LaVey had a similar sort of interest in these films. That's the way I tend to see it anyway, but I may be wrong.

I like Shubunka because he has to deal with this harsh reality, but he maintains a depth, a three dimensionality of character, even though he must face his fate.

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#56688 - 07/10/11 02:28 PM Re: The Gangster - a Review [Re: ]
Michael A.Aquino Offline
stalker


Registered: 09/28/08
Posts: 2551
Loc: San Francisco, CA, USA
What I'm getting at is that you can go through life with a negative vision, orientation, and attitude; or you can be a Johnny Appleseed and look for opportunities to do nice things, be a nice guy, and leave other people/places better then you found them:

 Originally Posted By: William Penn
I expect to pass through life but once. If therefore, there be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again.

WP is among my recommended sages. Read some more of his thoughts here. But you don't have to be intellectual to do good; you can just "plant appleseeds".

There is nothing in Satanism that requires you to be a sourpuss. And if all you do is bitch about the world, society, other people without lifting a finger to make things nicer/better, you're just taking up space and wasting oxygen.

As another study in this sort of thing, I recommend the original Kung Fu television series, in which the Initiate/Magician Caine regularly encountered harsh situations and people. His challenge [as per the "Ethics" section of Black Magic] was not just to use his Kung Fu skills to hurt people, but, like Penn, to adjust the entire situation for the better. [The series is available on DVD; there are worse ways to spend your money.]
_________________________
Michael A. Aquino

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#56689 - 07/10/11 02:58 PM Re: The Gangster - a Review [Re: Michael A.Aquino]
Jake999 Offline
senior member


Registered: 11/02/08
Posts: 2230
 Originally Posted By: Michael A.Aquino


There is nothing in Satanism that requires you to be a sourpuss. And if all you do is bitch about the world, society, other people without lifting a finger to make things nicer/better, you're just taking up space and wasting oxygen.


Amen to that! LaVey even said that thinking that Satanism was only hate and anger was just ridiculous. LaVey was very helpful when he felt the person deserved a break, and enjoyed laughing and having a good time as much as any man I have ever met.

People don't understand that it's "Do unto others AS they do unto you." They become so caught up in being a bad ass that they miss out on some really fine times on their short tour of this life. You can definitely be a Satanist and be happy.
_________________________
Bury your dead, pick up your weapon and soldier on.


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#56697 - 07/11/11 12:30 AM Re: The Gangster - a Review [Re: ]
Goliath Offline
pledge


Registered: 09/26/10
Posts: 93
MatthewJ1, thank you for your review of this movie. I've never heard of it, and I'm always on the lookout for films noirs I haven't yet seen.

 Originally Posted By: MatthewJ1
These hard boiled film noir movies exemplify something for me. They describe a dark sinister atmosphere, where the adversarial, the savage, the tribal are played out in a relatively modern setting.

This world is not a pretty one, but it focuses my attention on an aspect or side of the Satanic, which is there: the hard, brutal side, the gritty real side, of the tough minded, but more or less principled outcast.


It seems to me that films noirs are ultimately about justice, and power. The main characters are either striving for some measure of justice in an unjust world, or seeking to escape the consequences of their unjust actions. And their success or failure depends ultimately on their own strength of character and authenticity.

Walter Neff in Double Indemnity is an excellent example of a noir protagonist who seeks to escape justice, and fails, because of his own weakness. He has the opportunity for a rewarding and intellectually-satisfying career as an insurance investigator, under the tutelage of Barton Keyes. But instead he starts an affair with the femme fatale, Phyllis Dietrichson, helps her murder her husband for the insurance money, and comes to a bad end. Why? Because he doesn't recognize his own limitations--because he thinks he's a lot smarter than he really is. He thinks he's a player, when he's really the one being played. And in the end, he gets caught, because his vanity compels him to record a confession.

The counterpart to the weak, failed protagonist is the strong protagonist like Sergeant Dave Bannion in The Big Heat, which I just rewatched tonight. In this movie, the suicide of a dirty cop sets in motion a chain of events that leads to Bannion's wife being murdered by a car bomb intended by Bannion himself. And in the end, Bannion triumphs over his enemies because he's tougher and smarter than they are--but also because he's more compassionate. His chief antagonist, a gangster named Vince Stone (played by Lee Marvin) talks tough, but is really just a bully, and shows his true nature through sadistic violence against women. After Stone scalds his girlfriend with a pot of boiling-hot coffee, Bannion takes pity on her, and shelters her--and this act of compassion becomes the key to his eventual victory.

Jeff Bailey in Out of the Past, played by Robert Mitchum, stands midway between these two characters. In the end, Bailey cannot escape the consequences of his weakness and unjust actions, no matter how hard he tries. But he has the strength to ensure that his enemies will not escape either. In the end, the forces are balanced: they are his nemesis, and he is theirs.

All of these stories are tragic, in their way: as the saying goes, comedies end with a wedding, and tragedies with a funeral. Even when justice is done, it comes at great personal cost to the principal characters. But ultimately, some justice can be done--and is worth doing. The universe of film noir is cold and hard, but it's a moral universe--unlike, say, the universe of Sartre's "The Wall," in which life is absurd, and there is no justice--only chance. Film noir is pessimistic--but it's not nihilistic.
_________________________
An illusion--with intelligence! A malignant vision, with a will of pure evil!

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