Gangster films arrived at cinemas in the early 1900s. According to Tim Dirks, the first popular gangster film was The Moonshiners in 1904. Two other early gangster films were A Desperate Encounter between Burglars and Police and The Black Hand. These films were produced in 1905 and 1906. However, their availability is very problematic, or almost impossible to find. “The first to mark the start of the gangster genre was D.W. Griffith’s The Musketeers of Pig Alley” (Dirks). Griffith’s film was released in 1912. These films we made without sound and used subtitle screens to allow the audience to know either what a particular character said, or how a particular character feels. The early gangster films were all shot from the non-criminal point of view. In other words, it was shot in the law-abiding view, or the character that was trying to stop the violence caused by the gang or robbers. According to Dirks, the first gangster film that was filmed in the gangster’s point of view was Josef von Sternberg’s Underworld (1927). Many film critics agree that this film was the first modern gangster film. It is considered the first modern gangster film because it was shot in the criminal’s point of view. This is how almost all of today’s gangster movies are shot today. Underworld won various awards including the Best Original Story. Organized crime led to great popularity for the gangster genre. One aspect that was never really explored was the business side of organized crime. The gangster as a businessman is a sub-genre that is seen in many films made over the past twenty years.
The gangster genre is aimed at a mature audience, but this genre is and will continue to be popular in movies. The genre has a history of over a hundred years. What started out as one genre, turned into multiple different types of sub-genres. What really makes this genre unique compared to others, is how actual gangsters contributed to the success and popularity of this type of film. These films truly are exciting and original. They show a different side of society. They show the ruthless, crazy, relentless, and power hungry side of people. The symbols that represent gangsters are a lot of different things that are bad in this world such as guns, money, death, and drugs. This genre makes the viewer take the side of the bad guy, which separates it from many different genres. Greed, deception, money, power, and murder; this is what makes up the gangster genre.
Dirks, T. (2008). Crime-gangster films: Tracing the route of a genre. Film history: An international journal , 20 (3), 308-324.
MacLeod, D. (2007). A tall order. Film & history: An interdisciplinary journal of film and television studies , 37.2, 114.