Film Studies Assignment

Subject: Film Studies

Topic : Relationship between the American Dream, the City and the classic gangster film


Myths are very important in the world of communication because they make people understand the world that surrounds them. One of the major myths is the American dream which is manifested in most of the gangster movies. In most of the gangster films, we see the people from different who want to achieve their American dreams. We see characters who want to be popular, take hold of a city, be rich, and be at the top of the world. The sad thing is that, most of the gangster movies, the characters end up dead before they could achieve their American dreams (Buscombe, 1986). Different cities are also featured in filming of these gangster movies to show the different cultures. In the movies, we see that, as the characters strive to achieve their American dreams, they are driven by greed and end up forgetting the moral aspect of life and that is the reason why most of them end up dead before they have achieved their American dream.

There is a very bigger relationship between the American dream, the city and the gangster films. These three are intertwined in that, as the gangster movies are produced, different cities are feature with their different cultures. Also, we see the cops in different cities and gangster movies (Maltby, 2001). In most times, cops are displayed as corrupt individual and sometimes, were shown the cops that are willing to put their lives in line so as to save their cities from criminals. For us to understand the relationships between the American dream, city and the gangster films, a movie scarface by Warner bro is described below.

Public Enemy

In the Public Enemy movie (1931) James Cagney starred in his first movie as an arrogant, fast-talking, cruel and wicked criminal/bootlegger named Tom Powers. The most memorable cruel scene in this movie is where Tom assaults his girlfriend Mae Clarke at the breakfast table where by he presses a half grapefruit into her face. In this scene, both Tom and his girlfriend are in pajamas which indicate that the two of them spend the night together. The most startling part is the final where by, Cagney’s mummy-wrapped corpse is delivered to his mother’s house where by the corpse is wrapped and on its delivery, it falls through the front door (Sennwald, 1931). His ambition makes him kill more and more people as he continues with his robbery despite the fact that his brother kept warning him that what he was doing was not good.


Howard Hawks' raw Scarface: The Shame of a Nation (1932), Paul Muni was displayed as a Paul Muni as a power-mad, brutal, unripe and rotten hood in Prohibition-Era Chicago. Tony was characterized based on brutal murderous racketeer Al Capone. In the same movie, George Raft starred as Paul’s best friend Guino while Ann Dvorak starred as Tony’s sister. This was an ultra-violent, landmark fiend which was depicted to be Italian-American immigrants in which twenty eight deaths took place in that field and machine guns were used by the gangsters in that movie (Fleming, 2011). At first, the produce had problems in releasing it since it was felt that, a lot of brutality was being displayed in that movie, but at the end of it all, the movie was released and the audience was very good.

Relationship on the American dream

Most youths especially those that come from less privileged families want to be somebody in the society. They want to make sure that their families are living happy and getting all the necessary needs. They want to be rich since they feel that, when one is rich, s/he is respected more than the poor person. Because of this, they end up doing some criminal activities so as to get the money they so much crave for. The major thing that leads the young people into robbery and drugs dealing is to make a living and acquire wealth. Like in the case of Tony, he is pushed by his ambition to take over the north side gang and therefore ends up killing Louis by the order of Lovo whom invites Tony to join his gang in selling illegal beer to speakeasies (Fleming, 2011). Tony is too ambitious and wants to be the one on top and wants to take Lovo’s place in the illegal trade and therefore, works towards achieving that. On the other hand, Lovo realizes that his key lieutenant wants to take over his place and therefore plans to assassinate Tony. Tony becomes very angry with him and therefore together with his friend Guino kills Lovo and take over the northern side gang

In the gangster movies, most of the producers tend to show the viewers of how the gangsters work and use criminal ways so as to achieve their American dream. Each and every person especially those from small communities want to be known and be somebody in the society. Therefore, young men from such community tend to use the criminal ways so as to be known in the society and achieve their American dreams. Given the stories and the crimes that the children from poor background have heard, they tend to think that crimes and robbery are the quickest way of accumulating wealth (Bergman, 1971). That is why, in most of the gangster movies shown, you will see the children from the poor families becoming gangsters starting from their young age up to adulthood so as to acquire wealth.

The movie scarface shows us how Tony and Guino are working towards achieving their American dream. They join a gang so as to make their ends meet and also be wealthy people. This gang deals with selling illegal beer, and therefore, the two of them end up joining this gang. Gangster movies communicate stereotypes whereby, people from low classes join the gang so as to achieve wealth in the shortest time possible. The gangster movies are easy to spot and get a lot of audience in the American world. Scarface movie gained a lot of popularity due to the fact that it was a gang movie and was able to sell hundreds of copies (Block, 1991).

From long time ago, the filmmakers have known that, it is important for a movie to be watched by many people. These filmmakers have put into account key aspects such as their potential customers i.e. the people that will be watching the movies and at the same time, they have standardized those areas that the audience is usually appealed by and they also make sure that they listen to the responses from their audience. As the filmmakers continued to gain experience, they finally started to put their audience’s stories into movies and thus making their movie to be more real and something that their audiences could relate to (Bywater & Sobchack, 1989).

When they film the gangster movies, they make sure that they are movies that different people are able to relate with. They make sure that the movies show a character that is trying to achieve their American dreams. This makes the audiences want to watch the movie since each and every person in this world wants to be rich and be popular and therefore, the filmmakers make money out these kinds of movies.

The movie scarface shows the youngsters wanting to be at the top of the world. Tony and Guino; who are willing to do anything so as to make sure that they take over the northern side gangsters and be the leaders of the group in selling the illegal beer. They want to be rich, accumulate wealthy and be known all over the world. The two kill people like Big Louis so as to make sure that they get what they want.

On the other hand, the movie public enemy shows us Tom and Matt who start stealing at young age and progress to adult hood and advance in their stealing. The movie portrays the picture of two friends, Tom and Matt who want to rise in the wealth world and become rich people and this they can only achieve through being gangsters. We see that, Tom supports his mother who is a window and cannot support herself. His brother Mike feels that what Tom and his friend are doing is wrong and immoral and does not like his money because he calls it, blood money. We see that, because of the greed to rise and dominate the world of robbery, Tom gets into trouble with another gang and therefore a war breaks between them.

The third movie which is the white heat portrays another young man who is ruthless criminal leader of a gang. The guy Jarrett is the leader of the group and still wants to go higher and higher and take over the criminal world. However, the police are after him and in one of the shooting incident, he ends up shooting a police officer which leads to his arrest and then he is jailed though he pleads for lesser charges which he gets. Jarrett is married to Vena but is very attached to his mother who he supports (Crowther, 1949). We see that, he is also strangling to achieve his American dream of being rich, and at the top of the world.

These three movies portray young people who want to rise from poverty and fulfill their American dream of becoming big people in the society. What they forget in their process of fulfilling their American dream is that, the American dream has two parts and these parts cannot be separated under all circumstances. Therefore as much as these youths want to become rich people, the should keep in mind that, the other part of the American dream which talks about brotherhood should never be forgotten and therefore, going around killing people is not the right thing to do for a person who wants to achieve his American dream (Altman, 1999).

The American dream myth

Myths are stories that we have heard in the past, which each and every person has lived on. Many stories are true, and many people live on those stories. Myth is more than true because it gives each and every individual a chance to live it. The American dream being one of the myths makes each and every person want to achieve it. People all over the world want to go to America, those that are already in America want to be rich and popular, and those rich and popular want to be known in the whole world. It’s as if each and every person is working towards popularity and richness (Schatz, 1981). We all have one dream in common, the American dream.

As explained by fisher, American dream is compost of two myths; the materialistic myth and the moral myth. The materialist myth is the one that says that, any individual, irrespective of their social class, whether in low or high class can be successful. Fisher gives an explanation that, the materialistic myth relates to the value of effort, persistent, initiative, playing the game, self-reliance, achievement and success. This in addition gives the individual the chance to reap the rewards of getting a status, wealth and power.

The second myth which is the moral myth talks about being fair to all people. It involves, tolerance, charity, compassion, and that, people should truly regard other peoples dignity and preserve the worth of each and every individual. This kind of myth puts emphasis on brotherhood and moral good. He warned that the two myths are always together and cannot be separate at any time (Schatz, 1981). Sometimes, one myth can dominate the other because of some circumstances that are unavoidable but the two of them can not be separated.

The people who are working towards achieving their American dream need to understand that, one cannot separate these two parts of the myth and for one to achieve their American dream which they will be able to enjoy, they need to work hard, be honest and persistent and at the same time, keep the brotherhood code where one has to consider the other person to be better than them. If one keeps these two myths together, then they will be able to achieve their American dreams which will be able to last for long and the individuals will be able to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Since the leaders in the three gangster movies did not keep the second part of the American dream myth, they were not able to enjoy their richness and popularity. They ended up being killed or arrested simply because they did not keep the code of brotherhood and walked around killing people who got in their way. Like in the case of Tony, he ended up killing his best friend Guino simply because he fell in love with Tony’s sister Cesca and got married to her (Mcadams, 1990). That is no good reason for one to kill his best friend since the two of them were madly in love. Tony did not keep the brotherhood code and have compassion on his best friend instead he ended up killing him. On the other hand, he killed Lovo because he got on his way in getting the northern side gang. He did not have compassion on him or pity him but killed him because he got on his way.

On the other hand, we see police officers who are corrupt and are willing to do anything including being corrupt so as to achieve their American dreams too. We see that, they too are not following the right path of being morally upright and therefore end up getting involved in the criminal world because of their greed to become rich and popular. On White heat, Jarrett’s right-hand man wants to take over his business because he is in jail and therefore sends someone in the jail to kill Jarrett. He discovers this and makes sure that the person does not get him. When he gets out of jail, he kills him and takes over from him all the stolen power and money.

Relationship with the City

Apparently, when you look at the three gangster movies that have been discussed, you will see that in the movie, different cities are portrayed in the movie. We also see that, the gangsters bring disruption to these cities and the police are forced to take action so as to make sure that they capture these criminals. Different cities are portrayed and different gangs in each and every movie want to take over a certain city. The film makers always want to show us that the gangster belong somewhere even if they are killers, they are still part of the society (Block, 1991).

The gangster movies are usually set in big cities so as to show the dark parts of the city. This implies that, each and every city has its dark parts i.e. the underworld where power and money dominates. The untouchables in the society; who operate through the use of money and guns in controlling their world. The gangsters know that, the other part of the city, the one seen by everybody is controlled and monitored by the police and therefore, they make sure that they operate in the underworld so as to make use of their powers to control these underworlds.

The movie gives us a picture of how a person can live in two different lives, one of the normal people in the street while the other is of the underworld where one is feared and respected. Tony loves and cares for his sister a lot, many saw him as a caring brother, but on the other hand, he is an illegal beer dealer who kills people who get on his way. The society may not know that the guy who passes on the street daily is a very dangerous man. This is how crimes operate, a person, a neighbor who pretends to be a very good person lives amongst the people. But these people are dangerous and gangsters who kill. Each and every person wants to belong somewhere, that is why you will see that these people maybe living double life because they still want to be accepted by the society and on the other hand, they want to acquire money and power (Bordwell & Thompson, 2004).

Tom is a devoted son who wants to help is windowed mother and therefore, plays that part of being a good son. On the other hand, he is ruthless robber who kills people as he robs so as to get money and power. On the other hand, Jarrett loves his mother so much despite the fact that he is married.

Different cities are mention in each and every gangster movie that has been discussed. In the scarface movie, South side and the North side cities are mentioned where the gangsters operate. These are two big cities of Chicago. The movie shows us of how big cities have criminals without the knowledge of the people living in those cities. Because the cities are so big, it becomes hard to trace the criminals who are operating in those cities simply because most of these gangsters operate in underworld. In the white heat, California Beach is mentioned to show that, the gangsters traveled to these big cities so as to make sure that they are hiding themselves well from the police.

Relationship with classic gangster

There is a very big relationship between the gangster movies and the real gangster world. In the gangster movies, the movies mostly portray their characters as the heroes. They may portray a character that kills another opponent so as to take over their business and in that, they will be portraying that the killing criminal is the hero. Like in the case of Tony and Lovo, we see that Tony is portrayed as the hero who takes over the illegal businesses in the northern side and defeats Lovo by killing him and becomes the leader in his part. In the gangster movies we see real life action as well as the criminal actions that the criminals do. In most of the movies, they add some pieces of real life criminal reports. In these movies, there is always the rise and fall of these criminals (Maltby, 2001). This indicates that the evil can not overcome and good and the good will always win at the end of it all.

In the gangster movies, the characters are usually materialistic, street smart, and self destructive. There is always a rivalry in the gangster movie either from an opponent who wants to take over the business of the other criminal or from the friends who betrays the others. For example, in the Scarface, Lovo tells Tony not to mess up with the gangsters from the north which is the Irish gang led by O’Hara. Tony does not heed the warnings and goes out messing with these gangsters. This makes Lovo feel betrayed by Tony and rivalry breaks which leads to Tony killing Lovo and taking over his business. On the other hand, Tony feels betrayed by Guino because he married his sister and therefore ends up killing him. Tony’s sister come to kill him but helps him because the cops surround his house. On the public enemy, Tom is a rival with his own brother who disagrees with his action and thinks that Tom’s actions are immoral and that his money is blood money. Tom on the hand feels that his brother is just selfish and that his hands aren’t that clean because he killed the Germans and did not get anything out of that war except bitterness. On the white heat, there is a rivalry between Big Ed and Jarrett because Big Ed wants to take over the business since Jarrett is in jail. This leads to Jarrett escaping from prison and then killing Big Ed because he send someone to kill him in jail and also believes that he killed his mother even though it is his wife who killed his mother. When Jarrett is out of jail, his wife Verna convinces him that it was Big Ed who killed his mother because he wanted to take over Jarrett’s business. In each and every gangster movie, when a rivalry happens, it always ends up in killing. One criminal ends up killing the other so as to take over their businesses or so as to prevent them from taking over their businesses.

In these movies, the weapons that are portrayed in the movie are either those being used by the police or the new ones that are emerging. The gangs make sure that they have the best weapons to protect against themselves. The filmmakers make sure that, the movies look as real as possible so that the audience will be able to like the movies. (Woodiwiss, 1998). In the scarface movie, Tommy guns which were the most recent invention were used in the movie. In the white heat, tear gas is used in capturing Jarrett.

Most of the gangster films are usually morality tales; in the scarface in which the criminals wanted to live their American dream, the criminals lived in their inverted dream of world of success and wealth. Tony who was from a poor family had a dream to be rich and popular. In these films, characters in these movies fall prey to such job as criminal acts because they desire to have money, good cars, and good clothes. Since other ways of acquiring these things are unavailable for them like decent jobs, they end up getting themselves jobs as gangsters so as to acquire these things that they desire so much. Although they all end up failing or dying in these movies and usually die violent deaths, they are most of times portrayed as victims of circumstances because these stories are usually told from their point of view (Buscombe, 1986).

Three enormous classic gangster films (amid the primary of the talkies) manifested the genre's popular recognition and started the beckon of gangster films in the 1930s in the sound era. The front role in each film (a gangster/criminal or bootleg racketeer of the Prohibition Era) was puffed up, although every one at the end of the day met his fate which was death or imprisonment in the concluding scenes in each and every one of these films, owing to censors' demands so as to be given moral reprisal for their crimes.


In each and every gang film that has been directed and produced, the characters are usually portrayed as people from poor background who yearn to get the beautiful things they see with the rich people. Because most of them are not educated, they are not able to get decent jobs so as to earn their money and therefore end up being gangsters so as to acquire richness and the other beautiful things they see the rich with (Block, 1991). Because of these circumstances most of them end up getting introduced to criminal activities because they feel that that is the only way to getting riches in a quicker way. What these young people seem to forget is that, the American dream is composed of two myths which have to work together and cannot be separated at all times. If one wants to enjoy the riches that they have accumulated, they have to make sure that these richness are acquired in the right way and that, the second part of the myth is kept and that, they should not break the moral rules like killing so as to make more money.

Most of the characters in the gangster films did not live long to enjoy the richness they had accumulated during their criminal activities. This is because they were either killed or imprisoned at one time. This happened because they were a disturbance to the society and therefore, the government had to make sure that they did not cause any disturbance anymore. Also, in the gangster stories, most of them are viewed and presented to have happened in big cities (David, 1996). This is because; the filmmakers want to show us how the big cities are the places where bigger crimes happen without the knowledge of the people living in those cities. Strong and modern weapons are also displayed in these movies. The filmmakers make sure that the movies look as real as possible. All the characters in these films are craving to achieve their American dream.

  1. Altman, R. (1999). Film genre and the genre film: Film theory and criticism. New York: Oxford University Press.
  2. Bergman, A. (1971). We’re in the money. New York: New York University Press.
  3. Block, A. (1991). The business of crime: A documentary study of organized crime in the American economy. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
  4. Bordwell, D. & Thompson, K. (2004). Film art: An introduction. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill.
  5. Buscombe, E. (1986). The idea of genre in the American cinema : Film genre reader. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.
  6. Bywater, T., & Sobchack, T. (1989). An introduction to film criticism: Major critical approaches to narrative film. NY: Longman.
  7. Crowther, B. (1949). James Cagney Back as Gangster in ‘White Heat’ thriller now at the Strand. New York Times
  8. David, R. (1996). inventing the public enemy: the gangster in American culture university of Chicago press
  9. Fleming, M. (2011). Universal Preps New ‘Scarface Movie’ <<
  10. Maltby, R. (2001). the spectacle of criminality :violence and American cinema routledge/AFI pp 117-53
  11. Mcadams, W. (1990). Ben Hecht: The man behind the legend. Scribner.
  12. McCarthy, T. (2000). Howard Hawks: The Grey Fox of Hollywood. Grove Press.
  13. Sennwald, A. (1931). The Public Enemy: New York Times.
  14. Schatz, T. (1981). Hollywood genre: formula, film making and the studio system
  15. Watson, T. (2008). James Cagney-Star of the Month, The Midnight Palace website
  16. Woodiwiss, M. (1998). Crime, crusades and corruption : prohibition in the united states, 1900-87 pinter
Disclaimer: provides custom term paper writing/rewriting services inclusive of research material, for assistance purposes only. The term paper should be used with proper reference. © 2012 - 2018 Top Quality Essays Australia Protection Status