John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum
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The best gangster movie ever made!
Rouben Mamoulian adds a dose of style to this otherwise ordinary gangster picture - but that style makes all the difference. Instead of simply plot mechanics (girl whose stepfather is a racketeer tries to persuade her boyfriend to join the gang but then regrets it later when he does and her eyes are opened to the brutality), we have something more poetic. Some of this is montage and some of it is inserted shots and some of it is a more natural approach to the settings and events (the couple have a rendezvous at the beach and we and they watch the waves). In any event, the flow of the picture seems different, even if there is still rough stuff among the hoods and some dirty double-crossing familiar to fans of the genre. Reviewers of the time didn't like Paul Lukas as the big boss, but his lilting accent and sophisticated manner inject a little more weirdness to the proceedings. Sylvia Sidney (young!) is captivating as the girl who wants to escape the gangster life (after a stretch in jail) and Gary Cooper (young!) is charismatic as her man who falls in and then falls out with the gang. Mamoulian would later direct "Love Me Tonight" and, while City Streets is not a musical, the director's flair for romance is clearly evident.
This film is likely the first thing I've ever seen Gary Cooper in, and he's charismatic enough, but most of what I recall about the film is how casually the racketeer father of Cooper's love interest allows her to take the fall for him and do ACTUAL TIME in jail, which is just freaky to think a parent could be so callous.
Worth a rental.
City Streets (1931)
Gary Cooper as an urban gangster? Yep! It's hard to believe, but City Streets is a gangster picture with a very young Gary Cooper. If you get a chance to see this pre-code movie, catch it, because, it hasn't been released on DVD yet. The movie is based on a Dashiell Hammett story.
Nan Cooley (played by beautiful Sylvia Sidney, in her first film) is the daughter of bootlegger under-boss Pop Cooley (Guy Kibbee), who works for Big Fellow Maskal (Paul Lukas). Nan has enjoyed the extravagant gangsta lifestyle, and has gotten accustomed to covering for Pop.
Nan has fallen in love with a young carnival worker who works at a shooting gallery. The Kid (Cooper) used to be a circus cowboy, and is content with his small-change (but honest) life, where Nan wants him to work for her Dad and afford the big cars, nice clothes, etc. She knows that The Kid is a crack shot and would be good at it.
Then one night Nan gets caught with the murder weapon that her Dad used and has to go to prison. Pop tells the Kid that he needs his help to afford to get Nan out of prison early. All the time, a reforming Nan is thankful that she didn't talk The Kid into this life of crime.
Director Rouben Mamoulian, did an excellent job of filming this with artful camera angles, close-ups, and even an inner (voice-over) monologue that was revolutionary for its time. While Nan ponders her life of crime and the fact that The Kid is now in "the Beer Business" you're thinking and worrying along with her. This is an excellent little movie, and I highly recommend it.
When you think of 30's gangster films and the actors who starred in them...Gary Cooper would probably be the last actor you would think of. With his hayseed screen persona and slow delivery, Coop just doesn't lend himself to one's idea of the tough gangster. Cooper may have been too handsome for his own good because I just do not see the evilness that one can perceive, say behind James Cagney's snarling mug in THE PUBLIC ENEMY or Edward G. Robinson's scowl in LITTLE CAESAR. Cooper too fails miserably at the punch - here giving an awkward looking roundhouse swing (akin to a baseball pitch - with the requisite leg-lift, for goodness sakes) that you would never catch former boxer Cagney doing.
But all kidding aside, the young Gary Cooper is adequate in CITY STREETS, a story penned by Dashiell Hammett - which works more as a kind of "morality tale". I don't think Cooper's character was meant to be a gangster anyway. Cooper here plays "The Kid" - the cash-strapped boyfriend to Nan (Sylvia Sidney). Nan was raised by her step-father, "Pop" Cooley (Guy Kibbee), a seemingly jovial underling to succesful beer racketeer "Big Fellow" Mascal (Paul Lukas). Nan is conditioned to the ways of a racketeer by her step-dad, who would go so far as to reward her for keeping secrets - something which will come in handy when "Pop" later becomes prime suspect in a shooting.
"The Kid" is employed at the local carnival shooting gallery, but is himself very proficient with the pistols - and pleased to show off his marksmanship to potential customers - a talent not lost on Nan. She tries to persuade "The Kid" to quit the carnival and join up with her "Pop"... but "The Kid" wants no part of the dark side. He is proud of making an honest living:
Nan: "We can't even afford to get married."
The Kid: "If you love me, you'd marry me anyway."
Nan, disappointed: "Yeah...and live in a tent."
The Kid: "Why not?!?"
Nan: "I don't like tents..."
The Kid: "It isn't the tents. It's me..."
* MILD SPOILERS TO FOLLOW *
The above romantic scene was nicely shot at a moonlit beach by cinematographer Lee Garmes who takes full advantage of the use of light and shadows in this film...but, I think this is merely a warm-up for Garmes, who would use the same techniques to much better results in SCARFACE (1932). Director Rouben Mamoulian eschews the showing of graphic violence here - opting instead for off-camera killings...something that may disappoint some viewers - especially the climactic scenes, which comes off as possibly too non-confrontational for modern audience (referred to as hokey, or out-dated by some reviewers I've read). But I think it's very well in keeping with Dashiell Hammett's story of a couple trying to break free of the circle of violence created by the racketeers in this story. I too laughed at first, but "old fashioned" as it may seem - "The Kid" being able to disarm his adversaries without the use of violence is actually refreshing, now that I think about it...and plays very well with the morality of the story...and shows us that the ends doesn't necessarily have to justify the use of the "means" (if ya get what I mean...heh heh) and thus Mamoulian shows us the soaring birds to symbolize true freedom. Hmmmm...there are actually other "bird" references sprinkled throughout this film but I'll let you discover them for yourself.
Of special note and interest to trivia buffs is the use of voice-over narration in this film. Filmmakers were still experimenting with sound at the time and Rouben Mamoulian and actress Sylvia Sidney would be credited with the first use of this story-telling technique here...
interesting for a few reasons: it's coop's only gangster film (as far as i can tell) and sylvia sidney's first lead role and they make a very handsome couple. produced by paramount and not as gritty as the legendary warner's efforts from the 30s but with strong direction by rouben mamoulian from a dashiell hammett story and excellent production values for the early sound era. the film contains the first use of voiceover thoughts, something the director had to fight for as the studio heads were convinced it would just confuse the audience. also said to be 'scarface' al capone's favorite film!
one of the earliest "talking" gangster movies. and it's a pretty good one too.
the story: a guy who's good with a gun - gary cooper - gets mixed up with the mob because his girlfriend is connected. they soon find that the fast track to the american dream is fraught with danger - from within their own mob.
definitely a good film to watch if you're interested in film history too.
Sylvia Sidney, Gary Cooper and Guy Kibbee give excellent performances in this drama set in the gritty world of beer racketeering. Although the film suffers a bit from the plagues of early talkies, and Gary Cooper is still getting used to being in front of a camera, it is a winner due to Rouben Mamoulian's skill as a director. There is always a risk, with mobster dramas, of falling into the "yeah, Mugsy!" trap, and a bit of that happens here, but it is a minor annoyance. The violence is alluded to but not shown, and the personal relationships are what drive the story.
The climax is brilliantly staged, shot and acted. and, on a purely shallow level, I must say that Gary Cooper just might be the most gorgeous man of that era of film. When God was handing out good looks, Coop got in line a dozen times.
good stuff early pre-code movie with a amazing cast
Gary Cooper didn't ruin it.