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The Gangster

The Gangster(1947)

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teaser The Gangster (1947)

The Gangster (1947) was one of the first movies to be released by Allied Artists, the newly formed subsidiary of poverty row Monogram Pictures. Allied was designed as a label for the studio's higher-budgeted films -- its prestige films, if one can use such a word for any Monogram title. Produced by Frank and Maurice King, it was an attempt to repeat the phenomenal success of their earlier picture Dillinger (1945). That micro-budgeted film had been so successful, taking in a hefty $4 million worldwide, that the King brothers, whose family had started as bootleggers and slot machine purveyors, suddenly found themselves in the big time.

Their finest film, Gun Crazy (1950), would come along three years later, but for the moment they concentrated on The Gangster, a raw, bitter portrait of a racketeer (Barry Sullivan) becoming increasingly paranoid and full of self-doubt as he grapples with a rival gangster (Sheldon Leonard), a girlfriend he thinks is two-timing him (Belita), and a gambler who pleads for money (John Ireland).

This film is offbeat, with a psychological focus that some consider pretentious and theatrical, though it's certainly compelling. It's also certainly a film noir, with its seamy portrayal of doomed underworld characters and a fine supporting cast of noir stalwarts including Akim Tamiroff, Henry Morgan, Charles McGraw, and Elisha Cook, Jr. (Keep a lookout for Shelley Winters as a cashier.)

Sullivan and Belita had already co-starred in another film noir, Suspense (1946), and Sullivan himself had appeared in Framed (1947) and would go on to play in many more noirs including Tension (1949), The Unknown Man (1951), and Loophole (1954).

The actress known as Belita (birth name: Maria Belita Jepson-Turner) was a professional ice skater brought to Hollywood to try and replicate the success of another European skater, Sonja Henie. While Belita did make a few ice skating films such as Ice-Capades (1941) and Silver Skates (1943), she wound up perhaps better remembered by movie fans for her acting roles in her low-budget noirs (though in Suspense, she also skates!).

Based on a Daniel Fuchs novel entitled Low Company, The Gangster screenplay was adapted by Fuchs himself -- and, some sources claim, an uncredited Dalton Trumbo. Fuchs was a key player in the history of film noir, writing such notable entries as Hollow Triumph (1948), Criss Cross (1949), and Panic in the Streets (1950). Later he wrote the James Cagney/Doris Day classic Love Me or Leave Me (1955).

Gangster director Gordon Wiles had an unusual back-and-forth career as art director and director. He started as an art director in the early 1930s (winning an Oscar for Transatlantic [1931]), then transitioned to directing in 1935, and moved back into art direction and production design in the early 1940s. He stepped into his director shoes one more time for The Gangster, but only after the film's original director, Edward Blatt, departed over scheduling issues. Wiles died in 1950 at age 46.

By Jeremy Arnold

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