America’s Mafia: From Real Life To Big Screen And Back Again

2715 words - 11 pages

America’s obsessions with the mafia and mafia-style films have existed for decades. The ability for an audience to connect on a deep level with a character of shady morals and seedy behavior is a requirement for gangster films to be successful. Hollywood has been able to successfully take real life mobsters and make them larger than life on the big screen. Though not all mafia films created are taken directly from real life, most movies have some essence of reality buried within the plot. To understand this obsession with the mafia, it is necessary to understand the beginning of the Mafia’s presence in America.
The Great Depression and Prohibition helped usher in a new kind of violent criminal: The Mobster. Mostly of Italian American descent, mobsters in the 1920’s and 30’s, controlled a great portion of the organized crime in areas such as New York and Chicago. The paradox of prohibition is that instead of creating a clean cut and law abiding society by banning alcohol it helped to foster one of the most crime filled era’s in America’s history. Prohibition helped to establish the crime bosses of legend. Detroit was interestingly the first city to ban the sale of alchohol in public. By the year 1918, the city was dry as a bone. The next year, 1919, the prohibition law would go into effect. This gave the city an entire year to build an underground network to transfer hooch from other cities to Detroit. This underground network created a virtual river of booze. The prohibition era also created a cross country network of crime bosses that for the first time in the history of organized crime worked together for a single cause: Buy, trade and sell alcohol. Al Capone’s business in Chicago was dependent on supplies coming in from Canada. Detroit’s Jewish Purple Gang were the go between Capone and Canada. When the Purple’s needed an associate killed in Capone’s area, they only needed to call on him. If Capone’s men went rogue into the Purple territory, Capone could expect it to be handled with only a word. This kind of connection of crime families would create system of crime that America had not perviously seen and would make for some sensational stories later down the line. Hollywood’s first movies about these gangsters were oddly accepted by the public who could identify with men forced to use crime as a way to make a living. Movies such as Little Caesar (1932), Public Enemy (1931) and Scarface (1932) were a few of the great films of the period. After 1942, gangsters largely disappeared from news and media with the start of World War I when the villains of Hollywood were shifted from gangsters to Nazi’s and monsters.
In 1950, a senate committee was set up to investigate organized crime in America. Thanks to the new invention of television, millions of viewers could watch the testimonies of these hearings in their homes. Senator Estes Kefauver proposed an investigation between organized crime and interstate commerce....

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