'Nobody helps me -- I help them!' boasts open-handed gangster Bull Weed, handing over what will prove to be the best investment in his high-spending career: a thousand dollars that will put the literate 'Rolls Royce' of vagrants back on his feet. Living it up in the Twenties with the aid of cool but smouldering moll Feathers, the Bull lords it over the law and his rivals alike -- specifically big Buck Mulligan, whose floral-tributes business echoes that of a certain real-life Chicago gangster... Yet Feathers, prize possession and object of envy, proves his weak point; and in the end, Bull Weed will indeed come to need help from others, and more than he has ever needed it before. But can Rolls Royce and Feathers still give it to him? And will the Bull accept? Written by
I am not a big fan of the gangster film; when I am in the vicinity of the crime drama I always gravitate towards noir, where the moral lesson reserved for our protagonist in crime is not simply a present awareness that this life was only paid back with suffering but a deeper glimpse of the entire karmic process that produces a life of suffering.
In a gangster film this lesson is expressed in one of two ways; the protagonist is either left a broken, doomed being whose tragic fate is envied by no one, or is purged in the fire and brimstone of a final violence. So although we have watched secretly fascinated at the social fabric in ruins, it is important, in both respects, that we leave the theater restored in ethical order. We thus assume the role of the despised public enemy; his fate is ours for having indulged the antisocial fantasy. The final taste is always gingerly bitter, and works when it does because we invested so much of ourselves in the wrong side of the fence.
So you may hear of this as a milestone in the evolution of this type of film, and it's all because of the finale. It is this cathartic vision of some urban mid-station on the road to limbo where, amid a pall of gunsmoke and broken shards of brick wall, our protagonist comes to realize folly and is purged from life almost as a hero.
It is important to note that he doesn't go out all guns blazing, but rather surrenders to the cops. He will face death, but will not be even momentarily martyred on screen; what is heroic about him, so properly old fashioned, is that he honorably extricates from his bloody fate the innocent.
You can't miss any of this if you're a fan of the gangster genre. Scarface - the original - was built on this.
There are a few other instances that exert some cinematic intrigue; the fast-cutting of faces, superimpositions, shadows across walls. But it does not match the more interesting experiments going on in silent cinema of the time, or what this man would be doing the following year.
What is so apt about all of this is the smoky, drowsily anxious mood, the sense of excited weariness at the prospect of danger. There is a brawl in what only 30 years before would have been called a saloon. It's called the 'Dreamland Cafe', and just outside a neon sign reading 'The City is Yours' flashes the grinning mobster and his moll.
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