An extremely well-written and entertaining mob history.
Ranking with the great mini-series of all-time (ROOTS, ROOTS: THE NEXT GENERATIONS, HOLOCAUST, BLIND AMBITION, BACKSTAIRS AT THE WHITE HOUSE, and MASADA), this was a superb retelling of the history of organized crime in America. Pretty much based on fact, but also loaded with a few fabrications, it tells the story of how Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky basically invented "the mob" in the early thirties which exists to this very day. Meyer Lansky, however, was still alive in 1981 when this was made so his name was changed to Michael Lasker and he was excellently portrayed as an adult by Brian Benben. Charles "Lucky" Luciano, played as an adult with solid charm and confidence by Michael Nouri, has his major source of revenue, prostitution, falsely seen as something he'd never be involved with. But, hey, this was TV in the 80's and NBC must've wanted to avoid censorship. And since the show almost made Luciano look like a guy who only became a criminal because it was the smart thing to do, if they'd shown him cleaning up as a pimp it would've been too much. Perhaps the most dynamic performance of THE GANGSTER CHRONICLES, though, was by Joe Penny as the adult Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel. As Michael Lasker's boyhood friend he joins forces with Charlie and Michael as they drift from small-time hoods to underworld kingpins, though Bugsy was more of a muscleman than the mastermind who put the "organization" together. The first half of THE GANGSTER CHRONICLES features powerful narration by E.G. Marshall who ended every chapter by saying, just in case you thought these guys were heroes, that "Charlie Luciano, Michael Lasker and Ben Siegel were hardened criminals who lived by a cruelty that would someday destroy them." But the show is so entertaining you really will find it hard not to root for Charlie, Michael & Ben as they take on the real "bad guys" like Al Capone, Dutch Schultz and earlier, Joe The Boss Masseria and Salvatore Maranzano. The rest of the cast was terrific including Richard Castellano as Joe The Boss, Madeline Stowe as Michael's wife, Kathleen Lloyd as Ben's wife, Allan Arbus as Charlie's youthful friend and cleaning store operator Mr. Goodman, Robert Davi as Vito Genovese, Markie Post as Charlie's onetime girlfriend, Jonathan Banks as Dutch Schultz, Louis Giambalvo as Al Capone, Jon Polito as Tommy Lucchese, James Andronica as Frank Costello, and Alex Rocco as a hood who uses similar lines in a dispute with Luciano to the ones he used as Moe Greene in THE GODFATHER, the greatest movie of all-time, by far. Shot down by weak ratings and NBC's favoring of the even weaker-rated (at the time) of the fabulous HILL STREET BLUES, it was a shame the show ended with so much left to tell in 1932.
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