Hoodlum (1997) Poster


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A great film, victim to negative people
dynamicresolve11 February 2003
It seems to me like in today's film world, critics, whether it be Ebert or the viewers, are quick to down a film if it has a large budget. I think Hoodlum fell victim to this epidemic. With a bankroll of wonderful actors and actresses, and some of the best historical recreation of the locations, the movie delivers. The plot was simple, but it doesn't need to be complicated in a gangster flick like this. It was based on real people, so the creators of the film cannot go ballistic on changing the story. Maybe the 'critics' would like it better if it had a little green man who uses the force, or maybe a future crime prevention device. Well, you won't find this here. It's a wonderful, semi-true story about the way things were in Harlem and the surroundings areas back then. Fishburn turned in a wonderful performance, and Roth played a great villian as he always does. Just relax, and take it for what it's meant to be. Entertainment.
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Great Film
ajsp358015 July 2006
I really enjoyed this film. As far as crime dramas go it is up there with The Godfather to me. Laurence Fishburne was great in his role as Bumpy Johnson. Tim Roth gave a great performance also.

The film did a great job portraying the inner turmoil of people. Also it did a great job at showing the racist attitudes of the times. Example: Dutch asking his main guy, who is black to wrap up his (shultz) sandwich scraps so that he (the black guy) could take them home to feed his grandkids. Classic subtle racism.

The clothes and the music were also good for the period. One scene was even shot at the cotton club which no movie during this period is complete without.

Great Job! Great Film!
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I Had Forgotten How Good This Movie Actually Is!!!!
RaiderJack17 May 2007
I had this movie on homemade VHS for a while and just received the DVD.

Mesmerizing!!! Beautifully Filmed! Hats off to Bill Duke - another very distinguished African-American director!! Once you get past the fact that the movie is FILLED with phenomenal performances from the likes of Laurence Fishburne, Andy Garcia, Tim Roth, Vanessa Williams. Queen Latifah, Loretta Devine, Clarence Williams III, and of course, Miss Cicely Tyson you also discover a gem of a movie.

It follows the exploits of a 30s Harlem gangster Bumpy Johnson. Fishburne reminds you of why he is such a charismatic actor. His performance here is one you can watch over and over again. Of course the movie may have been exaggerated but what movie isn't?! It is a very stylized presentation and the obvious attention to detail to create the look and the feel of the period help intensify the viewing experience.

I am quite proud of the production and highly recommend it become part of your movie collection. Notwitstanding that is a worthy project, there are treasures of performances here that warrant attention.
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The numbers racket
jotix1004 September 2005
"Hoodlum" is a film that deserved much better. Bill Duke, its talented director, gives us a picture of what the Harlem of the thirties was like. In fact, "Hoodlum" suffers when it's compared to Coppola's "The Cotton Club". Mr. Duke, an actor himself, was able to amass a great cast and he got performances that are amazing from this first rate ensemble.

The cast headed by the brilliant Laurence Fishburn is amazing. Mr. Fishburn is basically the whole reason for watching the film. His Bumpy Johnson is a larger than life figure in that era. Tim Roth also is quite amazing as Dutch Schultz, a white man who saw the hidden treasures of the black community of Harlem and tried to capitalize in that world. Andy Garcia plays Lucky Luciano, an Italian man who also was instrumental in the criminal activities one sees in the film.

Also in the cast, Vanessa Williams, Cicely Tyson, Loretta Devine, William Atherton, Queen Latifah, and the rest, respond well to Mr. Duke's command.

The film is entertaining and will not disappoint fans of the genre, or of Mr. Duke.
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If you like Ol'G thirties style in color...Hoodlum is it!
Macheeste11 August 2003
Hoodlum.....what can I say, if you had cool Grandparents that grew up in Harlem in the 1930's who liked to party, dress and play numbers then maybe you'd of heard some of the stories about the going ons in Harlem U.S.A. during that period. Numbers were literally the Black mans lottery back then and communication between runner and player no matter how small the amount played was the lug that connected dreams with hope for the little guy; Hoodlum is a story about the preservation of those hopes and dreams by a one Bumpy Johnson. The music, wardrobe and cinematography is superb, I highly recommend this tale of Harlem history.

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Predictable, but entertaining
SamYotix24 May 2001
How great this film could have been! It uses the real history of New York's Gangsters as a background and seems reasonably well researched. At times.

Personally, however, I have several gripes with this movie:

The irritatingly predictable script and much too clean-polished setting seem to come straight out of a "screenwriting-for-housewives" class.

The "messages" in the film (such as its anti-racist and pro-religious scenes) are horribly blatant. The romantic scenes and musical interludes are much too long and boring; the violent scenes too short and clean. Johnson is portrayed as a good gangster at first, which almost works out. His "internal struggle" theme doesn't work at all.

The supposedly elegant Gangster Luciano has to shlep a horrible dog around with him throughout the film. Bumpy Johnson's friend ist forced to do a horrible "funny negro singer" routine, offsetting the supposedly antiracist messages. And that Bumpy Johnson, at the end of the film, finds Gawd and turns away from the evil gangster life is a) predictable and b) idiotic.

"Hoodlum" could've been a great film. As it is, it's merely mediocre.
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A Lavishly Mounted But Uneven Black Gangster Epic With a Superior Cast
zardoz-1310 April 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Snap-brim fedoras, vintage autos, blazing Tommy guns, corrupt public officials and greedy mobsters battling it out over turf rights recur throughout director Bill Duke's violent, 1930s' racketeering epic "Hoodlum," a pictorially authentic actioneer that evokes memories of the classic Robert Stack television series "The Untouchables." Although "Hoodlum" boasts a top-drawer cast, including Laurence Fishburne, Vanessa Williams, Tim Roth, and Andy Garcia, this lavishly mounted but uneven gangster saga suffers from its rambling length, garrulous script and a shortage of shoot-outs. As the first major film to headline the crimes of Harlem's infamous Black Godfather Ellsworth 'Bumpy' Johnson, this production offers a novel departure for audiences that are weary of superheroes, female warriors and hard-bitten cops who have were crowding the big-screen when "Hoodlum" appeared in 1997.

The Chris Brancato screenplay introduces Bumpy in 1934 as he exits Sing Sing Prison. Duke and Brancato exert great pains to differentiate Bumpy from the typical African-American mobster. He peruses books, plays chess, and pens poetry. As literate as Bumpy is, he can pull a trigger or wield a knife without a pang of remorse when somebody threatens a person who he loves. Like "The Godfather II" and "Once Upon A Time in America," "Hoodlum" charts the rise of the Godfather of Harlem in a ruthless game of survival that claims his best friend Illinois Gordon (Chi McBride of "I, Robot") and leaves Bumpy forever altered by the gory experience. Ostensibly, you won't see anything in "Hoodlum" that you haven't seen in dozens of other crime films. "Hoodlum" features notorious real-life racketeers such as Dutch Schultz (Tim Roth of "Pulp Fiction") and Lucky Luciano (Andy Garcia of "Godfather III") as well as corrupt special prosecutor Thomas Dewey (William Atherton of "The Sugarland Express). When Bumpy arrives in Harlem, he watches a numbers runner working for Madam Stephanie St. Clair (Cicely Tyson) who is the so-called 'Queen of the Numbers.' The Dutchman craves to absorb the territory that the Madam has struggled for a decade to build into the number one home-grown Harlem business. Bumpy vows to prevent any takeover by the Irish mob.

Meanwhile, the boorish, grubby, low-life Schultz refuses to appease Lucky or Bumpy. Along the way, Bumpy falls in love with righteous Francine (Vanessa Williams) who wants him to find respectable work. Bumpy refuses to stoop to menial employment. When Dutch cannot kill the Madam, he bribes a judge to send her to the pen. Bumpy supervises the Madam's empire at her request during her absence. Bumpy's bloodthirsty methods clash with her live-and-let-live notions. Eventually, Luciano and Bumpy strike a deal, and Dutch finds himself out in the cold. Suddenly, gangster gunfire chops down a young, innocent numbers runner. Now, Bumpy's cronies think that he has gone too far. Francine bails out on him more out of the formulaic dictates of the story than for any motivated reason. So do the filmmakers. The second half of the movie shows Bumpy losing favor with everybody.

The film's publicity notes claim that "Hoodlum" is complete fiction, but historical characters populate the story. Of course, movies rarely recreate history with any fidelity. History is more chaotic than dramatic, so filmmakers recast it to fit their dramatic formulas. One way is by cutting the number of characters. Refusing to portray these events as they actually occurred, Duke and Brancato blow a fantastic opportunity to exploit their melodramatic potential. Duke, whose directorial credits include "Deep Cover" and "A Rage in Harlem," wrestles with the obvious lapses in Brancato's script. The length of "Hoodlum" may have been cut by the studio to squeeze in more showings in a single evening. The action grows and takes on an episodic quality when Bumpy becomes callous. After the first half, the film's momentum bogs down, and "Hoodlum" loses its air of fun. The time has come for the characters to pay the piper.

The filmmakers embrace a curious morality. In most gangster movies, the hoodlum hero must die. Bumpy gets off easy, as does Luciano and only Dutch antes up with his life. Duke and Brancato allow their criminals greater leniency. The gangsters are less cancerous than the defenders of justice. Consequently, "Hoodlum" concludes on an anti-climax. Moreover, the filmmakers neglect to post an epilogue about Bumpy's outcome. For the record, the gangster who hires Shaft to find his kidnapped daughter in "Shaft" is a variation on Bumpy" as is the kingpin mobster in "American Gangster" with Denzel Washington. The problem with Brancato's script is its uneven quality. The action-packed first half is more entertaining than the tedious, long-winded second half. The filmmakers glorify Bumpy initially as a Robin Hood gangster who steals from a rival mob and gives to Harlem's starving citizens.

Fishburne is riveting as a tough-as-nails but warm-hearted criminal. Roth takes top acting honors, however, as Dutch Schultz and looks like he had a ball exaggerating those vile elements in Schultz's psychotic behavior. Garcia epitomizes sartorial urbanity as the peace-making Italian gangster who divides his time between Bumpy, Dutch, and special prosecutor Dewey. Atherton's egotistical special prosecutor bristles with revulsion in his dealings with these crooks, but accepts their bribes. The filmmakers make the repressive Dewey appear particularly loathsome, a Judas whose contempt for the mob is exceeded only by his mockery of justice.

Despite some flavorful dialogue, "Hoodlum" plays it straight down the line as a dramatic shoot'em up. Audiences expecting a variation on Eddie Murphy's "Harlem Nights" may leave this Fishburne film disappointed. Although it's no "Godfather," "Hoodlum" is definitely above-average and far beyond those 1970s camp classics that headlined Fred Williamson as the black Caesar of crime in "Hell Up in Harlem." If you enjoy gangster epics, "Hoodlum" is worth the price of admission. Some critics have savaged "Hoodlum" for its debatable morality. Ironically, Bumpy rises to the summit of his profession. At fade-out, however, Duke and Brancato show that the gangster's life is one that leaves you standing alone in the rain outside the church door without a friend.
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Maltin-style review
Monkasi24 February 2001
Riveting film about gang wars and race relations in 1930s New York, with Ellsworth "Bumpy" Johnson (Laurence Fishburne) at the center. Engaging characters and situations make this overlong movie watchable; but Andy Garcia doesn't channel Luciano as well as he should, and Tim Roth turns Dutch Schultz into such a blatant stock villain that one wonders what the real Arthur Fleggenheimer was like. Otherwise, excellent performances all around - and Paul Benjamin steals several scenes as a creepy assassin who talks as if he eats tobacco leaves for breakfast. Emotional and powerful.
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Ghetto Lotto
vincepettijohn14 October 2003
The 1997 movie `Hoodlum' takes place during the depression. A black man named Ellsworth `Bumpy' Johnson (Lawrence Fishburne) was released from prison and went back to Harlem. Then he joins his cousin, Illinois Gordon, and gets back into an illegal lottery racket ran by Madame Queen. They call the game `numbers.' They say that numbers is the only business in Harlem which provides them with work. A white man from uptown named Dutch Shultz (Tim Roth) is also trying to run the numbers downtown in Harlem, and there ends up being a battle between Shultz and the Queen. Madame goes to jail and leaves Bumpy in charge. Bumpy meets a fine woman, Francine (Vanessa Williams), who sees good in him and wants him to stop messing around with `numbers.' But she stays by his side while things get chaotic. Will he realize what he should do in time or will he lose everything?

The director Bill Duke has a message in this movie. It says when people are left limited options, they are going to find a way to get by. In one scene, Bumpy is telling Illinois because of the depression there isn't very many jobs and white men didn't leave them any jobs, so they had no options for making money other than through the numbers racket.

This movie had fast paced action. I liked the part where Dutch Shultz wants Madame Queen's organization out of the numbers racket in Harlem, so he can make all the money from it. Bumpy, who works for Madame Queen, comes up with a plan for eliminating the problem of Dutch, by getting Lucky Luciano (Andy Garcia), another gangster, and Dutch in a fight. This movie is a `classic gangster movie.'
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"New Jack City" meets "The Untouchables"
coverme625 May 2000
A solid, well-to-do flick, "Hoodlum" is a good film trying to

live up the dying genre of the 1930's gangster flick. Laurence

Fishburne is in top form as Bumpy, an ex-con from Sing Sing who

becomes a big time ganglord in Harlem. While not tackling

enemies such as Dutch Schultz (Tim Roth) and Lucky Luchiano

(Andy Garcia), Bumpy romances his girl Francine (the fine

Vanessa Williams). Packed with machine gun-toting violence,

"Hoodlum" has the cool style of modern day crime thrillers such

as "New Jack City" and the sneering Al Caponeish look of the old

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Might feel unrealistic but is big on entertainment
shadowman1234 March 2008
Hoodlum is the story black a black underclass gangster who stands toe-to-toe with the Italian and Jewish Mafia in Harlem during 1930's in the great depression era. I checked out the story from watching the movie on Sunday and what I can say that yes there were several factual occurrences that took place during that time, however Hoodlum ends up turning its-self into some sort action flick rather than a factual account of what really happened, having said that it is still a very entertaining movie to watch and has some good performances as well as well made action scenes. Laurence Fishburne was excellent as the charming, and wise Bumpy Johnson who shows us an educated black man not afraid to stand up for what he believes in, Tim Roth was excellent as the unstable Ducth Schultz although I found my-self comparing him to Joe Pesci at times , and Andy Garcia as Lucy Lucoina was good with his screen time however I felt the stand out performance was Cicley Tyson who portrayed a very strong, elegant , proud Black woman. The movie rolled on fast and got into the swing straight away , there was good use of make-up , wardrobe and scenery which gave us a feel of 1930's Harlem. The interaction between characters is good as it gives us a real feel of what life was like back then. However the problems with Hoodlum are that the script seems a little superficial and characters which can have real depth to them normal end up being well quite flat. The film was supposed to be about real life events but it just seems to way to far fetched to the point where it does feel like a no brain action movie and the action it-self seems to be tit-for-tat repetitive although Fishburane's performance keeps you guessing how will he strike back and thusly the second half of the movie just feels messy and rushed. To conclude Hoodlum is probably not one of the best gangster movies about the black era to come I mean it is over shadowed by the likes of American Gangster but it does however manage to entertain on a big scale and is not a waste of time , its just a shame with a few clear faults in it however I would recommend as a rental and worth a check out for fans of the gangster genre.


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Good film; sadly distorted history
Joseph Harder8 April 2000
This is , on the whole a very good, if mostly unoriginal period gangster film.The performances are solid, if unspectacular, the direction is assured and sometimes innovative, with some clever original touches and one or two nice "hommages" to Scorsese, Coppola, and the the thirties classics of Wellman et.al. The biggest problem with the film is the utterly ludicrous portrayal of Tom Dewey. Dewey was arrogant, cold, and self-righteous; he was not corrupt.Indeed, he was the second best district attorney in America during the thirties ( Earl Warren, in Oakland, California was the best)and one of the best state Governors in American history. Once again, if you are a Republican and a W.A.S.P, you can be accused of anything.
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Excellent movie
aricica19 August 2007
I would highly recommend the movie. I am not a big fan of gangster movies but this one it's much larger than that. I was browsing through my cable channels, stumbled on it and got hooked right away. The performances are awesome, the directing excellent, the costumes & sets perfect. And the story, well...true. That's what makes the movie even more attractive. The reason I am posting this comment - I've never done it before - is because I got irritated by critics' opinion about it. I am no movie expert, but to trash this one it's just plain or deliberate oversight. Please don't skip the movie just because somebody else tells you so. Give it a shot and you won't regret it. I promise.
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A waste of good talent
allar10022 May 2003
This film had a lot of talent in it, but it just wasn't very good. It seems like it was a throwback of some of the old blaxploitation films. But I am not sure if they were trying to do that, or if it just came out that way. Anyway, a flat drawn out story, and choppy direction didn't help this movie in the least bit. Even that action scenes weren't very good. See it if you must, but you really aren't missing anything.
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Entertaining but ultimately shallow gangster film that's been done before
bob the moo28 January 2002
`Harlem 1934. In a world impoverished by the great depression, the single largest business in Harlem is an illegal lottery known as the `numbers'. For many, a winning numbers slip is the only chance to put food on the table. The undisputed leader of the Harlem numbers is Madame Queen, who has run this multi-million dollar business quietly and peacefully for over a decade. Notorious gangster Dutch Schultz has defied the wishes of his partner, crime chief Charles `Lucky' Luciano and decided it's time to share in the profits. There is only one obstacle in Dutch Schultz's path of destruction. His name is Ellsworth `Bumpy' Johnson.'

That's the legend that comes on screen before the film starts, it basically tells you everything you need to know about the plot. Essentially it's an old fashioned gang war style film - it even has the spinning newspaper headlines and the background shots of people firing machine guns! The story holds no surprises and it's nothing new, however it is entertaining enough stuff if a little too long for it's own good.

The way it is put together is very workman-like way. It has all the old tricks that other gangster films do and it doesn't do anything new. As such the cast don't do anything special either. Fishburne is nowhere near his best, he could have done this in his sleep. Similarly Garcia doesn't do anything special. Roth however hams it up wildly with his American accent thick as ever. The support cast stick to their stereotypes well - Williams plays the beautiful `virgin' type sucked into the gangster world, and various henchmen do their thing well. The cast does have some terrible performances - many of the black gangsters in fact are quite bad. The worst by far is the actress who played Madame Queen. She isn't convincing for one second, her accent is ridiculous and her performance is bad ham in every scene.

Overall it's entertaining, although could have easily been 30 minutes shorter. However it's nothing special and nothing new. Given the cast involved I was really disappointed with the end result and expected better.
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Not so good
john-986491 January 2017
It is my opinion that this film is very unrealistic. It has a very Hollywood way of looking at the story behind the movie. I think if you were to make a movie about a person, make the story line capture more of who Bumpy Johnson really was, and this movie mist the mark by a mile. Also, Bumpys real story never crossed paths with Lucky Lucianos story, in any way. The portrayal of the queen was very inaccurate, the women was a ruthless Pearson, a psychopath, to say it best. Not a faithful women of God. Also the blacks were not as independent as the movie portraits them as them having their own organization. At that time they worked for the Italian mob , because the Italians had more power, plus the politicians... All I have to say is this movie is very inaccurate on everything. The only thing that the writers got right, is that "Bumpy" was from Harlem and he ran numbers, that's it......................
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A fantastic cast.
sco24 February 2000
Hoodlum is a film with a sparkling cast. The actors did live up to my expectations, considering what they were given to work with, which was not much. The story in Hoodlum is wrought with cliche, and yet takes itself far too seriously. The directing seems to be a mish mash of styles that don't mesh. Take the closing shot, which attempts to be symbolic, but ends up looking like an afterthought.

Both Fishburne and Roth were excellent, as was the entire cast. Unfortunately, the whole film left me with the impression of a high school production.
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An entertaining gangster picture with a great cast.
Scott LeBrun26 September 2015
Overlong but riveting, highly visceral mob movie with a difference, as it shows the rise to prominence of "Bumpy" Johnson (Laurence Fishburne). Johnson, fresh from a stint in prison, goes to work for successful Harlem numbers racketeer Stephanie St. Clair (Cicely Tyson), then takes over the operation when she is sent to prison. His approach, unsurprisingly, is much different and more proactive than hers, which comes in handy when they are forced to deal with the activities of Arthur Flegenheimer, a.k.a. "Dutch Schultz" (Tim Roth), a pathologically greedy, flamboyantly nasty creep just full of swagger.

Fishburne commands the screen with his calm and cool performance as Bumpy. His Bumpy is a man never caught off guard, a man with his own philosophy and way of life that prevents him from wanting to enter churches. His love story in this fictionalization is Francine Hughes, played by the lovely Vanessa L. Williams, who adds a great deal of humanity to the scenario as she tries to distance herself from Bumpys' actions; even when she is clearly acting in self defense as she shoots a would be assassin, she feels very uneasy about it.

Andy Garcia is merely passable as mob boss of the day "Lucky" Luciano, but there are plenty of other despicable antagonists to raise the ire of the audience. Richard Bradford plays a corrupt police captain, calling to mind his role in "The Untouchables", except that here his character is a racist as well. William Atherton plays real life attorney Thomas Dewey, who is portrayed as being just as crooked as anyone in this tale. The radiant Tyson shines in her limited screen time. Chi McBride supplies both comedy relief and a level of heart as Bumpys' cousin "Illinois" Gordon, and Loretta Devine is likable as his lady friend. Queen Latifah isn't given much to do in her small supporting role. Some very fine character actors dot the landscape: Clarence Williams III, real life brothers Mike and Beau Starr, Paul Benjamin, Joe Guzaldo, Ed O'Ross, J.W. Smith, Eddie Bo Smith Jr., and John Toles-Bey. Roth tends to steal the show, although there's nothing subtle about his performance or the way that Schultz is written.

On the technical side, some reasonably good period recreation is done, Bill Duke directs with style, and there's a lovely score by Elmer Bernstein as well as a few musical numbers.

"Hoodlum" is decent entertainment, but that's what it is: entertainment. It's only loosely based on the real stories of the real life people involved, so it isn't to be mistaken for a history lesson.

Seven out of 10.
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Old Street.
Python Hyena11 September 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Hoodlum (1997): Dir: Bill Duke / Cast: Laurence Fishburne, Tim Roth, Andy Garcia, Vanessa Williams, Cicely Tyson: Well made gangster film that evaporates into a litter of bullets. It regards lower standards of living and hostile attitude. Based on a true story in the 1930's Harlem with a triangle turf battle in motion. Laurence Fishburne leads the patrol against Tim Roth and Andy Garcia. He is smart and tough but unable to balance his personal life with romance. Bodies pile up and nobody really wins in the end. The concept still holds interest although the screenplay grows repetitious and weary. Director Bill Duke does a fine job with fantastic art direction. This film successfully captures the period for which it addresses but perhaps a tighter screenplay would have been beneficial. Fishburne holds his own as a gangster trying to be the gangster and the romantic interest. This will not work to his favour. Vanessa Williams delivers a strong performance as his love interest who is questioning the lifestyle he is involved in. Roth and Garcia overact as the two other opposing gang leaders who will end up on the receiving end of bad luck. This is not terrible filmmaking but the screenplay isn't as ambitious as it could have been. It does succeed in present the period for which it represents. Its purpose is to create the reality of gang lifestyles but the screenplay has more bark than bite. Score: 6 / 10
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The Ultimate Movie Review! - http://tss5078.blogspot.com - @tss5078
Tss507825 February 2013
People who have seen American Gangster or are regular viewers of the TV show, Mobsters, will know who Bumpy Johnson was and know the story behind Hoodlum. For those of you who don't, Johnson was a member of an organized crime group, in Harlem, during the 1930's. He was also the man who mentored and inspired Denzel Washington's character of Frank Lucas in American Gangster. Long before that film, the story of Bumpy Johnson was told in Hoodlum. This was one of those little told stories about the mafia that started out very strong. Unfortunately, I felt that the writers went into far too much detail at certain points in the film and by the end it was definitely dragging on. Laurence Fishburne stars as Johnson and did an adequate job, my problem with his has always been he lacks emotion in his acting. In my humble opinion this should automatically disqualify him from certain things and this probably should have been one of those things. Tim Roth is Dutch Schultz and while Schultz had a reputation for being a character, Roth went a little over the top with it, but was still very entertaining. My favorite performance was of course the one by Andy Garcia as Lucky Luciano, but he really wasn't in the film much and that's a shame, because nobody plays a crime boss better than hen does. Hoodlum is a wild ride about an incredible true story, but as a film, it was a mix of terrific scenes and some slower unnecessary elements. As a film it's not the best, but it's worth watching just for the amazing story that is being told.
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A movie about power and the tragedy of stubbornness
david-sarkies28 September 2012
Warning: Spoilers
This is a movie set in the 1930's in Harlem. It is the height of the depression and a Negro, Bumpy Johnson, has just been released from gaol. He returns to find that the Queen's gambling racket is being threatened by a white man from downtown. Everybody in Harlem is happy with the way things are - people play the numbers game and win enough to put food on the table. But numbers is a very big business and the mafia wants a piece of it. The mafia boss of the time, Lucky Lucino, is content to let it go, but one of his underlings wants a piece of the action and soon a gang war breaks out.

This is the typical inter-war style movie with corrupt cops and politicians and crime running rife. The prohibition years are over, but people are making money now by other rackets, and the American system of brutal monopoly is leaving blood on the streets and the corrupt politicians are supporting those who have the most money. It is a time of lawlessness and strife, and in a way we should feel glad we don't live there. Another thing about the time is that the Negro is still very much in the underclass and there is a lot of prejudice and tension between the races.

The major theme here is how power corrupts. The Queen is taken to gaol and she gives Bumpy the business to run. Bumpy is a very intelligent man, but he is also very stubborn. He refuses to give into the non-Negros and will continue to fight until one is dead. Unfortunately his stubbornness brings about the death of many innocent people. During this time, his girlfriend walks out on him, and his cousin begins to disown him, yet he refuses to give in because he believes he is right.

This movie really looks at the tragedy of this, but it is not that tragic because Bumpy soon sees how he has changed and will begin to change before it is too late. But then with the death of his cousin, one can argue it is too late. His girlfriend has left, and chastises him for being so stubborn that he refuses to step into a church to pay respects for one of the dead. He finally steps into a church to pay respect to his cousin, and then walks straight out. As such we see the beginning of a change, but we don't follow through with it. The problems have been solved, and Harlem has its autonomy - what happens to Bumpy in the future is for the future.
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Trading numbers for bullets.
Michael O'Keefe16 March 2003
Bill Duke directs this highly fictionalized tale about 1930's gangsters Dutch Schultz(Tim Roth)and Lucky Luciano(Andy Garcia)trying to take over the "numbers" business in Harlem. There is one big problem...Bumpy Johnson(Laurence Fishburne). When the story line goes a little flat; out comes the switch blades and tommy guns. The violence really doesn't take up that much screen time, but when it does it is ruthless and savage. A very good supporting cast includes:Clarence Williams III, Vanessa Williams, Cicely Tyson and Queen Latifah.
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Long and action-packed, but hyped-up and confusing
robsellke16 April 2000
"Hoodlum" shows an interesting side of the mafia in the 1930's: The African-American side. This movie is basically about two major white gangs and one major black gang battling and dealing to try and take total control of "the lottery" one of the best income-sources in the Depression. There are a lot of gunfights and bloodshed and quite a few of the main characters die, and the plot is semi-predictable and confusing. The cops are all crooked and some gangsters even are portrayed as noble. It's not a boring movie is rather hard to sit through, with all of the different characters and stories. Still, it's worth seeing for the interesting story of the 1930's black gangsters.
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Hooray Hoodlum
view_and_review28 March 2018
Hoodlum takes place in mid-1930's Harlem right in the middle of the great depression. No one has any work including the largely African-American Harlemites so playing the numbers and running numbers was the way to make a buck. A lady by the name of Madam Queen (Cicely Tyson) ran the numbers racket in Harlem but a greedy gangster by the name of the Dutchman (Tim Roth) saw fit to take a cut of all of Madam Queen's profits. Bumpy Johnson (Laurence Fishburne), a right-hand man of the Queen's, wanted to keep Harlem money in Harlem even if that meant going to war with the Dutchman.

The story was a sound story even though the movie itself had some flaws. One thing I couldn't get past was Laurence Fishburne playing a gangster. He just didn't seem to fit the role to me. He wasn't all that bad it's just that he didn't quite seem to fit. Besides Fishburne everyone else seemed right for their roles.

The movie moved at a steady pace ever building to some kind of impasse between Bumpy and the Dutchman. There were some major setbacks along the way but what you gathered from the movie is that Bumpy was extremely ambitious and was willing to risk a lot to attain power--or maybe it was just to attain financial freedom for Harlem--it can be either/or depending upon your view of Bumpy.

When I watched the movie for the first time 20+ years ago I had no idea that Bill Duke was the director. I'd say he did a good job overall with the exception of some of the slow motion shots and the music. Slo mo can be very effective when used correctly and it can be very distracting when used incorrectly. I think Bill Duke tried too hard to make the portentous moments stick out as though the audience wouldn't recognize their significance. There's no need to do that if your movie is good enough because you will have the audience's attention. And the music just wasn't my flavor. I know it was a 30's era movie but the 30's era musical choices were lousy. Not that I have a musical ear but it sounded off key to me.

The slo mo and the music weren't big detractors though; nothing that was going to make me stop the movie in disgust. It was an exceptional movie and worth the watch.
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