21 March 2010 | abchulett
Underrated look behind the scenes of Prohibition's death throes
Having looked at a few of the other reviews here, some of which predictably say this is a "pale imitation of Warner Bros. gangster pictures," I have to chime in with a dissenting opinion. Those more famous films, such as "Little Caesar" and "Public Enemy," with their iconic Edward G. Robinson and Jimmy Cagney, respectively, are a whole different type of animal; you're comparing apples and oranges. Those are the seminal action films, bad guy as antihero, cautionary tales about the ultimate end of reckless lawlessness.
"The Guilty Generation" focuses instead on the offspring of two of the biggest crime families involved in bootlegging. While a gang war whirls around the shoulders of Robert Young & Constance Cummings's characters they are trying to get away from the business, while each has a brother who's trying to follow in father's footsteps. Apt comparisons to "Romeo & Juliet" are made, and the similarities extend to the fact that both began life as a play before being made into films.
And that's probably part of the problem movie purists have with TGG. While the aforementioned WB pics are more action-oriented, with lots of shootouts and chases, TGG is more about the internal and intergang politics and the romance. They are also more "talky," which some people have a real problem with. In this case it works, IMO.
Leo Carillo & Boris Karloff play the heads of the families; in keeping with the early '30s, their accents are not accurate (see Jimmy Stewart as a Hungarian in "The Little Shop on the Corner" for one of thousands of examples of worse casting in this regard), but they do well personality-wise in their roles.
Don't overlook the secondary characters, such as Ms. Cummings's excellent Italian grandma and her father's press agent, who provide terrific support and comic relief.
Maybe it's just the fact that this one took me completely by surprise, but I'd rather see it again than any of the aforementioned films or even the more-similar "Godfather" pictures. It avoids the bloody shootouts of the latter, yet has more to do with the human beings affected by the action than the former, and it ultimately shows a prime example of when it's most correct for children to rebel against their parents. An interesting story, well acted, perfectly paced, and with even a couple of nice plot twists. I think it holds up quite well.