Hoodlum Empire (1952)

Passed   |    |  Crime, Drama, Film-Noir


Hoodlum Empire (1952) Poster

After WW2, ex-mobster war hero Joe Gray goes straight, to the dismay of his New York mob boss uncle who's afraid that his nephew will testify against his outfit before a Grand Jury.


6/10
249

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10 October 2004 | bob the moo
Melodramatic, morally simplistic, dull, wooden acting and devoid of any excitement, thrills or audience involvement – cool title, but everything else is poor
It is the 1950's and the US Government is coming down hard on organised crime, going after the top men in order to cut off the head and kill the snake. Their current target is one Nicky Mansani, the elusive mob boss who has so far managed to stay away from his own senate hearing. As the statements and testimonies come in, the main event is one Joe Gray – who has turned state's evidence against his former mob colleagues, having come back from WWII as a hero and a new man. However, the others aim to prevent Joe from testifying and even set him up for prosecution.

With a title that sounded dark and foreboding and offered the suggestion of a dark crime pulp thriller, I set the video and figured I'd give it a go. However the opening credits suggest a standard period genre film with no frills, an image that the film sadly maintains with the majority of its material. The actual story is a good idea but it is delivered in such a totally flat and unengaging manner that it is really hard to get involved with the film. The flashback structure is difficult to pull off so it is no surprise that the film struggles, but no excuse for being such a mess in regards narrative. The flashbacks are not tense or urgent enough – they needed to be tight, telling and convincing; instead they were often slow, boring and irrelevant. The bits that do work well are lost in a load of scenes that add little to the film and any possible tension is really sucked out of it. As the story goes on it becomes a bit clearer as to its focus and direction but I only really got into it by making an effort and stayed with it despite the delivery – not because of it.

The tone of the film is very melodramatic as opposed to tough and noir-ish and this too is a problem. The dialogue matches this tone and it is too soapy to really suit the subject matter. With the story weakened by the flashback structure and the dialogue being all a bit too melodramatic and earnest, the actors do not have a great deal to work with other than stereotypical cardboard roles from the genre. Russell is far too square and rigid; he never convinces as a former wise-guy and is far to clean-cut and boring as a reformed character. Ralston's character is totally unnecessary and without her the film could have lost most of the WW2 flashback; she is rather bland and added nothing to the film. Withers played blind by being as stiff as a board – sadly he did this in his delivery and not just his posture. Adler is OK but not convincing as a big boss; Tucker is better and more fitting the genre even if it is a by-the-numbers character. Claire Trevor is underused but a good moll and the always-interesting Donlevy was given a solid role in support (I like him – and not just because he is from Northern Ireland!)

Overall this film had potential but it blows it in the delivery. The melodramatic and morally simplistic tone feeds through the script and damages the whole film. The flashback structure is difficult to pull off at the best of times and it falls flat here, producing scenes that are dull, disjointed and unengaging, robbing the subject matter of the dark tone and tight pace that it really needed. The cast are mostly wooden and stiff, with even the OK ones failing to bring much life to this film. Not really worth seeing and I understand now why so few people have seen it.

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Crime | Drama | Film-Noir | Thriller

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