Crack open a beer, pour yourself a shot or pop open some bubbly. Why? Because it’s Repeal Day, that’s why! Yes, that’s right – 80 years ago, on December 5th in the ripe old year of 1933, the 18th Amendment was repealed and the 13 year period known as The Prohibition Era officially ended. From 1920 – 1933, alcohol was ruled completely illegal throughout the country. You think it sucks that weed is still illegal in many states? Remember your grandparents the next time you are enjoying yourself a libation or two.
That being said, in honor of this wonderful day, I’ve compiled a list of movies (and a TV show) that take place during America’s dry years.
In the 1930s, Warner Bros. was the production company that wrote the book on crime movies. Little Caesar is the classic gangster story that put Edward G. Robinson on the map. In the film, he plays Caesar Enrico “Rico” Bandello. The character of Bandello was loosely based on Al Capone. Since this movie was released in 1931 and Capone’s reign ended that same year, I’m assuming making a movie completely based on Capone may have been a dangerous task.
The Public Enemy
Another film released in 1931 was The Public Enemy. For those not in the know, “Public Enemy” was a term coined for the reign of Al Capone and the like during the Prohibition Era when crime ran rampant. This film was shot during Prohibition and had James Cagney playing a young thug making his rise to power through the ranks of a bootlegging empire. The screenplay for the film is based on a novel “Beer and Blood” that never saw the light of day. Oh, and this is the movie that had James Cagney smash a grapefruit in the face of Mae Clarke.
Instead of choosing the movie Bugsy (which is a fantastic film), I decided to take a little detour and showcase the British musical film Bugsy Malone. I’ve always found this movie to be a bit goofy, but sometimes you have to change it up a bit. Bugsy Malone tells the story of the Prohibition era with a slight twist – all of the actors in the film are children. Also, it’s worth noting that there is no drop of alcohol that shows up here and the film’s violence is pretty much non-existent. But still, you got Jodie Foster and Chachi…I mean Scott Baio. So there’s that.
Some Like It Hot
I am pretty much a sucker for any film starring Jack Lemmon. Throw in Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe and put a Prohibition flavored spin on it, and I’m there. Well, Some Like It Hot does just that and with a lovely humorous twist. Curtis and Lemmon play jazz musicians who witness the infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and end up dressing in drag and going into hiding to keep from getting killed by Capone’s mob buddies. Things then get complicated when both men meet Marilyn Monroe’s character (aptly named Sugar Kane). Hilarity ensues.
Road To Perdition
The Lone Wolf And Cub story has been recycled a bit throughout the film world since the story was introduced to the world in the classic 1970s manga. Shogun Assassin is one of my all time favorite movies. The 2002 film Road To Perdition puts a Prohibition era spin on the classic story. The film stars Tom Hanks as hitman Michael Sullivan who is out for revenge against the mobster who killed his family. Based on Max Allan Collins’ graphic novel, the story takes place at the height of Prohibition with great performances all around. The one to watch here is Paul Newman who plays mob boss John Rooney. He’s soft spoken and deliciously evil.
When discussing The Coen Brothers, one would be remiss in not discussing their now-classic gangster film Miller’s Crossing. The movie here is an example of great storytelling, albeit rather cerebral. But don’t get me wrong, the film has its share of twists and the dialogue hearkens to the hardest of the boiled (hardest of the boiled? Hard boiled? You know what I mean). The cast here is top notch and that action sequence set to “Oh, Danny Boy” is really worth your time. Really.
Once Upon A Time In America
Sergio Leone, the master of the spaghetti western, set out to make a mob trilogy set in America. In my mind, he probably saw the first two Godfather films and figured he could do better. Alas, his attempt at a trilogy turned into one extremely long film – 229 minutes, to be exact. The story here follows a group of Jewish gangsters in New York that spans across 50 years. Once Upon A Time In America is pretty much viewed as Mr. Leone’s film masterpiece. Hell, Roger Ebert once went on record stating it was the best Prohibition movie ever made!
When Nick Cave and John Hillcoat get together, magic happens. Lawless is easily one of my favorite films from the past few years. This movie, written by Cave and directed by Hillcoat, follows the true story of the Bondurant brothers and their struggle pursuing the family business of producing moonshine in Franklin County, Virginia. Not often do we get a peek inside the country aspects of the booze trade during the Prohibition era, so Lawless is definitely a breath of fresh air for the genre. Tom Hardy and Guy Pierce give standout performances here. Truly a great film.
Well, obviously if we’re talking about Prohibition films, we cannot leave out Brian De Palma’s contribution to the genre. The Untouchables tells the story of Eliot Ness’ war against Al Capone’s booze-smuggling Chicago crime empire. Aside from the now famous staircase scene (shown below), the performance by Sean Connery as Jim Malone won him a Supporting Actor Oscar. Oh, and also Robert De Niro is great as Al Capone…because duh.
I’m sure you knew this was coming. Sure, this is a list of films, but I had to throw “Boardwalk Empire” into the mix. The HBO series just completed its fourth season and, in my opinion, it is their best season yet. The story here follows Enoch “Nucky” Thompson, based on Enoch L. Johnson who was a controversial political figure that controlled Atlantic City during the Prohibition Era. Obviously, he has connections to bootlegging and members of the mob which include the like of Arnold Rothstein, Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky, and of course Al Capone.
There are many other pieces of entertainment that take place during The Prohibition period. Off the top of my head, I can think of a few like Bullets Over Broadway, Bonnie and Clyde and “Carnivale” (which was more Depression Era oriented TV series but whatever). Now, I shall pass the glass to you. What’s your favorite Prohibition Era movie (or TV show)? Pour them out in the comments below!
Latest posts by Aaron Pruner (see all)
- SDCC: An Intimate Sunset Cruise With the Cast of History’s ‘Vikings’ - July 15, 2015
- ‘American Horror Story: Freak Show’ Episode 5 Review: “Pink Cupcakes” - November 6, 2014
- Marvel Comics, The Future Of Robotics & More: A Chat With The Cast & Crew of ‘Big Hero 6’ - November 5, 2014
- Disney Producer Kristina Reed Serves Up The Goods On New Animated Short “Feast” - November 4, 2014
- ‘The Walking Dead’ Season 5, Episode 4 Review: “Slabtown” - November 3, 2014