Part of a series aimed at undergraduates, Ron Wilson’s stimulating guide to American gangster cinema covers much ground in just over a hundred pages. What is especially useful about Wilson’s approach is his ability to place the genre in a context that extends beyond cinema: not so much what actual gangsters said and did, but the various discourses, from pulp novels to politicians’ speeches, that established the gangster as a figure of legend. The book also supplies a summary of English-language scholarship in the field, starting with Robert Warshow’s famous essay ‘The Gangster as Tragic Hero’ (1948); characteristically, Wilson treats this pioneering study with due respect while pointing out that the archetypal rise-and-fall narrative identified by Warshow is found in only a handful of films.
Jake Wilson reviews 'The Gangster Film' by Ron Wilson
The Gangster Film: Fatal success in American Cinema
by Ron Wilson
Wallflower Press, $32.95 pb, 128 pp, 9780231172073
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Jake Wilson is a freelance writer who lives in Melbourne and reviews films regularly for The Age. Formerly the Melbourne correspondent for Urban Cinefile and a co-editor of Senses of Cinema, he has contributed to a range of print and online publications, including Kill Your Darlings, RealTime, Bright Lights Film Journal, and Meanjin. Some of his film writings are archived on his personal website.
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