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.
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