There's something about gangster films that makes them so entertaining, I simply can't pass them up! I don't condone the violent nature of these individuals, but there's something intriguing about their lifestyle. Even 'til this day I still read up about them, from the American #Mafia all the way to the #Yakuza; from Billy the Kid to Pablo Escobar. They all have different and quite fascinating stories. Plus, how can we not forget two of cinema's greatest masterpieces — The Godfather and The Godfather Part II? Both films are about the mafia, but there's one characteristic that sets these movies apart from other gangster films: The #Godfather trilogy is actually about family (you read that right), not about violence, drugs, gambling, and bribing. It's about immigrants trying to capture the "American Dream." We may not agree with their criminal activities, but I can identify with most of these characters.
I want to see more movies about criminals that capture their humanity instead of portraying them as twirling mustache villains.
Here is my list of gangsters that have yet to receive their own films:
1. Salvatore Gravano A.K.A. "Sammy The Bull" Gravano
Sammy Gravano is one of America's most notorious gangsters/hitmen. He has gone down in history as the highest-ranking mafioso to turn themselves into the FBI, then, testify against the mafia. Gravano admitted to the murder of 19 people (some of whom were mafia members) and the death of his brother-in-law. Thanks to his testimony, he was able to bring down (at the time) New York City's most powerful mobster, John Gotti, boss of the Gambino crime family in addition to imprisoning 36 mob associates and leaders.
The man is quite intelligent and he was able to make millions a year without ever touching drug money. In 1998 there was a TV movie released about Gravano called Witness to the Mob. This technically still leaves Gravano without a big-screen adaptation of his life, and Witness to the Mob was pretty mediocre anyways.
I can see Martin Scorsese directing and Leonardo DiCaprio as "Sammy The Bull" Gravano.
Watch the rare Sammy Gravano interview here:
2. Chester Wheeler Campbell A.K.A. "The James Bond Of Hit Men"
People have called Chester Campbell the most feared man in the Motor City. By the age of 15, Campbell had already committed his first crime — a robbery. 10 years later he was sent back to prison for 13 years for second-degree murder. Thanks to associates from the penitentiary, after his release from prison, Campbell began to work as a strong-arm for the Italian mafia as well as the African-American drug lords of Detroit. The FBI confirmed that Chester Campbell committed more than 40 murders and not all of them were in Michigan.
"Chester was a very, very dangerous person," said Mike Carone, a retired FBI agent part of Campbell's 1987 arrest. "We had heard he was the trigger man on numerous slayings. He put the fear of God into some very tough, scary people and that speaks to the kind of underworld figure he was around here. His reputation preceded him wherever he went."
Regardless of being a cold-blooded killer, Campbell was known to be a studious and cultured man. It's said that he was very soft-spoken and respectful. Additionally, he was a man of the arts and an obsessive reader.
So, you're wondering why is he called the "James Bond of Hit Men"? Well, Campbell was always impeccably dressed and would constantly take women on various refined trips to the symphony, museums, art galleries, and the opera. Campbell actually had more surveillance equipment than most of the police (and FBI) at the time. Weapons — he had a collection of weapons that almost any assassin would envy and want! He was also found carrying a loaded James Bond-style pen gun, reinforcing the nickname.
Law enforcement later discovered that Campbell had access to Michigan’s Law Enforcement Information Network System. This meant that he, or some of his drug lord partners, had “insiders” working for them. Campbell also kept dozens of notebooks in which he kept tabs on payoffs, drug transactions, and debts along with seemingly every bit of information on almost every cop, offender, judge, and prosecutor in Detroit and even beyond. Simply put, Campbell was a man that held great power within Detroit, Michigan.
I would love to see director Brian De Palma releasing gangster movies again. I believe this would be a great project for De Palma. If not him I would certainly settle with having Emmy Award-winning writer of The Sopranos and executive producer of the #HBO television series #BoardwalkEmpire, Terence Winter.
As for the actor to play Chester Wheeler Campbell, I'll go with the one and only Chiwetel Ejiofor.
Fun Fact: Campbell actually owned a funeral home and was a funeral home director.
3. Gertrude Lythgoe A.K.A. "The Bahama Queen"
"I fetched him along to my office, and there I just warned him. I told him I’d put a bullet through him as sure as he sat there. He went away mighty quick."
The Prohibition Era was home to some of America's most infamous gangsters: Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Arnold Rothstein, Enoch “Nucky” Johnson, George "Bugs" Moran. Notice a pattern? The majority of major criminals during the Prohibition Era were males. Little do people know, there was a Queen ruling the bootlegging operation of the 1920s. Gertrude Lythgoe was her name. Lythgoe went by the nickname "The Bahama Queen" given to her by associates. Lythgoe is responsible for importing thousands of cases of liquor into the United States from the Bahamas.
Lythgoe was recognized for her savvy business skills (that were lacking among hot-headed gangsters). She was described to have "a wonderful personality. A woman with exquisite tastes in fashion and knowledge of books and music." There were clients (predominately male) that were skeptical about making business plans with her due to her gender. They would soon get over it, as the "The Bahama Queen" was respected for her great pricing, intellect, and intimidating personality. I don't want to add too many of her quotes and spoil the fun, so check out this link HERE, so you can read more about this badass woman.
Her story is so fascinating, and the time period this all takes place just adds icing on the cake. We're talking about a female in a powerful position in the criminal underworld during the Prohibition Era; let that sink in.
My director of choice to handle this movie would have to be Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation), daughter of the great Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather films). This is her chance to handle a crime story that is based in the same era as her father's work (The Godfather, Part 2). A story that is a character study about a female being the underdog during one of America's most violent criminal activities. My actress of choice to play Gertrude Lythgoe is Léa Seydoux (Blue Is the Warmest Color). I have no idea why she isn't a bigger star in Hollywood, but the French actress is one of my favorite performers working right now (both male and female actors).
4. Thuggee, The Godfathers Of Thug Life
At first reading, the caption "The Godfathers of Thug Life" may sound like I'm mocking these men, but in all honesty, that's who they are. The word "thug" derives from these band of criminals. Some of you may be thinking what is a Thuggee? A Thuggee (Tuggee or in modern translation, Thug) were an organized religious cult-like gang of assassins, murderers, and robbers. Thuggees carried out these actions in the name of Hindu goddess Kali, one of the most misunderstood gods for she is the symbol of both life and death. For hundreds of years (over 500), this gang would travel throughout India killing and would rob in order to please Kali. The Guinness Book of Records has stated the Thuggees are responsible for killing approximately 2,000,000 people! This makes the Thugs the deadliest criminal organization to ever exist.
After years of their infamous representation causing havoc in India, the word "Thug" would officially be an English word in the dictionary. As much killing these men did, they were not bloodlust fools; on the contrary — they were highly organized and cunning. Having hundreds of members that were all connected by blood, which meant the only way you could be a member if you were the son of a Thuggee male. They would also communicate with one another with special hand signs and codewords. This meant a Thuggee could always recognize another brother even in the most remote part of India. These band of criminals lived in such secrecy for hundreds of years that it was incredibly difficult for people to figure out who was part of the group. Members were very friendly towards strangers "(until gaining their trust over time and strangling them with a noose) and they wore various disguises."
The main method of killing was strangling a victim. Their main victims were usually travelers, either rich or poor. They would befriend this person and gain their trust and when they least expect it a Thuggee would kill them. After killing the person, their victim would be stripped of their belongings and buried. As I said before, this would go on for hundreds of years.
I know it seems like I ranted on a lot about them killing, but these men are incredibly interesting. They're a weird mix of James Bond, ninjas, and the Forty Thieves. The movie about the Thuggees shouldn't be based on one singular, real-life event; instead, a combination of real stories and some fabricated. Have the audience learn about the culture of these men. There's no specific actor I would want for this movie besides have them actually be Indian. Include a cast of both Muslims and Hindus since Thuggees were made up of both religious groups. My ideal director would have to be Alejandro González Iñárritu.
I trust him taking the time to make a gritty, almost realistic story that will have the audience look at these characters as real people. He's one of the few directors that pays close attention to detail and respects the history of a character without going so far that the character is no longer recognizable.
How do any of these real-life gangsters compare to the fashionable, fictional gunslingers we've seen in movies?
On the next episode of "Bootleggers, Hitmen And Drug Dealers — Oh, My!," we enter Harlem to meet its Queen and her gang of Forty Thieves.
Which Crime Boss Would You Like To See A Feature Film About?