Mobsters (1991) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Let's see if I can get the analogy right.

Mobsters (1991) is to Goodfellas (1990)


The Don is Dead (1973) is to The Godfather (1972)

Both Mobsters and The Don is Dead came out a year after their better-known counterparts, presumably hoping to capitalize on the then-current interest in wiseguys. Both of them starred Zorba the Crook as a Mafia Don. Apparently, Zorba is the official grade-B knock-off movie Don.

Mobsters follows the friendship of four real-life gangsters who grew up together: Charles "Lucky" Luciano, Meyer Lansky, Frank Costello and Ben "Bugsy" Siegel. Their unlikely alliance (two were Italian, two Jewish) was based on true friendship, mutual trust, and mutual benefit. None of them ever tried to take more than a fair share. None of them ever betrayed any of the others. At least that's the way it went down in the film.

Now that I think about it, I probably should have gone in another direction with this introduction. I think this movie probably owes as much or more to Young Guns than it does to Goodfellas. Young Guns (1988) and Young Guns II (1990) were attempts to tailor western scripts to feature a bunch of hot, rising, good-looking young actors thrown together in an ensemble cast. Young Guns was the movie equivalent of a boy band. I suppose Mobsters was trying to do the same thing with a gangster script. Maybe it could have succeeded if it could have come up with young actors who were more in demand, but three of the gangsters were played by the usual B-list actors.

The film did manage to latch on to the then-rising star of Christian Slater, who played Luciano, the first among equals in the criminal band. Slater delivered an intriguing performance, portraying Luciano as a mostly regular and fairly laid-back guy who stayed away from major vices, was always loyal to his friends, kept his word, and had a sense of humor. I don't know how that corresponds to reality, but the character in the movie was essentially likeable, a guy who relied on violence only as a last resort, in defense of himself and his friends. Filtered through Slater, he was a regular Joe, with just a slight hint of eccentricity, the latter mostly supplied by Slater's personal mannerisms and not by the words in the script.

Irrespective of the historical accuracy, the film is quite static and its technique is old-fashioned. In a typical scene transition, we might see anonymous guys firing tommy guns at the camera while newspaper headlines waft past the camera in a time-passage montage. At least three times, the film fades completely to black, then  starts up abruptly in a new scene, as if leaving a space to insert a commercial.

This film doesn't look bad at all. It fact it looks so damned good that I probably shouldn't have suggested in the Anthony Quinn remarks that this was a grade-B effort, because the cinematography alone lifted it above that level. D.P. Lajos Koltai is another in the seemingly endless list of brilliant cinematographers produced in Hungary who later developed reputations in American and international productions. His recent successes include some works of true genius, like Malena and Sunshine. He got an Oscar nomination for Malena, and could easily have gotten another one for Sunshine without raising any eyebrows. And his work on The Legend of 1900 is as good as in either of those two films.


Lynette Walden flashed her breasts briefly in a sex scene with Richard Grieco.

Lara Flynn Boyle wore a semi-transparent black blouse.

Some chorus girls were seen changing backstage, with some brief glimpses of anonymous, unfocused toplessness.

DVD info from Amazon

  • widescreen anamorphic. Solid transfer.

  • no meaningful features

Koltai created the interiors in Mobsters using the same general russet/gold/brown interior palette as The Godfather.

One scene seemed strange to me. Some of the gangsters had a meeting on Staten Island, a beautifully filmed outdoor affair with mountains in the background. That surprised me. I've never been to S.I., except to ride the ferry there and back, so I may have been confused out of ignorance, but that scene sure confused me when I was watching the film. I thought that Slater had been kidnapped and forced to meet with the old Don somewhere else, like Western Pennsylvania, but that didn't turn out to be the case. I guess I need to go to NYC and climb Todt Hill to see if it can really pass as a movie mountain.

The Critics Vote

  • Roger Ebert 2.5/4.

The People Vote ...

  • It did $20 million on a 1500 screen distribution plan.


The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C-. Fair-to-middlin' movie, an OK watch, well photographed, but not memorable in any way.

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