From the early Jimmy Cagney flicks like The Public Enemy and Angels With Dirty Faces, right up to recently released thrillers like Seven Psychopaths and Killing Them Softly, the crime film has proved to be one of the most enduring and popular genres ever to grace the silver screen. Indeed, if you’re planning a gangster theme party, the sheer volume of films produced in the last century can be overwhelming. Which are the most iconic, and what are some of the themes that’ll make your party go with a bang?
– The gangster’s uniform
With almost a century of films to choose from, it seems obvious to point out that the way criminals and mobsters have been depicted over the years has changed greatly. Perhaps the most iconic look, however, was the one cultivated in the 1940s and 1950s. During this time, Hollywood produced dozens of classics under the film noir label and, unlike the musicals and comedies of the day, these films often dealt with gritty subjects and depicted morally ambiguous characters on the outskirts of society.
Blackmail, murder, bank robbery. In movies like The Maltese Falcon, Out of the Past and The Asphalt Jungle, these topics were all par for the course, but with legendary actors like Humphrey Bogart and Robert Mitchum exuding coolness in the lead roles, audiences flocked to the cinema and the films acquired iconic status. Decked out in their crumpled suits, trench coats and wide-brimmed fedoras, the style of the noir era is instantly recognisable, even to those who haven’t seen the movies.
This look, perhaps epitomised best by Sterling Hayden in The Asphalt Jungle, has provided inspiration for countless film-makers in the decades since, including movies such as The Untouchables, LA Confidential and The Black Dahlia. Of course, certain directors have added their own touches over the years. For example, who could forget the matching black suits and skinny ties worn by the gang in Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs? Or the wide collars and pinstripe suits worn by Al Pacino in Scarface?
Despite these slight variations, however, the over-riding theme has remained largely the same. If you’re planning on capturing that authentic tough-guy look, a sharp suit is the only way to do it.
– Mobster’s molls and femmes fatale
In the world of the crime film, no robber, crook or hoodlum is complete without a dame at his side. Indeed, in these films it usually proves to be the females who are more deadly than the males, often luring their hapless men further and further into a web of crime and corruption.
The concept of the femme fatale was first established in the film noir era with actresses like Barbara Stanwyck, Jane Greer and Ava Gardner playing important roles. Often depicting sultry nightclub singers or rich socialites, the key thing to think about when depicting a successful femme fatale is glamour. Slinky ball-gowns, feather boas and dazzling jewellery all add to the seductive image.
As an amusing illustration, just take a look at Jessica Rabbit oozing sex appeal in Who Killed Roger Rabbit! Modelled on Veronica Lake’s look in her films from the 1940s, it’s no wonder that Jessica lured many a man to his doom.
Alternatively, a couple of other iconic looks for the ladies would be Faye Dunaway’s classy beret and sweater ensemble from Bonnie & Clyde or Uma Thurman’s plain white shirt and black bob from Pulp Fiction. Both are easy to recognise and effortlessly cool.
– Setting the scene
When planning your gangster theme party, it’s important to think about the setting. Many of the most memorable crime movies are set in the underworld, with nightclubs, gin joints and gambling dens providing frequently seen locations.
As an homage to Martin Scorsese’s Casino, why not dress your party venue with roulette wheels and blackjack tables? Or as a tribute to some of the great heist flicks that have been produced over the years, imagine your venue as a bank vault, with prizes for anyone who manages to crack the safe and get hold of the loot!
From the classic era of film noir to the more recent movies of Scorsese and Tarantino, the image of the gangster has proved to be an enduring one. And with Hollywood still exploring the genre in films such as the recently released Gangster Squad, it looks as if the silver screen will continue to provide party inspiration for many years to come.