Snap-brim fedoras, vintage autos, blazing Tommy guns, corrupt public officials and greedy mobsters battling it out over turf rights recur throughout director Bill Duke’s violent, 1930s’ racketeering epic “Hoodlum,” a pictorially authentic action film that evokes memories of the classic Robert Stack television series “The Untouchables.”
“Hoodlum” boasts a top-drawer cast, including Laurence Fishburne, Vanessa Williams, Tim Roth, and Andy Garcia. The Chris Brancato screenplay introduces Bumpy in 1934 as he exits Sing Sing Prison. Duke and Brancato exert great pains to differentiate Bumpy from the typical African-American mobster. He peruses books, plays chess, and pens poetry. As literate as Bumpy is, he can pull a trigger or wield a knife without a pang of remorse when somebody threatens a person who he loves.
Like “The Godfather II” and “Once Upon A Time in America,” “Hoodlum” charts the rise of the Godfather of Harlem in a ruthless game of survival that claims his best friend Illinois Gordon (Chi McBride of “I, Robot”) and leaves Bumpy forever altered by the gory experience. Ostensibly, you won’t see anything in “Hoodlum” that you haven’t seen in dozens of other crime films. “Hoodlum” features notorious real-life racketeers such as Dutch Schultz (Tim Roth of “Pulp Fiction”) and Lucky Luciano (Andy Garcia of “Godfather III”) as well as corrupt special prosecutor Thomas Dewey (William Atherton of “The Sugarland Express).
Though set in New York, the movie was filmed in Chicago because it still has buildings that are of the type that were in Harlem in the 1930s unlike present day New York.
In Lucky Luciano’s introductory scene, in which he pulls up to Dutch Schultz’s office in a limo, he gets out of the car and passes a pet Chihuahua dog to one of his men saying “Take Bambi for a walk.” In real life, Luciano did own a dog called Bambi. However, he bought the dog in Sicily after he’d been deported from the United States in 1946. Luciano had named the dog after the Disney movie character in 1942’s “Bambi”. Yet in this movie, he is seen with the dog in the 1934-1935 time period, before the release of that movie and before he actually bought the dog.
An old friend of the real Lucky Luciano allowed Andy Garcia to wear Lucky’s pinkie ring for one scene. You can see it when Lucky gives Thomas Dewey the bribe money at the whorehouse. (when the prostitute takes the cigar out of Lucky’s hand).
This is the second film in which Laurence Fishburne has played Harlem gangster Elsworth “Bumpy” Johnson. He first played him in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Cotton Club (1984) as “Bumpy” Jackson in a small role.
In this film, actor David Darlow portrays Lucky Luciano’s accountant, Johnny. Darlow actually played Lucky Luciano in an episode of the syndicated series “The Untouchables” (1993) .
When Tyrone the runner gets killed, during the close-up of his face, a policy slip blows by him with the number 235 on it.
Although it is not specifically mentioned in the film, the reason Dutch Schultz was killed was because he planned on assassinating prosecutor Thomas E. Dewey. Dutch was under indictment for racketeering and tax evasion charges and was such a volatile gangster that he was willing to risk unbearable heat from law enforcement to kill Dewey. However, when the organized crime syndicate – led by Lucky Luciano, Longy Zwillman and others – learned what Dutch was planning, Zwillman (who actually disliked violence) ordered his death, which was affirmed by the syndicate. Schultz was shot by two of Zwillmen’s trigger men, and died in the hospital after he contracted a staph infection as the result of his gunshot wounds.