“I wasn’t rotten enough.”
Gangster Shubunka (Barry Sullivan) has a long scar on his left cheek and a huge chip on his shoulder. He’s lied, cheated, and killed on his violent way to the top, and now runs a lucrative numbers racket with soda fountain business owner Jammey (Akim Tamaroff) in a small coastal resort. Shubunka receives several warnings that a rival gang headed by gangster Cornell is trying to muscle in on his action, but Shubunka is too distracted by showgirl Nancy Starr (Belita) to pay much attention. He’s jealous and obsessive when it comes to Nancy, and he’s more interested in following her than protecting his business interests.
The Gangster starts out slowly, and doesn’t seem like much of a gangster film until about the halfway point. Then the film turns, and Barry Sullivan as Shubunka delivers a fantastic performance as the driven, cold, tough gangster who’s become a little less than human in the process of becoming a big shot.
Another fascinating aspect of the film is male/female relationships. Shubunka’s relationship with Nancy is based on him stashing her in a fancy apartment and showering her with expensive presents, but the relationship remains unsatisfying to them both. Jammey is a businessman, and the number two person in Shubunka’s racket. He’s also a harried husband subject to the whims of a hypochondriac (and unseen) wife. Shorty (Henry Morgan) plays sleazy soda fountain counter boy who dresses up and takes a woman out to a meal with the assumption the more he spends, the more “obligated” she feels. Another character Karty (John Ireland) is a desperate gambler whose equally desperate wife tries–unsuccessfully–dragging her husband away from the numbers racket. Pretty cashier Dorothy (Joan Lorring) represents the moral centre of the film, and Shubunka seems to realise this–including her at crucial moments for his riveting speeches. From director Gordon Wiles.
Fans of gangster films, stick with this one. It’s not a typical gangster film, but it does cover the standard rise and fall aspects of a life of crime. The Gangster is moody, dramatic, and slow to build, but it’s well worth watching.