Finally got round to watching Hoodlum last night. Very strange. The few Caucasian characters in there were villains; it excused the African-American population of New York from any blame for their part in organized crime, saying “how else we gonn’ put food on de table?” It covers the period when Dutch Shultz was fighting Lucky Luciano for control of New York, and Bumpy Johnson was taking over the Harlem rackets from the jailed Mme St Clair, but the story is somewhat enhanced.
It risked a lawsuit by portraying Special Prosecutor Thomas Dewey as corrupt and self-aggrandizing: Dewey was not only a real person tackling organized crime at the time, but he later became a respected politician, narrowly losing to Truman in the 1948 Presidential election. The race was so close that a few newspapers couldn’t wait and went to press with the wrong headline. (More details here.)
Hoodlum is surprisingly sedate and talkative for what was marketed as a gangster thriller, and the period detail in the production is excellent. (For example, one character makes fun of Dale Carnegie’s book How To Make Friends And Influence People, which was a best-seller in 1936 – the time of the film.) It’s also fun to see Chi McBride and Loretta Devine teamed up, years before they appeared together in Boston Public.