October 28, 2020

Empire of Sin: The Movie Obsession With Prohibition

Empire of Sin

You’ve seen it before. Not just in the Empire of Sin. Or the Mafia game series. Or even in movies like The Untouchables, Lawless and Miller’s Crossing. I’m talking about the Prohibition Era. It has been an endless source of thematic inspiration in Hollywood for more than a century. And that sentiment is not going away anytime soon, sorry.

But this is my second post about the iconic Gangster movies of Hollywood. My first post here at IndieGala focused on the emphasis of the family (real or brothers in arms) in gangster movies. I talked about my favorite Mafia/Gangster movies and I even shared my favorite scene of all time. The pear scene in Godfather Part 2.

Empire of Sin

Empire of Sin: Pre-Order Now To Receive The Good Son Pack!

For now, I’m going to focus on the Empire of Sin. Why? Because there’s already a pre-purchase order on Empire of Sin here at IndieGala. There’s plenty of time for you to make that order, but don’t let time slip away.

Developed by Romero Games and published by Paradox Interactive, the Empire of Sin is a turn-based strategy game with the player taking the role of a crime boss in the Prohibition era. Set in the heart of the ruthless criminal underworld of the roaring 1920s, the game will take you behind the scenes in the gritty underbelly of organized crime. And not just any organized crime. The infamous Chicago Mafia. And through the gameplay, you’ll gate to build a crime empire, defend and expand your territory, and wiled your influence in the criminal underworld. Not to mention you get to make and break alliances, bribe cops, and trade on the black market. And don’t forget. Always keep your enemies close. Always ensure you have a mole on the inside and eyes everywhere.

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Empire of Sin Is A Passion Project For The Romero’s

Yes, ad you can probably tell by now (all the fans of Doom out there) the Empire of Sin is developed by none other than John Romero and his wife Brenda. According to Brenda, a prohibition-era game has been a passion project of hers for the past 20 years now. Oh, and a couple of months ago, I already did a nice throwback on the film version of Doom. Perhaps you’d love to check out my post again. Here it is if you do. But What Is The Prohibition Era?

Or more importantly? What was? And of course how is still a recurring setting, theme and inspiration for Hollywood. We see it popping in video games, movies and music videos. Why exactly one century after imposing the constitutional ban on alcohol, this era is still culturally relevant?

What Was The Prohibition You Might Ask?

Well, by definition, the Prohibition in the United States was a nationwide constitutional ban on the production, importation, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages. It lasted from 1920 up to 1933. And there were several reasons for this ban. From religious backing, societal, political and so on. But it goes much deeper than that. That decade was a very conflicting one.

Prohibition

You’ll have to understand, that the 20’s in the USA were an era of prosperity and very fine living for plenty of people. Hollywood as we know it, was beginning to take shape, the women were finally given the right to vote and aviation was the new technology that everyone wanted. All, while the world was still recuperating from WW1 and Spanish influenza. But at the same time, this is decade that began with a roar and ended with a crash.

The ’20s were the era of the Charleston dance, the flapper and the infamous Chicago gangsters. Which brings me to…

The Early Gangster Movies Of Hollywood

Yes, the Prohibition started in 1920 (100 years ago yes), Hollywood really took notice of the real-life gangster in the 1930’s Which is when the true classic genre is born in Tinseltown.

For instance, the years 1931 and 1932 saw the genre produce three enduring classics. First the Warner Bros.’ Little Caesar, then The Public Enemy, which made screen icons out of Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney respectively. However, the true kick off for the gangster movie was with Howard Hawks’ Scarface. Starring Paul Muni, Scarface, offered a dark psychological analysis of a fictionalized Al Capone.

But despite the gritty and dark tone of the motion pictures of the time, Hollywood played fast and loose with the thematic depictions of those infamous gangsters. Even the fictitious ones (the ones that James Cagney played in so many of his movies) were glorified and celebrated. And in the Depression-era that followed Hollywood even tried to glorify and celebrate the mobsters, admittedly with great success.

Empire of Sin

Glorification Of The Gangsters

Yes, the movies of that time follow a rise and fall narrative. But that narrative appealed to the masses, who were struggling with the US economic collapse and eventual poverty. The movies of Cagney, for instance, are for the most part sympathetic to the gangster even at his tragic end.

Why? Because the archetype character is deeply rooted in the American dream. While the rich old-money families of the era were born and bred rich… The gangsters of the movies are rags to riches stories about a street smart kids who just knew how to seize an opportunity. And the opportunities were plentiful in the Prohibition era. Like the Old West and the Frontier, Prohibition marks a period where American reality meets myths and legends. Not to mention, when something is off limits (alcohol for instance), it makes you want it even more. By any means necessary. Smuggling, bootlegging, even killing. America’s history is steeped in violence, but this particular period of conflict and crime offers something deeply alluring to a modern audience.

Escapism. Sure that road to success, power and money is paved with lots of crime, violence and murder, but it’s a pretty exciting life now is it? They were relatable to the masses and offered a powerful fantasy trip. Well, compared to the bleak, mundane and dirt poor existence of millions. Especially if that gangster is an immigrant, even better. Also, the gangster life of the ’30s was a glorified all-boys club where the women were relegated to secondary characters or status symbols. But that changed with the Hollywood movies from the ’40s.

A shift In Tone From The ’40s

The gangster movies as we know them made a swift transition into noir and heist. The Prohibition was not a hot topic for Hollywood anymore and was quickly forgotten. The formerly demoted female characters were now damsels in distress and America was prosperous again. Hollywood loved to show that of course, and it did.. A But I think John Huston’s 1941 classic Maltese Falcon solidified that notion, like no other film. It also shifted the focus away from the gangster protagonist, to an investigator protagonist. Most likely a private detective, but sometimes a journalist, hired to discover crime and corruption.

Much like with the gangster characters of the 30’s they are anti-heroes too, with moral ambiguity and lots of cynicism. But in general, they were good guys that ultimately did well. Not the squeaky clean model citizens, but not hardcore criminals from before. So, over the next 2 decades, film noir became the dominant driving force of crime/ gangster movies in America. But if there’s one movie of the decade that combines three things beautifully it’s White Heat. Again, with James Cagney in the lead role, White Heat is a gangster movie wrapped in a noir/heist movie. It’s fantastic. And I highly recommend it. Not to mention it was written by a woman screenwriter, which was unheard of the time. Check it out.

Prohibition In Modern Day Cinema

The new wave of the ’60s went back to the Prohibition ear with two of the most celebrated criminals of the era. Bonnie And Clyde. Frances Ford Coppola revived the gangster/mafia genre with The Godfather in the ’70s. However, Sergio Leone with Once Upon A Time In America and Brian De Palma with Scarface and the Untouchables did just that in the ’80s. Indeed, some fantastic modern-day movies re-tell the same story but with different twists and turns.Sane narrative, same archetypes, and even same real-life gangsters.

The there were Miller’s Crossing, The Cotton Club, Road To Perdition. Next, there are Public Enemies (Michael Mann’s movie) Lawless, and even Ben Affleck’s flop Live By Night from just a few years ago. But, yeah. For some, the movies of the ’30s remain the best gangster movies to date. Yes, some directors found a way to bring the genre to the new audience succesfully, and some not so much. You can even say, they’re still untouchable and irreplaceable.

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Empire of Sin: What’s Your Favorite Gangster Movie?

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