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Film / Hoodlum

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Hoodlum is a 1997 American movie directed by Bill Duke about the NYC Gangsterland during The Great Depression, the numbers racket in Harlem and the subsequent gang wars for control over it. The main conflict is between the black mob, led by Ellsworth "Bumpy" Johnson (Laurence Fishburne), and the Jewish mafia, under the rule of Dutch Schultz (Tim Roth). There are also the Italians, headed by Lucky Luciano (Andy García), but they apparently try to play neutral and keep out of the battles over the numbers racket.

See also Godfather of Harlem, a TV series starring Forest Whitaker as Bumpy Johnson, as well as The Cotton Club, an earlier movie in which Fishburne played a legal distinct "Bumpy Rhodes".

This film provides examples of:

  • Anti-Hero: Bumpy starts out as this, but devolves into a Villain Protagonist as the movie progresses.
  • Artistic License – Sports: A scene is introduced with the title card "December 1934" and then shows Dutch Schultz listening to a Yankees game in his office.
  • Ax-Crazy: Dutch Schultz, much like in real-life. His first scene has him going from chatting amiably with a man to shooting out his throat and then cutting his balls off. The last part, just for fun.
  • Berserk Button: Bumpy apparently really hates having almonds and fudge in his ice cream. Considering the almonds were used to disguise rat poison, you can kinda understand his displeasure.
  • Bittersweet Ending/Downer Ending: Bumpy tricks Lucky into killing Dutch for him and becomes the undisputed mob king of Harlem in the process, but has lost his best friend, his girlfriend and much of his humanity along the way.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: Intially this, with Bumpy being more of an Anti-Hero to Dutch’s monstrous villain, but as Bumpy devolves it ends up being Evil vs. Evil.
  • The Chessmaster: "Bumpy" Johnson. It is even shown explicitly, when he plays chess (being the black side, of course) and knocks over the white king.
  • Chess Motifs: See above.
  • Dirty Cop: NYPD Chief Jack Foley and most of the other members of the NYPD is in the pockets of Dutch. Illinois lampshades it saying “He’s as crooked as the letter s.”
  • Evil vs. Evil: What the story is at the end, with Bumpy only being slightly more sympathetic then Dutch.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Dutch Schultz. Despite getting shot in a men's room by a ridiculously disposable henchman, he takes it in a calm manner, silences his killer with a look full of contempt and uses whatever life is left in him to walk to a restaurant table to avoid dying near a urinal. Of note is the fact he is shot for a third time when he initially attempts this but pushes on despite it, his assassin being too shocked to follow up anymore.
  • Foil: Bumpy is erudite, educated and reserved. Dutch is unrefined, unsophisticated and emotional.
  • Hate Sink: Unlike other portrayals of the gangster, this Dutch Schultz is is an unrepentant, bigoted, psychotic murderer who's obsessed with controlling and abusing everyone around him.
  • Kick the Dog: Dutch forces Bub, a loyal minion, to wrap up and take home his lunch scraps. Purely to humiliate him, and in front of his hated rival Foley, no less. Just to hammer home what an utter prick Schultz is. Also, Bumpy forces a teenage ice cream parlor worker to eat a poisoned sundae at gun point in spite of the boy’s desperate pleas for forgiveness after a botched attempt on his life ordered by one of his own men.
  • Kosher Nostra: Dutch & his associates.
  • Large Ham: Tim Roth as Dutch Schultz.
  • The Mafia: Lucky Luciano and the rest of the Italian-American gangsters.
  • Nay-Theist:
    Bumpy Johnson: The good Lord and I have an arrangement. I don't go into his house. He doesn't come into mine.
  • Nobody Poops: averted. Schultz gets shot at a urinal, right after taking a piss.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain:
    • Dutch drops racial slurs to every person of color he comes into contact with from “nigger” to Bumpy and his organization, “dago” for Lucky and the Italians, “spic” for Henry Miro and “Mick” for Foley.
    • Foley himself also qualifies which causes great tensions between him and Bub, who’s black.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: "YOU DON'T. WRITE. A GODDAMN THING. IN HARLEM!!!"
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: Lulu betrays Schultz and immediately goes to Luciano for his reward. He's promptly executed in turn.
  • Slasher Smile: Dutch flashes this on and off throughout the whole movie, just to highlight that he really, really enjoys what he does.
  • Spinning Paper
  • Spiritual Successor: American Gangster
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Besides the fact that the characters were real people, almost nothing is based on fact.
    • In Thomas Dewey's case, the story is Based on a Great Big Lie. The real Dewey was utterly incorruptible and, in fact, was the man to put Luciano himself behind bars.
  • Villain Protagonist: Bumpy, although he starts out as an Anti-Hero.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Bumpy forces an teenage ice cream parlor worker to eat a poisoned sundae, originally intended for him to eat.