Irish-American Crime Films

A chronological tour through the history of one of the great genres of film featuring Irish-American heroes and antiheroes: Irish-American crime films.

Underworld, 1928

Underworld, 1928

THE SILENT ERA

THE MUSKETEERS OF PIG ALLEY (1912)

Perhaps the very first organized crime film, directed by D.W. Griffith and telling of a small group of directionless thugs in an Irish immigrant ghetto.

REGENERATION (1915)

Probably the first feature-length gangster film, shot on location in the Bowery and telling the true story of a Bowery bruiser and the school teacher who saves him.

UNDERWORLD (1927)

One of the early silent films about organized crime, and one that set the template for later films, where a brutish Irish mob boss and his brilliant adviser come to blows over a woman and a double-cross.

THE RACKET (1928)

A fictionalized version of Al Capone’s Chicago, ruled by gangsters but run by corrupt politicians, where there is little a good Irish cop can do.


The Public Enemy, 1931

The Public Enemy, 1931

THE THIRTIES

THE PUBLIC ENEMY (1931)

The film that made Jimmy Cagney a star, telling the short, violent life of an Irish-American bootlegger.

THE BOWERY (1933)

A strange, wild, disconcerting film set in the pubs of New York’s Bowery during the Gas Light era, and loosely based on true stories of the bruisers, hustlers, and riff raff of the era.

THE MAYOR OF HELL (1933)

James Cagney plays a ward heeler who takes charge of a corrupt reform school in this pre-code shocker.

THE LIFE OF JIMMY DOLAN (1933)

Douglas Fairbanks plays a cynical boxer on the lam for murder. Remade as “They Made Me a Killer.”

MANHATTAN MELODRAMA (1934)

The film John Dillinger watched before he was gunned down is an overwrought but entertaining tale of two boyhood friends who grow up on opposite sides of the law, and features Clark Gable as an Irish gambler who really seems like he wants to be executed.

GREAT GUY (1936)

James Cagney is a two-fisted inspector for the Department of Weights and Measures battling organized corruption.

DEAD END (1937)

The first Dead End Kids (eventually Bowery Boys) movie is a superb look at poverty and crime in an Irish slum in New York.

LITTLE TOUGH GUY (1938)

Universal borrowed several of the Dead End Kids to make this grim and sometimes very weird story about Billy Halop turning into a very young Jimmy Cagney.

THE DEVIL’S PARTY (1938)

A stilted but nonetheless odd and fascinating story of young friends in Hell’s Kitchen who grow up on opposite sides of the law.

THEY MADE ME A CRIMINAL (1939)

A remake of “The Life of Jimmy Dolan” with John Garfield and the Dead End Kids.

IRISH LUCK (1939)

Frankie Darro plays a crime-busting bellhop in the first film to pair him with African-American comic Mantan Moreland.


Raw Deal, 1948

Raw Deal, 1948

THE FORTIES

EAST SIDE KIDS (1940)

A Poverty Row knockoff of “Dead End,” but trading the earlier film’s pessimism for a sort of accidental nihilism.

MEN OF BOYS TOWN (1941)

“Boys Town’s” mostly-forgotten sequel includes a short, effective look into the brutality of the reform school.

‘NEATH BROOKLYN BRIDGE (1942)

The East Side Kids get caught up with crooks in a Lower East Side that seems entirely populated by sailors.

RAW DEAL (1948)

A sumptuously filmed, preposterously scripted tale of an Irish hood making a break from prison with two women who love him in tow and a pyromaniacal  mob boss at his tail.


Mad Dog Coll, 1961

Mad Dog Coll, 1961

THE SIXTIES

MAD DOG COLL (1961)

An independently lensed movie about the maddest and most Irish of American gangster, featuring a young Jerry Orbach, the first film appearance of Gene Hackman, and a group of gangland assassins who accidentally seem like 1950s juvenile delinquents.

THE BIG BANKROLL (1961)

The story of Jewish gangster Arnold Rothstein and his many Irish associates. The film feels uncertain and contemptuous, but for an unexpectedly subtle and affecting performance from Mickey Rooney.


The Friends of Eddie Coyle, 1973

The Friends of Eddie Coyle, 1973

THE SEVENTIES

PRIME CUT (1972)

Lee Marvin is an enforcer for the Irish mob in Chicago sent to collect a debt owed by Gene Hackman, a rancher and white slaver in Kansas City whose entire worldview seems to be based on protracted metaphors for meat.

THE STING (1973)

Paul Newman and Robert Redford play two con artists looking to bilk an Irish mobster in Depression-era Chicago.

THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE (1973)

A brutal, dour, entirely credible story of the last days of a small time Irish-American hood, played by Robert Mitchum.

MELVIN PURVIS: G-MAN (1974)

A made-for-television retelling of the arrest of George “Machine Gun” Kelly. As history, it is terrible, as an Irish gangster film, it is negligible, and as an example of writer/director John Milius’ overheated right-wing storytelling, it is middling.

BUGSY MALONE (1976)

Alan Parker’s unusual debut, featuring children playing gangsters, offers one of the more optimistic gangster movies put onscreen.


The Untouchables, 1987

The Untouchables, 1987

THE EIGHTIES

BAD BOYS (1983)

Sean Penn plays the first of many Irish-American hoodlums in this grim, relentlessly brutal, but strangely hopeful film set in a juvenile detention center.

JOHNNY DANGEROUSLY (1984)

Michael Keaton plays a 1930s Irish gangster in an anarchic but unexpectedly genial sendup of old crime films.

THE UNTOUCHABLES (1987)

Brian De Palma and David Mamet retell the story of the fall of Al Capone as a frantic cartoon, featuring Sean Connery as an Irish cop without an Irish accent.


Miler's Crossing, 1990

Miler’s Crossing, 1990

THE NINETIES

MILLER’S CROSSING (1990)

The Coen Brothers tell of a war between Irish and Italian gangsters, featuring an exquisitely choreographed Tommy gunning set to the tune of “Danny Boy.”

GOODFELLAS (1990)

Martin Scorsese’s profane, violent, celebrated look at the career of mobster Henry Hill.

STATE OF GRACE (1990)

A looked at a ragtag group of doomed Irish gangsters in Hell’s Kitchen, starring Sean Penn, Gary Oldman, Robin Wright, and Ed Harris.

THE GRIFTERS (1990)

A stylish, odd, and extremely bleak version of the Jim Thompson novel; for some reason, Thompson’s career criminals always seemed to have Irish names.

KISS OF DEATH (1995)

An unnecessary remake of a classic noir film, featuring a glowering David Caruso and a weird Nicolas Cage as an ex-con spying on a crime boss.

LAST MAN STANDING (1996)

Bruce Willis stars in a genre mashup that retells “Yojimbo” but with gangsters in a wild west border town. It should have been more entertaining than it turned out to be.

TRAVELLER (1997)

A moderately well-done film about con artists sabotaged by its insistence that Irish Travellers are a criminal conspiracy.

MONUMENT AVE. (1998)

Denis Leary is at the center of a gang of miserable petty criminals in Boston’s Charlestown neighborhood.

THE BOONDOCK SAINTS (1999)

A frantic, occasionally imaginative, more often mean-spirited film about Irish twins in Boston committing vigilante murders of local mobsters.

SOUTHIE (1999)

Donnie Wahlberg plays a South Boston resident caught between two gangsters in this unexpectedly well-detailed movie.


A History of Violence, 2005

A History of Violence, 2005

2000-2009

GANGS OF NEW YORK (2002)

Martin Scorsese’s delirious film tells a baroque, excessive, carnival-colored version of early New York gangs.

THE ROAD TO PERDITION (2002)

Tom Hanks is a sullen mob enforcer on a road trip with his son in a stately, gorgeous, and nonetheless unsatisfying movie.

OVERNIGHT (2003)

Not a mobster film, but a documentary about the making of a mobster film: The story of the short rise and long fall of Troy Duffy, the belligerent former bartender who wrote and directed “The Boondock Saints.”

A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE (2005)

David Croneberg tells of a sudden act of small-town brutality that brings in the Irish mob, who believe the violence has revealed one of their own.

THE DEPARTED (2006)

Leonardo DiCaprio is a rat for the police, Matt Damon is a rat for the mob, and both are at the mercy of a deranged Irish mob boss, played by Jack Nicholson.


The Drop, 2014

The Drop, 2014

2010 AND ON

THE TOWN (2010)

Ben Affleck writes, directs, and stars in a heist film about Irish-American bank robbers in Boston’s Charlestown neighborhood.

KILL THE IRISHMAN (2011)

The true story of mobster Danny Green should be the maddest gangster film ever made; it isn’t.

KILLING THEM SOFTLY (2012)

Brad Pitt plays a mob enforcer hampered by chronic incompetence in this secret sequel to “The Friends of Eddie Coyle.”

THE DROP (2014)

A downbeat film about a shaggy, seemingly slow-witted bartender, played by Tom Hardy, who was once part of an Irish crime crew, and who still seems trailed by violence.

RAGE (2014)

Nicholas Cage plays a former Irish mobster turned into avenging father who is never quite as angry as we expect him to be.

RUN ALL NIGHT (2015)

Liam Neeson plays an alcoholic former enforcer for the Irish mob forced to go against his boss when his son is targeted for a hit.