Success in gangster movies now and then through Robert Warshow's "The Gangster as Tragic Hero"

Essay by kuchevCollege, UndergraduateA+, May 2004

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"In the deeper layers of the modern consciousness, all means are unlawful, every attempt to succeed is an act of aggression, leaving one alone and guilty and defenseless among enemies: one is punished for success."

Robert Warshow

This is a quote from the famous essay "The Gangster as Tragic Hero", a "classic example of film criticism and cultural analysis". The essay was published for the first time in 1962 in Robert Warshow's book "The Immediate Experience". In it the author examines some of the generally accepted conventions that most gangster movies follow and draws conclusions from them about the reasons and the way this genre appeals to the audience.

The quote represents one of the main ideas of Warshow's argument - it shows the attitude of the mass public towards success. According to Warshow, we need to be able to "acquiesce in our failure". He says that we have one intolerable dilemma: "failure is kind of death and success is evil and dangerous, is - ultimately - impossible", and the resolution of this dilemma by the gangster's death makes us feel safe.

He also argues that the gangster is doomed "because he is under the obligation to succeed" and claims that "he is what we want to be and what we are afraid we may become". The author gives us the reasons for the inevitable failure of the gangster. These are "the very conditions of success". He states that success is established by imposing the individual on the others, by drawing himself out of the crowd. And what dies is not some anonymous man but "the individual with a name, the gangster, the success". The gangster is doomed for his attempt to be something more, to be above the others, above the crowd. But the general public is "the...