The Guilty Generation (1931)

A Romeo and Juliet love story between the son of a brutal Italian bootlegger and the daughter of his bitter ex-partner, who is engaged in a blood feud with his one-time friend.

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6 February 2006 | by F Gwynplaine MacIntyre (Minffordd, North Wales) ā€“ See all my reviews

‘The Guilty Generation’ has a misleading title. This movie would seem to indict a generation, but it’s actually more interested in indicting an ethnic group … to be precise, the Italians. This movie takes place in a universe where everyone named Angelo or Luigi is automatically a gangster. Late in the film, there’s some brief dialogue about honest Italians vilifying the crooked members of their ‘race’ … but most of this movie seems to indicate that Italian ancestry and criminal behaviour are mutually inclusive.

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Robert Young is a rising young architect named John Smith, a name guaranteed to attract attention. Indeed, we soon find out that he was born Marco Ricca, son of gangster Tony Ricca. The latter is played by Boris Karloff, looking not remotely Italian. (Although Italian-American actor Abe Vigoda was a Karloff lookalike.) Karloff brings deep conviction and presence to this role, but his performance is not very convincing. Part of the problem is that Tony Ricca’s dialogue is full of “ain’t”s and other grammatical errors, yet Karloff speaks these thick-eared lines in his usual cultured tones. Elsewhere, Murray Kinnell is good in a supporting role, but his well-bred English accent seems out of place in a setting that’s knee-deep in goombahs.

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There are excellent performances by two actors unknown to me, Emma Dunn and Elliott Rothe. Also impressive is Leo Carrillo. Because of his short stature and thick accent, Carrillo is best known for comic roles. Here, he’s chillingly believable as a crime lord, utterly ruthless and unforgiving. Much of the film takes place in the sumptuous Florida mansion owned by Carrillo’s character. I was astounded that Columbia Pictures — at this point, a studio barely out of Poverty Row — were able to achieve these production values.

Also quite good, in a supporting role, is Ruth Warren as Carrillo’s press agent. Unfortunately, Warren was precisely the same character type as several other better-known and better actresses — Jean Dixon and Glenda Farrell spring to mind — so she failed to claim a niche for herself among Hollywood’s character actresses. As the romantic leads in this melange, Robert Young and the insipid Constance Cummings are as dull as dishwater. I’ve never yet seen a performance by Cummings that impressed me.

‘The Guilty Generation’, well-directed by the underrated Rowland V Lee, and nicely photographed by Byron Haskin, is probably of greatest interest to Karloff fans. Be advised that Karloff’s role is actually quite small, and he’s miscast. Overall, I’ll rate this movie 6 out of 10.

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Underrated look behind the scenes of Prohibition’s death throes

9/10
Author: abchulett from United States
21 March 2010

Having looked at a few of the other reviews here, some of which predictably say this is a “pale imitation of Warner Bros. gangster pictures,” I have to chime in with a dissenting opinion. Those more famous films, such as “Little Caesar” and “Public Enemy,” with their iconic Edward G. Robinson and Jimmy Cagney, respectively, are a whole different type of animal; you’re comparing apples and oranges. Those are the seminal action films, bad guy as antihero, cautionary tales about the ultimate end of reckless lawlessness.

“The Guilty Generation” focuses instead on the offspring of two of the biggest crime families involved in bootlegging. While a gang war whirls around the shoulders of Robert Young & Constance Cummings’s characters they are trying to get away from the business, while each has a brother who’s trying to follow in father’s footsteps. Apt comparisons to “Romeo & Juliet” are made, and the similarities extend to the fact that both began life as a play before being made into films.

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And that’s probably part of the problem movie purists have with TGG. While the aforementioned WB pics are more action-oriented, with lots of shootouts and chases, TGG is more about the internal and intergang politics and the romance. They are also more “talky,” which some people have a real problem with. In this case it works, IMO.

Leo Carillo & Boris Karloff play the heads of the families; in keeping with the early ’30s, their accents are not accurate (see Jimmy Stewart as a Hungarian in “The Little Shop on the Corner” for one of thousands of examples of worse casting in this regard), but they do well personality-wise in their roles.

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Don’t overlook the secondary characters, such as Ms. Cummings’s excellent Italian grandma and her father’s press agent, who provide terrific support and comic relief.

Maybe it’s just the fact that this one took me completely by surprise, but I’d rather see it again than any of the aforementioned films or even the more-similar “Godfather” pictures. It avoids the bloody shootouts of the latter, yet has more to do with the human beings affected by the action than the former, and it ultimately shows a prime example of when it’s most correct for children to rebel against their parents. An interesting story, well acted, perfectly paced, and with even a couple of nice plot twists. I think it holds up quite well.

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The Petit-Princes Of Prohibition And Gangland Warfare

7/10
Author: Richard Green (Patriotlad@aol.com) from New Haven County, Connecticut
23 January 2007

While it is true that this interesting crime drama has a few significant “holes” in it — like casting Boris Karloff with his crisp enunciations as an Italian-immigrant mobster — the film stands as a persuasive cultural document indicting the whole Prohibition Era. For those who do not know anything about our true American history, there was about fifty-two years of social agitation behind what was known as The Temperance Movement, culminating in a Constitutional amendment and “the Volstead Act.” In a curious tandem movement, the long-running “Suffrage” movement for women to have the vote became intertwined and then interlocked with “Temperance.” What began as a local issue, restricting or banning the sale of alcoholic beverages at a time when nearly all adult men drank beer, whiskey or gin, eventually morphed into statewide legislation. The problem was complex, however, as “dry counties” competed with “wet counties” inside of states, and then across state boundaries, as dry states conflicted with wet states.

When Congress proposed the “Prohibition” amendment in December of 1917, the country had been involved in the Declared War that T. Woodrow Wilson campaigned against in his 1916 re-election bid, since April of ’17. As tens of thousands of U.S. troops were training for and shipping out for the battlefields of France, where they would learn to enjoy French wines, cognac and champagnes, their Congress was moving to provide Prohibition of drinking alcohol from sea to shining sea. The amendment as proposed achieved ratification on January 29th of 1919 and its provisions took effect one year later.

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Thirteen years and twenty-one days later, Congress moved to repeal the Prohibition Amendment and this counter-amendment was ratified by December of 1933, or nine months into the new administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In those thirteen years and nine months, the structure and integrity of American society was wholly changed and radicalized. Minor criminal gangs in the major cities blossomed into full-fledged crime syndicates, as the taste for liquor and beer among the people wholly overwhelmed the legal reality of Prohibition.

Thus, the “Roaring ’20s” was a time when stock market speculations and easy money rode the same horses as did “bootlegging” or the illegal importation or illegal manufacture of beer and hard liquors … in every part of the country. Thousands of men — and some women and children — were killed in the revolving battles between bootlegging gangs in the major cities, and the violence only got worse as the profits from “speakeasy” saloons and “rum-running” grew larger and larger. Municipalities and county governments were suborned. Governors were bribed, and Customs officials bought or intimidated into silence.

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The background of this movie is that history: the two gangs, seeming to be from Chicago although not specifically mentioned as such, are the Ricca and the Palmero, whose leaders were formerly partners and whose families were formerly friends.

As the movie unfolds, the violence between the gangs escalates into killing each others’ operatives, each others’ cousins, and then each man’s sons. And against this hideous background, even if played at a lower key, the daughter of Palmero meets and falls in love with the second son of Ricca, who has been raised abroad and who has changed his name to “Smith.” No, it’s not “Romeo & Juliet” at all but there are some similarities.

Others have commented on how this fledgling romance comes across as being “sappy” or syrupy. That’s right. But that’s what movie going audiences wanted in the middle of the early years of the Depression. The violence described in this film is not shown specifically, but it lurks in the shadows like a Kabuki puppet.

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Leo Carrillo and Boris Karloff do very well in their roles, and the absence of any background music makes this film more intensely visual, although there are scenes where music is played in a club or for a party. The lavish life style of the Palmero family, in their Florida mansion, is another element in the fictional “testament” of just how warped the social order of the United States had become under Prohibition, and under the tyranny of these petit-princes of the Prohibition Era.

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