This American gangster film set in prohibition era presents Tom Powers and best friend Matt Doyle climbing through the ranks of the neighbourhood gangs. This is set in contrast to Tom’s straight brother Mike, living an ‘honest’ life. The issue of class in this film is a poignant one as is portrays the rise of the gangster in lower class society in America at this time. Tom is poor and although he comes from a stable, two parent family with a policeman father, he turns to petty thievery and shoplifting to escape the grind of lower class life. This is a stark contrast to how his brother Mike lives with depravation, working as a street car conductor and going to school at night which Tom significantly remarked as ‘learnin’ how to be poor’.
Masculinity is embodied in this film as Tommy is a character that practically breathes it. The combination of power, confidence and violence all emit this and the manner in which he hands his father the razor sharp belt and defiantly asks him whether he wants his pants up or down exemplifies this. Tommy’s climb up the local gangster ladder is as much about asserting his masculinity through growing power as it is about wealth. The struggle between Tom and his brother Mike is also a conflict of masculinity as well as a disagreement on moral fibre.
Christopher Shannon remarked that the gangster was a ‘classical American character’ with their mix of hard work, self-control and ambition to succeed. In this film America is presented as a place where crime paid. Although ultimately Tommy died he lived a life where money wasn’t a problem to him and was a local hero to many in such impoverish circumstances as he escaped his poor upbringing. Additionally, America can be seen in broader terms in this film as the influx of foreigners became representative Americans while remaining distinctive to their original patronage. One could now be seen as patriotic without sacrificing their local identity.