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Gangster No. 1 - Still quite an unknown gem

By Toon Creffield →
The turn of the century and I was still buying video cassettes from old rental shops and I picked this movie up and read the back, Malcolm McDowell looks to be getting on a bit, Paul Bettany, doesn't ring any bells. I put the cassette back and walked away with some other movie that slips my mind.

What a mistake.

Gangster No. 1

Fast forward to 2013 and an iMDB list of British gangster films and this was the only one off the list I hadn't seen. I remembered putting it back in the rental store but now I knew who Paul Bettany was after a great turn in Margin Call, (one of the films of the year by far).

I wasn't avoiding the movie at all I just think I'd had my fill of British Gangster films over the years and just assumed this would be pretty generic.

That's where I was wrong.....very wrong.

This hugely undervalued Gem sits right up there with the likes of Casino in the way it's made, McGuigan uses sharp cuts as he darts from piece to piece using music not as a backdrop but really in your face, well chosen music I might add just like Scorsese did particularly well in Casino.

I've got to admit  McDowel looked pretty scary but nothing more than your usual gruff cockney gangster as he growls at the camera "What do you take me for, a c**t?"


But Gangster 55 is only really the narator, the real star of the show is Paul Bettany's Young Gangster, the way he looks at people would strike fear into even Don Logan's heart. Bettany has this down cold and when he finally explodes into killing mode he's one of the most fearful villains on screen ever.

This is where the clever trick came into play, the wonderfully talented David Thewlis as
 the 'Gangster No. 1' who despite being a gangster is polite and quite calm of character, could this be a weakness? Could this be just an old school respect thing? It lays a great foundation for Young Gangster to battle his way to the top of the pile.


Every scene feels like a very fast new chapter and it keeps you gripped all the way through, if I only have one complaint and Scorsese would never have allowed this, but the story part that skips through the ages near the final part of the movie just seemed rushed.

We've invested in the rise of this guy at least let us share a few of his stories about being on top, instead the story is just told in quick shots with Gangster 55 telling you what went down that year. The film clocks in nicely at just over 100 minutes in contrast to Casino's 178 minutes. 



Apart from the missing part of the movie it's a great ride all the way through, none of it was toned down "That? That's my favourite axe, Eddie." None of it was made comedic to compete with the Lock, Stocks and the Snatchs. This stood out on it's own as a great piece of British Cinema and I'd like to tip my hat (if I had one) to all involved, some great characters played by some very talented actors.

Look out for Jamie Foreman's role of gangster Freddy Mays who is supposedly based on real-life mobster Frankie Fraser who Jamie is in fact the real life son of.

I originally gave this an 8 out of 10 but after last nights watch (my third) I'm thinking of pushing that up to a 9.

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Toon Creffield

Graphic and Digital Designer from Sheffield England and owner of the Estetica Design Forum.