Hoodlum is a 1997 American crime drama film that gives a fictionalized account of the gang war between the Italian/Jewish mafia alliance and the Black gangsters of Harlem that took place in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The film concentrated on Ellsworth "Bumpy" Johnson (Laurence Fishburne), Dutch Schultz (Tim Roth), and Lucky Luciano (Andy García).
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Bill Duke|
|Produced by||Frank Mancuso, Jr.|
|Written by||Chris Brancato|
|Music by||Elmer Bernstein|
|Edited by||Harry Keramidas|
|Distributed by||United Artists|
|August 27, 1997|
|Box office||$23,461,013 (USA)|
In 1934, Ellsworth “Bumpy” Johnson (Laurence Fishburne) is released from Sing Sing and returns to Harlem, where mobster Dutch Schultz (Tim Roth) asserts his control of the numbers game. Schultz begrudgingly reports to Mafia boss Charles “Lucky” Luciano (Andy Garcia), who pays bribes to special prosecutor Thomas E. Dewey (William Atherton).
Reuniting with his cousin Illinois Gordon (Chi McBride), Bumpy returns to the employ of Harlem crime boss Madame Queen (Cicely Tyson), whose business is threatened by Schultz. Bumpy is introduced to Francine (Vanessa Williams), a friend of Illinois’ girlfriend Mary (Loretta Devine). Schultz’s meeting with the Queen ends in a standoff when he presents her with a rival’s testicles. Walking Francine home from a club, Bumpy charms her with his poetry.
Madame Queen is attacked by Schultz’s men, led by Bub Hewlett (Clarence Williams III), but Bumpy and Whispers (Paul Benjamin) repel the assassins and rescue the Queen. At a meeting of the “Commission”, Schultz remains determined to take over Harlem. After robbing Schultz’s operation with Illinois, Bumpy is chastised by Madame Queen. In retaliation, Schultz hires the Salke brothers to kill Bumpy, and arranges with NYPD Captain Foley (Richard Bradford) to have Madame Queen arrested. At a house party, the 17-year-old Tyrone asks Bumpy for a job, and Francine struggles to reconcile her feelings for Bumpy with his criminal ways.
The Salkes break into Bumpy’s home, killing his men, but Bumpy ambushes the pickaxe-wielding hitmen in the bathroom. He kills one but is overpowered by the other, whom Francine shoots dead. Illinois is beaten and robbed by Foley and his officers, who arrest Madame Queen for illegal gambling. Taking over her operation, Bumpy enlists Tyrone, and ignores the Queen’s orders to avoid violence. By May 1935, he is locked in an all-out war with Schultz. His wealth and power grow, as does the body count, including Tyrone. Bumpy’s attempt to comfort Tyrone’s mother is rejected.
At an ice cream parlor with Francine, Bumpy realizes his banana split has been poisoned. When the shop owner reveals that Bumpy’s associate Vallie ordered him to hire the new employee responsible, Bumpy forces the employee to eat the poisoned ice cream, and Whispers kills Vallie. Bumpy confronts Schultz at the Cotton Club with Vallie’s severed finger, demanding he cease his Harlem operations; Schultz refuses.
In disguise, Bumpy and Illinois deliver a bomb to one of Schultz’s illicit breweries, narrowly escaping before the warehouse explodes. Illinois returns home to find Schultz has interrogated and killed Mary. Threatened by Dewey to end the bloodshed in Harlem, Luciano invites Bumpy and Schultz to a meeting, against both their wills.
Visiting Madame Queen in prison, Bumpy is rebuked for inciting a gang war. Finding Bumpy a changed man, Francine leaves him, and Illinois drunkenly confronts him over the innocent lives lost. Illinois is abducted and tortured by Foley, to Hewlett’s disgust, but refuses to betray his cousin. At Luciano’s meeting, Bumpy and Schultz refuse to cede territory. After finding Illinois’ corpse left as a message, Bumpy slits Foley’s throat, but spares Hewlett’s life and offers him a partnership.
Bumpy accepts an alliance with Luciano, and Luciano’s driver – on Bumpy’s orders – informs Schultz that Bumpy will be meeting with Luciano’s accountant. Schultz and his men burst in but find only the accountant, who Schultz kills. At a restaurant, Schultz’s long-suffering henchman Lulu (Ed O’Ross) shoots him in the bathroom, and Schultz returns to his table before dying. Meeting Luciano outside for payment, Lulu is also killed. With Dutch dead and the gang war settled, Dewey – having received an enormous bribe from Bumpy, delivered by Hewlett – warns Luciano to stay away from Harlem. Hewlett and Bumpy part ways, and Bumpy arrives at Illinois’ funeral. After exchanging looks with Francine and Madame Queen, Bumpy walks out into the rain alone.
- Laurence Fishburne as Ellsworth "Bumpy" Johnson
- Tim Roth as Dutch Schultz
- Vanessa Williams as Francine Hughes
- Andy García as Charles "Lucky" Luciano
- Cicely Tyson as Stephanie St. Clair/Madam Queen
- Chi McBride as Illinois Gordon
- Clarence Williams III as Bub Hewlett
- Richard Bradford as Captain Foley
- William Atherton as Thomas E. Dewey
- Loretta Devine as Pigfoot Mary
- Queen Latifah as Sulie
- Ed O'Ross as Lulu Rosenkrantz
- Eddie Bo Smith Jr. as Tee-Ninchy
- Mike Starr as Albert Salke
- Beau Starr as Jules Salke
- Paul Benjamin as Whispers
- Tony Rich as Duke Ellington
The film received poor reviews from critics. Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 45% based on 20 reviews. Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film a grade B on scale of A to F.
Critic Roger Ebert noted that "the film is being marketed as a violent action picture, and in a sense, it is" and that director Bill Duke having made "a historical drama as much as a thriller, and his characters reflect a time when Harlem seemed poised on the brink of better things, and the despair of the postwar years was not easily seen on its prosperous streets."