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Real gangsters, reel movies

Robert DeNiro as Al Capone in “The Untouchables” (1987)

The Chicago-based gangster was indeed brought down by U.S. Treasury Agent Eliot Ness, who successfully brought in the notorious bootlegger on charges of income tax evasion. But DeNiro gave the Prohibition-era hood a charming sense of menace, as demonstrated in the scene in which he introduces a subordinate to the business end of a baseball bat. (Paramount Pictures)
Warren Beatty as Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel in “Bugsy” (1991)

Think of him as the gangster version of Walt Disney. Where Uncle Walt saw a bunch of Florida swampland and envisioned a tourist mecca, Bugsy -- according to popular legend -- saw miles of Nevada desert and envisioned a fantasyland of legal gambling. Beatty’s portrayal brought all the charm that most real-life gangsters only wish they had. (TriStar Pictures)
Richard Dreyfuss as Meyer Lansky in “Lansky” (1999)

A longtime associate of both “Bugsy” Siegel and “Lucky” Luciano, Lansky proved to be the luckiest of all -- he managed to live his entire life without getting whacked or serving a lengthy prison sentence. The man behind the “National Crime Syndicate” got a TV movie biopic, with Dreyfuss playing up the mob numbers man as low-key as possible. (HBO)
Johnny Depp as John Dillinger in “Public Enemies” (2009)

More than a dozen actors have played Dillinger -- a bank robber and one of the most famous gangsters of all-time -- on screen, including Warren Oates, Marc Harmon and Martin Sheen. But only Depp plays him as cool and reserved, as only Depp could. In fact, Dillinger and his gang, according to the FBI, terrorized the Midwest, killing 10 men, wounding several others and staging at least 3 jail breaks. (Bloomberg News)
Stanley Tucci as Frank Nitti in “Road to Perdition” (2002)

Although both he and his boss, Al Capone, were convicted for tax evasion, Nitti got off with only an 18-month sentence. Back on the loose, he managed to set himself up as a mob boss in his own right. He ran Capone’s Chicago Outfit until he commited suicide in 1943 to avoid going back to prison. Tucci’s portrayal in “Road to Perdition” was just a cameo, but an effective one. (DreamWorks Pictures)
Jack Nicholson as Jimmy Hoffa in “Hoffa” (1992)

Though his work organizing the International Brotherhood of Teamsters is often overshadowed by jokes about his famous disappearance, Hoffa was never a real mobster. Although the Teamsters fell under mob control during his tenure as their president, Hoffa was thought to have run afoul of his shadier business partners in his later years, which led to his hasty exit from the scene. Nicholson disappeared into his role as Hoffa, wearing special makeup and potraying him as a dogged fighter and something of a national icon. (Van Ness Films)
Armand Assante as John Gotti in “Gotti” (1996)

His daugther and grandchildren are reality TV stars, but despite the mob’s famous oath of omerta, the “Teflon Don” probably would have approved of the notoriety. During his time as boss of the Gambino crime family, he reveled in the kind of celebrity usually reserved for movie stars. Assante played up the mobster’s urbane qualities and helped make the HBO movie one of the network’s highest rated. It also helped get costars Dominic Chianese, Tony Sirico and Vincent Pastore cast in the channel’s pilot for “The Sopranos.” (HBO)
Robert DeNiro as Sam “Ace” Rothstein in “Casino” (1995)

The character name was fictional, but the man wasn’t -- journalist Nicholas Pileggi based him on real-life gangster Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal, who ran the Stardust, Fremont and Hacienda casinos through the 1970s and into the ‘80s. DeNiro plays Rothstein as a bit of a ham -- he hosts his own talk show for awhile -- much like the real-life Rosenthal, although Rosenthal has complained on his website that he never juggled on TV, as DeNiro’s character did. (LAT)
Chazz Palminteri as Paul Castellano in “Boss of Bosses” (2001)

Castellano was the head of the Gambino crime family until he was arrested on racketeering charges in 1985 and whacked by rising mob boss John Gotti. Many felt Palminteri was superb in the role, although they felt the movie itself as beneath him. (TBS)
Tim Roth as Dutch Schultz in “Hoodlum” (1997)

The Depression-era bootlegger and racketeer became most famous for his last words, a stream-of-consciousness babble that was the result of a gunshot wound and lots of painkillers. His words approach poetry -- no small feat for a hood from the streets of Harlem. “A boy has never wept ... nor dashed a thousand kim,” he said as a police stenographer jotted it all down. Roth’s portrayal of a much younger Schultz went largely unseen in “Hoodlum,” about Schultz’s battles against black gangsters for control of the Harlem numbers racket. (United Artists Pictures)
Vin Diesel as Giacomo “Jackie Dee” DiNorscio in “Find Me Guilty” (2006)

The New York wiseguy refused to testify against his friends and insisted he represent himself in what would turn out to be the longest criminal case in U.S. history. Diesel’s performance as the mobster with a lot of chutzpah was lauded, but the film was mismarketed as a low-rent mob comedy and missed drawing an audience. (Yari Film Group)
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