The Brilliance of the 1930s Warner Bros. Gangster Movie

Silver Screenings

Edward G. Robinson (right) is a cop turned gangster. Image: The Retro Set

Almost nobody made better gangster films than Warner Bros. in the 1930s.

The studio ground out these movies on notoriously economical budgets. The films were gritty and smart, featuring characters who talked in a machine-gun staccato and dispensed canny observations: “Whenever mugs get into a jam, the first thing they do is start knocking each other.”

The studio made no apologies for these films. As exec Jack Warner famously said, “I don’t want it good. I want it Tuesday.”

One such film is Bullets or Ballots (1936), starring Edward G. Robinson as Johnny Blake, a police detective who is unexpectedly fired from the force. Blake then joins an organized crime outfit, managed by Al Kruger (Barton MacLane).

There is genuine affection and respect between policeman Blake and criminal Kruger, so when Kruger finds out Blake’s…

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