Charles “Lucky” Luciano, Meyer Lansky and Ben “Bugsy” Siegel came to American as young men and watched their parents work themselves to death. With the advent of prohibition, they found a way to make more money than they ever dreamed. This is their story.

The Lowdown

The American Gangster is a 1992 documentary narrated by Dennis Farina which tells the story of the rise of the mob in America. This DVD was released to coincide with the DVD release of American Gangster, starring Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe. The documentary is slight, at under fifty minutes and bookends the story with the arrival and eventual demise of the grandfathers of American mafia.

Charles “Lucky” Luciano and Meyer Lansky arrived in the United States as young boys and quickly learned that if they did not do something, they would end up working themselves to death as their parents did. When prohibition laws took effect in the United States, the two found a way to make more money than their parent’s ever had a chance to and began what would become known as The Commission and eventually the National Crime Syndicate. They joined forces with a gangster and murderer named Ben “Bugsy” Siegel, and the three became some of the most successful criminals the country had ever seen.

The documentary shows vintage photos, old film reels and news clippings to aid Farina in telling the story of the rise and fall of the notorious American Gangsters. The film touches on such luminaries as Al Capone and Frank Costello. It describes bloody incidents like the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre and the Sicilian Handshake. Once prohibition ended, we are shown Midwestern bank robbers like Bonnie and Clyde, Pretty Boy Floyd, and Ma Barker and her boys. The documentary is careful to show the sometimes devious ways such law enforcement officials as J. Edgar Hoover and Thomas Dewey would sink to capture their prey.

Also on display is the lack of trust the family of criminals held towards each other. Luciano would famously say that they would only kill each other, and at one point killed one of his own men – Dutch Schultz – to make sure Shultz did not carry out a hit on Dewey, the district attorney. No good deed would go unpunished, and Dewey would quickly try and convict Luciano of racketeering chargers and send him to prison. Other instances of the lack of trust came when Bugsy would be gunned down in his Las Vegas home after his close friends and colleagues said they hoped his new venture The Flamingo would be successful or else they would have to kill him.

The problem with this documentary is that all this interesting information is skimmed over. There is so much there to delve into, evident by the motion pictures covering the many areas of interest. The GodfatherBugsyBonnie and ClydeBilly BathgateScarfaceWhite Heat and the upcoming Johnny Depp flick Public Enemies are only a few of the many feature films that cover these amazing topics. This documentary is only good enough to slightly whet your appetite for the subject.

The Package

There is nothing extra and the picture and sound are what you would expect from a historical documentary.