Hoodlum (film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed by Bill Duke
Produced by Frank Mancuso, Jr.
Written by Chris Brancato
Starring Laurence Fishburne
Tim Roth
Vanessa Williams
Andy García
Music by Elmer Bernstein
Cinematography Frank Tidy
Edited by Harry Keramidas
Distributed by United Artists
Release dates August 27, 1997
Running time 130 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $23,461,013 (USA)

Hoodlum is a 1997 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).[1]


Ellsworth "Bumpy" Johnson (Laurence Fishburne) is paroled from Sing Sing by the warden (Joe Van Slyke), who is impressed by Johnson's conduct while incarcerated, even though he still believes Johnson does not regret committing the murder that sent him to prison. Johnson returns to Harlem and reunites with friends, most notably Illinois Gordon (Chi McBride). Johnson is quickly established as a highly respected member of the community, and his friends include Stephanie "Madam Queen" St. Clair (Cicely Tyson), who runs the numbers racket in Harlem despite competition from the Italian Mafia.

Dutch Schultz (Tim Roth), a Mafia associate who reports to mob boss Lucky Luciano (Andy Garcia), asks to partner with the Queen, who declines the offer, as she disapproves of the violent tactics Schultz uses to terrorize her customers. Later a hit is ordered by Dutch on the Queen; however Whispers (Paul Benjamin) and Bumpy repel the attackers. Using his friendship with corrupt Captain Foley (Richard Bradford), of the New York City Police Department, Schultz arranges for the Queen to be arrested, and the Queen asks Johnson to take charge of the business during her incarceration. The Queen instructs Johnson to avoid bloodshed, but Schultz's men grow increasingly violent.

Bumpy and Dutch go to war with each other, however Bumpy gets the upperhand on Dutch. The war continues but turns into a stalemate. Dutch, tired of the stalemate, pays off one of Bumpy's bodyguards, Vallie (John Toles-Bey), to say that Bumpy recommended a kid named Jimmy be hired at an ice cream parlor that Bumpy often visits to have a banana split. The idea is to have Jimmy plant rat poison, which uncannily resembles chopped almonds, in the banana split and for Bumpy to unknowingly eat it and die. This backfires on Dutch badly because Bumpy does not like nuts in his banana split and he immediately picks up on the scheme because the shop's owner knows how Bumpy takes his ice cream and he told Jimmy to make it that way. Bumpy has the shop cleared and reveals to Jimmy that he is aware of the poison after assaulting the young boy to try and get the truth out of him. Jimmy reveals that Vallie set Bumpy up, and he responds by having Vallie killed and then blows up one of Dutch's liquor warehouses with Illinois. Dutch in turn has Illinois's lover Mary (Loretta Devine) murdered.

Devastated by Mary's death, Illinois gets drunk and blames Bumpy for everything before telling him he's through and leaves. As he's walking down the street, Captain Foley and Bub Hewlett (Clarence Williams III) see him, kidnap him and chain him up in a machinery room. Foley beats him and wants to torture him for information. Hewlett says Illinois isn't going to talk and wants him let go. He leaves but Foley kills him using a corkscrew. Eager to end the war between each faction, Luciano decides to try and make the two men come to an agreement, although neither wants to compromise. Later that evening, Whispers informs Bumpy they found Illinois's body hanging from a chain outside the building he was killed in. A local witness tells them that he saw a man with Captain's bars with Illinois shortly before his murder. Bumpy immediately knows who it is and gets his revenge on Foley by cutting his throat after finding him in a room with a prostitute. As Bumpy is leaving, he sees Bub Hewlett and asks if he had a hand in Illinois's murder. He denies any involvement so Bumpy spares him and tells him that he now owes him.

Bumpy has a meeting with Bub and tells him that it's not in his best interest to continue working for Dutch. Bumpy later contacts Luciano and tells him that he wants to compromise. Luciano agrees to the terms and they devise a plan to kill Dutch. Cecil, Luciano's driver, appears to betray Luciano and Bumpy by telling Dutch what they are planning. Cecil, however, is being paid by Bumpy to do so. Believing he now has the upper hand, Dutch plans the murder of Luciano and Bumpy but fails to do so. Luciano and Bumpy's plan is revealed when Lulu (Ed O'Ross) (Dutch's right hand man) follows Dutch into the restroom and shoots him three times. Dutch walks out of the restroom and down the stairs, sits down at a table and drops dead. Lulu walks outside, gets in Luciano's car and asks to be paid but instead, an associate of Luciano's shoots him dead and dumps his body on the sidewalk.

The last scene shows Bumpy asking Bub if those involved have been paid, with Bub saying yes. With the Queen back in business, Johnson tells Bub that he has some unfinished business and Bub says he's going to go get some sleep. The two shake hands and part company. Bumpy then walks across the street and enters the church to briefly pay his final respects to Illinois, then turns and walks out.



Main article: Hoodlum (soundtrack)

A soundtrack containing hip hop and R&B music was released on August 12, 1997 by Interscope Records. It peaked at #94 on the Billboard 200 and #23 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums.


The film received mixed reviews from critics. Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 45% based on 20 reviews.[2]

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."[3]

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