Hoodlum (film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed byBill Duke
Produced byFrank Mancuso, Jr.
Written byChris Brancato
Music byElmer Bernstein
CinematographyFrank Tidy
Edited byHarry Keramidas
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
August 27, 1997
Running time
130 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$30 million[1]
Box office$23,461,013 (USA)

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).[2]


After being paroled from Sing Sing, Ellsworth "Bumpy" Johnson (Laurence Fishburne) returns to Harlem to resume his old life. He is welcomed back by his cousin, Illinois Gordon (Chi McBride) as well as Stephanie "Madame Queen" St. Clair (Cicely Tyson), the monarch reigning over the numbers racket in Harlem. Psychopathic Dutch Schultz (Tim Roth) is a Mafia associate who reports to mob boss Charles "Lucky" Luciano (Andy Garcia) and runs the numbers rackets in downtown New York. His gang has been crowding into Harlem, terrorizing residents to only play the numbers with his operation.

While hanging on the stoop one afternoon with Illinois and his married on and off girlfriend Mary, Bumpy meets her friend, Francine (Vanessa Williams). She and Illinois talk trash to each other, with her disapproving of the 'numbers' rackets Illinois is involved in as he defends it as the only way to make ends meet for colored (Black) people. Bumpy introduces himself, but since he's involved in numbers, she isn't interested. They meet again in a nightclub and dance together. Bumpy walks Francine home as they debate the effect of gambling in Harlem on its citizens. At her door, she says that he could do a number of respectable and legal jobs. He responds that he has written some poetry and then recites a poem to her.

Dutch Schultz demands to partner with the Queen at a meeting, who declines. Subsequently he orders a on her which occurs as she is escorted by Bumpy to her beloved opera. Although the team sent is large, Whispers (Paul Benjamin) and Bumpy repel the attackers. Out of choices, Dutch uses his friendship with corrupt NYPD Captain Foley (Richard Bradford) to arrange for the Queen to be arrested. She then asks Johnson to take charge of the business during her incarceration, but to avoid bloodshed. However due to the violence of Schultz and his men, he can't keep that promise.

Bumpy and Dutch go to war. Dutch employs two expensive hit men to kill Bumpy. After waiting for him to go to sleep, they break into his home and kill two of his bodyguards. After making their way up to the bedroom, they discover pillows where bodies should be. They then attack Bumpy and Francine in the bathroom where Bumpy shoots one and fights with the other. Francine shoots the other just as he is about to kill Bumpy. As a saver of life, she is in shock having just ended one and Bumpy talks her into giving him the gun. The bodies stack up on both sides including the intelligent sixteen-year-old Tyrone, who begged Bumpy to let him become a numbers runner.

One afternoon, Bumpy and Francine are in his favorite ice cream parlor. A young man delivers their banana split but before they begin to eat, Bumpy notices that it has almonds on it, which he never orders. He asks the owner of the parlor who made his split and is told it was the new boy, Jimmy. He calls the young man over under the pretense of showing him how he likes his splits made, but reveals that he knows it's poisoned. Suddenly Bumpy's men rush all the regular citizens out of the parlor and pull down the shades. The owner then speaks up and states that one of Bumpy's newest men, Valley wanted Jimmy to work there. Bumpy sends Francine home and requests that Whispers take Valley out before forcing Jimmy to eat the poisoned ice cream at gun point.

Bumpy, Illinois, Whispers and two other of his men surround Valley in a private pool hall and question him about the set-up. Valley confesses that Dutch paid him $3,000 and promises to leave town if he is let go. Bumpy notices a fancy ring on his finger and asks if he bought it with the payoff money, which Valley vehemently denies but Illinois sahe he's never seen it before. Bumpy gives him some tea and tells him to relax. Everyone walks out leaving Valley to think he'll live, but Whispers comes back and cuts his throat with a straight razor.

Bumpy and his gang show up at the Cotton Club which is downtown in Dutch's territory and does not allow black people in except as entertainers. Dutch is holding court to the point of even dancing on stage. The place goes silent as Bumpy tells Dutch that he knows all about his operations uptown and if Dutch doesn't shut them down, Bumpy will do it for him. Dutch mentions Valley and Bumpy replies that Vallie won't be able to comment anymore as he puts a handkerchief containing his bloody finger with the fancy ring on it. It nearly comes to a shoot-out, with cooler heads holding Dutch. Bumpy and his gang leave as Dutch threatens Francine.

When Dutch continues terrorizing uptown Harlem, Bumpy engages an explosives expert to rig a bomb. He and Illinois infiltrate one of Dutch's liquor warehouses as delivery boys. The foreman can read Illinois' nervousness snd tells them to stay put. However with less than 7 minutes to get back off the property, they make a break for it and just manage to get away before the whole building explodes.

After, Dutch and his men break into Mary's house. Dutch hits and threatens her, asking her where Illinois is, but since they aren't together she doesn't know. Dutch's right hand man, Bub (Clarence Williams III) says she doesn't know anything and he doesn't have to do this. Dutch tells him to toughen up. Illinois makes his way back to Mary's to find her dead, devastating him.

Bumpy arrives home where Francine tells him that she is leaving him. He is enraged and starts throwing the fancy dresses and jewels that he bought at her. She yells that she didn't want any of them, she doesn't know him anymore, he is no longer the good man with whom she had fallen in love and Mary's death is on his head.

Devastated by Mary's death, Illinois gets drunk and tells Bumpy that he's changed to be as bad as Dutch. They have it out over Bumpy's refusal to go to church even for Mary's funeral and before staggering out Illinois says he's finished with Bumpy. As he's walking down the street, Captain Foley and Bub stop him. Although he is clearly intoxicated, Foley chains him up in a machinery room and beats and tortures 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 Schultz and Johnson come to an agreement, although neither wants to compromise.

Later that evening, word comes to the Johnson house that Illinois has been found. Johnson and his gang go to the warehouse where Illinois was killed and find him hanging by a chain on the outside wall, one of the 'numbers' tickets in his mouth and a suitcase with "No More Secrets" written across it attached to him. A local witness tells them that he saw a man with Captain's bars string Illinois up. 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 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 later has a meeting with Bub and tells him that it's not in his best interest to continue working for Dutch but they need to stop him. Bumpy then 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. However, he is being paid by Bumpy to do so. Believing he now has the upper hand, Dutch busts into to the meeting place revealed by Cecil, guns blazing. However no one but the accountant is there. Bumpy pays off Thomas Dewey before their true plan is revealed.

Lulu (Ed O'Ross) (Dutch's long suffering 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.

Luciano receives a call from Dewey warning him to stay away from Harlem since Bumpy used him to get rid of Schultz and paid him handsomely as Luciano had counseled him to.

The last scene shows Bumpy asking Bub if those involved have been paid, with Bub saying yes. With the Queen out of jail and back in charge, Johnson tells Bub that he has some unfinished business. Bub replies that 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. The gospel choir sings "Amazing Grace" while he walks down the aisle, exchanging looks with Francine and Madame Queen. When he arrives at the coffin, he goes down on his knees with tears in his eyes, then turns and walks out. He takes off his hat and turns his face up to the pouring rain, letting it run down his face.



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.[3] Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film a grade B on scale of A to F.[4]

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."[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ https://variety.com/1997/film/news/mgm-at-a-prelim-1117433216/
  2. ^ Hoodlum on IMDb
  3. ^ http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1078030-hoodlum/
  4. ^ "Cinemascore". CinemaScore. Archived from the original on 2018-12-20. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)
  5. ^ Roger Ebert (August 27, 1997). "Hoodlum". Chicago Sun-Times.

External links[edit]