An Offer You Can't Refuse: The 10 Weirdest Gangster Films Of All Time

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the premiere of Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece “The Godfather.” Paramount Pictures PARAA re-released the film in theaters last month and is putting out a 4K restored and remastered edition on Blu-ray and DVD.

While “The Godfather” is considered by film historians to be among the greatest films ever made, there are other films about organized crime that were somewhat more eccentric – and in some cases, they offered an utterly warped consideration of the criminal world. If you are in search of films populated with off-kilter mobsters, then leave the gun and take the cannoli to this line-up of the 10 weirdest gangster movies to shoot their way across the big screen.

“The Penalty” (1920): Lon Chaney displayed his dramatic and contortion skills as Blizzard, the head of a San Francisco criminal underground who seeks revenge on the doctor who needlessly amputated his legs following a childhood accident. Chaney achieved the visual effect for his legless character by designing the costuming apparatus, while his intensive physical performance involving walking on his “stumps” still creates astonishment.

“Lights of New York” (1928): This Warner Bros. feature is notable for being the first all-talking feature film – the groundbreaking 1927 production “The Jazz Singer” was actually a mostly-silent film with musical segments. A connect-the-dots tale involving bootleggers and murder, the visually stagnant and badly acted film was regarded by critics in 1928 as being among that year’s worst films – Oliver Claxton of The New Yorker declared the film “would have been better silent, and much better unseen.” However, it was a major box office hit and signaled the beginning of the end for silent movies.

“The Green Cockatoo” (1937): One of the most hilarious unintentional comedies of all time is this cheapjack British film that tries (and wildly fails) to emulate the hardboiled personality of the James Cagney-style gangster flicks. Diminutive and posh-voiced John Mills is the unlikeliest hoodlum – a criminally connected nightclub owner who tap dances in his own floor show and shows his machismo by swinging a switchblade like a symphony conductor, standing on his tiptoes to slug a taller opponent on the chin, and (in the ultimate act of hard-boiled he-manship) picking up the telephone to make threatening calls.

“Lady Scarface” (1941): Imagine Al Capone as a woman – but not just any woman, but the great Broadway tragedienne Dame Judith Anderson. This bizarre B-level feature is fascinating by having a female head of a crime racket and by giving Anderson one of the most wonderfully deranged roles of her distinguished career that included star turns as mentally unbalanced ladies including Lady Macbeth, Medea and Mrs. Danvers in "Rebecca."

“All Through the Night” (1942): Humphrey Bogart plays gangster-turned-gambler Gloves Donahue, who somehow uncovers a Nazi spy ring operating in Manhattan. A bewildering mix of comedy, crime drama, flag-waving propaganda and borderline surrealism, the film makes absolutely no sense but is so deliriously entertaining that its vices are easily forgiven. And look closely for Jackie Gleason and Phil Silvers in tiny roles as members of Bogart’s Nazi-smashing gang.

“Dance Hall Racket” (1953): Groundbreaking comic Lenny Bruce was an elusive presence in movies, and his one prominent role is in this no-budget gangster film about a shady club that serves as a front for diamond smuggling. Bruce wrote the screenplay and played his role as the crime boss’ henchman utterly straight (and dismally) – his mother Sally Marr gets the laughs with a raucous Charleston number and Bruce’s wife Honey Harlow is a decorative presence. Phil Tucker, who directed the lunar gorilla insanity “Robot Monster” (1953), steered this slapdash distraction.

“Skidoo” (1968) Jackie Gleason is a retired hitman recruited by crime boss “God” (played by 77-year-old Groucho Marx) to infiltrate a prison and rub out the stoolie "Blue Chips" Packard (Mickey Rooney). But once incarcerated, Gleason’s character discovers that Packard is in protective custody and cannot be accessed – and he realizes too late that “God” tricked him into being imprisoned. Otto Preminger directed this all-star comedy, which makes liberal use of LSD for a bizarre plot twist, and carries the unique distinction of having Harry Nilsson sing the entire closing credits.

“Little Cigars” (1973): This film’s title refers to a squad of dwarf criminals who team with a gangster’s tall girlfriend (one-time Playboy model Angel Tompkins) on a crime spree. Several of Hollywood’s most famous little people – including Billy Curtis, Felix Silla and Frank Delfino – enjoyed a rare opportunity to play tough-guy mobsters in this tacky but amusing romp.

“The Dogfather” (1974-76): Animators David H. DePatie and Friz Freleng churned out a series of cartoon shorts that offered a slapstick riff on “The Godfather” with a talking dog cast. The elderly, raspy-voiced patriarch of a crime family was clearly inspired by Marlon Brando’s Don Corleone, but most of the heavy-handed comedy antics were carried out by the dimwitted thugs Louie and Pugg (both voiced by Daws Butler) – where’s Sonny, Fredo and Michael when you really need them?

“Bugsy Malone” (1976): Alan Parker directed one of the 1970s strangest films: a musical gangster romp with child actors playing all of the adult roles. In this alternative universe, the mobsters’ machine guns fire gobs of whipped cream rather than bullets. Scott Baio and Jodie Foster headlined this weird work, which flopped in its initial U.S. release but is now considered a cult classic.

Photo: Jackie Gleason in "Skidoo," courtesy of Cinema Crazed.

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