Why do audiences so love a good gangster story? And do they know they’re so queer?
The seedy underworld of crime, loyalty, and secret lives has a certain romanticism to it–enough so that the “gangster picture” became one of the earliest and most popular genres in movie history.
Of course, queer life, at least in the United States, has also always had ties to organized crime. In the days when LGBTQ people couldn’t live openly, they had to take refuge in mob-owned bars and clubs to meet one another.
We’re not sure that qualifies as a symbiosis exactly, though maybe the presence of queer people helps explain the stereotype of the well-dressed gangster. In any case, Hollywood has occasionally picked up on the queer-gangster link, telling stories about some of cinema’s most seductive bad boys… who also happen to fall for other boys.
Have a look at some of our favorite examples, and prepare to fall in love…
Suburra: Blood on Rome
We still have a crush on Spadino (Giacomo Ferrara), the gay, Gypsy mafioso in training. Much of his storyline in Suburra focuses on Spadino’s developing feelings for his boyfriends, and his need to conceal his growing affections from his family. Occasionally that forces him to take some deadly actions against his boyfriends which, if nothing else, makes us glad we never have to turn him down for a date. Talk about an offer we should refuse…
Streams on Netflix.
Before We Die
This PBS crime series, adapted from a Swedish show, features crime don Davor Mimica (Tony Gojanovic), a soft-spoken charmer with a secret boyfriend. Much of the show revolves around Davor doing his best to keep his homosexuality hidden from his family… not to mention his enemies.
Streams on PBS.
OK, so we know a few of you audibly gasped when you read this one. Yes, it’s true… kinda. Anyone who has seen The Godfather trilogy will recall the character of Fredo (John Cazale), the treacherous brother of Michael Corleone (Al Pacino). Though the movies don’t comment on Fredo’s sexuality explicitly, the sequel novel The Godfather Returns reveals that much of Fredo’s inner conflict stemmed from struggles with his bisexuality. Fans continue to debate the canonicity of this one. Either way, we’re not exactly enthusiastic. Of all the Corleone boys, the queers have to end up with… Fredo?
Streams on Paramount+, Amazon, VUDU, YouTube & iTunes.
Trouble in Mind
Divine (yes, that Divine) starred in this overlooked noir-thriller from the ’80s. Trouble in Mind sees him step into the role of Hilly Blue, a flamboyant mob boss constantly accompanied (quite literally) by a violinist. Everyone seems to realize Hilly is that way in Trouble in Mind, and he’s the kind of character that revels in his queerness, if for no other reason than because he can.
Streams on Tubi, The Roku Channel and Amazon.
The Maltese Falcon
This noir classic features a prime example of a coded queer character in Cairo (Peter Lorre), an effeminate gangster on the trail of the titular priceless statue. While the original novel made Cairo’s sexual orientation explicit, the movie sidestepped censorship by having one character remark on his gardenia perfume. The way Lorre also runs the stem of his walking stick over his lips also suggests he has a certain oral fixation.
Streams on HBO Max, Amazon, YouTube & VUDU.
Tom Hardy snagged a pair of plumb roles in this based-on-a-true-story gangster film about identical twins, one of whom was bisexual. The real Ronnie and Reggie Kray ruled 1950s London’s underground with a mix of violence and generosity. Ronnie also made no secret of his love for other men, at one point telling another character “I prefer boys. Italian. Sometimes Greek, but I’m not prejudiced.” Neither are we.
Streams on Netflix, VUDU, Amazon & YouTube.