Thursday, November 10, 2011

Boardwalk View from Across the Pond

Under the boardwalk

Chris Philpott – View from Abroad

Today marks a week since Sky's new SoHo channel came on the air, launching with repeats of Mad Men and The Sopranos, and new episodes of Game of Thrones. How much have you been watching the new channel? What shows are you most excited to see? Or waiting to see in the next week or so?

I'm going to try not to blog about SoHo too often since not everyone has Sky, but Boardwalk Empire is too good to ignore. In the past week I've watched Game of Thrones, Rescue Me, Weeds, How To Make It in America, Six Feet Under, and TV movies Too Big To Fail and Superheroes, as well as a few other bits and pieces.

One of the shows I've been most excited to see isBoardwalk Empire, the period drama set during America's prohibition era and starring Steve Buscemi, which started last night with a two-hour premiere. SoHo also showed the entire first series over the weekend, which was a decent opportunity to think back over the tale of Nucky Thompson so far.

It seems to me that Boardwalk Empire isn't really about Nucky, per se. He's a known quantity - the poster boy for the phrase "absolute power corrupts absolutely", the man who automatically hands out cash as a way of making problems disappear (and how interesting it was that his solution to Teddy Schroeder's foray into pyromania was to hand him some cash and say "don't get caught, kid"), the politician who doesn't truly care about anyone except himself; as he said to Margaret during the first series, after she admitted she was being selfish, "I never hold that against anyone."*

Far more interesting are characters like Jimmy Darmody (the incomparable Michael Pitt), Margaret Schroeder (Kelly McDonald), and creepy prohibition agent Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon), each of whom has undergone radical changes since arriving in Atlantic City and falling in with Mr Thompson.

The entire first season was about the story of each character - Darmody, the former soldier who becomes a violent henchman; Schroeder, the morally upstanding citizen who ends up turning a blind eye to the immoral behaviour of her sugar-daddy; and Van Alden, the staunchly Protestant man who falls into temptation, self-flagellates to a photo of Schroeder**, kills a co-worker, and impregnates Nucky's former mistress (and as we saw last night, is hiding that fact from his wife).
The thing they all have in common is that they've been changed, even irreparably damaged, by their association with Nucky Thompson - and while Nucky is the sun at the centre of this solar system, their journeys are what keeps me interested in the show. Sure, it's interesting to watch a dramatisation of the early years of prohibition and the gangster resurgence of the 1920s, but it's always investment in characters that keeps me coming back.

In a way, that's the real genius of Boardwalk Empire. It tells the tale of prohibition from the viewpoint of those trying to skirt the law, implying that we're meant to sympathise with the crooks, while simultaneously showing us the downside of getting involved in that lifestyle.

When we see Margaret deceiving election fraud investigators against her better judgment or see Van Alden showing his wife around before going back to Lucy (as we saw last night), it's clear that downside is, and those characters are, infinitely more interesting.

A few other quick thoughts before wrapping this up:

- Richard Harrow might be one of the most interesting characters on the show - he certainly became a favourite of mine last season, despite only a few short appearances. But that scrapbook he's keeping, with pictures of happy families glued into a Bible, can't be too healthy, right? I'm predicting an episode where he takes Angela and Tommy hostage and drives them to Detroit or something.

- Van Alden's wife is surely the biggest wet blanket in the world, right? Though Michael Shannon might be the standout performer in the series - last night being no exception. His droll delivery of the line "I'm sorry you had to see that", after Mrs Van Alden merely saw a list of wet venues, showed even he was enthusiastic for a weekend with his wife as I'd be with a weekend of Masterchef Australia reruns.

- Last, before you get excited about the Commodore's takeover of the boardwalk, don't forget that Nucky outsmarted him once before, plus Jimmy and Eli aren't the most reliable sidekicks - I think the odds are in Nucky' favour at this point.

What did you think of last night's Boardwalk Empire? Is the show more interesting because of Nucky Thompson, or because of the Jimmys, Margarets and Van Aldens of the show? And how much have you watched on SoHo in the past week?

(*) Before you say "oi, Nucky looked after Jimmy and looks after Margaret, he cares about them", even those examples are selfish acts - Nucky just wants to feel as though he has a son after his own was taken from him.

(**) One of the most disturbing scenes in the first series, and so much worse than anything else he might have done while looking at that photograph. By the way, is his marriage to Mrs Van Alden the most bizarre marriage ever shown on television? I dare you to try and name a marriage that was more dysfunctional.

Al Capone & Nucky Johnson

Jack Dempsy on the Boards

Lansky & Lucky

Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano on HBO's "Boardwalk Empire"

The Real Lucky Luciano

The Real Meyer Lansky

Jimmy in Babetts & Plot Lines

BOARDWALK EMPIRE 2.07 'Peg of Old'
Margaret attempts to reconnect with her family while Nucky gets the best of Van Alden.
By Hilary Rothing

November 07, 2011
Episode Title: 'Peg of Old'
Writers: Howard Korder & Steve Kornacki & Bathsheba Doran
Director: Allen Coulter
Previously on "Boardwalk Empire":
After getting a distressing phone call from her husband, Rose Van Alden arrived in Atlantic City, just in time to meet her husband's mistress and new baby. Owen Sleater made a pass at Margaret while Nucky faced a setback in his election fraud case with a new federal prosecutor taking him on. Elsewhere, Jimmy made a deal with Rothstein's men to undercut both their bosses.

Nucky (Steve Buscemi) stops by Jack Dempsey's training camp to ask him to promote a radio broadcast of his upcoming fight. Meanwhile, Van Alden (Michael Shannon) returns home to an angry Lucky Danzinger (Paz de la Huerta), demanding the money he promised her.

At the Commodore's, Jimmy (Michael Pitt) and Richard (Jack Huston) meet with Meyer Lansky (Anatol Yusef), Lucky Luciano (Vincent Piazza), Al Capone (Stephen Graham) and Mickey Doyle (Paul Sparks). The group decides that Nucky must be killed, at the unlikely urging of his brother, Eli (Shea Whigham). Jimmy is resistant to the idea, instead preferring to have Nucky jailed and replaced by a man of their choosing. However, the gangsters insist on offing him.

Van Alden returns to the office to find his desk overtaken by Assistant Attorney General, Esther Randolph (Julianne Nicholson), the new prosecutor on Nucky's case. Elsewhere, Margaret (Kelly Macdonald) visits her brother and sisters in Brooklyn.

Nucky's lawyer tells him about Randolph taking on his case. However, the two are soon interrupted by Lucy, asking for money to help take care of her newborn daughter.

Jimmy tells Gillian (Gretchen Mol) he's conflicted about taking out Nucky, however she encourages him to follow through for fear of appearing weak to his new partners.

After getting a call, Van Alden meets with Nucky, who offers him financial support in exchange for info on Randolph's case. Meanwhile in Brooklyn, Margaret and her brother, Eamonn have a frank discussion about the circumstances of her coming to America.

Van Alden returns home after his meeting with Nucky to find a neighbor taking care of his daughter and Lucy gone. The next day, he tells Randolph about his personal situation and hands over a massive file on Nucky's illegal activities.

Margaret meets with her younger sister, Aelish to give her a book. However, she's soon greeted by Eamonn who tells her not to come back.

Owen Sleater (Charlie Cox) stops by a bar, where he encounters an acquaintance from Ireland. After offering to buy the man a drink, Owen follows him into the bathroom, where he strangles him to death, calling the dead man a traitor.

At Babette's, Jack Dempsey promotes his upcoming fight as Nucky and Eddie (Anthony Laciura) look on. Jimmy makes his way through the crowd and approaches Nucky, telling him "it doesn't matter if you're right or wrong, you just have to make a decision." Just then a man shoots Nucky in the hand before getting shot down himself by the agent Randolph assigned to tail Nucky.

Margaret comes home to find the house empty, except for Owen. After a tense conversation, the two go up to her bedroom and begin to make love, but not before Margaret warns him not to speak of the encounter ever again.

With so many great characters in its orbit, "Boardwalk Empire" sometimes feels like its never getting anywhere with any of them. Which is why this Margaret Schroeder-centric episode worked so well, on so many levels.

Not only did we delve deeper into Margaret/Peg's past but there was also some great movement on a number of fronts. Jimmy struggled with putting a hit on Nucky, while continuing to squirm under his mother's oppressive thumb, Van Alden, humiliated before Nucky, came clean to Assistant US Attorney Esther Randolph and Lucy apparently skipped town. Oh and Margaret and Owen finally got it on.

On that note, it was quite poignant when Owen called Margaret out on her coolness. After spending the day with her family, we learn more about what's hardened her heart. And with old wounds freshly salted by her brother, while her heart breaks for her younger sisters who barely know her, Margaret's coldness towards Owen is more than apropos. She tells Owen she is not at all how he sees her shortly after her bother Eamonn cruelly sends her off, saying "there's no one here who knows you here." As a third party privy to all Margaret's interactions, I'm not sure anyone truly knows her, but I do feel I understand her better after this hour.

Like Jimmy Darmody, Van Alden struggled with what to do about Nucky. There were some great scenes for Michael Shannon this week. Van Alden's probably the most rigid straight man on the boardwalk, which is why newcomer Esther Randolph's sarcastic barbs actually had me laughing, for once, at this show. And just the thought of Nucky offering Van Alden a drink because "if there was ever a time" was perhaps his finest moment. But in the end, the joke was on Nucky, as Van Alden came clean to Randolph and handed over a file on the bootlegger that rivals "War and Peace."
A few additional observations about 'Peg of Old:'

- Gillian's behavior around Jimmy is reaching new uncomfortable heights. The fact that people used to think they were brother and sister is actually a relief…
- Can't say I'm sad to see, or rather not see Lucy at Van Alden's when he returned home.
- As I mentioned earlier, Nucky had some great lines in this hour. Gotta love how he quoted the exact date he last saw Lucy the minute she walked in with a basket full of baby.
- Lucky and Gillian are at it again. I'm afraid this is only going to make things creepier between Jimmy and mom, when he finds out.

- Nucky gets shot again, don't really care.
- As little as I care about Nucky, I can't help hating Eli.
After a string of well paced and finely tuned episodes, I'm convinced "Boardwalk Empire" has hit its stride and I couldn't be happier I stuck with it. While I have given up caring about Nucky Thompson's character as much as I should, seeing as he's the main man here, the supporting characters more than live up to their title. And Nucky is best when he bounces off them. What are your thoughts on "Boardwalk Empire's" latest hour? Sound off in the comments!

Boardwalk Empire Season 2 Episode 19 'Peg of Old' Review
November 09, 2011

I have mentioned several times how much it impresses me that with so many characters on this show, that the writers ofBoardwalk Empire are able to cram so much character development into one episode, but this latest episode, 'Peg of Old,' takes the cake. Yes, there's still the graphic violence and even a very surprising sex scene for those simply looking for such things out of their TV watching enjoyment, but those who seek unbelievable storytelling came to the right place.
After a brief opening showing that boxer Jack Dempsey has indeed, at Nucky's suggestion a few episodes back, come to train in Atlantic City (which also puts him in Nucky's pocket, it seems), the story immediately shifts to Van Alden and the mess that his life has become. His wife will no longer converse with him by phone or by mail, and it seems the money he had promised Lucy for her trouble is now non-existent.

After a heated argument with Lucy, Van Alden heads into work only to find that his office has been overtook by the Assistant DA and her lackeys, moving Van Alden and his things to a tiny desk in the back of the room. The ADA is there working on the legal case against Nucky, making Nucky once again a thorn in Van Alden's side, even when he's not intending to be.

Margaret (finally!) makes the trek to Brooklyn to visit the family that she recently discovered are living in America. The show introduces several young ladies of varying ages, all of them her sisters, that only seem to know her as Margaret, but as her brother walks in he calls her Peg, thus proving Katie the maid's theory that Margaret was actually the "Peggy" that she had her call about earlier this season. What follows is an odd mix of sweet and awkward conversation between Margaret and her brother and sisters. For every moment of progress she makes with the girls, her brother takes her down a notch.

In the midst of a slightly heated discussion, Margaret reveals that she left behind her old life in Ireland because she had gotten pregnant, lied about the circumstances that lead to the pregnancy, and fled for fear of the persecution and life she had awaiting her if she were to stick around. It's some pretty emotional back and forth that brings out the best in Kelly Macdonald's portrayal of Margaret. There's a fire and defiance within that character that's been missing nearly all season, but even amidst her sadness over her brother's attitude towards her, you can sense that rebellious aspect of her coming back to the surface, and by episode's end it returns in a not-quite surprising fashion. I hope we have more of the strong, rebellious Margaret to look forward to.

After last week's shootout in the woods, Jimmy and the New York boys (Lucky and Lansky) had come to an agreement to start bringing in Heroin. This week they have all convened in Atlantic City, Al Capone in tow, to discuss their impending business venture, although it sounds like their still talking about booze to me. Eli shows up late to the meeting, only adding more fuel to the inferiority complex that character must have.

Jimmy continues to insist that Nucky is going to go down once the courts get a hold of him, but the other members of this younger group of gangsters insist that he should just be taken out. Jimmy seems to fend it off until Eli himself says to "just kill him, already." This puts Jimmy in an awkward place and gives actor Michael Pitt a chance to really show what a multi-layered character Jimmy really is. Although he's been on the Commodore's side since the end of Season 1, you can tell that it's Nucky that he truly admires and respects and the thought of not only harm coming to Nucky, but harm coming to him by his call, has him completely twisted up inside. Alas, he finds himself in a leadership position, makes a tough decision and informs Capone to call one of his guys to seal the deal.

Immediately after making this decision, it's evident that Jimmy is filled with regret. He discusses this with his mother, who insists that he can't look weak in front of the other fellows if he is to be their ringleader. What Jimmy is unaware of is that his mom has rekindled her affair with Lucky, leaving me to question if she has some ulterior motives herself.
There's not a whole lot of Nucky this week, but what we do get of him is great. Early on he is visited by Lucy, with baby in tow, who admits she initially was going to try and play him for some money, but then tells the truth about her situation with Van Alden, which Nucky feels he can use to his advantage. He calls Van Alden in and makes him an offer. If Van Alden will spy on the ADA, Nucky will take care of him, Lucy, and the baby. Before they can agree, Nucky mentions that he gave Lucy some money, and Van Alden takes off, knowing that it can't be a good thing.

Sure enough, Van Alden returns home to find a neighbor watching the baby and a dirty diaper on the spinning on the Victrola that Lucy had previously so desired. Van Alden has literally hit bottom. He's made a mess of his once devout life having a wife that won't speak to him, a baby with another woman, countless other sins, including murder, on his conscious and has now been propositioned by Nucky Thompson, the man he came to Atlantic City to take down in the first place. However, Van Alden's faith runs strong and as we see him, holding his newborn daughter that he has decided to name Abigail, there's a sense of rebirth in his eyes.

He immediately walks into his office and hands over an extensive file that he's built on Nucky Thompson over to the ADA and agrees to testify to all information contained within. Rather than being in Nucky's pocket, Van Alden has decided to go up against him once again, and I couldn't be more excited about it. After the explosion that took the life of one of his men, Van Alden has recognized how far he has strayed from his path and it appears that he is back on the road of the righteous, or at least as best as he can be.

Even Owen gets a little bit more back story this week, although it's not quite the clearest. After being a no-show to drive Nucky to a party at Babette's, it is revealed that he is staking out a long time acquaintance that, from what I could gather, used to serve with him in the Irish military but committed some form of treason, as Owen waits for the man to enter a bathroom and then, with a handy spoon trick and some wire, relieves the man of a couple of fingers, as well as his life. This gives a greater glimpse to the more vicious side of the Owen character and I'm curious to see how this aspect plays out.

There is that other side of Owen, though. The handsome heartbreaker side that Margaret herself confessed to thinking inappropriate thoughts about. As it turns out, she won't have to just imagine it any longer. As she arrives home from Brooklyn, properly informed by her brother that no one knows her or cares for her there, she finds an empty house, save for Owen the driver. The maids have taken the kids to the beach and Nucky is at Babette's, leaving the house completely to them. Owen begins with his instant flirtations, which Margaret shirks from initially, but then she makes it clear that Owen can come upstairs with her. Although she acts cold and uncaring about the two of them and what they are about to do, once they begin Margaret seems to enjoy herself much more than she expected, vastly more than she has ever with Nucky, and that leads me to believe this won't be the one time thing she insisted it would be. Little do Margaret and Owen know that while they are consummating their desires, that Nucky has been injured with no one by his side.
While at the party at Babette's and listening to Jack Dempsey give his speech, Nucky starts making eyes at a young lady but his glance is interrupted by an almost crazed looking Jimmy. He gives Nucky a sort of cryptic message and walks off, leaving Nucky more confused than ever. Just as Jimmy steps aside, the gunman he hired takes a shot at Nucky, who manages to get out of the way save for his hand that he held up to protect himself. The gunman is immediately shot by one of the government agents working with the ADA, revealing that the government has an even closer eye on Nucky now than was realized. It makes for a fairly grim scene with Nucky, lying on the floor shot through the hand, while his lady and bodyguard are giving in to their carnal sides with no idea what's become of him.

With only five episodes left this season, the story is definitely showing a picking up of the pace. Alliances and sides are being chosen, and everyone seems to be on the verge of making their next big play and I for one can't wait to see it all unfold.

- Matt Hardeman
• Margaret finally got some good story reminding me of why I loved her so much in Season 1
• Nucky offering Van Alden a drink is such a brazen move I can't help but applaud him for it
• The many layers of Van Alden and Jimmy and the amazing work that Michael Shannon and Michael Pitt are doing as those characters
• Even though it was fleeting, I love seeing Stephen Graham's turn as Al Capone any chance I can Jeers:
• No Chalky is always a bad thing. Give me more Chalky!
If you are tired after a long day of work and just want to watch a show with good performances and strong technical chops, etc. etc., Boardwalk Empire remains a totally valid choice. Even at its worst, it never makes the world an objectively poorer place. (Most hours of cable news can be described this way. We should all just stop watching those.) It’s a show! It can muddle through an hour with fighting and sex and guns and a well-hewn overall style, plus occasionally some snappy dialogue. So when we say an hour of Boardwalk Empire was “bad TV,” then, that’s not to suggest that the stakes of its relative goodness or badness were ever particularly high. But good Lord this episode was all over the place. And the more you think about it, the less impressive it becomes.

Remember the other week, in the woods, when Jimmy/Harrow/Manny and Meyer/Luciano, etc. had their midnight meeting of the guns? And they all decided to let Nucky have his booze so that they could start running heroin? The general idea being that they’d expand the field of play rather than go directly at their rival on his turf. Well, nobody who was there remembers it — because in what’s easily the most out-of-nowhere narrative device of the season, most of the aforementioned parties (with Capone subbing in for Manny) decide it’s time to off Nucky, after a helpful nudge in that direction from Sheriff Eli. As Capone helpfully explains, they’ll make more bread that way. Which is what it’s “all about,” this gangsterism. The moo-lah. Cash rules everything et al. Then Mickey (yeah, he’s back) does that laugh of his. Inexplicably, no one shoots him in his seat.
So there are a bunch of narrative strands that are hinted at in this scene, none of which are much developed. As in, no one is curious about why Eli’s so eager to kill his brother? That’s a speed bump that everyone just hops right over. It’s not like Eli’s ever been the go-to strategy guy or anything. Maybe it’s possible he’s being driven by some emotions that are irrelevant to everyone else? At any rate, Jimmy is maneuvered into deciding to do something only because other people are waiting for him to do it — a particular move that, because of how transparently Jimmy is given to making it, doesn’t connote strength nearly so much as he’d like it to. It’s painful to watch him in the decision-making chair. And disappointing, too, after we’d begun to see him get under Nucky’s skin by being minimally creative. He just forgot all that stuff from last week about being a subtle player of the game. So, we’re back to where we’ve been before, with a boring, confused, easily manipulated Jimmy. As a trope, it didn’t get more interesting while we were away, during the past few, very good episodes.

And listen: If Al Capone is gonna trouble himself to travel across the country, sit in the makeup chair, and get hauled out for a scene on this program, the least Jimmy could do is agree to kill somebody. And so, largely on this argumentation is the hit on Nucky born. For this vital and important task, the brain trust in the room elects to go with an anonymous “paisan” off a train to be named later. It’s really neither here nor there. Almost anyone will do, because all the characters in this scene would like to get out of it as soon as possible. (I like to imagine the Commodore, over in the next room, using that one good arm of his to throw some feces on the wall in protest, while listening to this scene play out.)

Would you believe that Nucky is not successfully murdered by the person tapped for this task? No, it looks the treasurer’s hand needs a bandage — but that’s about it. This happens near the end of the episode, but it’s worth dispensing with now, it’s such a predictable dead end. Jimmy tries to be tough right before the putative kill, approaching Nucky in Babette’s supper club. He says this line, full of feeling, about being decisive, and then turns away as the moron assassin gets off one shot (the one Nucky catches in his defensively raised hand), before being in turn plugged by one of the new federal investigators in town. After Nucky takes some pain medication, he may begin to wonder what that fed on his tail is all about. We see Jimmy limping out of the hall, wincing like “argh, why am I even doing any of this when my only true wish is to curl up in the fetal position and have my mom lick my face a bunch?”

Also, haphazardly spread in and among the scenes that make up this episode’s main arc, we had a bunch of other well-acted story strands that didn’t really get us anywhere. Margaret’s brother in Brooklyn? Still not very kindly disposed toward her, turns out. Perhaps you thought there was a little glimmer of something there when he was telling Maid Katy that the old Margaret was dead to him. If so, maybe you would have taken a car up to the borough, too, and spent the night even after getting the cold shoulder at a family dinner. But would you have come back the next day, for more of it? This whole thing takes for-ev-er. Are we ever going to see any of Margaret’s extended family members again? We can hope not, while also hoping that young girl gets all the books about horses she can bear to read. (Aw, reading!)

Let’s contrast Margaret’s family drama with that of Chalky White, who is nowhere to be found in this episode. (And was just window-dressing in the prior one.) I think a few recap readers found Chalky’s last big arc pretty hard to swallow — the whole bit where he got chased out of his own home at dinnertime after being spooked by the class difference between his childhood origins and his current status as a high roller who can afford the finer things. It was a stretch, sure — but also an interesting one. And it also pushed us into a more complex understanding of the character’s role in the community. Could Chalky be patient on Nucky’s timetable while the Klan’s murders went unanswered? And if he could stand to wait, what good was he as a minority power broker? And if he was no good at that, why even pretend to be able to read, or be interested in eating anything other than Hoppin’ John. Hey, I wonder what happened to that guy! Seemed like he was on the verge of doing some stuff we hadn’t seen on the show already.

Margaret’s trip to Brooklyn has got none of that going for it. The whole output of her journey, after suffering another round of family heartbreak, is that she’s ready to be a badass again — which manifests back in Atlantic City as a secret fuck with Owen. But like Jimmy, we’re just going 'round in circles with Margaret. She was already a badass well before Owen’s arrival. Then she got timid again, asking questions that we thought she’d dealt with in season one, when she was reading Henry James and being all upstanding.

Oh, and about Owen. You might not have known this, but there was a brief crossover sequence in this episode with the HBO Ireland program The Troubles. The first season of that show follows Owen as he goes on a frustrating five-month chase for some fellow Irishman, before he comes to theBoardwalk, where he then finds and kills him in this episode of this show. Anyway — go and watch that entire series and then come back and watch this part again. It’ll really pay off for you in a way that it never would have, had you just seen it in this episode, stripped of all context.

Okay, but seriously. What was good in this episode? Agent Van Alden was good. Esther, the sass-talking new U.S. Attorney who can’t be bought by Nucky, has inspired Van Alden to return to something resembling law enforcement, which is also a smart call. He hands her all his non-booze-related paperwork on Nucky and then holds his baby after Lucy splits (perhaps bound for the stage in Manhattan, if the piece of paper pinned to the diaper in the phonograph is any indication). Some scores were at least settled here: Lucy got her money, though from Nucky instead of Van Alden. Strangely, this may have freed Van Alden up in a way no one anticipated. But as Gillian tells Jimmy when he’s brooding over the Nucky hit, mere bookkeeping is beneath the aura of a great mover and shaker. Here’s hoping the show picks up again next week with more inspiration, instead of dutifully diversifying its attentions among an ever-thickening portfolio of narrative accounts.

'Boardwalk Empire' recap: 'Put a bullet in his head and get it over with'
Published: Sunday, November 06, 2011, 11:16 PM Updated: Monday, November 07, 2011, 12:48 AM

By Anthony Venuto


Directed by Allen Coulter and written by Howard Korder, Steve Kornacki and Bathsheba Doran, "Peg of Old" delved in the concept of family, isolation and secrecy.SEASON TWO, EPISODE SEVEN

THIS WEEK: Directed by Allen Coulter and written by Howard Korder, Steve Kornacki and Bathsheba Doran, "Peg of Old" delved in the concept of family, isolation and secrecy.
Some key moments:

• Nucky enlists heavyweight champ Jack Dempsey to promote the wireless broadcast of his upcoming Jersey City bout.
• Receiving pressure from his mini-syndicate, Jimmy Darmody faces a decision that could shape the future of Atlantic City. But is it the right one?

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Nucky & Chalky White

"The de facto Mayor of Atlantic City's African-American community, ex-boxer Chalky White runs a major bootlegging operation for Nucky, a business tha that pubs strains on their already-complicated personal relationship."

Nelson Johnson, author of the book Boardwalk Empire, on which the HBO production is based, also wrote a book about the history of Atlantic City's black community.

A Visit to the Boardwalk Set in Brooklyn

By Jane Mulkerrins
BST 07 Oct 2011

A disused car lot in a less-than-salubrious part of Greenpoint, Brooklyn, is not the first place you’d expect to find the largest set ever built in New York film and TV history. The 300 ft-long period-perfect replica of the Atlantic City boardwalk cost over £2m. Happily, HBO is getting good use out of it; the second season of the visually sumptuous drama Boardwalk Empire, shown here on Sky Atlantic, begins tomorrow.

The Prohibition-era epic weaves a web of bootleggers, gangsters and showgirls in the New Jersey city which was for many “the world’s playground”, and, for others, “Sodom-by-the-Sea”. The alcohol ban in 1920s America was flouted with abandon here: it became a haven for hedonists and hustlers, as those who controlled the contraband booze amassed illicit fortunes.

Boardwalk Empire was no small investment for HBO: the pilot episode cost £18 m and was directed by Martin Scorsese. But more than seven million Americans tuned in, making it the cable station’s second most-watched show after the saucy vampire saga, True Blood.

Although some dissenters have branded the show “Bored Walk Empire”, attacking its leisurely pace and lack of action (a criticism which appears to have been addressed in the brisk and darkly comic season two opener), the critics have, by and large, been approving, and the trophy haul healthy. Last month, the show won eight Emmys. Its star, Steve Buscemi, also won a Golden Globe for his portrayal of the city’s charismatic but crooked treasurer, Nucky Thompson.

Buscemi, 53, defends his alter ego. “He’s a career politician, he enjoys his position, and he likes to spread the wealth,” he says. “He’s corrupt, yes, but he wouldn’t consider himself a gangster… he just deals with gangsters.”

Season one ended on Election Day, November 1920, and the action resumes four months later, with Nucky’s grip on power waning. “He is in even more trouble and danger than he was in the first season,” Buscemi says. Those closest to him, including his brother Eli (Shea Wigham), the town’s sheriff, and his ex-protégé Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt), are conspiring against him.

But at least one area of Nucky’s life is flourishing – his relationship with Margaret Schroeder, played by Scottish actress Kelly Macdonald (Trainspotting, State of Play). Margaret underwent a dramatic metamorphosis in season one: from downtrodden immigrant widow and member of the women’s temperance league, to Nucky’s lover, luxuriating in the trappings of his wealth and success.

“She really annoyed me at the beginning,” confesses Macdonald, 35. “I remember watching the pilot and thinking, ‘God, she's so weedy.’ [But] this season she even gets Nucky out of a few tight spots, so she can be strong. [Although] she still battles with her Catholic guilt over her choices.”

This season will introduce fresh faces, including George Remus (Glenn Fleshler), a lawyer and bootlegger. Like many characters in Boardwalk Empire, for example the young Al Capone (Stephen Graham), Remus is a real-life historical figure: he made millions scamming the sale of medicinal alcohol to pharmacies and was reputedly the inspiration for the title character in F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

The show’s painstaking historical accuracy is a large part of its appeal: all actors, even the extras, receive a 1920s haircut; 80-year-old Martin Greenfield, a celebrated Brooklyn tailor, cuts the characters’ suits in a strictly traditional style (no pins, just chalk); Nucky’s car is the original Rolls Royce Silver Shadow that the real Nucky Thompson drove.

Creator Terry Winter (who wrote much of The Sopranos) is already working on season three, set in 1922, and is keen to follow the tumultuous Twenties right to their conclusion: the Wall Street Crash. Most of the cast say they’re happy to stay as long as their storylines allow. Macdonald, however, does have concerns for Margaret. “She started off as this goody two-shoes, in the temperance league. I do keep thinking if the series runs and runs, she’s probably going to end up a hopeless alcoholic.”

‘Boardwalk Empire’ returns on Saturday 8 October on Sky Atlantic/SAHD at 9.00pm

Steve Buscemi - Creepy, Convincing, Master Misfit

Steve Buscemi: The master misfit

As Boardwalk Empire returns for its second season, it's time to salute Steve Buscemi, a superb actor finally triumphing in a deserved lead role.

By Martin Chilton, Digital Culture Editor
07 Oct 2011

Little about Steve Buscemi suggests Hollywood megastar. Yet his shaggy hair, pallid complexion, those large eerie eyes and slighly crooked teeth have combined to make him one of the most recognised faces in cinema. The quirky looks, and an unprepossessing character, mask an absolutely brilliant performer.

He brings such complexity to the bad guys he plays - often neurotic oddballs - that his name must be on speed dial if casting agents want the perfect creepy, convincing misfit.

In HBO's Boardwalk Empire he got his chance top be the main man and the awards have flowed for his portrayal of Enoch 'Nucky' Thompson. The second series is back on Sky Atlantic tomorrow.

Buscemi is a fascinating character off screen, too. Born in Brooklyn in 1957, he came from an ordinary, non-acting family of Irish-Sicillian descent (his mother was a hostess and his father a sanitation worker) and he survived his own share of scrapes. As a youngster, he fractured his skull when he was hit by a bus and was also hit by a car while chasing a ball. The dramatic incidents continued in adulthood. In 2001 he was stabbed three times when he was caught in a bar brawl involving his friend Vince Vaughn.

The omens weren't great from the start, as he joked: “I’ve always kind of enjoyed being born on Friday 13th."

Buscemi, now 53, did some minor acting in high school before, at the age of 20, working as a stand-up comedian (he was a fan of the brilliant American George Carlin) but it failed to take off and he missed the cameraderie of acting. Perhaps one of the reasons he excels at portraying idiosyncratic characters is that his own past is so varied. "I drove an ice-cream truck. I was a furniture remover. I was a dishwasher. I was a bus boy," he recalled.

And from 1980 to 1984, he was a fire fighter in Engine Company Number 55 in the Little Italy district of New York. He was wary of telling his fellow-firemen about his acting ambitions. As he recalled: "I thought they would think it was less than a manly thing to do." Once they knew, they backed him to the hilt, "forcing me to perform at parties".

Later, as a renowned actor, Buscemi was hit hard by the 9/11 tragedy and rushed to help his old unit, working long shifts sifting through the World Trade Center rubble in September 2001. In an interview with John Lahr in The New Yorker, Buscemi's wife, the artist Jo Andres, said: "He'd come home covered in ash. The smell was so intense on him he'd take everything off at the door and try to go right in the shower." Buscemi said: "It was like being on another planet. You had no reference for it."

He felt it was an honour. It was the fire fighters who had helped persuade him to pursue his dreams of acting and backed him in learning his trade in the theatre. One of his big cinema breaks came in working for the Coen Brothers, with whom he has made six movies. The Coens first used him as Mink in Miller's Crossing. He was also Donny in The Big Lebowskiand, perhaps his finest role for them, Carl Showalter in the magnificentFargo. "In Fargo, they not only killed me, but they beat me up and shot me in the face and had an axe in the shoulder. I die a lot," he said.

Buscemi can play outright creepy - Mr Pink in Quentin Taratino'sReservoir Dogs - or comedy creepy as he showed in Con Air, when he played the mass murderer Garland Greene. In one scene his character sings He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands. Buscemi said: "People like the song. People sometimes sing that to me." It was a mark of his growing reputation that the part was specifically written for him and he did not have to audition.

He's also got a fine sense of humour. He's appeared as himself in The Simpsons and when his dentist suggested fixing his teeth, he told her: "You're going to kill my livelihood if you do that." Outside of acting, his interests are broad. He's written a song for Lou Reed and composed his own poems.

But is for acting he so deservedly shines. And on big or small screen, he is unique. You could see some of his early talent on an episode of David Simon's Homicide, where he played a gunman, and he was superb as Tony Blundetto - the cousin and childhood friend of Tony Soprano in The Sopranos. In fact, he directed one of the finest episodes - Pine Barrens. He said: "I feel really privileged to have been a part of it and to have worked that closely with it, as a director and as an actor. And as an audience member, I'm still in awe of the show. For me, it never lost that sense of, 'Holy shit... this is f----- great."

But, at long last, Buscemi got what he deserved: the starring role. And he's been brllliant as the artful, cynical yet vulnerable manipulator InBoardwalk Empire.

So far, he has won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor and two Screen Actors Guild Awards for his role in Boardwalk. He said: "This is one of the best parts I’ve ever had in my life, and it’s just so exciting for me to go to work and know that these scripts are so strong, and to play a character who is ambitious. He certainly has a dark side, but there’s also a lot of humor that goes along with it. I think he genuinely has a good heart."

There is one part that got away from him. And it might have been the most intriguing role of all. He auditioned for the role of George Costanza on Seinfeld. Now just how creepy would a Steve Buscemi Costanza have been?


10/10/2011 08:54 AM
His first major role, and the one that made his fellow actors, directors and critics take note, was playing the character of Nick in the late Bill Sherwood's drama, "Parting Glances" filmed in 1984 but not released until 1986.

The role was that of a young man dying of Aids and it was an mesmerising performance. It was a courageous role for an unknown actor to take but it proved he had tremendous talent.

This was, I believe, summed up by the New York Time's film critic, Janet Maslin, when she wrote in her review "It is to both his and the film's credit that the
anguish of AIDS is presented as part of a larger social fabric, understood in
context, and never in a maudlin light."

10/07/2011 09:49 PM
Steve Buscemi has never done anything but supreme work. While I am sure he is proud of his Sicilian heritage, he's probably equally proud of his Mother's heritage which is Irish.

If you're not watching 'Boardwalk Empire' already, this should convince you to begin –

HBO Chronology

By Chris Harvey
GMT 06 Jan 2011

The Home Box Office channel is launched with a showing of the Paul Newman film Sometimes a Great Notion, followed by a National Hockey League game from Madison Square Garden. This mix of movies and sporting events would provide the basic formula for HBO through the ensuing decade.

HBO is acquired by Time Life and becomes the fastest growing pay TV service in the US.

The channel shows the “Thrilla in Manila” world heavyweight title fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, which is delivered by satellite.

A stand-up show, On Location, with performers that include Robin Williams and Billy Crystal, is introduced.

The channel expands to a seven-day, 24-hour programming schedule.

HBO broadcasts its first original made-for-TV movie The Terry Fox Story, a biopic about the Canadian amputee and runner, as well as the first children’s show on the channel, Fraggle Rock, created by Jim Henson of The Muppets fame.

The Larry Sanders Show, a sitcom about a neurotic talk-show host becomes one of the channel’s first critical hits.

The channel premieres its first original drama series, the violent and con

The comedy drama Sex and the City, with its frank portrait of the sex lives of four New York women, premieres on the channel. It will go on to become a major international success.

The Sopranos premieres. The series about a New Jersey crime boss who is seeing a psychiatrist for his panic attacks will go on to be a regular contender for best-ever TV drama.

The channel broadcasts the first series of cult comedy Curb Your Enthusiasm, created by Seinfeld’s Larry David, which will return for an eighth season in 2011.

The Second World War drama Band of Brothers becomes the most expensive television miniseries ever made by a television network. HBO also airs the first season of Six Feet Under, the comedy drama about a family of undertakers created by Oscar-winning screenwriter Alan Ball.

Baltimore crime-drama The Wire, created by former reporter David Simon, cements the channel’s reputation as a home for high-quality drama.

The second series of Da Ali G Show introduces Ali G, Borat and Bruno to US audiences.

Alan Ball’s new drama True Blood, based on the Southern Vampire Mysteries series of novels by Charlaine Harris, reinforces HBO’s reputation for a no-holds barred treatment of sex and violence.

Boardwalk Empire, a Prohibition-era gangster saga set in Atlantic City and starring Steve Buscemi, is a critical and ratings success, leading to comparisons with The Sopranos. The channel signs a five year broadcasting agreement with BSkyB, that will see all new HBO programming airing in the UK on the Sky Atlantic channel.

Brit Review of Nelson Johnson's Boardwalk Empire Book

Boardwalk Empire by Nelson Johnson: review
Nelson Johnson's tale of Atlantic City, called Boardwalk Empire, inspired a television series.

By Tom Greene GMT 04 Nov 2011

Nelson Johnson’s book Boardwalk Empire charts the rise, fall and rise again of one of America’s most iconic sites: Atlantic City. The book begins in 1797 and ends in the twenty-first century, with the bulk of it focused on the three main ‘bosses’ of Atlantic City: Louis ‘the Commodore’ Kuehnle, Nucky Johnson (on whome Steve Buscemi's Enoch 'Nucky' Thompson is based) and Frank ‘Hap’ Farley.

It is easy to see why Johnson’s book has become a highly successful TV show, and not just because this paperback edition comes with characters of the HBO adaptation on the front cover. The book is full of compelling anecdotes and characters. From Thomas Edison designing some of the first lighting and landscaping in Atlantic City in 1902 to Louis Kessell, Nucky Johnson’s five-foot-five ‘trunk of a tree’ butler who started the day massaging his boss before ending it by putting him to bed he was too drunk to do it himself. The book ends with Donald Trump and the ‘eighth wonder of the world’: the Taj Mahal.

The book explores interesting connections between the criminal, commercial and political worlds of Atlantic City. Al Capone had a deft justification for his profession as he highlighted society's double-standards by saying: “Everybody calls me a racketeer I call myself a businessman. When I sell liquor, it’s bootlegging. When my patrons serve it on a silver tray on Lake Shore Drive, it’s hospitality.”

Power struggle is a consistent theme throughout the tale - both personal and political - and with each change in law or personal, Atlantic City had to react. Johnson explores interesting social and economic changes in Atlantic City and the first 50 pages feel more like a social history than the character-driven memoirs that follow. It was a place where the newly-enriched working classes took vacations because ‘there were no class distinctions on the Boardwalk: everyone was someone special’.

There are fascinating revelations about the treatment of black workers, who were barred from white doctors’ offices with the consequence that, by 1900, blacks were conducting tuberculosis at four times the rate of whites.

No footnotes are given for sources or quotations forcing interested readers to turn to the back of the book if they wish to find the quotation’s reference. The book is also reliant on the memories of key players years after the event and the reliability of this testimony is worth considering. There must have been an obvious danger of becoming over-nostalgic for those trying to remembering Atlantic City in the 1920s. That said, the pace of the book works well and the characters keep you interested.

Nucky Johnson’s description of Atlantic City is equally applicable to Nelson Johnson’s book: "We have whiskey, wine, women, song, and slot machines. I won’t deny it and I won’t apologise for it."

Nelson Johnson: Boardwalk Empire (Ebury Press £8.99)
Boardwalk Empire Series 2 is showing on Sky Atlantic.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

TW writes Whitey Bulger pic for Matt Damon

Like Nucky Johnson, Whitey Bulger's story is too outrageous to be true, but it is, so it's appropriate that chief Boardwalk Empire scriptwriter Terry Winter is set to write the story.

Matt Damon & Ben Affleck Team For Whitey Bulger Biopic By ‘Boardwalk

Empire’ Writer Terence Winter
Casey Affleck To Co-Star

Granted, they’ve got some competition for this one, but you can bet Matt Damon and Ben Affleck have taken the lead on getting a biopic on famed Boston mobster Whitey Bulger onto the big screen.

Earlier this year Bulger—on the FBI’s top ten Most Wanted list for the past few decades—burst onto the headlines after he was finally arrested after years in hiding in California. The head of the notorious Boston outfit the Winter Hill gang, Bulger ruled with an iron fist, stacking up 21 bodies in addition to numerous other charges including racketeering.

The great irony here of course, is that Bulger was at one time an informant for the FBI and his agent/handler John J. Connolly had initially tipped him off that the feds were closing in.

It’s a great story, so no surprise that with not even six months since Bulger was put behind bars, there are three projects in development: producer Graham King has something brewing based on the rights purchased from the Winter Hill Gang’s chief enforcer, John Martorano; “Twilight” actorPeter Facinelli is producing an adaptation of Edward MacKenzie and Phyllis Karas’ book, “Street Soldier: My Life as an Enforcer For Whitey Bulger and the Boston Irish Mob” and writer Russell Gerwitz (“Inside Man”) is penning the thriller “Black Mass” for “Black Swan” producer Brian Oliver.

But it’s Damon and Affleck who will certainly have the heat now and of course, being Beantown boys themselves, it’s a no brainer that the pair would have an interest in doing a movie about the man.

“We’re doing a Whitey Bulger movie,” Damon told GQ. “Warner’s got it for us.” Updated:Deadline says Casey Affleck will have a supporting role alongside Damon.

WB has been a haven for both Damon and Affleck in recent years. Damon has made nine movies at the studio in the last decade, while Affleck is their newest directorial golden boy, helming “The Town” and currently “Argo” for them, as well as recently jumping to the front of queue of the gestating adaptation of Stephen King‘s “The Stand.” And if you need even more reason to get excited, “The Sopranos” and “Boardwalk Empire” scribe Terence Winter is writing the screenplay. The plan is for Damon to star and Affleck to direct, but the project is still in early stages and the former isn’t quite sure who he would even play at this point.

“If it’s a straight biopic, we’ll do it over a period of time. But it’s always a question of what part of the story do you tell, and biopics are always a little cumbersome,” Damon said. “So do we find another way in? We’re still figuring it out.” So why even bother getting the word out early?

It’s a power play of sorts, as Damon is well aware of the other projects in development and he hopes quite simply they’ll fade to the background once they hear of this studio backed production with heavyweight talent already on board.

“There are a couple of competing movies and I don’t think it’s been announced yet that we’re doing it,” Damon said. “But the sooner it’s announced the better, just because everyone else will back off, hopefully. I’m really excited about it.”

Of course, both Damon and Affleck are pretty much busy until at least late 2012. Affleck is shooting “Argo” and Damon will be lensing his directorial debut (also set up at WB) next year in addition to starring in Steven Soderbergh‘s “Behind The Candelabra.” The duo also have the New York Yankees wife swap pic “The Trade” knocking about, but Damon acknowledges that while they still want to do it, the recent legal hassles have slowed down development.

So add this to pile of stuff Damon and Affleck may do, but don’t expect it anytime soon. But it’s an exciting prospect nonetheless, and a big screen tale with enormous potential. And while we doubt it will slow any of those other competing versions down, Hollywood is no stranger to telling the same story a few different ways.

Kevin Jagernauth posted to Actors, Ben Affleck, Casey Affleck, Matt Damon, Film Studios,Warner Bros at 1:18 pm on October 24, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Nucky at Babetts

Nucky Johnson, in his later years. After getting out of prison, Nucky couldn't resume his leadership of Atlantic City because his protege "Hap" Farley had taken over. Nucky was now just an ordinary citizen who walked the boardwalk and around the town that he once owned.

Nucky often patronized Babette's, one of the most popular nightclubs and gambling joints in Atlantic City during its heyday.

Babette's had a bar shaped like a ship and catered to a high class guests who often dressed in their finest. Guests could also find some action at Babette's backroom card tables.

Babette's was owned by Daniel Stebbins and was initially called the Golden Inn, however he changed its name to Babette's after he married Blanche Babbett, a showgirl.

BABETTE’S - 2221 Pacific Avenue

Babette’s, the place in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire where most of the serious partying takes place, was one of the most stylish clubs in Atlantic City’s heyday, and located at 2221 Pacific near Mississippi Avenue.

Nelson Johnson, in The Boardwalk Empire (Plexus Publishing, NJ, 2002), only mentions Babette’s once: “Those nightclubs/casinos, which flourished under Nucky’s regime were the 500 Club, Paradise Club, Club Harlem, (Grace’s) Little Belmont, the Bath and Turf Club, the Cliquot Club, and Babette’s, which was one of the most chic gambling casinos of that era, attracting patrons from around the country.” He quotes a former patron as saying, “Only the very best people went to Babette’s. They had the best steaks and mixed drinks in town, and great entertainment.”

Babette’s was owned by Dan Stebbins and his wife Blanche Babette, a showgirl who became a wealthy and prominent member of Atlantic City society.

In The Last Good Time (Three Rivers, 2003) Jonathan Van Meter wrote about the federal investigation of flagrant gambling in Atlantic City: “From their initial undercover investigation, which lasted months, they (Bureau of Internal Revenue) determined that there were approximately twenty-five horse race-betting rooms and gambling casinos in Atlantic City employing more than five hundred to seven hundred people, and they were raking in about $8 million a year.”

“The report went on to distinguish the ‘horse-rooms’ from the ‘gambling casinos.’ The casinos were generally connected to nightclubs which acted as ‘feeders’ for the gambling rooms. For example, the Paradise Club, the Club Harlem, Babette’s, Grace’s Little Belmont, the Bath & Turf Club, the Clicquot Club, were all typical nightclubs with bar, restaurant and cabaret entertainment, but in the back of each was a gambling room containing all forms of games, such as roulette wheels, craps tables, poker, black-jack games, ‘bird cage,’ and in most instances, horse-race betting as well. The nightclubs were well known and widely advertised establishments which employed high-price orchestras and Broadway or Hollywood stars as entertainers.”

Babette’s may have been the scene of Nucky Johnson’s downfall when began a personal feud with newspaper baron William Randolph Hurst. According to Jonathan Van Meter, “Back in 1921, on the evening after that first Inter-City Beauty Contest, Nucky Johnson inadvertently planted the seeds of his own destruction. He had arranged for showgirls from Follies Bergere, George White’s Scandals, and Earl Carrol’s Vanities to parade down the Boardwalk. He also paid for a fancy costume for the ‘Girl in the Red Velvet Swing,’ Evelyn Nesbit, to wear in the parade, but she got drunk on gin and fell off her float, right into a pile of horse dung. Nucky kicked her out of Atlantic City that very day.”

“Later that night he invited the girls – minus Nesbit – back to a party at his suite at the Ritz to entertain visiting dignitaries and local bigwigs,” says Van Meter but, “There are several versions of what happens next, but they all end the same. Nucky Johnson insulted actress Marion Davies, who was the mistress of William Randolph Hearst, by calling her a ‘tramp’ among other ‘vicious’ things. Some versions of the story have it that it happened at the Ritz, where Marion was in a suite just down the hall, having a party of her own that same night. Other versions maintain that Hearst was with Davis in Atlantic City and that words were exchanged among the three of them at Babette’s Yacht Bar, one of Nucky’s favorite hangouts famous for its ship-shaped bar.”

As Van Meter explains, “In any event, Nucky had made a powerful and vindictive enemy out of someone who under any other circumstances would have been happy to be his crony. Nucky later said of Hearst and Davis, ‘He’s a windbag who a dumb broad has played for a sucker.’ Hearst was not the kind of man you wanted to upset, as he was not above using his newspapers to destroy perceived enemies. At Hearst’s behest, the New York Evening Journal began a campaign against Johnson that reached a crescendo in 1929, shortly after the underworld conference.”

It was Hurst who manufactured the bogus composite photo of Nucky Johnson walking down the Atlantic City boardwalk with Al Capone and Meyer Lansky. While all three men were in town and me together, the photo was made by putting two or three unrelated photos together to make it appear they were walking together.

And it was the continuing newspaper reports of the gambling and vice in Atlantic City that forced the federal and state governments to crack down on such illegal activities.

Later on, when the 500 Club was raided, among those arrested in the backroom gambling den was a mobster said to have botched an attempt to kill Barbette’s owner Dan Stebbins.

NEXT UP: LIVE AT THE FIVE - Atlantic City's 500 Club.

Publisher Governor / Senator Water Edge

Walter Edge, a minor character in the Boardwalk Empire, was a real person, founding publisher of the Press of Atlantic City, Governor and Senator, Edge was a powerful person who alternated in his association with Nucky Johnson.

1929 Organized Crime Convention

The 1929 Atlantic City Convention of Organized Crime – Bill Kelly
Published in Boardwalk Journal (2010)

Atlantic City has been known as a convention town for a long time, but the most significant convention the city has ever hosted didn’t meet at Convention Hall or even conventionally, and certainly didn’t abide by Roberts Rules of Order.

The May, 1929 meeting of organized crime bosses in Atlantic City was probably the most significant ever held, not only because of it’s effect on the future development of the town, but because of the national impact the decisions made there had on society, not only then, but over time, up to and including today.

At the time Atlantic City was considered “wide open,” a place where gangsters could go to make private, if sometimes illegal investments and for sit-down mob meetings, as were a few other cities – Miami, Las Vegas and Old Havana. Atlantic City was run however, by one man – Enoch “Nuckey” Johnson , the local political boss who ran the town as his private domain. Like “Commodore” Lou Kinley had before him. Nuckey got a percentage of practically every business in Atlantic City, especially illegal businesses, and as it was during Prohibition, the most lucrative business at the time was the importation of smuggled liquor.

Lonnie Zwillman of North Jersey controlled most of the bootleg market once the cases of booze from the Caribbean and Canada were transferred at sea from mother ship transports to small Chirs Craft speedboats. Once brought ashore the booze was put on waiting trucks to be transported the goods throughout the rest of the country. It was later estimated, by the Kefauver Committee that Zwillman’s outfit had a 65% market share of all illegal booze in North America.

But there were also illegal casinos in Atlantic City at the time, all operating openly and open to the public. And Big Time confidence men like Charlie Gondorff (of The Sting fame) were allowed to run Big Store Con games, as long as long as they only hit on transients and didn’t take any local citizens for Marks.

Booze, casino gambling, the boardwalk and beach, it didn’t even seem like there was a Depression going on. Things appeared quite normal on May 12th, 1929 when newlyweds Meyer and Anna Citron Lansky checked into one of the city’s finer boardwalk hotels. They were assigned the Honeymoon Penthouse with it’s panoramic view of the ocean and boardwalk.

Which hotel they checked into is not recorded for history, but you can be sure it was one owned by Jewish businessmen, as all the first class hotels at the time were owned by Jews or Quakers, and each served a different clientele. That’s a fact that came into play the very next day when Alphonese “Scarface” Capone stepped off a train and took a cab to one of the city’s classier hotels. Although he entered town unnoticed, and he signed into the hotel under an assumed name, his cover would soon be blown, the city of Atlantic City would be shaken upside down and the nation would rattle with the aftereffects for decades.

Snickering to his lieutenants as he signed the fictitious name to the register, Capone got a smile from Frank Nitti, Murry Humphries, Jake Guzik and Frank Rioi, but the joke quickly turned sour when the somewhat naive and strictly formal desk clerk looked at the name and politely informed Capone that, “I’m sorry sir, but this hotel does not serve those of your persuasion. My I suggest you try the hotel just down the street.”

This was Atlantic City, New Jersey, probably the only place in America where “Scarface” Al Capone could mingle with the masses and go unrecognized. He did however, have a friend in his old pal Nuckey Johnson. Capone had been Johnson’s gracious host two years earlier when Nuckey went to Chicago and was supplied with ringside seats to the Jack Dempsy-Gene Tunney heavyweight fight – the famous battle of the “long count’ bout.

Now Capone was in Atlantic City to meet with Meyer Lansky and other mob bosses. They came to Atlantic City because Nuckey Johnson controlled the town and they were assured they wouldn’t be subjected to the police hassles the Sicilian Mafia guys were subjected to in Cleveland a few weeks earlier.

Although Nuckey Johnson couldn’t protect Capone from some ethnic embarrassment, he did have such tight control over all facets of the city’s operations that, unless they robbed a bank or made a scene, known gangsters from out of town didn’t have to worry about being picked up for questioning by the police. Capone made a scene.

Told by a hotel clerk that he couldn’t check in because he signed his name under a wrong ethnic persuasion, Capone’s famous temper flared, and after a burst of obscenities and the trashing of some lobby furniture, Nuckey Johnson quickly learned that Al Capone was in town. Moving quickly to meet him, Capone and his entourage were heading south on Pacific Avenue when they were intercepted by Johnson’s convoy of dull, black limos heading the other way. They met in the middle of the street, blocked traffic for a few minutes as Capone emerged from his cab, cigar in hand, and gave Nuckey an obscenity laced public verbal lashing, letting off steam from the hotel desk incident.
Once appeased by Johnson, always the gracious host, they hugged and patted each other on the back and adjourned to the back of Nuckey’s limo. After seeing that Capone and his people had proper accommodations at the right hotel, Johnson and Capone were later seen taking in the tourists sights together and strolling down the world famous boardwalk.

Johnson and Capone then had dinner in the Italian “Ducktown” neighborhood, not far from the recently completed Convention Hall – the new auditorium which was then the largest of its kind in the world, with the biggest stage and the largest pipe organ as well. While it established Atlantic City as a major convention town on the East Coast, it’s facilities were not to be used by the guys who started checking in behind Lansky and Capone.

From Cleveland came Al “the Owl” Polizzi, one of the Sicilians hassled by cops at the earlier regional sit-down a few weeks earlier. Also from Cleveland was Moe Dalitz of the Mayfield Road Gang and his bootleg companions, Morris Kleinman, Sam Tucker and Louis Rothkopft. Other gangsters who have been identified as having attended the Atlantic City meeting include Charles “King” Solomon from Boston, Joe Bernstein from Detroit, and Joe Lanza from Kansas City, all of whom came with their henchmen in tow.

From North Jersey there was Abner “Longie” Zwillman, who controlled most of the New Jersey bootleg shipments. Philadelphia was well represented by Harry “Nig Rosen” Stromberg, Max “Boo Boo” Huff, Sam Lezar and Charles Schwarts. By far, the biggest delegation came down from New York, and consisted of Frank Costello, Author “Dutch Schultz” Flegenheimer, Louis “Lepke” Buchalter, Joe Adonis, Salvadore “Lucky” Luciano and Meyer Lansky.

Anne Citron Lansky got angry the next morning when she read in the morning newspaper that Al Capone was in town, and knew that it had to more than just a coincidence. Her new husband couldn’t even go on his honeymoon without having business to take care of.

Born Maier Suchowljansky in Grodno, Poland in 1902, young Meyer came to the United States in 1911 with his mother, sister and younger, but bigger brother Jake. Like so many other arrivals, his birthdate was noted by immigration officials as July 4th, and he took quickly to the American dream.

Later telling Israeli journalists Uri Dan that he took to gambling early, relating an incident that occurred when he was a young boy walking down Delancy Street in Manhatten on an errand for his mother. Coming across a sidewalk craps game he quickly lost his mother’s nickel, an event that had a profound affect on his life. “What troubled me more than anything else,” Lansky said, “was that I had been a loser, and that night….I swore to myself that one day I would be a winner.”
Going back to the sidewalk craps game young Lansky watched and studied the gamblers intently, and learned when to place his bet with a sure winner. “Then I began to notice,” he said, “that the men who actually ran the dice games were only pawns…of other well dressed and prosperous men,” who he also noticed seemed to be all Italians who in turn were “servant” who were “collecting the money for somebody bigger. So it must be a very big business, gambling with nickels and dimes on the sidewalks of the Lower East Side.”

After graduating from Public School #34 in 1917, Lansky worked as an auto mechanic, and first came to the attention of the police when he was arrested for fighting with Charles Luciana and Benjamen Siegel. That was the first time he was known to have officially used the name Lansky, and after the judge listened to their story, he decided that the boys had “bugs in their heads,” which temporarily gave Lansky the nickname “Meyer the Bug,” but Siegel could never shake the name “Bugsy.”

The three boys became fast friends and developed business associations, while Luciana rose in the ranks of the Italian Mafia allied under Joe “the Boss” Masseria. They were perennially at war with another New York gang run by Salvatore Maranzano, whose henchmen picked up Luciano and took him for a ride to Statin Island where they shot him a number of times and left for dead. Luciano miraculously survived, earning him the nickname “Lucky” Luciano.

Lansky, Siegel and Luciano formed a life-long alliance with each other and established themselves on the Lower East Side as a competent and efficient guns-for-hire entrepreneurs that became known as “The Bugs and Meyer Mob,” which also included Joseph “Doc” Stacher, Joe Adonis, Abner “Longie” Zwillmen and Arthur “Dutch Schultz” Flegenheimer. They either escorted Zwillmen’s bootleg liquor or they hijacked any competitors who tried to muscle in on their rackets in their territory.
Philadelphia gangster “Waxy” Gordon was especially upset at the Bug and Meyer Mob for hijacking some of his truck shipments and, as with the Capone-Moran feud in Chicago, there was tension between gangs. Since Capone actually controlled only certain sections of Chicago, other Chicago gangsters also came in to the Atlantic City meeting, including Joe “Polock” Saltis and Frank “Machine Gun” McEarlane, complete with violin cases under their arms.

Other than Capone, these were mostly new names and faces in the underworld of 1929, but before long they would make their mark and become household names. The old-guard “Mustache Petes” who ran the big city rackets for the previous few decades, referred to these new, young gangsters as “The Young Turks,” but they in turn, were considered too old fashioned, narrow-minded and set in their ways to mingle with the gangsters of other nationalities and neighborhoods. The “Petes” were not even invited to this meeting.

To some, Luciano was thought to represent the New York capo de capi Guseppi “Joe the Boss” Masseria, but in retrospect, Luciano had Masseria murdered and replaced him after the protracted war that was wagged between Masseria and the other New York rackets boss Salvadore Maranzano. Masseria and Maranzano were from the Old Order and were on the way out, and The Young Turks knew it.

One member of the old school who was invited and did attend the Atlantic City conclave was John Torrio, who was born in Naples and was one of the first immigrants to leave the notorious “Five Points” section of Brooklyn to go to Chicago, where he ran his uncle’s whorehouse. After killing his uncle and setting up his own numbers racket, Torrio brought in Al Capone from the old neighborhood to be his enforcer.

Torrio, who didn’t drink or smoke, was Capone’s mentor and one of the oldest and wisest of the delegates at the Atlantic City convention. He would play a significant role by making key policy decisions concerning the promotion of other vices, most notably gambling.

While there would be other, more notorious meetings of mobsters – Havana, 1946, the 1957 Apalachin, New York meeting that was broken up by local police, a New York restaurant sit down that was also busted by the cops, the 1929 meeting in Atlantic City was most significant because it established a new policy of inter-city-gang cooperation on a nationwide basis.

It was not a question of who was at Atlantic City, but who was not there. Besides the Mustache Petes from the Old Order of things, Bugs Moran was the most notable big name absentee. He was left back in Chicago to lick his wounds and regroup his forces after the disastrous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.

As the most blatant gangland mass murder in history, the massacre called attention to the mobsters and put pressure on them from the public, the press, politicians and the police. It became the most influential factor in persuading the factional mob leaders of the necessity for a meeting to hash things out. Rather than let the situation get completely out of hand and reach a level of violence that would force the authorities to take action, the gangsters decided to sit down at the same table for the first time, discuss their mutual problems and arrange for an agreeable solution like normal businessmen.

Although most of the published sources place the main gathering of gangsters at the President Hotel on the Boardwalk, the large number of delegates made it necessary for them to meet in smaller caucus to discuss the topics on the agenda. Pushed along the boardwalk in wicker-rolling chairs, they didn’t talk in front of the push cart operators, but at the end of the boardwalk, like other tourists in from the big city, they took off their shoes and socks, rolled up the cuffs of their pants and waded in the shallow surf like any normal day-tripper. With their conversations muffled by the sounds of the surf breaking, the mobsters plotted strategy and began the long term planning that would control organized crime activities for the next fifty years.

Since minutes of the meetings were not transcribed for posterity, legend has it that the order of business was basically two fold. For one, they had to agree on an amiable solution to the conflicts that erupted into mob warfare, primarily geographic turf battles. Secondly, since by then it was obvious that Prohibition would not last forever, they had to get involved in legitimate businesses as well as devise an alternative source of illegal income once Prohibition ended.

As for mob warfare, since such violence hurt everyone’s business, they decided to end such conflicts by adhering strictly to the territorial spheres of influence, with each gang controlling particular rackets in each area. They also agreed to work together in setting prices, sharing warehouse space and coordinating the wholesale distribution of liquor.

The Atlantic City accords were a radical departure from pervious mob practices because they also agreed to form an executive committee to oversee and arbitrate all disputes, denote the degree of punishment to all violators and to set policy for the governing of all future illegal operations.
The creation of the Board of Directors of the National Syndicate of Organized Crime was as big as the founding of the United Nations. Although it’s very existence would be kept hidden from the public for decades, and spy novelist Ian Fleming would ridicule them with his fictional Special Executive for Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion – SPECTRE, it would become generally known as “The Commission.”

As for the second item on the agenda, they decided to explore gambling as a replacement for the lucrative illegal liquor profits after prohibition. With the repeal of the Volstead Act in 1933, gambling became the main preoccupation of the local mobs until 1946, when, after the Havana meeting, the French Connection became the primary source of the drugs and narcotics that would become the Syndicate’s primary source of revenue other than gambling.

The Federal Bureau of Narcotics concluded, from information provided from undercover informants, that the Atlantic City convention established the basis for the Syndicate that carved the nation into specific territories, developed a system of kangaroo courts that provided the gangsters with their own quasi-judicial system, and protected the hierarchy of the local mafia families.

Arrangements were also made to invest in a multi-million dollar slush fund to bribe law enforcement officials, ensure the election of certain politicians, hire the best attorneys and pay for the educational development of promising young men who could serve their interests in the future.

The hallmark of the meeting in Atlantic City was the centralizing of particular powers with an executive committee, like the board of directors of a blue chip industry, an exceptional and extraordinary concept that was not immediately acceptable to many of the ethnic oriented gangsters like Massaria and Marrassano, who were dinosaurs that had to go the way of the buffalo.

The dissentions of the still primarily ethnically Italian gangsters was overcome in a power-play move when Lansky nominated the Mafia’s own Johnny Torrio as Chairman of the Board, a motion that quickly won the endorsement of most of the mobsters present. Torrio was also the only one who could take care of Capone, whose violent ways were causing problems for all of them.

With the Commission in charge, Torrio at the helm and business completed, the final item on the agenda was Capone, and what to do with him. While the Chicago rackets were combined, and Capone was the nominal boss, he had to take a vacation, or he was going to be thrown to the wolves. He was given the option of dieing right then, or taking a sabbatical from the business for a while. The newspapers had all reported that Capone was in town and one of the William Randolph Hurst newspapers even ran a faked composite photograph of Capone, Knucky Johnson and Meyer Lansky walking down the boardwalk, all of which had the pubic clamoring for Capone to be busted for something.

Although they put an APB – All Points Bulletin out for the man who was seen all over town – throwing chairs in a hotel lobby, screaming obscenities on Pacific Avenue, having dinner in Ducktown, riding in a wicker-walker and strolling down the boardwalk with Johnson, suddenly, Capone couldn’t be found anywhere.

According to local legend, when the heat was turned on, Capone slipped out of Atlantic City and retreated to a local private country club, either the Atlantic City Country Club in Northfield or Seaview in Absecon, where he played bad golf and good cards until the heat was off a few days later.

On May 16, 1929, a week after Lansky’s wedding, Capone showed up at the train station but missed the train by minutes. With a police motorcycle escort to the edge of town, Capone’s entourage drove to Philadelphia, where he again just missed a train to Chicago. Going to a movie on Market Street with his bodyguard Frank Rio, Capone emerged from the theater to be confronted by Philadelphia Police Detective James “Shooey” Malone.

Malone flashed his badge, they talked quietly for a moment and Capone calmly volunteered his .38 caliber revolver and was promptly arrested by Malone. Rio momentarily balked, but Capone smiled and urged him to surrender his weapon too.

Philadelphia’s Director of Public Safety Major Lemel B. Schoefield accepted praise for the arrest of the nation’s number one crime czar, though it later became apparent that Det. Malone had met Capone the year before at Hialeah racetrack in Florida, and Capone had arranged for his own arrest. Besides taking the heat off the rest of the Syndicate, in the secure hands of the law he also acquired sanctuary from a vengeful Bugs Moran.

In the custody of the Philadelphia authorities, Capone was forthcoming about the Atlantic City Sit Down, emphasizing the decision to end mob warfare. “I told them,” Capone said, reciting a line from one of Lansky’s lectures, “there is enough business to make us all rich, and it’s time to stop the killing and look on our own business as other men look on theirs.”

When asked about the purpose of the meeting, Capone said, “It is with the idea of making peace among the gangsters that I spent the week in Atlantic City and got the word of each leader that there will be no more shooting.”

But Capone also told them he, “…had to hide from the rest of the racketeers,” who weren’t at the meeting. They had a vendetta against him. It seems that there comes a point in every gangster’s career when, despite all the power and money they have accumulated, life is suddenly vulnerable to one professional contract killer. John Torrio thought that prison was the safest place, Sam Giancana, who would later take over the Chicago mob, fled to Mexico and South America, Joe Bonnano had himself kidnapped. Capone chose jail.

Philadelphia Criminal Court Judge John E. Wash sentenced Capone harshly for such a petty crime of being a suspicious person and carrying a concealed deadly weapon, the maximum of one year at Holmesburg Penitentiary. After a short stint there however, Capone was transferred to the more relaxed confines of Eastern Pen, where he served out the duration of his sentence under the lenient warden Herbert B. Smith, who furnished Capone’s cell with lamps, a library, radio console and lounge chair and gave him access to his private office telephone.

With Capone in jail, the Syndicate began the process of getting rid of the old Mustache Petes and preparing to engage in Big Time gambling activities on a very large scale.

In Hoboken, New Jersey, Lansky’s new father-in-law permitted him to use his Molaska Inc. as a front for a number of his illegal businesses, one of which was the largest distillery in the state. Molaska took its name from molasses chips, a necessary ingredient for the making of rum, which became more profitable than smuggling it.

Molaska rum business took Lansky to Cuba, where he met with Sgt. Fugencio Batista, the strong-arm coup leader who twice took over the reins of Cuba. The first time he was in power Lansky made a deal with Batista to allow him to open a legal casino in Cuba, much like the illegal casinos he operated in Florida, New York and New Jersey. In order for the Syndicate to control casinos in Havana, it was arranged for casinos to operate in hotels with 500 rooms or more, and since the Syndicate controlled Hotel National was the only hotel in Havana with 500 rooms, the Lansky mob owned the only casino in Cuba.

The second Havana hotel to qualify for a casino was owned by Santo Traficante, who hired Atlantic City native John Martino to run his electronics and security operations.

Two weeks before Castro came to power Lansky and the Syndicate sold the National Hotel-Casino to Mike McLaney and Carroll Rosenbloom, both of whom would loose their shirts in the deal. While Mike McLaney’s brother William owned the land near New Orleans where anti-Castro Cuban commandos trained – and reportedly the Magazine Street house where Lee Harvey Oswald lived, Lyndon Baines Johnson would be Rossenbloom’s houseguest in Atlantic City during the 1964 Democratic National Convention.

In 1976 New Jersey law allowed for legal casinos in Atlantic City hotels that had 500 rooms or more, – the Havana model, with only one hotel in the entire city that qualified – Resorts International, a Lansky-Syndicate controlled company. The second and third Atlantic City casinos – Bally and Caesars, were also Syndicate controlled companies, following the policies, delineating the strategies and continuing the traditions laid out at the 1929 Convention.

The federal government did not officially recognize the existence of the syndicate until May 1, 1951 when Estes Kefauver, Chairman of the Senate Crim Investigating Committee, visited Atlantic City, New Orleans, Chicago and New York before determining and reporting that, “a nationwide crime syndicate does exist in the United States,…and behind the local mobs which make up the national crime syndicate is a shadowy, international criminal organization known as the Mafia.”

Even after that, the FBI refused to place a priority on the Mafia or organized crime until years later, when local police broke up a major mob meeting in upstate New York.

The records of Kefauver’s investigation were then promptly and routinely locked away for 50 years as “Congressional Records,” which are exempt from Freedom of Information Act requests.

In 1998, the Assassination Records Review Board refused to release the records of the Kefauver Committee investigation by declaring them “assassination records” because they claimed they were not related to or considered relevant to the assassination of President Kennedy, even though the second chief counsel to the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) believes that the President may have been the victim of a mob hit.

The Kefauver Committee records were scheduled for release in 2001, but are being systematically released after being reviewed by request.

Boardwalk Empire Season 2 Begins

While this blog is concerned primarily with the real Boardwalk Empire it is also compared with the HBO version that's on TV, so in that vein here's Hilary Rothing's explanation of what's happening on the screen.

BOARDWALK EMPIRE 2.02 'Ourselves Alone'

Nucky finds himself on the outs with his own brother, as the Commodore readies a new regime.

By Hilary Rothing

October 04, 2011

Episode Title: 'Ourselves Alone'
Writer: Howard Korder
Director: David Petrarca
Previously on "Boardwalk Empire":

Van Alden staged a raid at a restaurant while celebrating his wedding anniversary with his wife. Nucky did damage control after the KKK ambushed Chalky at his warehouse. The Commodore pushed Jimmy to break away from his mentor. Meanwhile, Nucky was cuffed for fixing the Atlantic City mayoral election.


Margaret Schroeder (Kelly Macdonald) confronts her maids when she hears them whispering about the news of Nucky's arrest. Meanwhile, Nucky's lawyer bails him out, causing cellmate, Chalky White (Michael K. Williams) to bristle. In New York City, Jimmy (Michael Pitt) makes an offer to Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbard) to undercut Nucky's distribution deal. Rothstein says he'll give it thought and promises not to let word get out of Jimmy's bold move. Lucky Luciano (Vincent Piazza) invites a hesitant Jimmy to a poker game and a meeting with Mayer Lansky.

Nucky's lawyer tells him that the State has two confidential witnesses who are willing to testify against him in the election fraud case. Margaret poses as a poor woman to get past the Deputy Attorney General at Nucky's office and make off with his ledger and cash. The Commodore (Dabney Coleman) rallies Eli, Damian Flemming and Jim Neary in an effort to take Nucky down. Flemming later voices his concerns to Neary over betraying Nucky.

Chalky gets a visit from his wife in jail. When a fellow prisoner continues to antagonize him, Chalky uses his influence over the other men in the cell to come to his defense. Nucky confronts Mayor Edward Bader about a leak in the election fraud scheme. Bader denies any knowledge of it.

Margaret gets a visit from a Sinn Fein representative, Owen Slater, looking to case Nucky's home before his boss arrives for a meeting. He flirts with Margaret, who is taken off guard by the young man. Later, his boss insults Margaret for forgetting where she is from and is gruff with Nucky, who makes a donation to the cause, regardless.
Jimmy meets with Mayer Lansky (Anatol Yusef) and learns that he and Lucky are thinking of getting into the heroin trade. Later, two of the mobsters he took money from in the poker game try to rob him but Jimmy kills both men.

Damian Flemming attempts to warn Nucky about the Commodore's plans just as Eli (Shea Whigham) calls to issue a threat. Nucky makes him one last offer to confess his betrayal and make things right but Eli only makes a quip about taking power and hangs up on his brother. Meanwhile, the Commodore introduces Jimmy to a group of older men he claims run Atlantic CIty.

Later that night, Margaret returns Nucky's ledger and money to him and suggests he burn the book, instead committing all records to memory. He agrees and she tosses it into the fire.


The times, they are a changin'. That was certainly the theme in 'Ourselves Alone.' That and the realization that valued ally of mobsters of various ethnic persuasions and fringe political organizations, Nucky Thompson, is suddenly short on friends, himself. Meanwhile, his brother Eli and the man he considered a son, Jimmy are preparing to wage war with the Commodore in command.

I've been grumbling about "Boardwalk Empire's" pacing since last season, thus I was pleasantly surprised with the uncharacteristically brisk pace of this second season. There was quite a bit of movement on several fronts. Jimmy made a ballsy move in reaching out to Arnold Rothstein and Lucky Luciano. The Commodore readied his men to take down Nucky and we met a new troublemaker on the scene, Sinn Fein associate, Owen Slater, who seems to have Irish eyes for Margaret. All interesting developments as we make our way down the boardwalk and deeper into season two.

Speaking of Margaret Schroeder, she continues to struggle with her upstairs/downstairs identity crisis. In the opening moments of the hour, it was hard to remember the timid shop girl who waited on a hateful and demanding Lucy Danzinger. Yet she was quick to remind one of her maids that she, too, was once a pauper. And then there was Margaret's visit to Nucky's office, dressed in one of her maid's cheap coats. Despite how easily she slipped into the role she once occupied at a lesser station in life, Margaret knows there's no going back. Not even to her hometown of Kerry, Ireland, as we saw when she supped with the Sinn Fien representative. Indeed, it appears Margaret's turned a corner, conning her way past a Deputy Attorney General and advising Nucky on how best to keep his secrets safe.

Another player on the boardwalk, Chalky White, also flexed some muscle this week, without lifting a finger. Chalky's sphere of influence was made clear when he threatened to shut down AC by calling for a massive strike. But there's nothing quite as convincing as a good ole' jail cell beating to hammer the point home. The more Nucky marginalizes Chalky, the more his power is made obvious.

Sadly, Van Alden and his ongoing moral meltdown were not on the agenda, this week, as well as Richard Harrow's take on "One Hour Photo" with the Darmody family. Instead, we spent more time with Jimmy, who's quiet discontent and constant brooding can get a bit tiresome. Like Steve Buscemi, I fear Michael Pitt is doing the best he can with a character who is thinly written. I was, however, tickled to see more of the Commodore and his taxidermy trophy room.

With his enemies, "dear brother" Eli included, now joined in the common cause of taking Nucky down, "Boardwalk Empire" hangs onto my interest. I'm still not enamored with the character of Enuch "Nucky" Thompson but I'm invested in just about every other thug, gangster, disfigured war vet, long suffering wife and mentally unstable Prohibition Agent this show has to offer. That's certainly enough to keep me in AC for another season.

Crave Online Rating: 8 out of 10.

What we're looking for in Boardwalk Empire season 2
Michael Noble

Michael looks back at the first season of Boardwalk Empire, and comes up with some things that the show needs to do in its second run.

Published on Oct 6, 2011

This article contains spoilers for Boardwalk Empire season 1.

Time doesn’t half fly these days. It doesn’t feel all that long since Sky Atlantic burst onto our EPGs in the UK, promising a feast of high quality US television. The opening course seemed rather delicious, a new Prohibition-era drama from the creative minds behind The Sopranos, Goodfellas and The Departed. Best of all, we no longer had to endure several spoiler-dodging months waiting for it to make its way over the pond. We’re still on fast forward, it’s early October, and we’re already settling down for the second season.

In many ways, the shortness of the gap makes sense. So much of the first season of Boardwalk Empire felt like things were being set up for later, that it may come to feel like one long season with a mid-term break for the summer. This does, however, give some hope that the second season will see things ramp up considerably. There are many opportunities to do so.

Of the show’s many characters, Jimmy Darmody was the one with whom we were most likely to identify. A young man, embittered by his wartime experiences and sense that his talents are being overlooked, seemed set for a challenging journey to acceptance. However, he spent a good deal of the season exiled in Chicago. Sure, he was learning his ‘trade’, and coming to terms with his limitations, but it felt like he was kept away from the main story arc, only returning as the season drew to a close

Meanwhile, the Commodore, one of the show’s most intriguing characters, was barely in it.

Now there is always something to be said for economy, and there was a certain difficulty with a disgruntled housemaid and some arsenic, but there was an overriding sense that we have yet to see him for the power he plainly is. However, the newly formed alliance between him, Jimmy and Eli Thompson looks set to kick things off nicely.
Nucky Thompson may feel that things are looking up, what with the election dealt with and with Arnold Rothstein on the back foot, but in actuality, his problems are just beginning.

Talking of problems, Lucy Danziger, possibly the nakedest character in television history, has certainly got some interesting times ahead of her. Her condition will cause nothing but trouble for resident oddball, Nelson Van Alden, and he has very tricky path to negotiate. That said, it is unfortunate that the show’s female characters seem destined to remain defined by their relationships with men. Aside from Lucy, we have Angela Darmody, finding it difficult to handle her own desires while negotiating her relationship with Jimmy. These are good characters. They can do more on their own.

But what of Margaret Schroeder? The journey from battered wife to companion of Nucky Thompson was a little circuitous, and there has been a tendency to see her as all too willing to become a ‘kept woman’. But as the series has gone on, she’s shown more of a stronger, wilful side that means that the audience, like Nucky, have probably underestimated her. In Margaret, delicately portrayed by Kelly MacDonald, we have a character from which we can genuinely expect some surprises.

This will require some improvements. The show also seemed at times to lack the confidence in economic storytelling that has been HBO’s hallmark. Take Jimmy’s wartime experiences. In the very first episode, he showed his capacity for violence, which he explained by saying, 'yeah, I seen some things [in France]'. That would have been enough, we could have learned more by his actions as the story progressed, but the writers couldn’t avoid giving him an 'impassioned' speech to Nucky in justification.

One of the themes I would like to see explored is the problem of what to do with a generation of demobbed angry young men, scarred by their experiences in war. This is a large theme (and one that resonates today) but could nevertheless be told through the actions and choices of the characters without resorting to tearful exposition. They can do better; they managed it superbly with the fascinating man-made monster Richard Harrow.

Van Alden’s obvious religious mania was another piece of unnecessarily heavy storytelling. There should be enough material to show Prohibition as an ill thought out disaster without making the government’s man such an obvious loon. In fact, the opportunities for a rich and engaging story are so abundant; we could simply let the era do the talking.

The 1920s are a very interesting decade to explore. Not only can we watch notorious characters like Rothstein, Al Capone, Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky make their journeys into infamy, but we can also see America dance blindly through the decade leading to the Wall Street Crash and the Depression.

For those of us still coming to terms with the aftermath of the credit boom, it makes for instructive viewing. The setting of Boardwalk Empire also gives it the opportunity to fill a gap in the retelling of the American century that was being told through television. A dramatic arc can be traced from Deadwood (mid-1870s) through to Mad Men (1960s) and onto The Wire (2000s). The addition of a show about the 1920s helps to create a pattern in which the state of America has been examined at intervals of around forty or so years.

The makers of Boardwalk Empire have the task of showing America’s faltering steps into socio-political maturity and sophistication. Done properly, it stands to be awesome. Let’s hope that the second season sees them do just this. The beginning hasn’t finished yet.

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