When the 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution was passed in 1920, the prohibition of alcohol created an instant subculture of crime, extortion, and vice. Anyone connected with manufacturing, importing, distributing, or selling liquor saw their profits increase ten fold and everyone from businessmen and cops to gangsters and politicians began to get rich.
On Sunday night, Academy Award winning director/producer Martin Scorsese introduced a new HBO series that takes place in 1920 Atlantic City and centered around the prohibition profiteering of Enoch “Nucky” Thompson, played by Steve Buscemi.
“In less than two hours liquor will be declared illegal by decree of the distinguished gentlemen of our Congress,” says the powerful Republican boss and country treasurer while raising a glass. “To those beautiful ignorant bastards.”
Based on real-life Atlantic City political boss and racketeer, Buscemi portrays the historical figure with the same multi-dimensional traits that thrust him into the spotlight in films like Reservoir Dogs and Armageddon. In one scene, he carefully listens to a young mother’s troubles before handing her a wad of cash. Minutes later, he is smashing a man’s head into the rail of a craps table. His primary business, liquor, sends him from women’s league meetings to dinner parties with legendary criminals like the infamous World Series fixer Arnold Rothstein and a young, hot-blooded “Lucky” Luciano.
Nucky, along with the leaders of the tourist town recognized that the success of the city was dependent on providing visitors with what they wanted, so the disregard for Federal laws was flagrant and frequent.
Gambling, drinking, violence, womanizing, and murder are all traditional ingredients Scorsese pours into the premier as the setting is established and characters are introduced.
New father Jimmy Darmody, played by Michael Pitt, has just returned from WWI after dropping out of Princeton University and is awestruck by the wealth and power of Thompson and Luciano.
He is caught between the Thompson’s glamorous lifestyle and the promise of a more stable environment for his family by pursuing a legitimate career. He looks to Thompson for guidance and “opportunity.”
“This is America, ain’t it?” he replies. “Who the (expletive deleted) stopping you?”
Even though Buscemi is considered a major motion picture star, this is not his first leading role in a television series. Six years ago, he appeared in the Emmy winning series, The Sopranos, and is once again reunited with mobster writer Terence Winter.
Like other gangster movies and shows, Boardwalk is filled with booze, smoke, double crossing, violence, and the kind of sinister, yet likeable, characters that Scorsese uses so well to drive his stories.
Boardwalk was immediately picked up for a second season after the premier drew more than 7 million viewers – HBO’s biggest premier since Deadwood in 2004. The show airs Sunday night at 9 pm with encore presentations all week long.
First rule of politics, kiddo: never let the truth get in the way of a good story. – Enoch Thompson, Boardwalk Empire