6 Funny Gangster Scenes We Love

By  · Published on January 7th, 2013

Is anyone else surprised that Gangster Squad isn’t a comedy? First of all, the word ‘squad’ in the title reminds us of goofy material like Police Squad and The Monster Squad. Then there’s the fact director Ruben Fleischer’s last two movies were darkly humorous. But his new feature is indeed a crime drama, based on true events and apparently serious and very violent. At least one review calls it “silly,” but that’s a negative criticism and surely not the intended tone of the filmmakers.

Of course, a gangster drama can still have some humorous moments (see below), but even if there are any lighter scenes in Gangster Squad we may still be disappointed that Fleischer hasn’t done for the crime genre what he previously did with zombie horror. It’s been a while since we had a good, funny gangster movie in America – by which we mean not imported from foreign filmmakers like Guy Ritchie and Martin McDonagh. Not that we want Hollywood to try anymore spoofs like Jane Austen’s Mafia.

So, given that a list of straight gangster scenes we love would be too long anyway, this week’s list of clips is narrowed down to funny moments, to make up for the presumed total lack of comedy in Gangster Squad. Watch these five scenes after the break.

Tommy’s Mother’s House from Goodfellas

As mentioned, serious gangster films can be funny at times, especially if Joe Pesci is involved. Not that we’re calling him a clown, by any means. In fact, this scene isn’t necessarily funny because of Pesci so much as his character’s mother. She’s played by Martin Scorsese’s own adorable mother, Catherine, and she’s a hoot. Much of the scene is improvised, which makes her performance even more special and funnier, although the painting of the dogs and the “whadya want from me” guy that she seems to grab out of thin air was not a random find. It was done by author/screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi’s mom.

“My Father Hung Me On a Hook Once. Once.” from Johnny Dangerously

It’s been years since we saw Amy Heckerling’s goofy 1984 gangster comedy, and we trust that it’s not actually as funny as it was to us in our youth. Still, the recurring joke from Joe Piscopo’s Danny Vermin involving things each of his family members did once…Once! has always stayed with us over the decades. We assume he killed his mother after she grabbed him, killed his sister after she kicked him in the balls, killed his grandmother after she shot him and killed his father after he hung him on a hook. Unfortunately, none of these scenes are online by themselves, but the father and hook bit is in the trailer – which is worth watching anyway since it’s not just your simple montage of clips from the movie. And how funny is it to see Joe Piscopo hanging from a hook anyway? It’s kinda funny, that’s how funny.

“I Hate Cows Worse Than Coppers” from O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Who cares if the portrayal of George “Babyface” Nelson in this film is anachronistic and altogether full of inaccuracies (the Coen brothers sure don’t)? Michael Badalucco is a riot in his few scenes as the infamous gangster and bank robber, particularly in the below scene as he picks up heroes Delmar, Pete and Everett while being pursued by “coppers.” Seeing the cows riddled with bullets and then run over by a policeman’s car is disturbingly hilarious. Also worth viewing is the robbery scene where Nelson gets depressed when an old lady mentions his nickname.

“I Shot Marvin in the Face” from Pulp Fiction

Slightly less disturbing than the cow deaths, and therefore even more hilarious, is the accidental shooting of a human being when it’s out of nowhere and met with such frustration. Still probably Quentin Tarantino’s funniest sequence ever, “The Bonnie Situation” section of Pulp Fiction begins just before the below clip, follows with the director foreshadowing his latest film with his usage of a certain bad word, continues with a superb bit performance from Harvey Keitel and finishes with the reveal of why two gangsters are wearing t-shirts and shorts in an earlier chapter. It’s one of the blackest of comedic scenes of all time.

Thanksgiving in Sicily from My Blue Heaven

There are a lot of hilarious moments in this movie, including the fish-out-of-water supermarket scenes, the bicycle story and anything with the brilliantly (always) underrated Bill Irwin (he should never be so shy about dancing). But our favorite bits are those that directly pit Steve Martin against straightwoman Joan Cusack. It’s like Chico mixed with Groucho against a reincarnated Margaret Dumont. In yet another scene in which Vinnie Antonelli attempts to make excuses after being found with stolen goods, he tells one of his outlandish stories to Assistant D.A. Hannah Stubbs, this time about Thanksgiving being traditionally celebrated in Sicily.

Spiking the Milk from Brother Orchid

Another fish-out-of-water film, Brother Orchid combines two popular conceits commonly found in gangster comedies. Edward G. Robinson is a well-known crime film star who has been cast for extra relevance through self-parody, much like actors such as Robert De Niro and Marlon Brando would do decades later, and his character is hiding out in an unlikely place, similar to plots found in Some Like It Hot and Sister Act, among others. Here, it’s in a monastery. In the second scene in the clip below, he’s congratulated for his miraculous work producing more milk from their cows than has ever been known beforehand. It turns out he’s watering down the milk to just make it seem like it’s more. Obviously something he learned from his bootlegging days.

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.