Jewish World Review Oct 6, 2011 / 8 Tishrei, 5772
Mob expert reveals his favorite gangster flicks
By Barry Koltnow
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Louis Diaz was never a gangster, but he played one in real life.
If you live down the street from Diaz in Costa Mesa, Calif., you probably have no idea that you are neighbors with one of the most successful undercover agents in law enforcement history. Seriously, Diaz was an agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration in the 1970s when he infiltrated a notorious New York City organization headed by heroin dealer Leroy "Nicky" Barnes.
The story of how he worked his way into Barnes' inner circle is a focal point of Diaz' fascinating memoir "Dancing with the Devil," which was published last year by Simon and Schuster and is now in paperback.
"Dancing with the Devil" is a breathtaking account of one agent's war on crime, and it will make a great gangster film one day, and there might even be a role in it for Diaz, who has acted in a number of movies and TV shows.
In the interest of full disclosure, Diaz is a friend - we met after he retired from the DEA - and I decided to give him a call because it was time for my annual rant against "Boardwalk Empire," the HBO series that kicked off its second season Sunday night.
I won't belabor the point, but I am not a big fan of the show, which takes place in my hometown of Atlantic City, N.J. It is set in the early days of the 20th century - even before I was born - but its lead character is a legend back home. In real life, "Nucky" Johnson was a big, gregarious city official who ran a criminal empire long before it was fashionable.
My biggest complaint with the series has always been the casting of Nucky, whose last name was changed in the series from Johnson to Thompson. As much as I admire Steve Buscemi as an actor, he is horribly miscast in this role, and no amount of rave reviews or Emmy nominations are going to change my mind.
Of course, I watched the entire 12-episode series last year because I am obligated to watch anything that is gangster-related. It's part of being a guy, I suppose.
I probably will watch this season as well because I can't help myself. But I couldn't let the premiere go by without making a snarky remark.
That's when I thought of Louis Diaz. Why make my own snarky remarks when I can get an expert to make snarky remarks about "Boardwalk Empire?"
Even though Louis is from Brooklyn, and not New Jersey, I felt his background qualified him to trash the HBO series. When I called him, I hoped he didn't like the series. That would have ruined this column. But great minds think alike.
"To be honest, I'm not totally thrilled with it," Diaz said without any prompting from me.
"I was really looking forward to it, but I was a little disappointed," he added. "It's too soft in places, and Steve Buscemi wouldn't have been my first choice to play Nucky. He's a good actor, but he's weak and doesn't convey the kind of strength and respect you need in that role."
As long as I had Louis on the phone, I thought I'd take the opportunity to find out what he thought were the 10 best gangster films of all time. I often compare notes with friends on the subject, and I have been known to accost complete strangers and force them to list their favorite gangster movies. It probably explains my lack of friends.
Anyway, here are Louis Diaz' 10 favorite gangster movies, and while I disagree slightly on the order, I haven't got a problem with any of his choices. If it seems as if Robert De Niro appears frequently on his list, it's not Louis' fault - De Niro has been in a lot of great gangster flicks.
1. "On the Waterfront" (1954) - Marlon Brando coulda been a contender, except for his rotten brother.
2. "The Godfather, Part 2" (1974) - Diaz concurs with director Francis Ford Coppola that this sequel is superior to the original.
3. "The Godfather" (1972) - In my humble opinion, the best movie of all time Ö period.
4. "Goodfellas" (1990) - Whatever you do, don't make Joe Pesci angry.
5. "Once Upon a Time in America" (1984) - Sergio Leone's epic (as in very long) about Jewish gangsters.
6. "The Untouchables" (1987) - De Niro swings for the fences.
7. "Raging Bull" (1980) - De Niro swings for a boxing title.
8. "A Bronx Tale" (1993) - De Niro directs a terrific film in which he plays the good guy, not the gangster.
9. "Scarface" (1983) - Say hello to Al Pacino's little friend.
10. "Angels with Dirty Faces" (1938) - The classic about two childhood friends who take different paths - James Cagney as the gangster and Pat O'Brien as the priest.
Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in the media and Washington consider "must-reading". Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
Good riddance, Harry Potter
© 2010, The Orange County Register; Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.