Vital Signs

Star Turns

Bugsy
Produced by Mark Johnson
Written by James Toback
Directed by Barry Levinson
Released by Tri-Star Pictures

Meeting Venus
Produced by David Puttnam
Written by István Szabó and Michael Hirst
Directed by István Szabó
Released by Warner Brothers

Gangster movies show us an are, the parabolic rise and fall of a career where ambition comes a-cropper, where there is payment extracted by the inexorable fates for the hubris of the protagonist. But in these terms, Bugsy is no gangster movie. Indeed, the closest comparison I can think of is Tucker, another film about the way America maltreats her visionaries. Benjamin (Bugsy—but not to his face) Siegel is a gangster, a business associate of Meyer Lansky and Charlie Luciano, but at the opening of the film he is already at the top, doing well, riding high, taking care of business and even bending the rules a little to accommodate minor failures of faith and trust of a nebbish old friend like Harry Greenberg. (Elliot Gould as Greenberg does his best work in movies in years.)

What brings Bugsy down isn't anything like the unwritten moral code, the risks implicit in a career of crime, or the implacability of the Fates and Furies. It's worse than that. He is ruined by real estate development. His creation—the...

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