Produced by Nelson George et al
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 nonanamorphic
Running Time: 420 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo English
MSRP: $ 36.99
Release Date: June 10, 2008
Review Date: June 9, 2008
Criminals come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. BET’s American Gangsters focuses on the criminal element in the African-American community. Done in the same style (interviews and vintage news footage all tied together with narration by a famous performer) as Biography or Notorious on the Biography Channel, American Gangster is now in its second season, and the ten episodes in this three disc box set represent a fascinating collection of stories about people from many different backgrounds who took many different ways to enter the criminal underworld. Their rises and ultimate falls make for very gripping viewing, and as each episode only runs approximately 40 minutes, it’s never too much gloom and doom in one sitting to leave someone out of sorts.
Narrated by actor Ving Rhames, the show’s rogue’s gallery for this second season of episodes consists of the following stories:
1. “The Philly Black Mafia,” a group of twelve known black gangsters, among them Bo Baynes, Sam Christian, and Ron Harvey, using a Philadelphia Islamic Church (Temple 12) as their front, carry on vicious gangland business for over two decades with members of the temple even now petrified to give testimony against surviving members of the gang (now known as Black Bros., Inc).
2. “Larry Hoover,” a Chicago mob boss who rose from the Inglewood neighborhood to control the city’s most powerful street gang, the Gangster Disciples. Even from a prison cell, he managed to keep a firm grip on the widespread influence of his gang.
3. “Melvin Williams,” the man who introduced heroin to Baltimore, now fictionalized on HBO’s The Wire. His 160 I.Q. made controlling the gambling and drug trades easy for him, though today, he‘s the first to admit that even with his superior intelligence to most around him, he still got caught.
4. “The D. C. Snipers” is the name commonly given to John Muhammad (ne Williams) and Lee Malvo whose three week reign of terror shooting innocent people in Washington left 10 dead and 3 wounded.
5. “Frank Lucas,” who became the subject of the recent hit Denzel Washington movie American Gangster, found ways to smuggle heroin from southeast Asia to Harlem and amass one of the largest fortunes in the history of organized crime.
6. “Felix Mitchell” and his 69 Mob were the reigning crime family of Oakland, California, despite clashing with the Black Panthers and their leader Huey Newton.
7. “Jeff Fort and the Blackstone Rangers” details the rise and fall of one of Chicago’s roughest street gangs which later morphed into El Rukn working with Libyan dictator Moammar Khadafy to commit acts of domestic terrorism.
8. “Chaz Williams” who committed an alleged sixty bank robberies in Queens and the surrounding New England territories as well as in the Midwest while in a prison there on a study release program, and later had his 95-year sentence reduced through legal maneuvering and plea agreements and is now a music and concert promoter.
9. “Rayful Edmond III” was one of Washington, D.C.’s most notorious drug kingpins heading a drug gang of more than 150 people and dealing from prison with the Colombian drug cartel.
10. “Kenneth ‘Supreme’ McGriff” and his Supreme Team ran drugs from Queens to Baltimore and became a movie producer before convictions for drug trafficking, racketeering, and murder led to his current prison term.
The program is presented on BET in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, and these nonanamorphic transfers display a host of problems. In the newly shot footage, color timing is off on the first episode causing flesh tones to glow with overripe saturation. Later episodes are better, but the lack of an enhanced transfer means sharpness is never what it could have been. There is aliasing within many episodes, and pixilation is an off-and-on problem. The vintage news and home movie footage used to set the scene or show characters at early points of their lives is usually in poor shape, expected in this kind of show but a trial to watch sometimes nevertheless. Each episode is divided into 7 chapters with the exception of episode one which has 9 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio mix is barely stereo. An occasional music cue will sometimes make itself known from the front left and right channels, but as the show is mostly narration and commentary by those involved with the subject at hand, the center channel gets by far the most attention in this mix.
The set presents four extended interviews with Melvin Williams (31 ¾ minutes), Frank Lucas (22 ¾ minutes), Frank Lucas Jr. (26 ¾ minutes), and Bo Baines (4 minutes). The first two contain the full interview material which is merely excerpted in the episodes featuring those men. The latter two interviews contain fresh material not seen in the episodes with Lucas mostly maintaining his father’s innocence while walking us through some of his dad's territories and Baines complaining about his lack of compensation from authors who have written books about him.
The set contains previews of other BET programming including Blackout and American Gangster-Season One.
The ten episodes that make up this collection are among the most sobering and involving documentaries available of a group of men, skilled in what they did and with charisma to burn to lead others into their criminal regimes. For those interested in how criminal empires can be born and later die, American Gangster - The Complete Second Season comes highly recommended.