Canadian Gangsters in Cinema

I attended a fascinating panel discussion last night at the TIFF Bell Lightbox (an amazing cinema complex featuring a bar, bookstore and café in downtown Toronto).

The topic: the Canadian gangster in film.

Panellists included Nathan Morlando, writer/director of the movie Edwin Boyd, Jason Eisener, director of the amazingly titled Hobo with a Shotgun and Guy Maddin, writer/director of Keyhole.

Edwin Alonzo Boyd was a flamboyant Toronto criminal who headed up a gang of bank robbers in the late 1940s and early 1950s. He is also the subject of my first book, available here.

Devilishly handsome Boyd developed quite a public following, for his looks, acrobatic technique (he liked leaping on top of bank counters, guns in hand), and ability to elude police (the so-called Boyd Gang broke out of Toronto’s Don Jail not once, but twice).

Morlando said he had been fascinated by Boyd since university.

“I was surprised that such as prominent folk-hero didn’t have a feature [film] done about him,” he remarked.

Morlando cited experimental American director John Cassavetes as an influence on his work and said he opted for a realistic feel.

“We coined the phrase ‘natural noir’ for this movie … most of the light in the film is natural,” explained Morlando.

He also said that most of the film was shot in Sault Ste. Marie (a small city in northwestern Ontario), despite the fact the action took place in Toronto. The Sault, apparently, offered an unchanged urban landscape—“many of the streets resemble Toronto of the 1940s and 1950s,” said Morlando.

Having praised Sault Ste. Marie for being stuck in a time-warp, Morlando went on to say that Boyd “was a very contemporary character in his relationship with the media … he was very self-conscious of his image.”

This was one of the reasons I decided to write about Boyd, a decade ago. That and the fact he was something of a man of mystery: according to popular legend, he never hurt anyone during his robberies (though two members of his gang were hanged for shooting a police detective). After Boyd died in his late eighties, CBC-TV suggested he might have committed an unsolved double homicide back in the late 1940s. The issue, of Boyd’s innocence or guilt in this matter has never been resolved.

As a film, however, Edwin Boyd is brilliant—a well crafted, well-made story that far outshines the limitations of its low-budget.

I caught Boyd at a showing during last fall’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). The house was packed and the movie was awesome—if a bit adulatory.

Edwin Boyd is scheduled for a major North American release this April. I plan on seeing it again, and so should any Canadian true-crime fan interested in one of this country’s few media savvy bad guys.

To see all of my books (true-crime or otherwise), click on this link.

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