Allen Barra at The Daily Beast has written a great article delving into the special role that both Atlantic City and Nucky Johnson played in birth of organized crime and the way the Volstead Act was – and was not – enforced in the 1920s.
For total evocation of period and mood-not merely the automobiles and fashions, but the sepia-toned lighting of the interiors, the ornate furnishings, and especially the music (Eddie Cantor, Bessie Smith, Caruso)-the series has no rival in television history. Atlantic City (actually Greenpoint, Brooklyn, across the East River from Manhattan) looks like a beautiful place for organized crime to be born.
Some critics have complained that Boardwalk Empire is too much based on fact, while other say it is too much based on fiction. In the New York Times, for instance, Alessandra Stanley wrote that because “the series is based on a history book, Nelson Johnson’s Boardwalk Empire” the show’s writers “lack the confidence to improvise.” If Stanley had read Johnson’s “history book,” she would have found that it is mostly a social account of Atlantic City from its inception as a blue-collar vacation spot in the late nineteenth century to the coming of Donald Trump.
Why Atlantic City and not New York or Chicago? As Nelson Johnson writes, “When it came to illegal booze, there was probably no place in the country as wide open as Nucky’s town. It was almost as if word of the Volstead Act never reached Atlantic City.” Surrounded by water, pine forests, and swamp and accessed only a few roads easily monitored by a corrupt police department, Atlantic City was a natural magnet for crime in the Prohibition era.
During Prohibition, Nucky Johnson, the real person on whom Buscemi’s character is based, was, according to the Johnson book, “both a power broker in the Republican Party and a force in organized crime, he rubbed elbows with presidents and Mafia thugs. But to Atlantic City’s residents, Nucky was hardly a thug. He was their hero, epitomizing the qualities that made his town successful.” If Arnold Rothstein was the grandfather of organized crime, Nucky was its midwife.
Read the complete story at Boardwalk Empire’s Season Finale at The Daily Beast.