As disturbing as the scenewith Deborah is (and it could have been done differently), I do not think the rest of the film would have the same impact without it. I can’t think of any alternative that would add as much weight to the story and to the characters. If it cut straight from her telling him that she is going to Hollywood; or it became a war of words - say, an argument, which led to him being let into the Taxi- I do no think the scenes in 1968 would have the same impact. What Noodles does is so disgusting and so harmful that it can never be something that either party can come back from.
But I do agree - Could it have been shortened? Yes. Most definitely. Could it have been alluded to and not shown at all? Yes. Definitely. It could have been approached on film differently. I will go back now to why I think it is important as part of the plot.
Noodles selfishness is what this film is about. He is small minded and does not have the same ambitions as his counterpart, Max, or Deborah. Noodles life is all about the small section of streets that he grew up in. That is where he belongs. Those streets are where he wants to belong, and he says as such directly to Max. But Noodles is such a selfish individual that he really is not willing to compromise or change that view.
This becomes uncomfortably apparent in the dressing room scene with Deborah, where he uses her as bait to get information on Bailey, and berates her for meeting someone else. He then makes a pathetic attempt to be ‘sweet’ by saying ‘are you afraid I’ll turn into a pillar of salts’. What rubbish to come from him. He then explicity ignores her warnings of the dangers that seeing him will put them in. He then defiantly ignores her and meets him anyway.
By stubbornly ignoring her and meeting Max again he has signed their death warrant. It will also lead back to Fat Moe.
That is the thing - in 1968 - they are no longer ‘friends’ to Noodles. They are pawns for him to get information, in order to satisfy his own needs, thoughts, actions. He does not care about what it does to them. He is on a very selfish quest.
This is why I have a respect for the picture. For me, it really is the most anti-gangster film that has been made. It has such a cynical approach to the characters.
It is very short on laughs and humour. It does not glorify being in that environment at all. In Maxs and Noodles world - Real friendship, real love, does not exist. Indeed, even reality itself (four small time bootleggers robbing the federal reserve bank in order to become rich for life, anyone???) doesn’t exist in Maxs and Noodles world. Max and Noodles just want to meet their own ends. It is the most anti-gangster film for me.
What else can it be? When the main character ends up in an opium den, alone, by himself. The smile at the end is also selfish. Its like he is saying to the audience **‘I finally got my story told, so what?’
Thats my admiration for this film -as surreal and unrealistic as it may be in terms of narrative and aesthetics- the ‘dream’ element of is also representative of Noodles and Max’s egos.
It highlights a lot of truth about the people that exist in the organised crime world, when you read about the life of real life gangsters. Anyway, thats my take on the film.