A trio of cinematographers helps mount the HBO series Boardwalk Empire, a crime drama set in Atlantic City during Prohibition.
It’s the eve of Prohibition, and the Women’s Temperance League in Atlantic City is celebrating its victory. A special guest is on hand: City Treasurer Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi), the most powerful figure in local politics. After a rousing reception, Thompson leaves for another pressing appointment at a nightclub, where he joins other city officials to plot how to exploit the new black market for liquor. As they talk, a ship from Canada arrives at a local dock, and a flotilla of motorboats unloads the first shipment of illegal whiskey.
As the new HBO series Boardwalk Empire illustrates, Atlantic City was ideally situated to be America’s bootleg capital during Prohibition. A popular summer resort town, it was linked by rail to New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore. It also had a vibrant fishing industry and secluded inlets, ideal for smuggling alcohol from Canada and the Caribbean. Just as important as geography was the city’s feudalistic politics. Atlantic City had always been devoted to serving the pleasures of its vacationing guests, and by 1920 it was ruled by an unelected official, Enoch “Nucky” Johnson, who was a master at the game. By the mid-1920s, everyone on the public payroll owed his job to Johnson. The police not only ignored vice laws, but also protected bars and brothels from federal interference.
Inspired by Nelson Johnson’s book Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times and Corruption of Atlantic City, the series combines historical figures with fictional characters. [...]