Crime Films

Crime Films

Crime Films

Crime Films

Synopsis

Focusing on ten films that span the range of the twentieth century, Thomas Leitch traces the transformation of three figures common to all crime films: the criminal, the victim and the avenger. He shows how the distinctions among them become blurred throughout the course of the century, reflecting and fostering a deep social ambivalence towards crime and criminals. The criminal, victim and avenger characters effectively map the shifting relations between subgenres (such as the erotic thriller and the police film) within the larger genre of crime film.

Excerpt

The crime film is the most enduringly popular of all Hollywood genres, the only kind of film that has never once been out of fashion since the dawn of the sound era seventy years ago. It is therefore surprising to discover that, at least as far as academic criticism is concerned, no such genre exists. Carlos Clarens's magisterial study Crime Movies (1980) begins by criticizing Robert Warshow's seminal essay “The Gangster as Tragic Hero” (1948) for its narrow definition of the gangster film, based on liberal social assumptions that “limited genres to one dimension apiece. ” Yet Clarens's definition of the crime film is equally delimited by its pointed exclusion of “psychological thriller[s]” like Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Laura (1944), and Kiss Me Deadly (1955) from its purview on the grounds that their characters are insufficiently emblematic of “the Criminal, the Law, and Society. ”Larry Langman and Daniel Finn place themselves outside the debate over whether or not crime films include psychological thrillers by announcing in the Preface to their encyclopedic reference, A Guide to American Crime Films of the Forties and Fifties: “The American crime film does not belong to any genre. … Instead, it embodies many genres. ” But their attempt to rise above the problem of classification merely indicates how deeply entrenched that problem is.

None of this academic quibbling has prevented crime films from retaining their popularity, or even from entering universities as the object of closer scrutiny. But subgenres of the crime film, like the gangster film of the 1930s and the film noir of the 1940s, have been more often, and more successfully, theorized than the forbiddingly broad genre of the crime film itself-this genre that is not a genre, even . . .

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