A Guide to American Crime Films of the Forties and Fifties

A Guide to American Crime Films of the Forties and Fifties

A Guide to American Crime Films of the Forties and Fifties

A Guide to American Crime Films of the Forties and Fifties


The only comprehensive guide to the crime films of the forties and fifties, this volume focuses on the major events that shaped and molded the genre: war, alienation, drugs, and organized crime. The body of the work offers over 1,200 entries that feature concise summaries, analyses, and credits. The volume is a continuation of the author's earlier work A Guide to American Crime Films of the Thirties (Greenwood, 1995). The book includes those stars that the public had already embraced as gangsters in the thirties such as James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, and Edward G. Robinson and brings them into a new era in which they are transformed into enforcers of the law. This work will be of interest to scholars, students, and film buffs alike.


The remark of a famous movie producer, that it's time to develop some new clichés, may well apply to many of the crime films of the 1940s and 1950s, for they often borrowed from their counterparts of the 1930s. But with the end of Prohibition and the Great Depression and the demise of the notorious gangster, Hollywood lost three of its favorite plot sources. The crime films of the next two decades shaped by two elements: the tried-and-true formats of previous periods and the advent of new and insidious forces.

For the most part, the characters who populated these later crime films were comfortably installed into the movie formulas of die past. The detective and mystery tales, the cops-and-robbers approach, the "old dark house" format, the gangster and racketeer story, the courtroom drama, the newspaper-crime drama, the prison drama, the exploitation film, the police procedural -- all spilled over into the crime films of the 1940s and 1950s. But World War II and its aftermath brought both subtle and profound changes to these otherwise traditional formats and genres, profoundly altering the crime drama forever.

The Detective in Peace and War

The early war years found our fictional screen detectives engrossed in battling spies and saboteurs instead of the general rogues' gallery of heavies. For instance, Sidney Toler, as the title character in Charlie Chan in Panama (1940), helped to thwart a saboteur and a plot to blow up the American fleet as it moved through the Panama Canal. In Enemy Agents Meet Ellery Queen (1942), William Gargan, as the title sleuth, battled Nazi spies aboard a train transporting diamonds smuggled out of Holland. Meanwhile, in Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (1942), both the British government and Nazi agents were after a secret bombsight invented by a Swiss scientist. Holmes (Basil Rathbone), disguised as an elderly bookseller, protected the coveted device. However, their patriotic commitment did not deter these romantic heroes from fighting conventional villains. Sidney Toler in Charlie Chan and the Murder Cruise (1940) and Castle in the Desert (1942) continued to foil conventional foes, as did other detectives.

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