A Guide to American Crime Films of the Thirties

A Guide to American Crime Films of the Thirties

A Guide to American Crime Films of the Thirties

A Guide to American Crime Films of the Thirties


Recent crime films such as Scarface, the Dirty Harry series, and The Godfather have captured the American imagination, but they owe a large debt to the early crime talkies such as The Public Enemy, Paul Muni's Scarface, and Little Caesar. More than 1,000 entries are featured in this volume, complete with the names of directors, screen writers, and major players offering a wealth of data supported by plot evaluations. For the serious student of crime films, this work provides a comprehensive treatment of the genre. It is the only one-volume work that includes all crime sub-genres (detective, mystery, cops-and-robbers, and courtroom dramas) in addition to gangster films.


Many social critics believe that crime, especially urban crime, is caused by poverty, miserable living conditions, drugs, low educational achievement, availability of guns, and other old-fashioned socio-cultural afflictions. Others try to explain crime in genetic or physiological terms -- or the familiar unending nature-versus-nurture debate. As the compilers of this book, we make neither claim; we are neither sociologists nor scientists. Most of the films in this book are simply entertainments, and any extended analysis of them might prove pretentious. Generally, they deal with crimes resulting from such motives as greed, jealousy, hate, anger, pride, revenge, and lust.

In addition, these films cover more than the conventional gangster genre. Included are courtroom dramas, newspaper-crime stories, prison films, gangster features, cops-and-robbers tales, mysteries, detective plots, police procedurals, caper films, exploitation melodramas both topical and slightly sensational, and cautionary dramas. in the strictest sense, this volume is not a work focusing on a particular genre, since the term implies a strict format or set of features. the prison film, for instance, usually incorporates a prison break, sadistic guards, a sympathetic doctor or priest, a plea for reform, and other familiar devices, while the courtroom drama usually consists of flashbacks and sensational scenes of revelations. a crime film need not follow such an arrangement since it may be classified under the gangster, mystery, or any other of the genres mentioned above, each having its own set of rules.

The Rise of the Crime Film

The period between the end of the silent film (1927) and the general acceptance of the sound film (1929) is often called the transition period. the majority of theaters were not wired for sound, so many films were released in both silent and sound version. Some films added only sound effects or music to the sound track while others offered only brief segments of sound, such as Tenderloin (1928). But by the end of 1929, virtually every device of the crime film as we know it today was introduced. Alias Jimmy Valentine (1928) and Light Fingers (1929) depicted criminals ready to reform. The Argyle Case (1929) and Seven Footprints to Satan . . .

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