Criminal Culture and Mass Culture

Criminal subcultures had already been posed as social microcosms throughout the 1940s. More explicitly than any earlier prison film, Brute Force (1947) offered its prison as existential social metaphor for a meaningless, tragically unjust round of activities that would end only in death. The boxing cycle of the later 1940s (Body and Soul, 1947 Champion, 1949 The Set-Up), besides treating the ring as one more exotic milieu to be mined for its sociological interest, insistently equated it with...

The Problem of the Crime Film

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...

Criminal Anxieties Criminal Jokes

New Jack City

As the 1990s wore on, however, it became clear that however cynical Americans may have grown about the justice system, they were even more frightened of criminals. After years of polls in which fewer than 10 percent of respondents listed crime as the nation's most important problem, it abruptly shot to the top of the 1994 Gallup Poll, with some 40 percent of respondents listing it as most important.26 The recreational use of drugs, taken for granted by a generation of upper-class college...

Personal Books and Reference Books

Two sorts of study remain outside the line of development this chapter traces belletristic personal, sometimes biographical, essays on crime films, and reference guides giving information about individual films or filmmakers. Although the two kinds of writing, which respectively reflect the anti-intentionalism of film-noir criticism and the inten-tionalism of detective-film criticism, may seem poles apart, several volumes show both impulses in full flower. Two books devoted primarily to crime...

Dmystifications

The project of making visible the invisible that Annette Kuhn had claimed for feminist criticism - that is, disclosing unconscious, patriarchal, political, or otherwise unacknowledged motives that have shaped filmmaking practices - has had a much wider effect on film studies, and on studies of the crime film in particular.58 By the time Carl Richardson made the Chandleresque announcement in Autopsy 1992 that film noir must balance its dark lack of sentimentality by incorporating a greater...

Feminist Critique

Even as Rosow, Clarens, and Hirsch were summing up an era in crime-film criticism, a new wave of feminist studies was calling into question that criticism's methodology. As an earlier generation of critics had rejected Rotha's tenets of originality and ambition, the new feminist theory rejected the content analysis of Molly Haskell, aptly summarized by Haskell's 1974 summary of female roles in films noirs In the dark melodramas of the forties, woman came down from her pedestal and she didn't...

Critical Overview

Like comedies, westerns, horror films, and science fiction, the crime film has inspired dozens of volumes of critical commentary. It is difficult to write a coherent history of criticism of the crime film, however, especially because of its tendency to split into subgenres whose import is apparently only distantly related. The project of genre theory itself has depended throughout its history on the ascendancy of such critical methodologies as the structuralism of Tzvetan Todorov, which allows...

Theories of Crime Fiction

Systematic criticism of the crime film was delayed by three obstacles. Early champions of film art like British documentary filmmaker and historian Paul Rotha tended to dismiss the established genres of Hollywood entertainment in favor of more ambitious, individual, original films that were the very antithesis of the crime film. Even among genres, the crime film continued to suffer neglect in favor of the western, which enjoyed a renaissance in the widescreen, Technicolor incarnations of the...

Hollywood Mythmaking

Though neither of them names Paul Rotha directly, Parker Tyler and Robert Warshow, the first important critics to deal in English with crime films, both tackle his condescension toward genre films head-on. The two of them, writing soon after Chandler's Simple Art of Murder, share the same project to reveal the unconscious collective myths that play a much larger role than deliberate individual artistry in shaping Hollywood movies. As Tyler argues in Magic and Myth of the Movies 1947 , the lack...

Thematic and Iconographic Analysis

Critics who read French were already familiar with the groundwork for a thematic approach to the crime genre laid by Raymond Borde and tienne Chaumeton in their Panorama du film noir am ricain 1955 . Noting film noir's leading points of departure from other films about violent death - its adoption of the criminal's point of view and fascination with the criminal's psychology, the moral determinism of the ambiguous and unstable criminal milieu, and the persistent oneirism that associates...

Structuralism and Beyond

Structuralism Movies

By the mid-1970s, film noir had largely displaced the gangster film as the focus of crime-film criticism. Although most critics agreed that film noir was not a genre, the project of genre criticism itself was bolstered by the appearance of Stuart M. Kaminsky's American Film Genres 1974 and John G. Cawelti's Adventure, Mystery, and Romance 1976 . As Tyler and Warshow had reacted against Paul Rotha, both Kaminsky and Cawelti broke explicitly with the auteurist assumptions that each work depended...