Leitch (2002, p. 2) called the crime film “an enormously promising, but hitherto neglected, focus for a genre approach to cultural studies”. The researcher tried to prove that the cinematographic crime genre was not a stylistic entity but a synthetic form consisting of various subgenres (e. g. , the gangster film, the detective film, the police film, the lawyer film, etc. ). Shadoian (2003) approached the same issue of generic framework in regard to films from the point of deductive reasoning. First, the films of one and the same genre should manifest a set of clearly defined ideas.
These ideas and themes unify various films suspected to be of one genre so that they represent a thematic entity. Second, the films of one genre should employ a similar toolkit of artistic methods to manifest the aforesaid common ideas on the screen. In the present subchapter the researcher utilises Shadoian’s approach in regard to the analysis of common themes and methods distinctive for the films of the crime genre. Rafter (2000, p. 15) stated that the criminal genre is sustained in the focus of public attention because of “our apparently insatiable hunger for stories about crimes, investigations, trials, and punishment”.
The researcher pointed out some elements shared by the crime movies in their public appeal: the plots, the manner of plot presentation, and moral lessons taught. The spectator is involved into the world of adventures, danger, suspense, and clearly delineated balance of moral gains and losses.
Shadoian (2003, p. 4) emphasised that the gangster/crime genre possessed “a structure ready-made for certain kinds of concerns”. Regardless of the subtype – be it a film about corrupt policemen, the foundation and collapse of a gangster empire, or a black crime comedy – there are four major issues present (Shadoian 2003, pp.4-5): (1) “[T]he term versus”; (2) the conflict of social ranks; (3) the figure of the gangster as a metaphor; and (4) the visualisation of implicit, invisible issues. By mentioning the term versus in regard to the crime film, Shadoian (2003, p. 4) meant that characters are portrayed “in opposition to the society”. Leitch (2002) also supported the idea of the crime film serving a media for the socially ‘normal’ or law-abiding public to differentiate themselves from the contrasting figure of a criminal. Leitch (2002, pp.12-13) was even more precise than Shadoian (2003) when the former defined the generic gallery of the crime movie heroes.
According to Leitch (2002, pp. 12-13), the characters, whom the crime film usually depicts, belong either to the stratum of the Criminal, or the Society, or the Law.
Judging from the plot line which centres on a particular personage, he/she is either “[… ] the criminal who commits the crime, [or] the victim who suffers it, [or] the avenger or detective who investigates it in the hope of bringing the criminal to justice and re-establishing the social order the crime has disrupted” (Leitch 2002, p.13).
According to the type of the character placed at the heart of the film, the criminal genre may be decomposed into the subgenres of gangster films and films noirs (the criminal), detective and police films, lawyer films (the avenging crime solver); and the man-on-the-run films (the victim). Whereas Leitch (2002) and Shadoian (2003) characterised the main characters of the crime film applying moral concepts as the point of distinction, Rafter (2000, p. 141) suggested a two-fold typical classification of the crime film’s heroes based on viewers’ perceptions:
Viewers delight in watching characters who can escape from tight spots and outsmart their enemies, all the while tossing down scotch and flipping jibes. Good-guy heroes please us by out-tricking the tricky, tracking down psychos, solving impossible mysteries. Bad-guy heroes appeal by being bolder, nastier, crueler, and tougher than we dare to be; by saying what they want, taking what they want, despising weaklings, and breaking the law with impunity. Both good and bad guys operate on the basis of austere, unambiguous moral codes that are as bracing as they are simplistic and brutal.
In regard to the themes, both Leitch (2002) and Shadoain (2003) emphasised that the crime film examined the underground layer of social system in those moments when the established and natural social order was violated. From this perspective, the scope of themes tackled upon in the crime movie is inevitably linked to the discussion of moral and ethical norms and values. In other words, the concept of ‘crime’ is put in the centre of each cinematographic narration belonging to the crime genre. Clarens (1980, p.
13) used to differentiate between “crime as a metaphor for social unrest” and “crime as an isolated event”. The researcher argued that only the crime films treated crime metaphorically, whereas the thrillers were more interested in the factual constituent of crime. Leitch (2002, p. 12) also acknowledged the negative connotation associated with crime as “an aberration, a disruption to the normal workings of society”. However, crime movies are paradoxical in sense that they […] invariably treat crime as normal even as they observe the ways it undermines the social order.
Gangsters do nothing all day long but smuggle or steal. Police officers pursue criminals for a living. [… ] Crime films all profess to solve the criminal problems they present by means of a happy ending; yet the frequency of crime in such films suggests that the more general problems posed by crime will never be solved. (Leitch, 2002, p. 12) Due this ambiguous treatment of crime, films of the given genre appear to play around with the axioms – ‘do not kill’, ‘do not lie’, ‘do not fornicate’, and so on – which are supposed to be imprinted in viewers’ consciousness.
Even when the endings of crime films endorse a reassuringly absolutist view of crime and punishment, the middle of such films puts absolutist categories like hero, authority, innocent, guilty, victim, criminal, and avenger into play, engaging the doubts and reservations about these labels that make them fit subjects for mass entertainment as well as moral debate, and so raising questions that the most emphatically absolutist endings can never entirely resolve.
(Leitch, 2002, p. 15) Shadoian (2003) talked about the visualisation of non-visual issues such as ethical cliches in sense that the crime film helped the law-abiding public to cross the boundaries of their social rank and to look at themselves from the outside. Leitch (2002, p. 15) was especially particular in regard to the viewers’ “ambivalence about crime”: