The revival of the criminal genre

As Leitch (2002) observed, the decade filtered the whole American culture through the criminal lense. The period introduced two subgenres: the so-called caper film and the lawyer film (trial drama – Rafter 2000, p. 31).

The former delivered criminal plots to the public rather acidly and mockingly (USA: Stanley Kubrick with The Killing, 1956; Robert Wise with Odds against Tomorrow, 1959; Europe: Jules Dassin with Rififi [Du Rififi chez les hommes], 1955; Federico Fellini with The Swindle [Il bidone], 1955; Louis Malle with Frantic, also known as Elevator to the Gallows [Ascenseur pour l'echafaud], 1958; Jean-Luc Godard with Breathless [A bout de souffle], 1959, and Alphaville, 1965.

Francois Truffaut with Shoot the Piano Player [Tirez sur le pianiste], 1960; Claude Chabrol with The Unfaithful Wife [La femme infidele], 1969; the British Charles Crichton with The Lavender Hill Mob , 1951; and Alexander Mackendrick with The Ladykillers, 1955; the Italian Mario Monicelli with I soliti ignoti [Big Deal on Madonna Street, USA], 1958 ; the Japanese Akira Kurosawa with High and Low, 1962). The caper film brought into the criminal genre the “aura of existential despair” (Leitch 2002, p. 36) in showing “the planning and execution of a robbery that infallibly went wrong to dramatize the irreducible unreasonableness of life”.

Strikingly, caper criminal films declared the preciousness of family values, depicting “the dysfunctional criminal family to bolster its case for the imperatives of American patriarchy“ (Leitch 2002, p. 38). The lawyer film (Otto Preminger’s Anatomy of a Murder, 1959; Stanley Kramer with Inherit the Wind, 1960; Robert Mulligan with To Kill a Mockingbird, 1962 ; Blake Edwards with Experiment in Terror, 1962) drew public’s attention and admiration to law enforcers who became “social prophets and social engineers” (Leitch 2002, p. 39).

In the 1960s, due to the proliferation of television, which was strictly censored, the crime film started offering exuberant sex and violence scenes to the spectators (Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, 1960, and Frenzy, 1972; William Castle's Homicidal, 196, and Strait-Jacket, 1964; Alan J. Pakula’s Klute, 1971; Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde, 1967). The 1970s/Revival Rafter (2000 p. 32) considered the film Bonnie and Clyde (Arthur Penn, 1967) to symbolise the revival of the criminal genre. The period “when anger against the state and authority neared its peak” (Rafter 2000, p. 34) was remarkable for the weakened censorship and integration of Afro-American audience to the crime genre through a new subgenre of the blaxploitation film (Sidney Poitier’s Uptown Saturday Night, 1974; Norman Jewison’s In the Heat of the Night, 1967; Barry Shear’s Across 110th Street, 1972; Melvin Van Peebles’ Sweet Sweetback's Baad Asssss Song, 1971).

The subgenre of the police films (Leitch 2002: Peter Yates’ Bullitt, 1968; William Friedkin’s The French Connection, 1971; Don Siegel’s Dirty Harry, 1971, and its four sequels, 1973–88) also intensified the evolvement of the genre. The traditional crimie framework was exploded by the creation of Francis Coppola’s Godfather (1972). The criminal hero acquired more complexity: on the one hand, he was poisoned and “corrupted by the ‘family business’ of organized crime” (Leitch 2002, p. 43), but, on the other hand, the audience was admired with him grabbing at the drying out familial roots. Strikingly, the police films (Ted Post’s Magnum Force, 1973; Norman Jewison’s And Justice for All, 1979.

Sidney Lumet’s The Verdict, 1982; Mike Nichols’ Regarding Henry, 1991; Jonathan Lynn’s My Cousin Vinny, 1992; Alan J. Pakula’s The Pelican Brief, 1993) started to reveal that law abiders, once impeccable and romanticised, appeared to be criminalised more than mobsters. As Rafter (2000 p. 35) remarked, there emerged the critical trend in the criminal genre showing crime as “systemic in origin and, often, as insurmountable” (Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, 1971; Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs, 1972.

Roman Polanski’s Chinatown, 1974; Ulu Grosbard’s Straight Time, 1978). Against this background of corruption, the past of criminal business looked as “a safely distant vantage point from which to explore the intractable contemporary problems of corruption and greed” (Leitch 2002, p. 43). It is natural that the crime film assimilated to the tendency by reviving the methods and themes of the bygone era.