By Thomas Leitch
Concentrating on ten movies that span the diversity of the 20th century, Thomas Leitch lines the transformation of 3 figures universal to all crime movies: the felony, the sufferer and the avenger. He indicates how the differences between them develop into blurred in the course of the process the century, reflecting and fostering a deep social ambivalence in the direction of crime and criminals. The felony, sufferer and avenger characters successfully map the moving kin among subgenres (such because the erotic mystery and the police movie) in the better style of crime movie.
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Additional info for Crime Films (Genres in American Cinema)
In retrospect, it is remarkable how brief this vogue of the tough movie gangster, perhaps the most striking ﬁgure in the history of Hollywood crime, actually was. Studio heads were under such constant pressure from public-interest groups to tone down their portrayal of professional criminals that as early as 1931, at the height of the new cycle, Jack L. 11 In addition, the release of Scar- Historical and Cultural Overview 4. Scarface (1932): The Depression-era audience’s ambivalence toward an upwardly mobile fantasy.
Although crime ﬁlms typically move toward endings that conﬁrm the moral absolutes incarnated in each of their three primary ﬁgures, an equally important function crime ﬁlms share is to call these primary ﬁgures, and the moral absolutes that inspire them, into question by making a case for the heroic or pathetic status of the criminal, questioning the moral authority of the justice system, or presenting innocent characters who seem guilty or guilty characters who seem innocent. 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.
If this pattern is not a revelation of the ﬁfties conformity satirized in ﬁlms like Pleasantville (1998), it reveals how dear the utopian ideal of social conformity remained as a wish of even such a subversive genre as the crime ﬁlm.