Crime film

Crime film

Crime films are films which focus on the lives of criminals. The stylistic approach to a crime film varies from realistic portrayals of real-life criminal figures, to the far-fetched evil doings of imaginary arch-villains. Criminal acts are almost always glorified in these movies.[1]


Plays and films

Films dealing with crime and its detection are often based on plays rather than novels[citation needed]. Agatha Christie's stage play Witness for the Prosecution (1953; based on her own short story, published in 1933) was adapted for the big screen by director Billy Wilder in 1957. The film starred Marlene Dietrich and Charles Laughton and is a classic example of a "courtroom drama". In a courtroom drama, a charge is brought against one of the main characters, who says that they are innocent. Another major part is played by the lawyer (in Britain a barrister) representing the defendant in court and battling with the public prosecutor. He or she may enlist the services of a private investigator to find out what really happened and who the real perpetrator is. However, in most cases it is not clear at all whether the accused is guilty of the crime or not—this is how suspense is created.

Often, the private investigator storms into the courtroom at the very last minute in order to bring a new and crucial piece of information to the attention of the court. This type of literature lends itself to the literary genre of drama focused more on dialogue (the opening and closing statements, the witnesses' testimonies, etc.) and little or no necessity for a shift in scenery. The auditorium of the theatre becomes an extension of the courtroom. When a courtroom drama is filmed, the traditional device employed by screenwriters and directors is the frequent use of flashbacks, in which the crime and everything that led up to it is narrated and reconstructed from different angles.

In Witness for the Prosecution, Leonard Vole, a young American living in England, is accused of murdering a middle-aged lady he met in the street while shopping. His wife (played by Marlene Dietrich) hires the best lawyer available (Charles Laughton) because she is convinced, or rather she knows, that her husband is innocent. Another classic courtroom drama is U.S. playwright Reginald Rose's Twelve Angry Men (1954), which is set in the jury deliberation room of a New York Court of Law. Eleven members of the jury, aiming at a unanimous verdict of "guilty", try to get it over with as quickly as possible. And they would really succeed in achieving their common aim if it were not for the eighth juror (played by Henry Fonda in the 1957 movie adaptation), who, on second thoughts, considers it his duty to convince his colleagues that the defendant may be innocent after all, and who, by doing so, triggers a lot of discussion, confusion, and anger.

In television

The popularity of TV brought about the emergence of TV series featuring detectives, investigators, special agents, lawyers, and the police. In Britain, The Avengers (1960s) about the adventures of gentleman agent John Steed and his partner, Emma Peel, achieved cult status. U.S. TV stations produced series such as 77 Sunset Strip (1958–1963); The Streets of San Francisco (1972–1977), starring Karl Malden and a young Michael Douglas; Kojak (1973–1978), with Telly Savalas playing the lollipop-addicted police lieutenant; Switch (1975–1978), with Eddie Albert playing the retired bunco cop to Robert Wagner's role as a former con man; Charlie's Angels (1976–1981); Murder, She Wrote (starting in 1984), about the adventures of Cabot Cove-based mystery writer Jessica Fletcher, played by Angela Lansbury. In Germany, Derrick became a household word.


Crime films may fall under several different subgenres. These include:

  • Film noir - a genre popular in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, often fall into the crime genre. Neo-noir films refer to more modern films influenced by film noir such as Sin City.
  • Heist films - these films deal with a group of criminals attempting to perform a theft or robbery, as well as the possible consequences that follow. Heist films that are lighter in tone are called "Caper films". Examples include The Killing, Oceans 11, Dog Day Afternoon, The Sting and Reservoir Dogs.
  • Heroic bloodshed - a subgenre of Hong Kong action cinema revolving around stylized action sequences and dramatic themes such as brotherhood, duty, honour, redemption and violence, often featuring triads. Also the films almost fall into the mob films, so often called "Hong Kong noir" or "Hong Kong gangster noir". Examples include The Killer and Hard Boiled.
  • Hood films are films dealing with African-American urban issues and culture. They do not always revolve around crime, but often criminal activity features heavily in the storyline. Examples include Menace II Society and Boyz n the Hood.
  • Legal dramas are not usually concerned with the actual crime so much as the trial in the aftermath. A typical plot would involve a lawyer trying to prove the innocence of his or her client. Examples include Awaara, 12 Angry Men and A Time To Kill.
  • Poliziotteschi - a type of crime film made in Italy in the 1960s and 1970s. Typically these films are very gritty and violent. Examples include Violent Naples and High Crime.
  • Snuff films - a subgenre that depicts the actual death or murder of a person or people, without the aid of special effects.

See also


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