Crime Films

Crime Films

When looking at the crime film it is important to understand the nature of the films genre. The genre is a way for the audience to distinguish types of films. These are categorised together because of standard protocols developed for a particular types or styles of film. These films usually follow similar guidelines in order to produce a predictable style for the audience. The development of genre films is not entirely the prerogative of Hollywood. It is more the desire of the public viewing audience to have an idea of the type of film they are about to see. The western, musical or the gangster film are examples of genre films. These categories of films all have similarities in the ways in which they are made: musicals end happily; the westerns will all have the final shoot out; and the gangsters will all be overcome by justice or meet their own demise. The reason for the consistency in the films is the public’s desire to make an informed choice not and not to go in blind.

By using the genre qualification, the industry is able to target societal groups and try to produce and market what they want to see. The public attends a film because they think they might enjoy some aspect of it. The film genre follows a set of abstract rules that allows the public to informally categorize films. These rules must be viewed from a flexible point of view in order to legitimize their future existence. By using this method of categorizing films the public is able to decide which films they wish to see and those they do not. Some people love musicals and if they were to go to one and find there was no music or dance they might not be too pleased. The concept of genre is one that may provide benefit to the viewers but at the same time may also present problems for the directors who must compromise their artistic aspirations. Examples of this can be seen in the production of sequels, and the use of repetitive set qualities. These may include the mise en scene of the picture or the inclusion of similar sound. Because of these unwritten rules the directors must include some of the familiar aspects of the genre. The greatest problem may be that the film must fall into a genre category. Defining it within the genre may be compromising to the nature of the film.

Scarface (1932 U.S.A. – Howard Hawks) is a film where ones view of the lead role is ever changing with the apparent mental stability of the character.

Tony, the principal character, exhibits personality characteristics found in every person’s life which normally must be kept hidden. People appreciate the fact that Tony has the guts to do what he wants and at the same time gets the respect that he feel he deserves. Every man’s dream, and on top of that he gets paid. There is always a fascination when money and power is involved.

The character is portrayed through the majority of the film to be worry free, on top of the world, healthy, respected, and loved. The major problems presented to Tony through the earlier portions of the film are those just like any common man: arguments with his mother and sister; family disputes; and overzealous protection of his sister. In presenting the life and times of Camonte, the viewer sees problems that might also be present in his/her own life and can therefor relate well to them. Being able to emulate the life of the film character enables the viewer to feel sympathy or compassion. If the viewer can relate, he can then justify or understand the actions of the condemned.

The audience is lead into the hands of Tony and the sympathy lies with his expression of emotion. A man whose ruthless desire to be on top enabled him to kill one of his better friends and sisters lover remains capable of showing remorse or fear of being alone. This is how we are able to suddenly feel for him. He’s tough: a man’s man. You have to like him. The character of Tony Camonte might be that of a mean and ruthless killer but at least he’s a capitalist, an important quality at the time. Tony throws money around, gets the girl and a whole lot of respect. These are the opportunities that many men would love to have.

Down to the wire we feel for the man who had it all. We recognise that any man who is that tough has to have some feelings that when exposed engender our admiration. By introducing the audience to the emotional side of Tony Camonte, a closer relationship between the viewer and the character is established. This, of course, is appealing to the viewer and we return the favour by cheering for Tony Camonte.

Bonnie and Clyde (1967 U.S.A. – Arthur Penn ) is a film where audience sympathy tends to run wild. There are many variables that make it impossible from any generations’ point of view not to sympathise with them. The two characters appeal to everything that contemporary youth embrace. Unfortunately, the way in which the qualities of characters are presented exploits the use of violence as is common in most of today’s cinematic productions. The relevant or appealing aspects are fundamentally the same.Bonnie and Clyde live lives that incorporate all of the adventure and wild free spirit that many wish to emulate. Viewers are able to empathise because of the exploitation of their humanity rather than in a criminal context. Among the compelling problems are those involving Clyde’s brother and the ever disturbing spectre of Clyde’s virginity. In addition, in order to gain more of the viewer’s favour, the characters were given simple underprivileged backgrounds. This eased the audiences’ guilt in readily accepting the criminal aspects of the main characters lives. That which should be seen as horrifying is made acceptable through the use of humour. By making parts of the life and times of Bonnie and Clyde funny, the audience is able to accept that the criminals may not be as depraved as they thought. After all, all share the same appreciation. The film depicts the life of crime with a flair for the romantic. Day and night share unencumbered skies. The visit with family and friends is depicted as light fun full of laughter. What could possibly be wrong with an idyllic life full of fame, fortune and family at a time when people were losing their houses and sleeping in the car?

Bonnie and Clyde fall in love at first sight, together to the end, fighting for each other’s honour and gazing into each other’s eyes just before the onslaught of lead from the symbolic bad guys. Of course we all know that their lifestyle is abhorrent but it is difficult not to seek out and accentuate the positive of their psyche. They don’t have to be sympathetic to the little man, but they are. The characters are developed to enable them to justify what they are doing by their simple wish to be able to afford to exist. `Some people are carpenters and others are robbers’ is the unexpressed emotion. By this we perceive a lack of intent to harm and an inability to differentiate. Clyde ratifies this inability by his response to the question: ” If you could do it all again, how would you change things?”. His reply “Live in one state and commit crimes in the other.”.

With relation to the gangster film the genre exhibits constant evolution.

The basis of the gangster film lies in the progression thought the ranks of the hood to eventually try to gain power and usurp the organisation. The film usually ends in a great shoot out where the law has finally caught up with the villain, ending in the death or ultimate demise of the gangster. The development of the genre is of utmost importance to the production of films.

Audiences do not want to see the same movie over and over. They only want to see the same type of movie. To accommodate this Hollywood tends to exploit the history and events of the era.

The development and evolution of the genre can follow many different routes. Events in history have been of great influence in changing the classical genre film styles. The evolution of the women’s movement, the roles of the family and the portrayal of war after WWII are some major examples. As we saw in White Heat the use of the A-bomb was integrated into the final shot of Cody Jarret. The great depression in the mid-west was the setting for the rural gangsters of Bonnie and Clyde: a film that changed the way the classical gangster was viewed. Earlier gangsters were all powerful and strived to be omnipotent. They had the money and the power to corrupt. With Bonnie and Clyde we see two gangsters who are really only trying to survive. The Gangster is portrayed with a good side by the protection and favours afforded the little man.

The earlier gangster was one who terrorised all whom he encountered and terrorised all classes. By their actions Bonnie ans Clyde are given a status befitting Robin Hood; taking from the banks but not the poor.

Although the actions of the Gangster cannot be condoned, there is an uncontrollable urge to sympathise with him. In many ways one has to feel sorry for the man who knows nothing more than a life of crime, always running from the law and ultimately dying full of fear. One of the main reasons that we sympathise with the gangster, for a short time, may be the inherent knowledge of what is likely to happen. We are not sure of how the events will unfold but we have an idea that they will develop against a definable set of guidelines. This knowledge gives the viewer the upper hand and therefor might be responsible for the sympathies afforded the villain. From an even broader point of view one could argue that if the viewer has an idea of the events that will unfold before entering the film, then undoubtedly if those events are not the ones s/he is looking for in an abstract way, dissatisfaction may prevail. In the same instance, the viewer may be ready for an adventure of expectations and has prepared him/herself to be ready to sympathise with the villain or gangster.

The motivations could be one of many and may not even occur during the film but may have been learned as a genre throughout years of viewing.

Acceptance of criticism of abhorrent criminal behaviour is impossible to defend but the ability to imagine is a characteristic of which every human is capable. The problem lies in how far the imaginary is allowed to rule the realistic. Most of us wish that we could have the experience, the feelings of adventure and unrestricted freedom portrayed in Bonnie and Clyde but that gives us no reason to rob banks.

The sympathies that are felt for the characters can for the most part be generalised by saying that the “principle” of the film is most often the character that receive the greatest attention. This is fundamental in the understanding of a film and in the deliverance of a story. The apparent identification with characters of certain types of films is totally dependent upon the desires and expectations of the viewer. It is the ability of the audience to identify with the central characters of a film that keeps them watching. The use of the imagination or a simple wish to be exposed to other possibilities are the fundamental reasons for entertainment. The criticisms being aroused by those who are opposed to the way in which crime is occasional depicted, believe that real life and the stories told by films are becoming increasingly similar. The criticism can be justified in some respects but by justifying these criticisms there is an implied ignorance for the individual intelligence of the general population.


David Bordwell, Kristin Thomson, Film Art an introduction: McGraw-

-Hill,Inc.:University of Wisconsin,1993.

Graeme Turner, Film as Social Practice: Routledge, 1993.