Today I’m honoured to have New York crime writer Wallace Stroby guest post on his top 5 crime films you’ve never seen.
For those of your not familiar with Wallace’s work, he is the author of five hardboiled works of crime fiction, including his most recent two featuring the female professional criminal, Crissa Stone, Cold Shot to the Heart and Kings of Midnight. I haven’t got around to Kings of Midnight yet, but I have read Cold Shot to the Heart and it’s terrific.
In addition to being a great writer, Wallace is also a keen student of popular culture, particularly as it relates to crime fiction and film. I particularly like the way Wallace publicises and shares the more obscure gems of crime fiction and film. You can check out his books here and his ruminations on popular culture at his blog, Live at the Heartbreak Lounge.
Awhile back, I had the opportunity to guest blog about my picks for ‘The Five Best Crime Novels You’ve Never Read’. My thanks to Andrew Nette and Pulp Curry for agreeing to host this companion piece.
I’ve left out films I’ve written about at length in the past, such as Seven Ups, The Outfit, Rolling Thunder and Across 110th Street. I’ve also avoided titles to be included on my list of ‘The Five Best Heist Films You’ve Never Seen’, coming soon to a blog near you.
In the early ‘30s, under pressure for their alleged glorification of gangsters in such films as The Public Enemy and Little Caesar, Warner Bros. decided to start making movies about good guys. Don’t let that fool you: G-Men is the most violent and action-packed of all Warner’s ‘30s crime dramas, James Cagney may be on the right side of the law here, as a tough kid-turned-lawyer-turned-FBI agent, but he’s still quick with his fists and a .45 automatic. G-Men is 86 minutes of gunfights, car chases, and Cagney punching people. With plotlines and scenes lifted from the headlines of the day (Dillinger’s crime spree, the raid on the Little Bohemia Lodge, the Kansas City Massacre), G-Men is also one of Warner’s most topical ‘30s films. The Warner DVD version includes a tacked-on 1949 prologue, celebrating the 25th anniversary of the agency and declaring G-Men “The daddy of all FBI pictures”.
Hitchcock’s Rear Window gets all the attention, but this little B-movie masterpiece, also based on a Cornell Woolrich story (The Boy Cried Murder aka Fire Escape), is just as suspenseful. On a hot Manhattan night, a little boy (Bobby Driscoll) witnesses a murder from his tenement fire escape. No one believes him though – except the killers (including the wonderfully sinister Paul Stewart), who plot to bump off the only witness to their crime. Directed by cinematographer Ted Tetzlaff, who’d shot Hitchock’s Notorious three years earlier.
At Close Range (1986)
Yes, it’s an eighties film (it even has an end credits song by Madonna), but this tense character-driven drama features Oscar-caliber performances by Sean Penn and Christopher Walken (before his various acting tics became widely parodied). They play father and son in a fact-based story about a career criminal in rural Pennsylvania who seduces his son into the family business. Director James Foley’s best film, with a cast of soon-to-be stars, including Mary Stuart Masterson, David Strathairn, Kiefer Sutherland, Chris Penn and Crispin Glover.
After a killing spree in L.A., a ruthless drug dealer (co-writer Billy Bob Thornton), his girlfriend (Cynda Williams) and their equally lethal partner (Michael Beach) head for the small town of Star City, Arkansas. Waiting for them is the local sheriff, Dale “Hurricane” Dixon (Bill Paxton), who gleefully looks forward to doing “some real police work,” but is actually in way over his head. Directed by Carl Franklin (Devil in a Blue Dress), it’s a near-perfect marriage of character and action, and a meditation on both the pull of the past and the luxury of moral certainty.
A hitman for the Russian mob (Tim Roth) comes home to snowy Brighton Beach, N.Y., to visit his dysfunctional family, and carry out a final killing at the behest of a local crime lord. Director James Gray’s astonishingly assured debut features a high-powered cast (Roth, Maximilian Schell, Vanessa Redgrave, Edward Furlong), and a wintry somber tone you’ll either find hypnotic or depressing.
Wallace Stroby is the author of the novels Kings of Midnight, Cold Shot to the Heart, Gone Til November, Th Heartbreak Lounge and The Barbed Wire Kiss. His sixth novel, Shoot the Woman First, will be published next year by St. Martin’s Press.