Category Archives: 60s American crime films

Thoughts on Point Blank at 50

Point Blank premiered in San Francisco on August 30 1967. Critically overlooked at the time, its launched John Boorman’s Hollywood directorial career, became a cult hit and has had an enduring influence on crime cinema. It is a film I have watched on numerous occasions and each time it yields new insights. The 50th anniversary is an opportune time for a few thoughts about its importance.

Point Blank was loosely based the 1962 novel, The Hunter, the first in the series of books by the late Donald Westlake, writing as Richard Stark, about the master thief, Parker. It opens with Walker, as the Parker character is called, played by Lee Marvin, double-crossed and left for dead by his friend, Mal (John Vernon), and wife, Lynne (Sharon Acker), with whom Mal was having an affair, after the three of them have heisted a regular money drop on the prison island of Alcatraz by a powerful criminal network, the Organisation. Walker, somehow, survives his wounds and manages to get off the island. He reappears and proceeds to tear Organisation apart to find Mal and get his share from the heist, the amount of $94,000. He is assisted by a mysterious man, Yorst (Keenan Wynn), who at first comes across as a cop, but is eventually revealed as a senior member of the Organisation, who sees in Walker a means to eliminate his internal competitors.… Read more

Lee Marvin: 10 essential films

Prime CutThe iconic American actor, Lee Marvin was born today, February 19, 1924. To celebrate the occasion, my latest piece for the British Film Institute looks at his 10 essential movies.

You can check out the piece in full here at the British Film Institute site.

The heist always goes wrong, part 3: 10 of the best heist films you’ve never seen

payroll-1961As readers of this site know, I love a good heist film, the ingenuity of their plots and the variations they come in, whether it be the all star team assembled for the job of a life time or a group of desperate men and women trying for one last big score.

Everyone can name their favourite heist films and, for the most part, it is usually the big name titles such as The Asphalt Jungle (1950), The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973) and the French classic, Rififi (1955). Indeed, I listed these and many other well know heist movies in previous posts on this site, ‘The heist always goes wrong, part 1: ten of the best heist movies ever made’ and ‘The heist always goes wrong, part 2: reader picks and other favourite heist movies’.

But what about the lessor known heist films that are great but which nobody knows about?

To celebrate the release of my second crime novel, Gunshine State, I have compiled the following list of the 10 best heist films you’ve never seen.

operation-amsterdam-poster

Operation Amsterdam (1959)

Operation Amsterdam functions as both a war and a heist film. Peter Finch plays Jan Smit, a British intelligence officer ordered to infiltrate the city of Amsterdam, which is on the verge of being overrun by invading German forces, and prevent the city’s diamond reserves from falling into Nazi hands.… Read more

10 great biker films

PsychomaniaThis September, the living dead won’t be shuffling on to the screen, they’ll roar across it on the back of motorcycles, as the BFI releases its Blu-ray of Australian-born director Don Sharp’s 1973 cult film, Psychomania, a fusion of two obsessions of early 70s exploitation cinema: the occult and vicious motorcycle packs.

Motorcycle gangs first appeared on the big screen in the early 1950s. A trickle of motorcycle-themed film appeared until the mid-60s, but it wasn’t until the release of US gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson’s 1966 book Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs and then the 1969 Rolling Stones concert at Altamont Speedway concert, at which Hells Angels working as bouncers killed an audience member, that popular culture’s preoccupation with criminal motorcycle gangs reached fever pitch.

Hollywood produced a deluge of outlaw biker movies and, while this has been the motorcycle’s most common screen manifestation, the machines have also symbolised the quest for freedom and self-discovery.

My latest piece for the British Film Institute site, 10 major cinematic milestones focused on the motorbike, is available to read in full here.

What are your favourite films featuring motorcycles?

Mike Hodges’ Pulp & mass paperback fiction on the big screen

Caine in PulpThe opening credits of Mike Hodges’ under appreciated 1972 film, Pulp, are a delight for any fan of cheap pulp paperback fiction. As text roles across the screen (in type writer font, of course), the camera pans between the faces of the three female stenographers transcribing the words of sleazy English expat pulp writer, Mickey King (Michael Caine). As Caine’s nasal voice-over recites his latest novel, The Organ Grinder, we see the different reactions of the women, disgust, shock, and excitement. It’s a reminder that once, before it was reduced to an object of outre fascination for its cover art, pulp fiction elicited strong emotions.

The movie shifts to King, in his cheap white suit and big hair, Jack Carter – the character he played in Hodges’ Get Carter only a year earlier – gone to seed, stepping out of the Italian hotel he lives in to hail a cab. As he sits in the reception area waiting for his completed manuscript, King’s voice-over goes: “The writer’s life would be ideal but for the writing. This was a problem I had to overcome. Then I read the Guinness Book of Records about Earl Stanley Gardner, the world’s fastest novelist who would dictate up to the rate of ten thousand words every day.… Read more