Category Archives: 60s American crime films

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

James Coburn’s Hard Contract

Hard Contract Cobrun and RemickAmerican actor James Cobrun had a long and varied career that stretched from 1957 to his last role in 2002. He got his start playing tough guys in westerns on TV and then on the large screen, including his break out role in The Magnificent Seven (1960). He starred in the 1963 classic, The Great Escape, then rode the mid-sixties spy film craze with Our Man Flint (1966) and In Like Flint (1967). He spent the seventies appearing in action, crime and Westerns. Most of which were pretty average, notable exceptions being Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973) and Walter Hill’s wonderful 1973 boxing film, Hard Times. The eighties and nineties were similarly varied in terms of his output, the highlight being Affliction, the 1999 film that won him a best supporting actor Oscar.

I have always liked Coburn for reasons I’ve found it hard to identify. I wouldn’t say he was a great actor. In nearly all the films I’ve seen him in the word that comes to mind to describe his performances is solid. He did have charisma of sorts and was good looking in an unconventional way, especially when he flashed that giant grin of his. I think I probably like him because of his work in the sixties and seventies, one of my favourite periods of US film making.… Read more

Pulp Friday: The Laughing Policeman

The Laughing Policeman Bantam 1974The Laughing Policeman is probably better known as the title of a book than a film, but both are the subject of today’s Pulp Friday offering.

Originally published in 1968, The Laughing Policeman was fourth in a series of ten books featuring the bad tempered police detective, Martin Beck, by Swedish crime writing duo, Maj Sjowell and Per Wahloo. The book was adapted into a film, directed by Stuart Rosenburg, and released in 1973.

The covers in today’s post include both the original novel and the paperback-tie in for the film. The one above is the 1974 Bantam edition. In order those below are: the back cover to the 1974 Bantam edition, the cover of the 1977 Vintage edition, and the 1974 UK paperback tie-in for the movie, published by Sphere. The film appeared under that title in the UK.

The series is very famous and I don’t think I have to go into detail about it here. The plot of the original The Laughing Policeman novel concerns a gunman who shoots passengers on a public bus, killing eight people and wounding one. Beck and his team believe the murders are a disguise for the murder of a police detective who was engaged in an out of hour’s investigation into the murder of a 16-year-old Portuguese sex worker.… Read more

The Nickel Ride

Thenickelride-RobertMulligan1974_zpscfd16d4c

Amid the well-deserved hype around the film version of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice was this interesting list of early seventies crime films set in California and its surrounds. One of these was a little known 1974 movie, which I re-visited recently after first seeing it years ago, The Nickel Ride.

Jason Miller (best known for his role in 1973 film, The Exorcist) is Cooper, a mid-level operative in the LA crime scene, who managers several downtown warehouses where the mob stash their stolen merchandise. This job has earned the nickname of ‘Key Man’ due to all the keys to various storage facilities he has to carry around. He is also involved in various other legal and illegal activities, including fixing fights, bail bonds and acting as a dispute solver of sorts for the members of downtown LA’s working class criminal milieu.

Cooper and his employers face a major problem. They are running out of space to store their pilfered goods and Cooper is under major pressure to finalise negotiations on large track of old commercial warehouse space that would be perfect for their needs. But there seems to be some sort of complication preventing him from closing the deal.

Cooper’s immediate boss, Carl (John Hillerman, instantly recognisable as Higgins in Magnum PI), is getting skittish and assigns Turner (Bo Hopkins), a cocky cowboy enforcer, to shadow him.… Read more