Category Archives: 80s American crime films

Chiefs

CHIEFS SLEEVEI’d never heard of Chiefs, a three part 1983 US television series, until recently.

But a recommendation from Overland Magazine deputy editor Jacinda Woodhead got me interested. Her pitch, which wasn’t too far off the mark, was that it has definite similarities to the recent hit series, True Detective.

Chiefs is about three generations of police chiefs in a small southern US town called Delano, each of who tries to solve a number of murders of young white men stretching from the early twenties to the early sixties.

Will Henry Lee (Wayne Rogers, better known as Captain John McIntyre from the hit show, MASH), is the town’s founding chief. A former farmer who can no longer make a living off the land, he is a decent, progressive small ‘L’ liberal and acts in his new job accordingly. Not long after his he takes the job, the body of a young white boy is found near train tracks on the outskirts of Delano. The boy was raped and there are signs he’d been beaten with a truncheon similar to that used by police. Soon, rumours surface about the disappearances of other young white men in the town’s vicinity.

The second chief is Sonny Butts (Brad Davis from the 1978 film, Midnight Express).… Read more

M Emmet Walsh and Blood Simple

Walsh“Well Ma’am if I see him, I’ll sure give him the message.” 

The late Roger Ebert called it the “Stanton-Walsh Rule”. Any movie “featuring either Harry Dean Stanton or M.Emmet Walsh in a supporting role can’t be altogether bad”.

I’ve always liked Walsh as a character actor. But it was only when I recently re-watched the Cohen Bother’s Blood Simple after many year, that I realised just how on the money Ebert was.

Walsh plays a seedy PI called Loren Visser. Visser hired by a rich Texan bar owner, Julian (Dan Hedaya), to kill his wife, Abby (a very young Francis McDormand), who is cheating with one of Julian’s employees, Ray (John Getz).

If you haven’t seen Blood Simple, it won’t spoil your viewing pleasure too much if I tell you Visser kills Julian, tries to frame Abbey for the murder, and all manner of hell is unleashed.

On one level, Blood Simple comes across as a fairly standard small town film noir. Characters chase their own shadows and do very bad things in an effort to extract themselves from an increasingly fraught and dangerous situation.

What really raises it about the pack of similar films is the Cohen brother’s signature brand of dark weirdness, which managers to be both restrained and shocking. … Read more

The heist always goes wrong, part 1: ten of the best heist movies ever made

asphalt01I love a good heist film.

I love the genius and intricacy of their plots and the variations they come in, whether it be the all star team assembled for a job or the desperate ex-cons trying for one last score.

But most of all I love them because of the golden rule of all good heist films – for whatever reason, the heist always goes wrong.

What do you need for a good heist?

You need a plan for actual heist itself, the getaway, and moving, storing and fencing whatever it is you’ve stolen. The more complicated the plan, the more likely it is that something will go wrong.

You need a crew of people; one man or woman alone cannot do a heist. This introduces the human element and all the problems that come with it, the greed, suspicions, jealousies and uncertainties.

I’ve been thinking for a while now about what my top ten-heist films would be and the following list, in no particular order, is it.

The robbery itself is almost immaterial to how I rate a good heist film. What I like is the context and atmosphere in which the heist takes place and inevitable problems that arise after it’s been pulled off. And the darker and more broken things get, the better the film is in my book.… Read more

Wallace Stroby on the best 5 crime films you’ve never seen

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. … Read more

Hunger and other films about doing time

I haven’t spent a lot of time in prisons and don’t want to. But I won’t deny they make tremendous story settings.

This was brought home to me again over the weekend after watching Hunger, Steve McQueen’s 2008 depiction of the final months in the life of IRA militant Bobby Sands. Sands and 9 other IRA inmates staved themselves to death in 1981 in protest against the Thatcher government’s insistence of treating them as common criminals rather than political prisoners.

I recently reviewed Adrian McKinty’s book The Cold Cold Ground, which dealt with a Catholic cop in a Protestant neighbourhood trying to solve a murder against the backdrop of the civil unrest unleashed by the hunger strikes.

Hunger is about what happened inside the walls of the Maze Prison. It’s a visceral, blistering film, all the more so because it’s made with incredible slight of hand.

It opens with the arresting image of a pair of bloody knuckles being soaked in water. These belong to one of the prison guards and were acquired administering incredibly savage beatings to IRA prisoners in response to their “blanket and dirty protests” in which the prisoners refused to wash and smeared shit over the walls of their prison cells. The guard is subsequently murdered in the aged care home where his mother lives, one of 16 guards killed by paramilitaries in retaliation for the treatment of the prisoners.… Read more