Category Archives: 70s American crime films

Forget it, Stanley, it’s Chinatown: Michael Cimino’s Year of the Dragon

Year of the Dragon posterThe recent death of Michael Cimino saw an outpouring of positive critical and fan commentary about the director’s work. The two films most talked about were the controversial Vietnam War drama, The Deer Hunter (1978), and the sprawling revisionist Western epic, Heaven’s Gate (1980). The Deer Hunter was a hit and won five academy awards. Heaven’s Gate virtually destroyed Cimino’s career and nearly bankrupted United Artists, but has since gone on to enjoy a curious critical rehabilitation, a development which will no doubt be given a prod by the director’s passing.

Cimino did make other films, including The Sicilian (1987) and Desperate Hours, based on the Joseph Hanson stage play and first filmed in 1955 with an ageing Humphrey Bogart, and he penned the scrips for a handful of others. His passing is an opportune time to revisit one of his lessor discussed directorial efforts, the first film he made in the wake the Heaven’s Gate debacle, 1985 neo noir, Year of the Dragon.

Set in New York’s Chinatown, Year of the Dragon opens with the assassination of one of Chinatown’s elders and the murder of an Italian grocery store owner who resists an attempt to shake him down for protection money. The new head of the Chinatown command of the NYPD, Stanley White (Mickey Rourke) believes both deaths are the result of an upsurge in Triad activity.… Read more

Celluloid Apocalypse’s mini-festival of seventies Italian crime cinema

The Italian Connection poster 2The Melbourne based purveyor of boutique VHS, Celluloid Apocalypse, is about to unleash upon the world its special VHS edition of Mike Malloy’s excellent documentary, Eurocrime! The Italian Cop and Gangster Movies that Ruled the 70s. The documentary is a fascinating examination of the wave of Italian ‘poliziotteschi’ films that reached the height of its popularity in the mid-1970s, in response to the success of films like The French Connection (1971), The Godfather (1972) and the Dirty Harry films.

The films are fast past paced, ultra violent, ultra hard boiled and, at first glance, appear to yet another in the cycle of Italian rip-offs of successful American crime films, in much the same was as Spaghetti Westerns riffed off the popularity of the US Western. But while these films were cheaply made and quickly produced, for the most part they are far more interesting and sophisticated than simple knock offs.

While they utilised, and sometimes just plain copied, the standard tropes of seventies Hollywood crime film, they also interrogated uniquely Italian issues, including political dominance of organised crime, the wave of politically inspired terrorism characterised the country’s so-called ‘years of lead’, and the changing nature of society and gender relations in Italy. Another fascinating aspect is the fact that in addition to their Italian stars, many of these films boast performances by well known American and British actors who took the roles after their domestic film careers had began to decline.… Read more

‘Scorsese’ at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image

King of ComedySorsese, currently showing at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image in Melbourne, is not exactly the exhibition that is advertised, and that is a very good thing. Martin Scorsese’s career has stretched over half a century and involves nearly sixty films. Yet anyone who has seen advance press and publicity forScorsese could be forgiven for thinking the focus is mainly on the early and more masculine examples of his oeuvre, Mean Streets(1973), Taxi Driver (1976), and Raging Bull (1980).

These movies are certainly compelling, both as individual examples of film craft and for the way they play into the myths and realities of 1970s American cinema, when Scorsese, along with fellow directors and friends Francis Ford Coppola, Stephen Spielberg, and Brian De Palma, tilted against the ailing Hollywood studio system and then become some of its leading lights. But these films in no way tell Scorsese’s whole story.

You can read my full review of ACMI’s Scorsese exhibition at the Australian Book Review Arts Update site here.

Book review: The World of Shaft

The World of Shaft

You might remember the news last year that New Line pictures had acquired the rights to do yet another film remake featuring the iconic character of John Shaft. If so, you may also remember the ensuring controversy that erupted over plans to make said film a comedy, including an open letter protesting the move by  award winning journalist, David F Walker.

I am not sure at what stage the proposal Shaft remake is at, but I totally agree with Walker in his introduction to Steve Aldous’s recently released guide to the character, ‘When author Ernest Tidyman’s book Shaft was first published in 1971, and director Gordon Parks’ cinematic adaption followed a year later, a new era of representation began in American pop culture.’

The World of Shaft attempts to chronicle the cultural phenomena that is the ex-juvenile delinquent, Vietnam Vet, New York private eye known as Shaft. From the character’s origins via the pen of white ex-newspaperman Tidyman to the, in my opinion, rather average 2000 cinematic remake, this is an exhaustive examination of every aspect of the character and his various manifestations.

Shaft emerged from a combination of Tidyman’s desperation to make it as a writer and, as he put it in an interview, his “awareness of both social and literary situations in a changing city.… 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