Category Archives: 70s American crime films

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?

MIFF report back #2: The Neon Demon

Neon Demon 1It is easy, indeed, tempting, to over analyse Nicolas Wendig Refn’s latest film, the fashion satire/psychological horror The Neon Demon, currently showing at the 2016 Melbourne International Film Festival. It is a film that doesn’t stand up to too close a critical scrutiny. It is also one that, as far as I am concerned, did not require it as a condition of my enjoyment.

Jesse (Elle Fanning) is the latest in a long queue stretching back into the last century, of wide eyed female ingénues fresh off the bus/plane/train and desperate to make it in Tinsel Town. She has her sights set on cracking the cutthroat world of high fashion modelling. In an industry where nineteen is considered on the verge of being past it as a working model, her non-surgically enhanced natural beauty is enough to make even the most jaded photographer stand up and pay attention.

It is not long before Jesse is taking part in fashion shoots and modelling clothes on major catwalk shows, much to the intense chagrin of other models Gigi (Bella Heathcote) and Sarah (Abbey Lee), also out to do what ever it takes to succeed and incredibly jealous of Jesse’s meteoric rise. Gigi and Sarah are also insecure, bitchy, cynical and angry, further alienating them from Jesse, who exudes an air of clam self-confidence and poise. … Read more

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