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. I’ve also avoided titles to be included on my list of ‘The Five Best Heist Films You’ve Never Seen’, coming soon to a blog near you.

G-Men (1935)

In the early ‘30s, under pressure for their alleged glorification of gangsters in such films as The Public Enemy and Little Caesar, Warner Bros. decided to start making movies about good guys. Don’t let that fool you: G-Men is the most violent and action-packed of all Warner’s ‘30s crime dramas, James Cagney may be on the right side of the law here, as a tough kid-turned-lawyer-turned-FBI agent, but he’s still quick with his fists and a .45 automatic. G-Men is 86 minutes of gunfights, car chases, and Cagney punching people. With plotlines and scenes lifted from the headlines of the day (Dillinger’s crime spree, the raid on the Little Bohemia Lodge, the Kansas City Massacre), G-Men is also one of Warner’s most topical ‘30s films. The Warner DVD version includes a tacked-on 1949 prologue, celebrating the 25th anniversary of the agency and declaring G-Men “The daddy of all FBI pictures”.

The Window (1949)

Hitchcock’s Rear Window gets all the attention, but this little B-movie masterpiece, also based on a Cornell Woolrich story (The Boy Cried Murder aka Fire Escape), is just as suspenseful. On a hot Manhattan night, a little boy (Bobby Driscoll) witnesses a murder from his tenement fire escape. No one believes him though – except the killers (including the wonderfully sinister Paul Stewart), who plot to bump off the only witness to their crime. Directed by cinematographer Ted Tetzlaff, who’d shot Hitchock’s Notorious three years earlier.

At Close Range (1986)

Yes, it’s an eighties film (it even has an end credits song by Madonna), but this tense character-driven drama features Oscar-caliber performances by Sean Penn and Christopher Walken (before his various acting tics became widely parodied). They play father and son in a fact-based story about a career criminal in rural Pennsylvania who seduces his son into the family business.  Director James Foley’s best film, with a cast of soon-to-be stars, including Mary Stuart Masterson, David Strathairn, Kiefer Sutherland, Chris Penn and Crispin Glover.

one-false-move2-1One False Move (1992).

After a killing spree in L.A., a ruthless drug dealer (co-writer Billy Bob Thornton), his girlfriend (Cynda Williams) and  their equally lethal partner (Michael Beach) head for the small town of Star City, Arkansas. Waiting for them is the local sheriff, Dale “Hurricane” Dixon  (Bill Paxton), who gleefully looks forward to doing “some real police work,” but is actually in way over his head. Directed by Carl Franklin (Devil in a Blue Dress), it’s a near-perfect marriage of character and action, and a meditation on both the pull of the past and the luxury of moral certainty.

Little Odessa (1995)

A hitman for the Russian mob (Tim Roth) comes home to snowy Brighton Beach, N.Y., to visit his dysfunctional  family, and carry out a final killing at the behest of a local crime lord. Director James Gray’s astonishingly assured debut features a high-powered cast  (Roth, Maximilian Schell, Vanessa Redgrave, Edward Furlong), and a wintry somber tone you’ll either find hypnotic or depressing.

Wallace Stroby is the author of the novels Kings of Midnight, Cold Shot to the Heart, Gone Til November, Th Heartbreak Lounge and The Barbed Wire Kiss. His sixth novel, Shoot the Woman First, will be published next year by St. Martin’s Press.


15 Responses

  1. Well, I’ve seen 4 of them- never seen The Window- and two at the cinema: One False Move & Little Odessa. Good calls!

  2. This is a nice list, and I’m happy to say I’ve seen three out of five (though I’ve seen The Seven Up (Roy!), Rolling Thunder as well. To me At Close Range is despicably under-rated. There are times when I hunt for this to be on cable, though it rarely is. It’s also based on a true story of a family-run group of thieves in Pennsylvania in the ’70s. They actually robbed Dutch Wonderland out in Lancaster, PA. (I think if them everytime I take my kids there.)

    Now I want to see At Close Range again. And Little Odessa…. ~ Mark

  3. Mark
    Thanks for stopping by. I have never seen At Close Range, but based on what you and Wallace say about it, that’s going to be rectified very soon.

  4. At Close Range is a gem. It’s probably Walken’s least-mannered, most menacing performance. It would make a good double bill with Winter’s Bone. I haven’t seen the others, but since I just got Netflix…Nice to see a shoutout for The Seven-Ups. I’ve loved that film for a long time. My piece on it here:


  5. I’ve seen the last three but had pretty forgot all about them. Remember enjoying Little Odessa. Good picks!

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  8. Great piece, Wallace. Did I really miss one of these (Little Odessa) or was it ripped off by chemo brain…? It’s going onto the NetFlix #1 spot right now. Cool, bro.

  9. I can’t argue with those five films; they’re all excellent.
    One I like to tout, that’s rarely mentioned is “They Live By Night,” starring Farley Ganger and Cathy O’Donnell. A 1949 film based on Edward Anderson’s great 1937 crime novel, “Thieves Like Us.” Anderson lived a troubling life, least of which was his sale of film rights for $500.00. It was Nicholas Ray’s directorial debut.

  10. Good choice on ONE FALSE MOVE. One of my favourites too. I saw the director interviewed years ago. He was clear in the way he filmed the first murder scene. Wanted the horror of killing someone to hit home.

  11. “One False Move” and “At Close Range” are great choices (another terrific Sean Penn crime film is “State of Grace”)
    Here are ten crime films now on Netflix Streaming worth seeing or seeing again…
    The Square (2008) Nash Edgerton
    Thick as Thieves (1999) Scott Sanders
    Internal Affairs (1990) Mike Figgis
    Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead (1995) Gary Fleder
    Cutter’s Way (1981) Ivan Passer
    Miller’s Crossing (1990) Joel Coen
    The Man From Nowhere (2010) Jeong-beom Lee
    I Saw The Devil (2011) Ji-woon Kim
    (There a many cery good Korean crime films out there.)
    Out of Sight (1998) Steven Soderbergh
    The Conversation (1974) Francis Ford Coppola
    …for starters.

  12. “Wallace Stroby on the best 5 crime films you

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