Category Archives: Crime film

Ten crime films about drug trafficking to see after The French Connection

In the process of researching and writing my latest piece for the CrimeReads site, on the real-life drug trafficking network that inspired William Friedkin’s ground-breaking 1971 crime film, The French Connection, I compiled a list of other movies directly or indirectly related to the film’s themes, the actual events that informed it, or that were influenced in some way by Friedkin’s classic. I didn’t have the space to include these details in my CrimeReads piece, but the list is below.

Panic in Needle Park (1971)

Around the same time that Popeye Doyle and Buddy Russo were pursuing Frog One through the winter streets of New York, The Panic in Needle Park was giving cinema goers a very different picture of the city’s heroin trade. Based on a 1966 novel and adapted for the screen by Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunn, Jerry Schatzberg’s film is an incredibly downbeat look at the trouble romance between two denizens of New York’s heroin scene, young addict, Helen, the very underrated Kitty Winn, and small-time dealer Bobby, played by Al Pacino. It has been a while since I’ve seen The Panic In Needle Park but from memory it depicts the full spectrum of drug scene related experiences, including police harassment, prostitution, and the chemical highs and lows of addiction.… Read more

The real French Connection

My latest piece for the US site CrimeReads is a look at the real-life crimes that inspired William Friedkin’s 1971 classic, The French Connection. It is a tangled tale of Corsican gangsters, international heroin smuggling, the CIA and the war in Indochina – with a dash of my own experience in Laos. You can read the piece in full here.Read more

Book review: The Real Diana Dors

One of the reasons I was interested in reading Anna Cale’s recently released biography of the late British actress Diana Dors, The Real Diana Dors, is that I was curious to test out what I thought I knew about Dors and the reality of her life. What I was pretty certain about, and Cale confirms, is that Dors was stereotyped from the beginning of her career as either the sultry femme fatale bad girl or, as she herself once wrote, ‘the flighty, sexy little thing who pops in and out of the story whenever a little light relief seems to be called for.’

What I didn’t know, that Cale’s book taught me, was what a determined, serious, and hard headed performer Dors was. She accumulated a hundred screen credits in a career that began with her first bit part in the 1947 crime drama, The Code of Scotland Yard, to her last film role, Steaming, which appeared in 1985, a year after she died at the age of just 54. She resisted attempts to stereotype when she could, and no doubt like a lot of post war actresses undoubtedly had the talent and drive to be even bigger if not for various factors, of which beginning her career in the morally conservative, sexually hypocritical Britain of the late 1940s and early 1950s, was a major one.… Read more

Book Review: The Snow Was Dirty

For reasons that I have not quite been able to pinpoint, over the last couple of years I have found myself reading more and more older crime fiction. The most recent of these was on the recommendation of a US crime writer I have recently had a bit to do with on Twitter, called Max Thrax, Georges Simenon’s The Snow Was Dirty – or Dirty Snow as it appears in some territories – originally published in 1946.

I had, of course, heard of Simenon but must come clean that before doing some research about him as a result of reading The Snow Was Dirty, knew virtually nothing about him or his work. Indeed, without any basis, I had dismissed as a writer of cosy procedurals.

No one knows exactly how many books Belgium born Simenon wrote over the course of his career. There are not many authors you can say that about. He started off in the 1920s, like so many mid century writers, as a pulp hack, working under a bewildering variety of pseudonyms. In the 1930s he started to churn what would become approximately 75 novels featuring the fictional French police detective, Jules Maigret, many of which were subsequently adapted for radio and the screen, large and small.… Read more

Wake In Fright at 50: mateship, masculinity and drinking in the Australian outback

Ted Kotcheff’s Wake in Fright turns fifty this year. Based on the 1961 novel of the same name by Australian author Kenneth Cook, it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on May 12, 1971 and was released in cinemas in Australia on October 9. Despite being five decades old, it is hard to think of comparable piece of cinema that has come out of this country. Wake In Fright is not only a stunning rural noir, it is a blistering take on three of the central features of white Anglo Saxon male culture in 1960s Australia (although much of it is still highly relevant to today): mateship, the romance of the outback, and drinking. Especially drinking.

The central character, John Grant, is a mild-mannered teacher working in a tiny speck of a town called Tiboonda. Its isolation and distance from the coast has obliterated nearly all aspects of civilization, except the ability of the local pub to keep the beer cold. Grant is leaving for his Christmas holidays. He has his holiday pay in his pocket and fantasies of meeting up with his girlfriend in Sydney. All that stands in his way is an overnight train stop in Bundanyabba or ‘the Yabba’ as the locals call it.

Grant passes his night in the Yabba sinking a few beers in one of the town’s many pubs.… Read more