Category Archives: True crime

My top 10 British gangster films

One of my favourite British gangster films, Mike Hodges’s Get Carter, is 50 years old. It premiered in the UK in the northern British city of Newcastle, where it was filmed, on March 7, and in the US on March 18. I have penned a piece for a prominent crime fiction/related site on the influence of Get Carter on crime cinema, but am not exactly sure when this will come out. For now, I thought the film’s half century anniversary was as good a time as any to hit you with my top 10 British gangster films.

They Made Me a Fugitive (1947)

I wrote about They Made Me a Fugitive in some length on this site here. It was one of a trio of early post-war British gangster films that caused a stir with censors, the others being No Orchids for Miss Blandish and Brighton Rock, both of which appeared in 1948. Fugitive stars Trevor Howard as Clem Morgan, a demobbed Royal Air Force pilot who reluctantly joins a criminal gang headed by a flash gangster with a very nasty streak, Narcy, but baulks when his discovers his new employer is into drug trafficking. What I love about this film, and the aspect that attracted the most critical condemnation when it first appeared, is its depiction of the poverty and desperation of post-war British life.… Read more

The strange history of Mickey Spillane and New Zealand’s “Jukebox Killer”

The third in a loose series of pieces I’ve done this year for the Lithub site, CrimeReads, on the global impact on postwar American crime fiction is live. This one explores at the connections between the postwar campaign against pulp fiction, the international controversy around US author Mickey Spillane, the uniquely Antipodean youth subculture known as bodgies & widgies, & one of New Zealand’s most sensational murder cases in the 1950s, the ‘Jukebox Killer’.You can read the piece in full at the CrimeReads site via this link.Read more

Cold Light of Day DVD commentary for Arrow Video

I’m excited to announce the upcoming release of my first DVD commentary, done with my fellow Melbourne film historian and friend, Dean Brandum, on British director Fhiona-Louise’s 1989 film, Cold Light of Day.

This little known film, critically attacked when it was first released, is based on the life of Dennis Nilsen, a mild mannered and unassuming civil servant, who was in fact one of Britain’s most shocking and prolific serial killers for several years in the late 1970s and early 1980s, until his arrest in 1983.

Starring the little known Bob Flag (the face of Big Brother in Michael Radford’s 1984) as Nilsen, this film is indeed one of the most realistic and chilling depictions of a serial killer put on the screen. It is also among the handful of films made in the United Kingdom based on the activities of British serial killers (Richard Fleischer’s 1971 film, 10 Rillington Place, about the murders committed by John Christie, and the Ian Merrick’s excellent 1977 effort, Black Panther, the story of murderer Donald Neilson, are two others.

Dean and I discuss why it is that a country which has experienced so many real life serial killers has been so reluctant to put them on the screen, as well as Nilsen’s life and crimes, and many other aspects of this confronting but fascinating film.… Read more

Pulp Friday: Sharks in Australian pulp fiction

Pulp fiction has long been fascinated by sharks, and pulp published in Australia is no exception.

Being attacked by them, hunting them, sighting or being threatened by them, or just marvelling at large they grew, sharks were a perennial pre-occupation in local Australian pulp paperback fiction from the 1950s to the 1970s. They also appeared regularly in the pages of the Australian equivalent of men’s adventure pulp, publications like Adam and Man.

Although I have not included any of this material in the images below, sharks were also a staple of popular tabloid magazines like Pix and Australasia Post. Referred to in Australia as ‘barbershop magazines’, these now defunct weeklies presented punters with a steady diet of girls in bikinis, racy jokes, Hollywood gossip, and masculine adventure stories.

Many of these were set in heavily exoticised parts of the South Pacific and Asia. But there was also a rich variant that took place far-flung parts of tropical northern Australia and the outback. These latter stories depicted a sort of Australian weird – a land of gnarly, weather beaten eccentrics (much like Captain William E. Young on the cover the Shark Hunter, published by Horwitz in 1978), who had dangerous livelihoods in unimaginably remote parts of the country, and did battle regularly with the threat posed by the country’s uniquely lethal fauna, including sharks.… Read more

Book review: Murder on Easy Street

Back in 2014, I wrote a piece for the Wheeler Centre site about what I described as the ‘new wave’ of true crime works. These books differed from the earlier style of true crime work, which, with a few exceptions, were liable to be by the numbers, often quickly written books about sensational crimes – serial killers being a favourite – put together from various second hand sources, with a bit of local colour thrown into the mix.

The new wave of true crime books I was referring to, were more literary, focused on the political processes around the crime in question and, indeed, had a much broader definition of what ‘crime’ was. More often than not, they also seemed to be written by individuals that were either directly involved in the crime in question or somehow managed to shoe horn their own life experience into what they are writing about, so they become as much about the author as whatever crime they are writing about. When these kind of true crime books work, they can work big time. But they don’t always work.

If I had to classify it, I would say Helen Thomas’s Murder on Easy has more of the former type of book in it than the latter.… Read more