Saturday Art: Essential Movies (Crime and Punishment)
Cops and criminals. Gangsters and prisons. Another one of the staples of movies over the years has been the crime movie. Sometimes the cop wins, sometimes the criminal wins up until the end when the cop wins. Often the viewer is left with the moral ambivalence that everybody is wrong.
Just this week, AMC had The Shawshank Redemption on twice a night for Monday through Thursday. Even with the editing so as not to offend people who want to believe all language at all times is suitable for Sunday School, it was still a good watch. No, I didn’t watch it every night, but I did watch it completely once again. Then there’s Cool Hand Luke, “What we’ve got heah is failuah to communicate..” Just one of the most iconic movie lines of all time. Con Air is another surprisingly fun watch, for all the violence. As always, when I’m watching movies, I’m looking for a fun tale and not necessarily striving for reality. In High Sierra, Humphrey Bogart is a prison escapee. Jimmy Cagney got to play the bad guy often but my favorite from him is White Heat. Edward G. Robinson is nearly as iconic in Little Caesar as Cagney.
It is impossible to talk about crime and gangsters without mentioning The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II. Bogart also got to play the good guy going against the gangsters a few times including Deadline: USA where he was the crusading journalist exposing the corruption and racketeering and he goes up against Edward G. Robinson in Key Largo. Robert DeNiro got to play a Las Vegas mobster in Casino. And speaking of Las Vegas, I am much more of a fan of the original Ocean’s Eleven than I am of the remake. Sinatra and company just look like they’re having a bit more fun I guess. . . .
Bonnie and Clyde had one of the more graphic endings for its time. In more recent times, it seems the graphic violence of a Natural Born Killers, Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill Vol 1, Kill Bill Vol 2, and Desperado are all so over the top as to be satires on the violence.
Dirty Harry presented the cop as an anti-hero and also has one of the more iconic lines with, “I know what you’re thinking. “Did he fire six shots or only five?” Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?”
Other movies I’ve enjoyed with, shall we say, some morally ambivalent cops, include but as always are not limited to, Coogan’s Bluff (also starring Clint Eastwood – and I would not say for certain but I think this movie might have been the prototype for Dennis Weaver‘s later TV series McCloud.) Eastwood is definitely the good cop in The Gauntlet. Nick Nolte gets the morally compromised cop role who winds up being the good guy in Mulholland Falls while Russell Crowe has it in LA Confidential. Ice-T helps take down Wesley Snipes in New Jack City. Jean Reno and Gary Oldman take down each other in The Professional.
Both of the Thomas Crown Affair movies are good watches multiple times. It’s difficult for me to decide if I like Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway more than I like Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo. It’s also difficult for me to choose between the iconic chase scenes in Bullitt and The French Connection. In the Heat of the Night allows Sidney Poiter and Rod Steiger to come to an understanding of each other if not a friendship.
Not all the crime and punishment movies have to be serious all the time. Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy in 48 Hrs and Another 48 Hrs. and Murphy and the “Beverly Hills Police Department” in Beverly Hills Cop and Beverly Hills Cop II all provide some levels of humor. Murphy gets his time as a gangster in Harlem Nights. Running Scared has some good laughs while letting Jimmy Smits play against type while The Big Easy has the music of N’Awlins to support Dennis Quaid’s seduction of Ellen Barkin and take down of John Goodman while Get Shorty and Be Cool allow John Travolta to be John Travolta.
And because I can: