An extremely wide-ranging group of films that have crime as a central element. The chase film, which often had the committing of a crime as motivation for its defining action, is an important precursor and early crime films (see Early Cinema) include Biograph and Mutoscope’s five-part series, A Career in Crime (US, 1900), which shows a young man turning to crime and ends with him being sentenced to death by electric chair. The Great Train Robbery (Edwin S. Porter, US, 1903), The Life of Charles Peace (William Hagger, UK, 1905), and Salaviinanpolttajat/The Bootleggers (Louis Sparre and Teuvo Puro, Finland, 1907) all based their plots on real-life crimes. In France, the Fantômas serial (Louis Feuillade, 1913–14) showed the exploits of a dashing master criminal; and numerous adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe’s and Arthur Conan Doyle’s crime stories were made in Europe and the US in the silent cinema era. There was a significant cycle of gangster films (or ‘crook melodramas’ as they were called) in the mid 1910s and in the late 1920s to early-mid 1930s, and this sub-genre of the crime film is popular and lasting and has attracted a great deal of film studies scholarship. The 1920s and 1930s were also the golden age of detective literary fiction, with the hardboiled novels of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler in the US, and the detective stories of Agatha Christie in Britain enjoying commercial and critical success, and with the work of these authors regularly adapted into films from the 1940s. These detective films focused on detection and investigation and were extremely popular with audiences, who relished the opportunity to solve a mystery, or puzzle, and to try to figure out ‘whodunnit’ before the ubiquitous scene of revelation at the film’s resolution. In the postwar period a darker version of the US crime film attracted the label film noir, with the act of detection often thwarted.
To find what we have in the Library's collection, you can do a subject search for "crime films" in the online catalog. That search will show you what film titles are classified as crime films as well as books and other items about them. The search includes the "history and criticism" about the genre itself. The search also includes crime films produced in other countries.
Articles and other writings about movies can be found in many publications. Our collection does not include a journal or magazine which looks exclusively at crime films. Other film journals within our collection will cover this genre. You can use Film & Television Literature Index to find relevant articles or use the search box at the top of the page.
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