Still more lazy thoughts from this one…

My Top 13 Forgotten Crime Gems

latent-printI don’t know what it is about crime movies. Found I’ve watched and enjoyed a lot of them…and still do. Fairly regularly. Yes, I still manage to get in the drama-epics like the newly re-released Spartacus, the highly underrated Rob Roy, or the director’s cut of Kingdom of Heaven. Comedies like Blazing Saddles, too, and of course for last month, horror. The Shout! Factory’s recent high-definition release of Prince of Darkness deserving praise, especially for the John Carpenter-Peter Jason commentary track only Region 2 viewers could previously appreciate.

Still, I have a warm place in my heart for those that deal with crime in general. Plan on finally introducing The Godfather Part II for my eldest, having shown him the original (before it came to be simply, “Part I”) a couple of years back. Like these, there are plenty that meet the critical and box office kickoffs studios strive for. Yet, some crime gems came-slash-went when initially released, never attaining even a modicum of success compared to the likes of Goodfellas, The Untouchables, etc.

Quickly forgotten to the video store dustbin…if you’re old enough to remember such things, that is.

Perhaps, it was the film’s or the filmmaker’s, manner of depicting tough, remorseless content, or the conflict they exhibited, on low budget display. More likely, it was the greed and mayhem that made them so delectably watchable by us felonious diehards. No matter, I was thinking recently about these wonderful little nuggets of criminality that didn’t get much in the way of respect, critic appreciation, or just plain viewership outside of crime-movie nuts, or maybe the filmmakers’ mothers.

Time has forgotten them for whatever reason. However, they have been kept alive, if only on bare-bones, and nothing to talk about un-remastered, DVDs…for some. Or even, dare I say it, VHS (feel free to insert Quentin Tarantino here, if you’d like). Either way, count me amongst those who still enjoy the H-E-double-hockey-sticks out of these rough little jewels. I’m referring to U.S. films, but the likes of Get Carter, The Hit, The Long Good Friday, The Bank JobLayer Cake and others deserve their own post…

Someday.

Other honorable mentions that didn’t make this cut (hard choices with this limited number) include: Wild Things, White Sands, King of New York, The Limey, The Outside Man, Fast Walking, The Outfit, Very Bad Things, After Dark, My Sweet, Point Blank, Hard Eight, BoundHit Man, and the recent Blue Ruin. For this often-neglected list, most seen first-run in empty theaters by moi, I offer in chronological order my most-liked number of those who’ve met the grave, quixotic, and lawbreaking threshold in my head.

vector-para-divider

prime-cutPrime Cut [Cinema Center Films, released July 1972, USA] – quoting from my opening titles post from a short while back, “A poetically violent Midwest tale of misdeeds with enough off-beat humor and style that helped define what was unique about this era of cinema in the first place.” A spotlight on a strange mix of criminals and Americana in the heartland that somehow works. One of my favorite Michael Ritchie, Lee Marvin, and Gene Hackman films, ever.

Hickey & Boggs movie posterHickey & Boggs [Film Guarantors, released October 1972, USA] – likely the most overlooked film on this list (and the hardest to find at one time), based on a Walter Hill screenplay that tells the tale of a couple of downtrodden L.A. private eyes in a way-over-their-heads case. Post-I Spy stars Robert Culp (who also directed) and Bill Cosby go hard and fast against their previous TV character images here in an underappreciated neo-noir that heralded the change for the private eye during this tumultuous era.

charley-varrickCharley Varrick [Universal Pictures, released October 1973, USA] – Another first-rate character piece within a crime thriller by film noir veteran (and Clint Eastwood mentor) Don Siegel. Walter Matthau portraying an old-pro bank robber, “The Last of the Independents”, forced to find a way out of a predicament…accidentally stealing mob money. One of the key films that influenced Quentin Tarantino to a good degree with its dialogue1 and story-telling.

yakuza_ver3The Yakuza [Warner Bros., Toei Company, released March 1975, USA] – The middle film in Robert Mitchum’s surprising ’70s crime film resurgence trilogy, and directed by the great Sydney Pollack. A tribute to the (at that time) little-known yakuza eiga crime genre paid no heed by critics or viewers back then, and truly a forgotten film worth discovering. Like Lee Marvin, no one could play “…weary and dangerous with that ease and assuredness” than Mitchum.

the-driverThe Driver [EMI Films, 20th Century Fox Film Corp; released July 1978, USA] – an early Walter Hill project, written and directed by him, that got its roots from the Alain Delon French crime classic, Le Samourai. Spartan in its construct, the sold-short film just plain cool as it follows the exploits of a pure specialist, a getaway driver who has never been caught, through the means streets2 of late-’70s Los Angeles; my favorite Ryan O’Neal movie, period.

52-pick-up52 Pick-Up [Cannon Group; released November 1986, USA] – Director John Frankenheimer’s fine job with Elmore Leonard‘s tale of a straying businessman (well portrayed by Roy Scheider) being blackmailed by a sleazy pornographer (John Glover, who can do this role in his sleep). Another unjustly ignored film amongst the other sharp Leonard adaptations out there — its deceiving designed US poster likely gave viewers a misguided impression, at that.

state-of-graceState of Grace [Cinehaus, Orion Pictures, Rank Organisation, released September 1990, USA] – A fine story of the under-told Irish mob (Westies) of New York City and loyalty among them. And though it’s headlined by Sean Penn, the best characters in this were done by its villains: the always great Ed Harris and the then under-appreciated Gary Oldman. A great and ignored mob tale…just disregard the criminally bad marksmanship that pops up during the film’s finale.

OneFalseMoveOne False Move [IRS Media, released May 1992, USA] – Really one of great, small crime thrillers the ’90s regularly offered movie viewers (if they took a chance to see it). This the film that identified actor-AFI graduate Carl Franklin as quite the filmmaker3, and musician-actor-Billy Bob Thornton as a writer4 (screenplay by him and Tom Epperson). The story of a small-town sheriff on a collision course with a deadly trio has more than a few surprises by the time the end credits arrive.

romeo-is-bleedingRomeo is Bleeding [Polygram Entertainment, Working Title Films, Hilary Henkin, released February 1994, USA] – Gary Oldman stars as a corrupt police detective getting his due in between all of his corrupt schemes. Its cast peppered with a great many actors you’ll easily recognize, but it is Lena Olin who steals the show as one of the great female movie villains of all-time. The monstrous and sexy Russian hit-woman, Mona Demarkov — little wonder J.J. Abrams spotted Lena’s ease with villainy and used her in “Alias”.

freshFresh [Lumière Pictures, Miramax, released August 1994, USA] – Another of my favorite films of the period, and the best of Boaz Yakin’s career, I’m certain. Fresh proved you don’t need big names or budget to tell a remarkable little crime tale, featuring, for the most part, a young cast in a gritty story. One at the periphery of a stylish New York City showcase of the time, surviving as best they could. Sean Nelson, Samuel L. Jackson, and Giancarlo Esposito the standouts.

city-of-industryCity of Industry [Largo Entertainment; released March 1997, USA] – a hard little crime tale of a pulled-out-of-retirement pro (a role tailor-made for Harvey Keitel) forced to avenge the post-heist death of his brother by his getaway driver, and so-called partner — Stephen Dorff doing what he does best in the role. Much like their previous work, surely à la Reservoir Dogs, you have Keitel and Dorff upholding long-lost codes of honor, and lack thereof, among the criminal set.

The Ice HarvestThe Ice Harvest [Focus Features, Bona Fide Productions, released November 2005, USA] – A thoroughly underappreciated neo-noir featuring enough mayhem and cold-hearted actions that belie its Christmas time setting. Basically, an antithetical retelling of “It’s a Wonderful Life”, and unfairly dismissed back in ’05 by critics and audiences — much like those did in 1946 with Frank Capra’s masterwork. The film has now become annual holiday viewing in my household, to the chagrin of family members.

killer-joeKiller Joe [Voltage Pictures, Perfect Picture, Worldview Media, ANA Media, released March 2012, USA] – Lastly, I’ll quote from Andy Hart’s recent piece for a film we’ve in common this week. “William Friedkin’s tale of murder set around a dysfunctional Texas family is often violent and repugnant, but it is also brilliant mainly because of a star turn from a resurgent Matthew McConaughey.” Nailed this nasty, if intriguing, piece of work, if I do say so. Certainly a good one to conclude with, too. 😉


  1. “Character Maynard Boyle’s line, “They’re gonna strip you naked and go to work on you with a pair of pliers and a blowtorch,” is paraphrased in Pulp Fiction (1994) by character Marsellus Wallace.” ~ IMDB 
  2. Note the chase sequences, specifically those at night, and their influences with James Cameron’s in Terminator (1984) and Nicolas Winding Refn’s in Drive (2011). 
  3. Some of Carl Franklin’s best work has been in this genre, see Devil in a Blue Dress and Out of Time
  4. In fact, his director-writer-actor effort for Slide Blade even more impressive. 
Advertisements

42 Responses to “My Top 13 Forgotten Crime Gems”

  1. Mark Walker

    Fabulous post, Michael. I’m very partial to old crime flick myself. I’ve actually seen the majority of these and love the inclusions of Charley Varrick, One False Move, Romeo is Bleeding and Fresh. They are all films I’d love to revisit. I haven’t seen Prime Cut, The Yakuza or Hickey & Boggs but their on my list. And The Ice Harvest? I have not even heard of that one. I must do a little digging.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  2. Cavershamragu

    Oh god yes, some really fantastic films here – I’m agreeing pretty much on all of these except for CITY OF INDUSTRY and ICE HARVEST which i’ve not seen and FRESH I only saw when it came out and need to watch again – a great post chum.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  3. 70srichard

    Seen them all except for Fresh. I want to sit down and watch each one right now. I’m a sucker for Billy Bob Thornton and John Cusack, so you can imagine how much I appreciate The Ice Harvest. Pretty much the same with Gene Hackman and Lee Marvin. No Friends of Eddie Coyle?

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    • le0pard13

      Yeah, a couple of really fine Billy Bob performances represented here. Glad to hear you’re a fan of ‘The Ice Harvest’, too, Richard. Robert Mitchum’s trio of ‘The Friend of Eddie Coyle’, ‘The Yakuza’, and ‘Farewell, My Lovely’ really were a fantastic set of ’70s crime films, and love them all. I simply went with the middle one here because it was the least appreciated and seen among them. Many thanks, my friend. 🙂

      Like

      Reply
  4. Sam Juliano

    Quite an eclectic list here Robert! I have seen nearly all of them, and would considered several for my own list if I were to put one together for this genre. I will say you are dead-on with ONE FALSE MOVE, which was terribly underrated and forgotten even with Ebert’s sponsorship. But you really have me thinking! Great work here!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    • le0pard13

      That’s great to hear, Sammy. Of course, I admire your taste in film, so this means a lot, my friend. Thank you so very much for this and the linkage to your very fine post. As always, much appreciated. Happy Thanksgiving! 🙂

      Like

      Reply
  5. ruth

    I love crime movies, there are certainly a lot of great ones though there are still a lot here I haven’t seen yet. The Driver sounds like a good one, and I need to see State of Grace as I love Gary Oldman!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    • Ted Saydalavong (@TSayda)

      I highly recommend STATE OF GRACE Ruth! I thought Oldman overact his role a bit though but Penn, Robin Wright and Ed Harris were great. I also really enjoyed The Driver, I may have both on Bluray, I’ll check my collection.

      Liked by 2 people

      Reply
      • le0pard13

        That’s great you have them both on Blu, Ted! Had to go with the Japanese Blu-ray of ‘The Driver’ to get a copy myself. The American version got snapped up so quickly and now is quite pricey to acquire. And looking at ‘State of Grace’, it seems to have gone that pricey route, too. 😦

        Thanks so much, Ted. 😀

        Like

        Reply
    • le0pard13

      Oh, yes. Check out ‘The Driver’, Ruth. If Ted has it on BD, borrow it and screen the film. If you enjoyed Nicolas Winding Refn’s ‘Drive’, see the film that had a tremendous influence on it. Can’t go wrong with Gary Oldman in a crime movie, either. ‘State of Grace’ another well worth seeing. Many thanks, Ruth. 🙂

      Like

      Reply
      • ruth

        Will do Mike and Ted! I can call you Mike right Michael? 😉 I actually haven’t seen Drive as I’m not a fan of Gosling, but I’m willing to check out The Driver and definitely State of Grace, esp w/ a trifecta of actors I love: Oldman, Wright and Harris, WOW! So yeah Ted, I’d like to borrow your BDs if you have them.

        Liked by 1 person

        Reply
  6. Ted Saydalavong (@TSayda)

    I too love crime thrillers and I’ve seen most of the films on your list there. So many of those films deserves to be seen by more people. The Yakuza, One False Move, The Driver, Romeo is Bleeding, State of Grace and 52 Pick Up were pretty great. I remember I rented all of them back when I was working at a video store, damn I feel old saying “video store”. Ha ha!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    • le0pard13

      Great to hear, my friend. Yeah, the “video store” reference ages us both with its mention. 😉

      Thank you very much, Ted! 🙂

      Like

      Reply
  7. jackdeth72

    You’ve hit on a lovely baker’s dozen of forgotten gems, Michael!

    Can’t argue with ‘Hickey & Boggs’, ‘Prime Cut’ or ‘Charley Varrick’! All gritty masterpieces that are much more character driven than plot.

    Very pleased and surprised to see Carl Franklin’s ‘One False Move’ make the cut. A film whose direction I was pointed towards due to ‘Siskel & Ebert: At The Movies’. Franklin show an alluring touch very early on. Michael Beach excels as ‘Pluto’. And Bill Paxton carved a notch on his belt very early on as a cop who’s a lot smarter than he appears!

    Kudos also for ‘Fresh’. Which moves at its own pace and draws you in deeply before the mid mark. Also great to see a kid sit back. Watch. Make clever moves. And come out on top.

    While ‘Killer Joe’ is a dusty slice of Texas “Chicken Fried Nastiness’ that any fan of Joe R. Lansdale would latch onto and savor. With Mc Conaughey delivering the loin’s share of polite, often scary, trailer park nastiness,

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    • le0pard13

      Great to have you chime in all this little-seen criminality onscreen, Kevin. Fine point concerning ‘Killer Joe’ and the type of fare that Joe R. Lansdale regularly churns out for his fans. Maybe that’s why I read another Hap & Leonard novel last week. 😉

      Thanks so much, my friend. 🙂

      Like

      Reply
  8. Victor De Leon

    Amazing list, Michael! 52 Pick Up and State of Grace are woefully under-rated and under-appreciated. Loved the inclusion of Varrick, too! Very cool. Matthau owned that flick. Great post, man!

    Like

    Reply

Are you talkin’ to me?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Basic HTML is allowed. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS

%d bloggers like this: