There are any number of reasons to be excited for “A Most Violent Year” which bows at the AFI Fest today prior to opening on New Year’s Eve. It’s Jessica Chastain’s next film after “Interstellar,” it’s Oscar Isaac’s most high-profile, meaty lead since “Inside Llewyn Davis,” and it’s director J.C. Chandor’s third film after the terrific, eclectic one-two punch of “Margin Call” and “All is Lost.” And there’s the absolutely fantastic-looking trailer (plus it’s great; read our review). But there’s one final factor that has us anticipating it so hotly —the film is the latest addition to the canon of New York Crime movies, a genre that is so distinctive and so deeply knotted into the very fabric of modern American cinema that it has given us maybe ten or twenty of its irrefutably anointed classics.
New York City is a place that more than most is built on a self-created image, and that image has been exported far and wide via the movies, which is to say that there is probably no more cinematic city in the whole wide world. The city has been ceaselessly chronicled through the ages, from borough to borough, from skyscraper to curbside gutter, in all its grit, glory and glamorous anti-glamor. And crime is an indelible part of that image —we may be living in a post-Giuliani era in which it’s safe to use the subway at night and the most frightening thing that can happen to you in Brooklyn is an incorrectly spiced chai latte, but only the most unromantic cinephile can fail to have a faint tinge of nostalgia for the New York of vice and graft and grime, where lives might have been more brutal and shorter, but they played out against an immense backdrop of neon sleaze and broken dreams with jagged edges.
But who among us hasn’t seen the touchpoints in this genre? And what more is there to say about “The Godfather” trilogy, “Goodfellas,” “Taxi Driver,” “Mean Streets,” “Once Upon a Time in America,” “Serpico,” “Gangs of New York,” “The Taking of Pelham 123,” “Death Wish,” “Leon,” “The French Connection,” “Dog Day Afternoon,” “On the Waterfront,” “Midnight Cowboy” etc? It’s such a populous category that we decided to take a look instead at a few films you might not have seen or that don’t necessarily spring immediately to mind. Here then are just 20 less frequently seen and discussed New York City crime movies to get you in the mood for “A Most Violent Year” (a couple of them were even released in 1981, the year in question), with suggestions for further reading at the end, and, if we know you guys at all, in the comments to follow.
“King of New York” (1990)
Martin Scorsese would be the undisputed Godfather of this list were we including the biggest films in the genre, but Abel Ferrara may well be the reigning feudal lord for this incarnation —his films are just as mired in the monumental grime of New York’s underworld but are just a bit more under the radar. Here, we have confined ourselves to just two consecutive titles, ”King of New York” and “Bad Lieutenant” (see below). The earlier film was in fact the first to get a free pass onto this list, as it’s something of a neglected classic featuring a towering, haunted Christopher Walken lead performance and a terrific supporting cast including Laurence Fishburne, Wesley Snipes, Steve Buscemi, Giancarlo Esposito and David Caruso. And it’s set against the backdrop of a perfectly corrupt and venal city, above whose sins and temptations Walken’s drug-kingpin-trying-to-do-right may try to rise, (physically, in his penthouse suite at the Plaza Hotel, as well as metaphorically) but which will always pull him back down. In fact, Walken’s Frank White is motivated by a love for the city and a despair at what’s become of his childhood Lower East Side neighborhood, prompting him to turn would-be Robin Hood, albeit a peculiarly ruthless one. It’s gloriously grim, gritty stuff, as doom-laden as the best noir and as hard-boiled as any gangster classic, and in its depiction of White’s contradictory, protective but also predatory relationship toward the city that will devour even him in the end, it’s pretty much indispensable.
“The Naked City” (1948)
Before Paris (“Rififi”), before London (“Night and The City”), there was New York City, “The Naked City.” Jules Dassin’s name often gets lost in the shuffle when dealing with the most influential film noir and crime directors, but he’s truly one of the pioneers of the genre. Especially when it comes to inextricably intertwining the picture’s story with its setting, as is perhaps most literally obvious with “The Naked City.” An unnamed narrator, who would at times comically adopt the role of tour guide (producer Mark Helligner), tells us right away that this is, among other things, a “story of a city.” Filmed entirely on location, the film takes on a unique and supremely effective semi-documented style to show us a few samples of the eight million New Yorkers going about their business. Then it zeroes in on a murder of a girl, and we follow Lieutenant Muldoon (scene-stealing Barry Fitzgerald) and his unit as they investigate and search for her killer, ending with a thrilling chase sequence. In order to get the most authentic New York vibe possible, Dassin went as far as to film in public with hidden cameras. But it’s the birds-eye-view aerial shots, a sunset under the Brooklyn Bridge and a lit-up Manhattan at night that truly gives the city (indeed, the picture itself) its pulse “that never stops beating.” It went on to inspire the super popular TV show of the same name that ran from 1958-1963.
“The Pope Of Greenwich Village” (1984)
This one seriously gets a bum rap. “The Pope of Greenwich Village” is a nostalgic trip in the time machine to ’80s New York through the perspective of petty thugs in Little Italy. Mickey Rourke in the prime of his career plays Charlie, a guy “one inch away from being a good person” as his ballerina girlfriend Diane (Daryl Hannah) tells him. He’s your typically hot-tempered Italian who loves to blurt out a “capisce?” at the end of his sentences and doesn’t mind giving the wall a what-for every time his girlfriend or his no-good idiotic cousin Paulie (Eric Roberts in a ‘fro) put him in a bind. Charlie and Paulie lose their jobs as waiters and get in deep with the local mafia boss Bed Bug Eddie (the inestimable Burt Young) who was about to pay off a corrupt cop until the two get in his way. Director Stuart Rosenberg’s legacy (apart from directing 17 episodes of the “The Naked City” TV series, see above) shines brightest with “Cool Hand Luke” and “Brubaker,” but there’s something warm and fond sustained in ‘Pope’ even after all these years. By no means a perfect film (it has an especially imperfect ending), it’s full of charm, surprising romance, a fantastic Sinatra-inspired soundtrack, and features a cameo appearance by Geraldine Page that is so superb it nabbed her an Oscar nomination for about two minutes of screen time.
“Cry of the City” (1948)
A cracking film noir from noir master Robert Siodmak, who also gave us the classic Burt Lancaster/Ava Gardner noir “The Killers,” “Cry of the City” may be a notch down from that high watermark, but only a very small notch. Pacy, seamy and stupendously well-shot (with the kind of framing and chiaruscuro shading that noir lends itself to so well), the film follows a small-time hood called Rome (Richard Conte, here a ringer for Brit character actor Danny Webb) pursued doggedly by Candella (Victor Mature), a detective who grew up in the same rough neighborhood. It really has it all: murderous, emasculating masseuses; adoring younger brothers who need to be turned away from the lure of crime; back street abortionists; moral ambiguity (Rome is this time being pursued for a crime of which he is innocent and the parallels between good guy and bad guy are writ large, “Heat”-style). And it also has some deliciously seedy texture, courtesy of its on-location New York scenes, all rain-slicked sidewalks, classic cars, pillbox hats and reflective neon signage, culminating in a poetic finale that plays out on the stoop of, what else, the downtown church where the men have their final, doomy encounter.
“Summer of Sam” (1998)
Spike Lee may not be everyone’s favorite filmmaker, via his outspoken attitudes on several topics, including Tarantino movies and not to mention his own diminishing stature as a serious filmmaker, but you can’t take New York City away from the man. “Do The Right Thing” and “25th Hour” are his best-known and best-respected NY crime dramas, but “Summer of Sam” deserves respect. Set in the Bronx (you thought Harlem was scary?) and commendable for its entertaining screenplay, it’s notable for Lee’s constant injection of energy into an already-volatile atmosphere and an absolute corker of an ensemble cast. Sure, it’s a bit of a tonal mess and is marred by the director’s unattractive attribute of self-importance. But with vibrant characters like Dionna (Mira Sorvino, sorely underrated talent), that punk Ritchie (Adrien Brody, looking awesome) and the fucking hairdresser Vinny (John Leguizamo, in one of his best roles), Lee cements his greatness when it comes to depicting marginalized communities in the big city; those whom Park Avenue folks treat like the worms of the Big Apple, if you will. While the serial killer Son of Sam looms on the film’s periphery, it’s prejudice, loyalty, and friendship that are the center of this film’s criminal investigations.
“Blast Of Silence” (1961)
It’s fitting that Criterion included a 4-page graphic novel adaptation in the DVD of this underseen noir gem. Though it’s often documentary-like in its visual approach, it could’ve easily been ripped from the pages of a comic book. The film marks the directorial debut of Allen Baron, who also stars and wrote the screenplay (he worked as a comic book illustrator beforehand). Baron was mostly relegated to TV for the rest of his career, which is a shame because on this evidence alone he could’ve flourished in the ’70s auteur era. Thankfully, we have the DVD and can see just how influential it’s been to many other New York films and filmmakers, in particular, Martin Scorsese, via a creative use of voice-over (‘Blast’ uses an omniscient, second person narrator who clues us into Baron’s hitman character, talking to him as if it’s a voice in his head); the loose, street-level photography (“Taxi Driver” borrowed a few shots); and of course, the crime angle following gangsters on the lower rung of that particular ecosystem. An absolute triumph of existentialism, fantastic and disquieting in its cold-heartedly singular worldview of its main character who goes to New York during Christmas to kill a mid-level mobster, where things spiral quickly out of control. One of the last of the true noirs, some six years after “Kiss Me Deadly” all but scorched the genre with its explosive finale, ‘Blast’, along with Cassavetes’ “Shadows” and Shirley Clarke’s “The Connection,” signaled the beginning of New York independent filmmaking.
“Prince Of The City” (1981)
Martin Scorsese spoke about Sydney Lumet‘s death thusly; “Lumet was a New York filmmaker at heart, and our vision of the city has been enhanced and deepened by classics like ‘Serpico,’ ‘Dog Day Afternoon‘ and above all the remarkable ‘Prince of the City.'” Straight from the horse’s mouth. You may find most people reacting to those three films with “aha,” “yep,” and “huh?” in that order, but make no mistake, ‘Prince’ is an epic near-three hour under-the-radar police procedural that meticulously morphs into one the greatest visions of what it’s like to be a New York City cop. Released in the most violent year in NYC history, no less. Treat Williams gives the performance of his career as the nerve-shot detective Danny Ciello, who agrees to co-operate with FBI in bringing down corruption in the police force. A searing portrait of the air-tight bond forged between Brothers in Blue and the toll it takes on a cop when his conscience eats away at him, “The Prince of the City” also works like gangbusters because of that gritty New York reality Lumet knew how to expose so well. “Those federal clowns didn’t understand what was going on, they’re from fucking out of town!” shouts Ciello at one point. Spoken like a true New Yorker.
“Cop Hater” (1958)
If you couldn’t already tell by the sensationalist title, this low-budget movie, based on a popular novel by Ed McBain that was the first in a series of books about the 87th Precinct in New York City, wears its B-movie credentials on its sleeve. It features no major stars (Robert Loggia takes the lead; TV actress Shirley Ballard plays a “loose” detective’s wife; Jerry Orbach makes his feature debut in a small supporting role), some very creaky camerawork and lighting effects and a pretty twisty, overwrought plot about a hunt for a cop killer that takes place during a citywide heat wave. But the location shooting is vibrant and alive, with the heatwave subplot giving an excuse for lots of open windows and girls in bathing suits perched on fire escapes, and some of the characterization is surprising, like the lead cop’s girlfriend, a pixie-cut sporting Ellen Parker, being deaf and mute, a detail retained from McBain’s books. But mostly it’s worth it for the lived-in feel and the sense of the city as a breathing, sweating entity that comes in through those open windows and drives people to do dangerous and violent things, even if the ultimate twist suggests that real evil can lurk much closer to home.
“The Dark Corner” (1946)
Seedy, quick-witted and even a touch meta, “The Dark Corner” foremost serves as a crossroad of influences present at the time of its mid-‘40s release. Director Henry Hathaway, known more for his later westerns “True Grit” and “How The West Was Won,” pulls his take on noir away from 20th Century Fox’s faux-realistic approach and into the studio. Impressionistic shadows cover the cloistered frame and characters while second-unit nighttime photography reminds us of the period New York setting —a class-divided pendulum of fairgrounds and art galleries, diners and dinner parties. Hathaway’s clever use of lighting allows more brutal flourishes into his standard plot, which follows a loyal secretary (Lucille Ball) who aids her P.I. boss (Mark Stevens) after he’s framed for murder. Fireplace pokers, fists and old-fashioned .38 revolvers bludgeon away at the film’s cast (including Clifton Webb and William Bendix), but Ball’s performance is the absolute standout. The role came at an uncertain point for the actress, pre-“I Love Lucy” and in between studio contracts, and it’s a decidedly more dramatic turn that still allows for physical humor and rapid-fire wordplay opposite co-star Stevens, and also one of the most bizarrely optimistic finales ever to hit the genre.
“Quick Change” (1990)
Probably the outlier on this list in being not just a New York City Crime movie but a comedy to boot, this hangdog caper is surprisingly unloved, considering it stars and was co-directed by Bill Murray. Also starring Randy Quaid as a mentally challenged sidekick and Geena Davis as the love interest, the film has a pretty hooky high concept: what if a meticulously planned bank heist went off absolutely to plan, but the city of New York itself conspired to thwart the getaway of the robbers? As a result, it plays out like an NY-based “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” with Murray, initially disguised as a clown, encountering every conceivable obstacle, including Stanley Tucci, Phil Hartman and Tony Shalhoub between the bank he’s successfully robbed and JFK airport. It’s not quite classic Murray and runs out of steam in a formulaic last act, but in making New York itself the main adversary, it more than earns a spot here. And it’s an interesting take on the “if you can make it here” myth —Jason Robards’ police chief may ostensibly be Murray’s nemesis, but they share a very New York-y disdain and weariness for the city that neither can escape.
With a premise similar to that of the Hitchcock movie “Spellbound,” in which he also starred as an amnesiac trying to work out his own level of involvement in a murder, you might think that Gregory Peck would have avoided “Mirage” from director Edward Dmytryk of “The Caine Mutiny” and “Crossfire” fame. But in fact he co-produced the film, which was written as a follow up to the similarly Hitchcockian “Charade” by Peter Stone. This time, Peck’s bewildered leading man is a scientist caught up in the death (by falling) of his friend, a humanitarian chairman of a science research company. The plot is ludicrously over twisty but features a terrific supporting turn from Walter Matthau as a Dr Pepper-slurping rookie private eye, and most importantly uses its 1960s corporate Manhattan locations to great effect, giving a crisp, cool edge to the film’s visuals that at times are reminiscent of another Hitchcock film, “North by Northwest.” Also boasting a cracker of a supporting cast and an early Quincy Jones score, the film can’t quite escape the shadow of the Master of Suspense in plotting or characterization (the love interest role played by Diane Baker is pretty bland), but New York’s skyscraper districts have never looked smarter, and the clean black and white lines give “Mirage” the visual edge over its loose remake, the color, made-for-TV “Jigsaw” that happened just three years later and added a now-hilarious subplot about LSD (but retained Quincy Jones, interestingly).
“New Jack City” (1991)
In retrospect overshadowed in the annals of black filmmaking by the same year’s stunning “Boyz N The Hood,” Mario Van Peebles’ feature debut doesn’t just differ from John Singleton’s in its choice of coasts (‘Boyz,’ of course, being set in South Central LA). It’s also a much more classically-minded gangster story, a kind of wannabe, Harlem-based “Scarface,” in which the plotting and characterisation are all just that bit too familiar to work as effective, insightful social critique. However, the violent, hard-edged drug war story, which stars Wesley Snipes as a heartless kingpin and Ice-T and Judd Nelson as the cops trying to bring him down (also featuring a who’s-who of black talent including Chris Rock, Van Peebles himself, Vanessa Williams and Bill Nunn aka Radio Raheem) does have its exceptional use of its New York locations to recommend it. Rarely has Harlem’s aura of decayed grandeur (those imposing massive one-time mansions reduced to crumbling tenements and crack dens) been so accurately captured or so thematically relevant. Directed with a flashiness that belies the b-movie-level, blaxploitation style plotting, and marked out not just by its Harlem exteriors but by a pretty chilling performance from Snipes, “New Jack City” remains a pacy high watermark for Van Peebles’ spotty subsequent directorial career.
“Fort Apache The Bronx” (1981)
“This neighborhood will bury you” warns the departing captain of the worst precinct in the Bronx to his replacement, the firebrand new guy played by Ed Asner. And so the film goes on to prove. While the western associations do come across in this gritty, compelling Daniel Petrie movie —starring Paul Newman, Ken Wahl, Pam Grier, Danny Aiello, and Rachel Ticotin— it owes more to the school of deconstructed 1970s filmmaking in which no one gets their comeuppance and moral decency is no bulwark against the futility of policework. But as a New York movie, particularly the borough of the Bronx, it’s possibly peerless, with fluid, long take scenes taking place in unmistakably authentic locations, often with real residents as extras in the background. Newman’s turn is oddly brilliant: as the one incorruptible cop in the district, he helps 14 year old Puerto Rican kids give birth, negotiates hostage situations, and pulls transvestite jumpers off rooftops, but at times plays goofy, at times weary, and finally heartbroken though never entirely crushed. But it was its portrayal of the viciousness of its locale that proved controversial. After protests, tweaks were made and an apologetic title card added which stresses that its view of the Bronx is necessarily weighted toward the criminal. Funny that the same street-level seediness is exactly what makes it feel so valuable now.
A fascinating but unsuccessful attempt by William Friedkin to mix his gritty, down and dirty style with a relatively unexplored (especially at the time) milieu, one that in the end is more satisfying to read and write about than to actually watch. So much controversy surrounded its making (production disruptions, protest marches) and eventual reception (some 40 minutes were demanded cut by the MPAA, and most critics were lukewarm at best), it’s no wonder that many supporters have emerged since (even inspiring James Franco and Travis Mathews’ “Interior. Leather Bar”). The film as it stands today is an unruly mishmash of exploitation, serial killer and crime procedural, with an incoherent ending that’s fun to discuss but doesn’t really work (calling it ambiguous is charitable). It’s clear Friedkin’s vision was compromised, but it’s a shame better attempts at clearing up narrative gaps and the Al Pacino character’s motivations weren’t made. It must be said, though, that Friedkin is such a gifted filmmaker that it almost works. Regardless, it’s a little dated, but this is far from a homophobic film, shot with a curious, unflinching gaze at a world its director doesn’t seem to understand, and indeterminate how the audience should read its view of these particular violent killer(s) in these sordid leather gay bars.
“Bad Lieutenant” (1992)
“Corrupt” doesn’t begin to describe Harvey Keitel‘s deviant title character in Abel Ferrara’s “Bad Lieutenant,” a scathing depiction of the dirt under the surface of New York’s finest. It works simultaneously as a case study of a horrible assault on a Catholic nun and a character study of a cop who snorts, smokes, sucks, fucks, steals, deals, guzzles, and gambles everything in his path. A pitch-black hilarious, quintessentially New York-ish tirade about the Mets baseball game on the radio kicks thing off and ties in ingeniously into the story, as the lieutenant’s grip spirals out of control because of his stubborn inability to have faith in anything other than his own misanthropy. The car scene that ends in him shooting the radio should be in the “losing one’s shit” Hall of Fame. 1992 was the same year he was Mr. White for Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs,” but we doubt Keitel has ever been as good as he is here, providing soulful nuance to a degenerate personality dangerously close to having only one dimension. Werner Herzog made the neither-sequel-nor-remake story of a Bad Lieutenant and transported it to a post-Katrina New Orleans with Nicolas Cage, but this is one of those rare cases where we’d have to choose against Herzog if we had to. Like many other films in this feature, Ferrara’s sleaze-dripping, remorseless story feels right at home in the Bronx.
“We Own the Night” (2007)
While any of James Gray’s movies bar “Two Lovers” could have made it in here (his debut, “Little Odessa,” was set in Brighton Beach; “The Yards” was very much embedded in its Queens setting and last year’s “The Immigrant” was all about new arrivals to the city and the seduction of a criminal lifestyle) “We Own the Night” is the film where he deals in most overt manner with the kind of shady underworld scene so redolent of New York in the 1980s. Linking police corruption, organized drug crime and the glittery nightclub scene together into a resonant, almost Shakespearean family drama, it pits the dutiful son played by Mark Wahlberg, who has followed his cop father (Robert Duvall) into the family business, against his wayward brother played by Joaquin Phoenix. The story is really of Phoenix’s hedonistic, flighty character discovering wellsprings of responsibility and familial loyalty he didn’t know he possessed, but Gray’s familiarity with the locations and the era gives the film its authenticity and texture and grounds scenes like the terrific car chase sequence, in an unusual sort of realism. Ultimately it’s a film about princes and kings and the struggle for power within a kingdom that may just be a stretch of a few city blocks in pre-gentrification Brooklyn, but it might as well be a whole other planet for how totally it delimits their horizons and determines their destinies.
Alan J. Pakula is a filmmaker known for his tense, tightly constructed, claustrophobically paranoid thrillers, like “The Parallax View” and “All the President’s Men.” But his best and most frequently overlooked might be “Klute,” the tale of a prostitute (Jane Fonda) who assists a neurotic private detective (Donald Sutherland) in an investigation involving a missing corporate executive. Like in “The Parallax View,” the central mystery is obscure and ill defined and also doesn’t matter one bit because the human drama is so compelling. Fonda in particular gives one of those once-in-a-lifetime performances (she won the Oscar deservedly) as a woman that society views as being a victim (or worse yet, a pawn in a much larger game), but who can take care of herself and indeed play others just like they think she is being played. There’s a great moment where she seduces Sutherland and afterwards asks him “are you upset because you didn’t make me come?” Then she immediately says: “I never come with a john.” It’s a perfect moment that asserts her power and intelligence and one of the many reasons her performance dazzles as much today as it did in 1971. This being a crime movie set in New York during the seventies, it has a fair amount of grime (lovingly shot by Gordon Willis) and some wonderful architectural embellishments, like the office of one of the bad guys that is lacquered with full-sized photo of the moon landing.
“Super Fly” (1974)
Along with “Across 110th Street,” which came out the same year (and could be on this list too, natch) this thoroughly badass, morally complex and super cool tale of New York drug dealer Youngblood Priest (Ron O’Neal) trying to find his way out of the business is the pinnacle of the blaxploitation films of the ’70s. “Shaft” is good and all, but “Super Fly” is just flat-out better. Directed by Gordon Parks, Jr. (who followed in his father’s footsteps; Sr. made “Shaft”) with an eye for gritty realism and plenty of cinematic style to burn (love that photo drug deal montage), it’s got some of the adorably/horribly dated signifiers of its ilk, but feels like a more complete film than most of the others. And, come on, Curtis Mayfield’s gorgeously soulful music is just stellar. It’s no surprise the soundtrack eventually outgrossed the film, as those songs may even play better today and continue to age well. Parks, Jr. may use the same song one too many times, but when you have a track as infectiously cool as “Pusherman,” well, it almost demands replaying.
“A Bronx Tale” (1993)
Robert De Niro’s feature directorial debut may have appeared to be riding on the blood-stained coattails of the actor’s classic New York-set crime films such “Once Upon A Time In America” and “Goodfellas,” but… no. “A Bronx Tale” turned out to be a self-sustaining gem of a film that still holds up until this very day. The man knew the streets of New York like the back of his hand by the time he directed this heart-warming (and in equal dosage, heart-breaking) coming-of-age tale of a boy growing up in the Bronx, and it’s one of those films, focused on family values and the importance of not wasting ones talents, that would feel out of place anywhere else but in one of The Five Boroughs. Based on Chazz Palminteri’s screenplay, the film is about a boy caught in middle of polar opposites of the moral compass; his dad (De Niro), and the gangster he looks up to (Palminteri). De Niro’s debut is complemented by Palminteri’s writing debut (the story is semi-based on his own life growing up in the Bronx), and manages to strengthen a single theme by balancing various aspects; among them crime, racial tension, and the economic pressures of leading a law-abiding life.
Proof that the New York City crime movie genre is almost as old as the movies themselves, “Regeneration” has an assured place in film history. Not only is this William Fox Company silent one of the earliest examples of on-location shooting (sadly, technology at the time didn’t allow sweeping vistas of the Manhattan of 100 years ago, but there are street scenes and brownstone exteriors, while even the tenement and bar scene interiors are evocatively rendered), it is also the feature debut of director Raoul Walsh, one of the greats who would go on to bring us over a hundred titles including gangster classics “The Roaring Twenties” and “White Heat” (he also played John Wilkes Booth in DW Griffiths’ epochal, embarrassingly racist “Birth of a Nation”). However, believed lost until the 1970s, the only extant copy of “Regeneration” is marred by scratches, unfortunate cropping/vignetting and severe nitrate spoiling in places making it difficult to watch as anything but an academic exercise. And while female lead Anna Q Nilsson is terrific and oddly modern as the woman whose goodness redeems the gangster, the male lead is rather vaudevillian in his pancake makeup and overacting, though he is named Rockliffe Fellowes which, well, wow. Still, it’s creaky and hard to watch now (“Sunrise” it is not) but it is fascinating how many of the cliches of the genre were already in place in 1915, and how well it represents then-progressive thinking about criminality as a product of poverty and reduced circumstance.
So we hope you’ve enjoyed this curated list and found at least a few unknown titles to whet your appetite. However, there are hundreds more where these came from if not, many of which we excluded just for space reasons, or because they felt a little too well known, or because we’ve written about them a lot recently, or because they didn’t quite fit the “crime” billing, being more about espionage or terrorism or some other illegality. So in addition to the usual suspects mentioned in the intro, there’s, well “The Usual Suspects,” though how much the New York setting feeds into Bryan Singer’s twisty classic is debatable. But there’s also Walter Hill’s “The Warriors” for a gang-related take, the Elliot Gould movie “Little Murders” for a black comedy version, while Shirley Clarke’s “The Cool World” is a pretty fascinating street-level evocation of Harlem’s gang culture of the 1960s, put across in semi-documentary format. Films like “Three Days of the Condor” “The House on 92nd Street” and “North by Northwest”, all have at least great New York sequences but are more spy films than crime films per se, while Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” is remarkable for among other things, evoking an unmistakable sense of the city (think about it — could it be set anywhere else?) while never leaving the confines of one apartment block.
But with that, we hand over to you. Let us know your own picks for great New York crime movies in the comments below, while we go back and marvel once again at the fab early ’80s stylings in the “A Most Violent Year” trailer.
–Jessica Kiang, with Nikola Grozdanovic, Erik McClanahan and Charlie Schmidlin