Crime films, in the broadest sense, are a cinematic genre inspired by and analogous to the crime fiction literary genre. Films of this genre generally involve various aspects of crime and its detection. Stylistically, the genre may overlap and combine with many other genres, such as drama or gangster film, but also include comedy, and, in turn, is divided into many sub-genres, such as mystery, suspense or noir.
Crime films are often based on real events or are adaptations of plays or novels. For example, the 1957 film version of Witness for the Prosecution is an adaptation of a 1953 stage play of that name, which is in turn based on Agatha Christie's short story, originally published in 1933. The film version was remade in 1982, and there have been other adaptations. However, each of these media has its own advantages and limitations, which in the case of cinema is the time constraint.
Witness for the Prosecution is a classic example of a "courtroom drama". In a courtroom drama, a charge is brought against one of the main characters, who claims to be innocent. Another major part is played by the lawyer (in England a barrister) representing the defendant in court and battling with the public prosecutor. He or she may enlist the services of a private investigator to find out what really happened and who the real perpetrator is. However, in most cases it is not clear at all whether the accused is guilty of the crime or not—this is how suspense is created.
Often, the private investigator storms into the courtroom at the very last minute in order to bring a new and crucial piece of information to the attention of the court. This type of literature lends itself to the literary genre of drama focused more on dialogue (the opening and closing statements, the witnesses' testimonies, etc.) and little or no necessity for a shift in scenery. The auditorium of the theatre becomes an extension of the courtroom. When a courtroom drama is filmed, the traditional device employed by screenwriters and directors is the frequent use of flashbacks, in which the crime and everything that led up to it is narrated and reconstructed from different angles.
In Witness for the Prosecution, Leonard Vole, a young American living in England, is accused of murdering a middle-aged lady he met in the street while shopping. His wife (played by Marlene Dietrich) hires the best lawyer available (Charles Laughton) because she is convinced, or rather she knows, that her husband is innocent. Another classic courtroom drama is U.S. playwright Reginald Rose's Twelve Angry Men (1954), which is set in the jury deliberation room of a New York Court of Law. Eleven members of the jury, aiming at a unanimous verdict of "guilty", try to get it over with as quickly as possible. And they would really succeed in achieving their common aim if it were not for the eighth juror (played by Henry Fonda in the 1957 movie adaptation), who, on second thoughts, considers it his duty to convince his colleagues that the defendant may be innocent after all, and who, by doing so, triggers a lot of discussion, confusion, and anger.
Crime films may fall under several different subgenres. These include:
Bars of Hate is a 1935 American crime film directed by Albert Herman.Below the Deadline (1946 film)
Below the Deadline is a 1946 American crime film directed by William Beaudine and starring Warren Douglas, Ramsay Ames and Jan Wiley.Code of Scotland Yard
Code of Scotland Yard is a 1947 British crime film directed by George King and starring Oskar Homolka, Muriel Pavlow and Derek Farr. It was also known as The Shop at Sly Corner, from the popular stage play of that name by Edward Percy. It features an appearance by the young Diana Dors.
It was shot at Isleworth Studios. The film's sets were designed by the art director Bernard Robinson.Dangerous to Know
Dangerous to Know is a 1938 crime film starring Anna May Wong, Akim Tamiroff, Gail Patrick, Lloyd Nolan, and Anthony Quinn. The movie was directed by Robert Florey. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times called the film a "second-rate melodrama, hardly worthy of the talents of its generally capable cast."Détective (1985 film)
Détective is a 1985 French crime film directed by Jean-Luc Godard. It was entered into the 1985 Cannes Film Festival.Girl on the Spot
Girl on the Spot is a 1946 musical crime film directed by William Beaudine and starring Lois Collier, Jess Barker and George Dolenz.Heist film
The heist film or caper film is a subgenre of crime film. It focuses on the planning, execution, and aftermath of a theft. They could be described as the analogues of caper stories in film history. A typical film includes many plot twists, with the focus on the characters' attempts to formulate a plan, carry it out, and escape with the goods. Often a nemesis must be thwarted, who might be either a figure of authority or else a former partner who turned on the group or one of its members.Inside Detroit
Inside Detroit is a 1956 crime film noir directed by Fred F. Sears starring Dennis O'Keefe and Pat O'Brien.
Inside Detroit is centered on corruption within the United Auto Workers union and is loosely adapted from the true tale of the Reuther brothers.Killer at Large (1947 film)
Killer at Large is a 1947 American crime film directed by William Beaudine and starring Robert Lowery, Anabel Shaw and Charles Evans.Poliziotteschi
Poliziotteschi (Italian pronunciation: [polittsjotˈteski]; plural of poliziottesco) constitute a subgenre of crime and action films that emerged in Italy in the late 1960s and reached the height of their popularity in the 1970s. They are also known as Italo-crime, Euro-crime, poliziesco, spaghetti crime films, or simply Italian crime films. Influenced by both 1970s French crime films and gritty 1960s and 1970s American cop films and vigilante films, poliziotteschi films were made amidst an atmosphere of socio-political turmoil in Italy and increasing Italian crime rates. The films generally featured graphic and brutal violence, organized crime, car chases, vigilantism, heists, gunfights, and corruption up to the highest levels. The protagonists were generally tough working class loners, willing to act outside a corrupt or overly bureaucratic system.Secret of the Chateau
Secret of the Chateau is a 1934 American crime film directed by Richard Thorpe and written by Albert DeMond. The film stars Claire Dodd, Alice White, Osgood Perkins, Jack La Rue, George E. Stone and Clark Williams. The film was released on December 3, 1934, by Universal Pictures.Snatched (1973 film)
Snatched is a 1973 American TV crime film directed by Sutton Roley and starring Howard Duff, John Saxon, Barbara Parkins, Robert Reed and Leslie Nielsen.The Fighting Coward (1935 film)
The Fighting Coward is a 1935 American crime film directed by Dan Milner.The Frog
The Frog is a 1937 British crime film directed by Jack Raymond and starring Noah Beery, Jack Hawkins and Richard Ainley. The film is about the police chasing a criminal mastermind who goes by the name of The Frog. It was based on a novel by Edgar Wallace. It was followed by a loose sequel The Return of the Frog, the following year.The Police Dog Story
Police Dog Story is a 1961 crime film directed by Edward L. Cahn and starring James Brown and Merry Anders.The Return of the Frog
The Return of the Frog is a 1938 British crime film directed by Maurice Elvey and starring Gordon Harker, Hartley Power and Rene Ray. It was a sequel to the 1937 film The Frog which was based on an Edgar Wallace novel. It was shot at Beaconsfield Studios. The film's plot concerns a police hunt for the criminal known as The Frog.The Ringer (1931 film)
The Ringer is a 1931 British crime film directed by Walter Forde and starring Patric Curwen, Esmond Knight, John Longden and Carol Goodner.
Scotland Yard detectives hunt for a dangerous criminal who has recently returned to England. The film was based on an Edgar Wallace story The Gaunt Stranger, the basis for his play The Ringer. Forde remade the same story in 1938 as The Gaunt Stranger. There was also a silent film of The Ringer in 1928, and a 1952 version starring Donald Wolfit. It was made at Beaconsfield Studios.Too Many Winners
Too Many Winners is a 1947 American crime film directed by William Beaudine and starring Hugh Beaumont, Trudy Marshall and Ralph Dunn.Tough Assignment
Tough Assignment is a 1949 American crime film directed by William Beaudine and starring Don Barry, Marjorie Steele and Steve Brodie. It is regarded as a film noir.