What We Talked About When We Talked About Movies at Bouchercon

David Corbett

As I mentioned in my most recent posting, for last week’s Bouchercon in St. Louis, I was assigned a panel with the theme: Which essential crime films should no fan miss. I was joined by moderator Jeremy Lynch of Crimespree, Megan Abbott, Russel McLean, Todd Ritter and Wallace Stroby.

Note: Much of this same material was also posted by Jeremy on the Bouchercon and Crimespree blogs. 

We broke the history of film into five time periods (see below), picked three films from each era, then named our absolute favorites. We then bickered and snickered about each other’s picks, and had a generally grand old time.

The hour deadline prevented us from discussing all but the first two time periods, though, and the last two “conceptual” categories, which we added for fun: Sacred Cow I Would Most Like to Gore and Little Known Film Worth Seeking Out (go to the end for these categories, which are probably the most fun).

The great joy of the panel was shooting ideas back and forth with other obsessive film lovers whose tastes both conformed and contrasted—or flatly contradicted—my own. And I was often glad someone brought up a particular film because it got so close to being one of my top three, and I hated not being able to include it. I wish we could have just hung around and talked movies for hours, because what everyone had to say about film always got my engine running.

But it was also fun to see how vehemently perfectly bright, well-informed people can disagree: Todd praisedThe Silence of the Lambs while Megan considered is a sacred cow in need of goring. Todd reveres Rear Window while that was my sacred cow, etc.

I thought you might enjoy seeing which films got chosen by whom and why. I’ll go through my fellow panelists’ picks after naming my own, which I chose largely to play the crank, the iconoclast, the connoisseur of the obscure—I know, you’re stunned.

Note: This is a tediously long posting, so just scroll through till you see a title you either know about or would like to learn about, or something else catches your eye. Where a film title bears a link, it leads to a trailer or other video concerning the film.


Classics (Pre-1945)

Top Pick:

M (1931) Director: Fritz Lang; starring Peter Lorre


The reason this is my top pick is because it provides one of the greatest performances on screen, ever: Peter Lorre’s confession as the child killer during the trial sequence near the movie’s end. This feverishly impassioned monologue is one of the most psychologically and morally complex in all of film, combining dread with self-pitying manipulation and the very real horror of helpless self-recognition. The film also fuses a brilliant story with a stunning visual technique without sacrificing a gritty urban realism. The irony at the heart of the film—that a child killer so energizes the police, without making them efficient, he obliges the city’s criminals to search for him themselves—is compounded with the resonance of the rise of Nazism. M is by no means an allegory—Lang was far too sophisticated a storyteller for that—but on reflection, even as one continues to root for the criminals, who seem to provide the ironic moral anchor for the film, it’s hard not to recognize an unsettling subtext: The social element that proclaims to want to protect children (while secretly pursuing its own illicit agenda), that goes about it with efficiency and skill and even with the trappings of due process, may in fact be, well, a bunch of criminals. (The fact Lang’s first film in the US after fleeing the Nazis, Fury, would focus on mob justice is hardly surprising.)

Remaining Two of Top Three: 

Le Jour Se Leve (1939) Director: Marcel Carné; screenwriter: Jacques Prévert; starring Jean Gabin, Arletty

From the same director/screenwriter team who created Les Enfants du Paradis, a beautiful, tough love story that begins with a murder and ends (surprise!) tragically.

Scarlet Street (1945) Director: Fritz Lang; starring Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, Dan Duryea

Another offering from the great Fritz Lang, this one made in America, and a gritty, uncompromising remake of Woman in the Window (1944), which Lang felt had been sentimentalized and sanitized by studio bigwigs.

Other Panelist Picks:

Megan Abbot:

Top Pick: Double Indemnity (1944) I was with Megan all the way, until she brought up the “vaguely homoerotic rapport” between Fred MacMurray and Edward G. Robinson. What can I say, I just can’t go there, even on a bet, when very drunk. But Barbara Stanwyck is breathtaking, even when she’s guilty as, well, sin. Maybe especially then.

Remaining Two Picks: Roaring Twenties (1939) and Laura (1944)

Russel McLean

Top Pick: Public Enemy (1931) Russel, a Scot, said his idea of America and Americans was largely formed by this film and others like it. “No list is complete without it.”

Remaining Two PicksMurder My SweetDick Powell brings a very different kind of Marlowe to the iconic one we all know from Bogie’s performance.”

The Maltese Falcon “With apologies to all those who have recently jumped on the cool-to-bash-the-falcon bandwagon” (meaning David Corbett, who considers it a sacred cow).

Todd Ritter:

Top Pick: Shadow of a Doubt (1943) “Hitchcock’s warped love letter to small-town America. Joseph Cotten has never been more menacing and Theresa Wright never more plucky.” (Todd’s a Hitchcock scholar, btw.)

Remaining Two PicksM “Fritz Lang’s dark procedural makes criminals the cops on the hunt for child killer Peter Lorre in pre-war Berlin. No one comes out looking good.”

The Thin Man “As effervescent as champagne and as snappy as a stick of Wrigley. The plot is a throwaway. The keepers here are the dialogue and the chemistry between Myrna Loy and William Powell.”

Wallace Stroby:

Top Pick (tie): Public Enemy (1931) and Dead End (1937): “Crime in a social context: Prohibition and the Depression, and how American gangsters are made.”

Remaining Pick: The Maltese Falcon (1941): “Dashiell Hammett’s world view invades popular culture. An obvious pick, but any film you can easily name multiple characters from 70 years after its release deserves to be included.”


Cold War Crime (1945-1965)

Top Pick:

Il Bidone (“The Swindle”—1955) Director: Federico Fellini; starring: Broderick Crawford, Richard Basehart, Giulietta Masina

Filmed between the shooting of La Strada (1952) and Nights in Cabiria (1956), with a typically beautiful score by the incomparable Nino Rota, it tells the story of an aging smalltime hustler plagued by his own feckless past who seeks to redeem himself by supplying the money for the schooling of a daughter he has rarely met. The story was inspired by anecdotes Fellini heard from a petty thief on the set of La Strada. Bogart was Fellini’s first choice for the film’s “intense, tragic face,” but the actor’s lung cancer made that impracticable. The director recruited Crawford after seeing his image on a poster for All the King’s Men (1949). Plagued by Crawford’s alcoholism, shooting was difficult and critical reception scathing. The film did miserably in Italy and was not distributed abroad until 1964. Pity—it’s a rare gem.

You can watch the movie online in nine ten-minutes segments, starting here.

 Remaining Two of Top Three:

Night and the City (1950) Director: Jules Dassin; starring Richard Widmark, Gene Tierney, Googie Withers)

Seriously, this might be my true favorite from this era. A visually stunning film with crackling dialog and mesmerizing performances from some of the greatest British character actors you’ll ever see. But it’s Widmark’s film, and he’s incandescent.

Sweet Smell of Success (1957) Director: Alexander Mackendrick; starring Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis

Okay, it’s not a crime movie, so shoot me. It sure feels like one. Criminals could learn a few things from J.J. Hunsecker (modeled after Walter Winchell) and Sidney Falco. Absolutely some of the best dialog ever written. (“The cat’s in the bag and the bag’s in the river.”… “I’d hate to take a bite out of you. You’re a cookie filled with arsenic.”) Stunning visually, with Lancaster and Curtis in their best roles.

Other Panelist Picks:

Megan Abbot:

Top Pick: In a Lonely Place (1950) A subtle exploration of post-war male violence. Megan admitted this might just be her favorite film of all time, even though as an adaptation from the Dorothy Hughes novel it veers off-track to the point the two versions are irreconcilable. But Gloria Grahame was never better, and Bogart got to play a bad guy (almost).

Remaining Picks: Naked Kiss (1964) —“The eeriest, sexiest first five minutes of a film you’ll ever see,” from the great Sam Fuller—and Gilda (1946).

Russel McLean:

Top Pick: PsychoWith apologies to Todd but to my mind its a goddamn perfect movie.”

Remaining PicksThe Killing “The heist is perfection.” 

A Touch of EvilYes Charlton Heston plays a Mexican, but what an opening…”

Todd Ritter:

Top Pick: Rear Window “Hitch’s finest hour, with James Stewart and a never-more-luminous Grace Kelly watching the neighbors across the way. Pure cinema. Pure fun. Pure suspense.”

Remaining Picks: The Third Man “A zither-scored tour of war-ravaged Vienna, full of shifting alliances and looming shadows. Orson Welles’ entrance is one of filmdom’s most memorable.”

Sunset Boulevard “Gloria Swanson’s titanic performance anchors this dark-as-night Hollywood noir. Maybe the most cynical movie about the movies ever made.”

Wallace Stroby:

Top Pick: Rififi (1955): “Influenced by American gangster dramas, this brilliant French heist film (directed by Jules Dassin, by then blacklisted from America), it went on to influence a generation of crime novelists (Donald E. Westlake, etc.) and filmmakers (Stanley Kubrick), who in turn influenced more French films, etc., etc.”

Remaining Picks: Kiss Me Deadly (1955): “Atom-age noir: Thuggish detective Mike Hammer chases the “Great Whatsit” and nearly unleashes the Apocalypse.”

The Killing (1956): “The heist as a complex machine, slowly breaking down. Stanley Kubrick plays with time, directing a cast of noir veterans in a script co-written by Jim Thompson.”


Revolution (1965-1980)

Top Pick:

Chinatown (1974) Director: Roman Polansky; starring Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston

My one safe, obvious pick. But it’s a no-brainer. Polansky and screenwriter Robert Towne argued violently over the ending, and parted ways. Polansky’s ending won, and became iconic. (Towne mocked it as “the tunnel at the end of the light,” but decades later conceded it was the right choice.) The story is based in part on Oedipus, with art direction that makes the most of the self-blinding that serves as the core metaphor of the Sophoclean version (note how many times eyes, eyeglasses, windshields, etc., are key to the film—and foreshadow the ending). But the most important and impressive aspect of the film is the way it turns the detective genre on its head. Instead of the PI hero digging deeper and deeper until he uncovers the truth, we see him as intrinsically self-deluded, uncovering clues and unraveling the scam but always missing an essential truth, until he winds up once again in Chinatown as though driven by Nietzsche’s dictum of eternal return.

Remaining Two of Top Three:

Mickey One (1965) Director: Arthur Penn; starring Warren Beatty, Franchot Tone, Hurd Hatfield

Two years later, Penn would direct Beatty again in the spectacular Bonnie and Clyde. But this remains a sentimental favorite of mine. With Penn’s stunning photography and buzzsaw editing, Eddie Sauter’s brutal score (with Stan Getz on sax), it was called French New Wave from Hollywood (and yes, that was intended as a compliment). I saw it maybe five times over a marathon weekend of TV showings in LA, and was mesmerized. Beatty’s performance is every bit as electric as Widmark’s in Night and the City, but in much tighter confines. He plays a stage comic who—for reasons he’s never able to determine—has alienated someone in the Detroit mob, forcing him to flee. He’s trying to pick up his career in Chicago, hoping for the impossible—that he can both be a success and not be noticed. Guess what happens.

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976) Director: John Cassavettes; starring: Ben Gazzara, Timothy Carey, Seymour Cassel

Cassavettes is one of those directors you’re supposed to like even if you don’t. The “art as medicine” metaphor—even if you hate it, it’s good for you. Normally I loathe such nonsense, and parts of this film are damn near unwatchable. (If you ever go to a strip club in LA and a guy named Mr. Sophistication is introducing the girls? Run.) But the film is also frightening in ways more conventional films never get to. The emotions are genuine and therefore shocking in places—as when, at an underground casino, a wife derides her dentist husband when they’re brought before a roomful of gangsters to discuss the extent of the man’s losses. She’s clearly, viscerally terrified, and her contempt for her putz of a hubby crackles. So too, the actual murder scene and the subsequent attempt by the gangsters to clean up a situation they thought they had under control—all these scenes generate a kind and a level of fear I just don’t feel often at the movies. So I forgive a lot of cinematic sins that maybe I shouldn’t, especially given how many other great films came out during this era (like Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, Dog Day Afternoon, Scarecrow, Cool Hand Luke, King of Marvin Gardens, Serpico, The Godfather—all brilliant.)

Other Panelist Picks:

Megan Abbot:

                Top Pick: Chinatown (1974)

                Remaining Picks: Mean Streets (1973), Badlands (1973)

Russel McLean:

Top Pick: Point Blank “Lee Marvin embodies the tough guy aesthetic in a way no one else can match.”

Remaining Picks: Get Carter “The ultimate in so-called Brit Grit – “Your eyes haven’t changed, still two pissholes in the snow”

In the Heat of the Night “They call me MISTER Tibbs – a perfect film that’s stood up to the test of time, imo.”

Todd Ritter:

Top Pick: Chinatown “Forties noir as seen through the haze of the seventies. The script is genius, Polanski’s direction rules and Nicholson and Dunaway have never been better. A masterpiece, pure and simple.”

Remaining Picks: The Conversation “Sound is a character in Coppola’s other classic from 1974. Captured the paranoia of the Watergate years right as it was happening.”

Dressed to Kill “Violent and absurd. There’s not a subtle bone in Brian De Palma’s body, and thank God for that. A film worthy of the era in which it was made.”

         Wallace Stroby:

Top Pick: Get Carter (1971): “Brit gangster Jack Carter (Michael Caine’s greatest performance) comes home to Newcastle to avenge his brother’s death. An almost perfect film, without a single false note.”

Remaining Picks: Mean Streets (1973): “Dead End, 70s style. Smalltime hoods in Little Italy make choices that seal their fates.”

Rolling Thunder (1977): “Vietnam vet returns to a world he doesn’t understand, hits the vengeance trail with a sawed-off shotgun and a sharpened hook for a right hand. Half arthouse, half grindhouse.”


Reaction: Reagan, Glasnost and the Tech Boom (1980s & 1990s)

Top Pick:

Bellman & True (1987) Director: Richard Loncraine; screenplay: Desmond Lowden; starring Bernard Hill, Derek Newark, Richard Hope

I have sung my praises of this film, and the novel on which it’s based, before on Murderati. It’s not just one of my top five favorite crime films, but one of my top five favorite films of any kind. A British bank caper with a father-son love story at its heart, it’s smart, brisk, unique and moving, with gripping and at times heartbreaking performances from a cast comprised largely of character actors, and a script that strips bare the folly in all human longing but leaves the odd, chimerical dignity of its characters fully if tragically intact.

Remaining Two of Top Three:

Glengarry Glen Ross (1992) Director: James Foley; screenplay: David Mamet; starring: Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Ed Harris, Alec Baldwin, Jonathan Pryce, Alan Arkin, Kevin Spacey)

Again, not really a crime film—though, unlike Sweet Smell of Success, a crime actually does occur and get investigated in the course of the story—but it qualifies because it strips bare the greed, hunger, envy, deceit and rage that motivate so much of the behavior we think of as criminal, reveals how embedded that behavior is in human affairs—specifically business—and shows us how intrinsically human, if also shameful and repellant, those motivations are. When I first saw this movie, I told a friend, “I just saw a monster movie, and all the monsters were salesmen.” Substitute “crime” and “criminal” for “monster” and you’ll see why I include it in this list.

(A note on the director: James Foley did indeed direct crime films, including two of my favorites from this same period: At Close Range (1986)—with Sean Penn and Christopher Walken, call it Redneck Noir—and After Dark, My Sweet (1990)—with Jason Patric (in his first lead role), Rachel Ward and Bruce Dern, my personal favorite Jim Thompson adaptation.)

Garde à Vue (1981) Director: Claude Miller; starring: Michel Serrault, Lino Ventura, Romy Schneider

Another tense, poignant, gripping film that shamefully remains an obscurity. A wealthy socialite, dragged in his tuxedo from a New Year’s Eve Party, is interrogated for the murder of a teenage prostitute. It was remade as Under Suspicion with Gene Hackman and Morgan Freeman, but this version is almost unwatchable. The remake removes the key element that makes the original so compelling: It takes place almost entirely at night in the cramped confines of the police station. The claustrophobic effect of that setting is crucial, especially with the chiaroscuro lighting and the spider-with-a-fly patience of the cops. Heightening the tension is the portrayal of the cop by the legendary Leno Ventura, and the socialite by an arrogant, restless, übermasculine Michel Serrault, most famous (ironically) for his quirky, super-femme turn as Albin in La Cage aux Folles. Romy Schneider appears late and only briefly, but she is deadly.

Other Panelist Picks:

Megan Abbot:

                Top Pick: Goodfellas (1990)

                Remaining Picks: Blue Velvet (1986) and Dressed to Kill (1980)

Russel McLean:

Top Pick: Midnight Run “One of my ultimate comfort movies.”

Remaining Picks: Shallow Grave “D’you think I wouldn’t sneak a Scots film on here? For my money the only truly decent film Danny Boyle made.”

LA Confidential “Filming the unfilmable and doing it well.”

Todd Ritter:

Top Pick: The Silence of the Lambs “Much ink has been spilled about the cat and mouse game played between Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling and Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter. The emotional resonance, though, comes from watching Foster as a damaged striver facing down inhumanity everywhere she turns.”

Remaining Picks: Fatal Attraction “The thriller that defined the eighties. It wouldn’t be nearly as good without Glenn Close, who infuses a madwoman with humanity while simultaneously scaring the shit out of every American male with a libido.”

Wild Things “The greatest movie Russ Meyer never made. Look past the lesbian liplocks and teacher-student threeways and you’ll see a film that sets the bar low but clears it by a mile. Brilliant.”

Wallace Stroby:

Top Pick: At Close Range (1986): Crime as a family affair. Sean Penn and Christopher Walken give two of their best performances as father and son criminals who come to a violent parting of the ways.

Remaining Picks: Goodfellas (1990): The greatest film about workaday gangsters ever made. Brutal, funny, invigorating, exhausting.

Thief (1981): Michael Mann’s first look at the inner life of the high-end professional criminal, vastly superior to his later Heat


The Reign of Terror (2000 to Present) 

Top Pick:

Amores Perros (2000) Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu; starring: Gabriel Garcia Bernal, Emilio Echevarría, Goya Toledo

Quite possibly my favorite film of all trime. Despite having so many elements of a crime picture—bank robbery, corrupt cops, underground dog-fighting with gang members putting their pit bulls in the ring, and a former revolutionary turned hired assassin—it’s actually a drama of the human heart. (I seem to possess an undying quest to see a crime film where none exists.) But like the other great films from this director—21 Grams and Biutiful—without the crime elements, the movie would lack much of the tension that makes it work. Narratively ambitious—without the preciousness that sometimes mars Tarantino’s efforts—it’s a multi-layered, intertwining story of two couples and a broken father, all searching for, trying to preserve, or hoping to reclaim the great loves of their lives. As the title suggests, it takes an almost dog-like ferocity to pull it off. Because, as the title suggests, love is a bitch.

Remaining Two of Top Three:

The Secret in their Eyes (2009) Director: Juan José Campanella; starring: Ricardo Darín, Soledad Villamil, Guillermo Francella

This time period (2000 to present) presented my biggest problem in picking a top film, because so many of the good films were great, and equally stunning. I love this picture, and consider it almost flawless. Its wedding of past and present into a single seamless narrative, and its subtly underplayed portrayal of political events at the time of the Peron restoration in Argentina, give the film its intelligence, while the love stories at its core, one tragic, one bungled but not yet lost, give it an elegiac heart. Ricardo Darín, like Vincent Cassel, is one of those leading men in the Bogart tradition with an intrinsically flawed face you can’t take your eyes off of. His performances (see also El Aura and Nine Queens) are understated, intelligent, witty and mesmerizing. But it’s not just Darín who makes this film work. The performances are stellar across the board—especially that of Guillermo Francella, an Argentinian comedian in his first dramatic role; and if you don’t fall in love with Soledad Villamil, you just might be an alien life form.

Sexy Beast (2000) Director: Jonathan Glazer; starring Ray Winstone, Ben Kingsley, Ian McShane, James Fox

Another flawless film, imho. The old trope of the gangster who’s left the trade only to get sucked back in gets a stellar makeover in sunny Spain and rain-drenched London. Witty, brutal, gorgeous, with some of the best dialog ever written and Ben Kingsley’s most stunning performance ever—call it the anti-Ghandi—it’s another British bank caper but so much more. Just slightly less narratively innovative than Memento (which came out the same year), it nonetheless moves in and out of present and past with deft fluidity, creating suspense, not confusion. Ian McShane has never been so steely or menacing, James Fox more weasly, Ray Winstone more endearingly rough—and Amanda Redman, as “Dirty Deedee” Dove, will steal your heart, even after the shotgun scene (maybe because of it).

Other Panelist Picks:

Megan Abbot:

Top Pick: Zodiac (2007)

Remaining Picks: Mulholland Drive (2001) and American Psycho (2000)

Russel McClean:

Top PickKiss Kiss, Bang Bang “Perfection – the Russian Roulette scene alone is worthwhile.”

Remaining PicksNarc “The kind of gritty crime drama it feels like we’ve forgotten how to make now.”

The Limey “Essentially an update of Point Blank in style – Stamp’s the toughest guy on screen since Marvin.”

Todd Ritter:

Top Pick: Zodiac “Not so much about murders than about how those crimes can burrow into the consciousness of a city and stay there for years. Gorgeous and terrifying in equal measure.”

Remaining Picks: Match Point “Woody Allen transplants the plot of An American Tragedy to modern London and lets our anti-hero get away with it.”

Mulholland Drive “Wonderful weirdness from David Lynch. It could be seen as the flipside to Sunset Boulevard. Or it could all be a dream. I don’t know, and I don’t care.”

Wallace Stroby:

Top Pick: The Pusher Trilogy (1996-2005): “Three films about the Danish drug trade, following different characters in the same environment, hot-wired and supercharged by Drive director Nicholas Winding Refn.”

Remaining Picks: Zodiac (2007): “Real-life noir, scrupulously faithful to the facts of the case. It gets under your skin in a way few movies do, not immediately, but stealthily and insidiously. A puzzle without an answer, a door without a key, an obsession with no catharsis.”

Gomorrah (2008): “The real Godfathers. A multi-storyline crime epic, based on a nonfiction book, about how organized crime corrupts nearly every strata of Italian society.”



Rear Window (1954) Director: Alfred Hitchcock; starring James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Raymond Burr, Thelma Ritter

My problems with Hitchcock are that his films, despite their flawless pacing, brilliant cinematography, heart-stopping surprises and witty repartee, are too cerebral, too contrived, too conspicuously “artful” for my tastes. I rarely stop realizing I’m watching a movie. (I have this same problem with a lot of Tarantino’s films, and with Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges, even though I enjoyed them all.) As I said on the panel, Hitchcock has never broken my heart—though he came close in Vertigo—and this for me is the bright line between very good and great. Admittedly, he’s scared the bejeebers out of me once or twice, largely because I know he doesn’t give a damn about human beings, and will toss a character off a cliff—or Mount Rushmore, or the Statue of Liberty—in a heartbeat. But in Rear Window he completely lost me. I just don’t care. It’s all set-up without a payoff I can buy into, a contrivance not a story, too precious, too neat. I don’t hate it. I just don’t care if I never see it again, and wonder why everyone else seems to venerate it. (It’s Todd Ritter’s favorite Hitchcock film; he considers it “perfect” in every way. That’s why there’s horse races, as they say.)

P.S. Hitchcock’s taste in blonds tends toward the impeccably bland. I loved a woman who called herself a dirty blond mutt, and she was sexier in a heartbeat than Grace Kelly, Kim Novak and Janet Leigh combined.

Other Panelist Picks:

Megan Abbott: Silence of the Lambs (1991) “Phony feminism.”

Russell McLean: Lethal Weapon The movie that typifies Mel Gibson’s career; a film that somehow blinds people to how truly muddled its plot is and more importantly how clearly awful Mel is in a part that might have been amazing if given to another actor – say Bruce Willis or Jeff Bridges. Its just a mess, and I will never understand how people could have fallen for it at the time and how it spawned so many goddamn (increasingly worse, too) sequels.”

Todd Ritter: No Country For Old Men “Sometimes a movie should deviate from the book, even if said book is written by Cormac McCarthy.”

Wallace Stroby: The Usual Suspects (1995): “Half-smart, and nowhere near as clever as it thinks it is. Doesn’t play fair narratively. A piffle of a film, hanging on a single fine performance by Kevin Spacey.”



Well, my whole list seems to fall into this category. But for the sake of adding one more—because few joys are greater than discovering something rare you never knew about, but wonder how you missed it:

Cry Terror (1958) Director: Andrew L. Stone; Starring: James Mason, Rod Steiger, Neville Brand, Jack Klugman, Angie Dickinson, Inger Stevens

How, I hear you ask, did a film with a cast like this ever fall between the cracks? Blame the vagaries of corporate distribution. I forget the particulars, though Eddie Muller explained them to me once, but it had something to do with the rights lapsing and the successor no longer existing so no one could assert ownership of the rights to the film—ergo, it languished. Pity. Eddie’s shown it twice at the LA Film Noir Festival, and I saw it on TV when I was a kid. Rod Steiger leads a group of extortionists who kidnap a whole family to dragoon the husband/father (Mason) into their scheme. Neville Brand has never been more sub-humanly creepy (with Inger Stevens in a slip), Rod Steiger scarier, James Mason more haplessly heroic. And Angie Dickinson as the moll: Now there’s a blond you can sink your teeth (or whatever) into.

Good news: The film’s once again available, on DVD, as of September 30th. (I’ve already pre-ordered my copy.)

Other Panelist Picks:

Megan Abbott: Fingers (1978)

Wallace Stroby: One False Move (1992): “Flawless blend of character and action in Arkansas-set crime story about a trio of killers coming home one last time, and a local sheriff (Bill Paxton) who’s in way over his head.” (I totally agree with Wallace on this.)

* * * * *

So, Murderateros—did we miss a crucial film you believe deserved mention? Do you disagree with our logic or our choices? What film would you have fought for had you been on the panel?

* * * * *

Jukebox Hero of the Week: Well, if you’ve gotten this far, you deserve a cookie. To redeem myself just a bit among those who think of Hitchcock as God—and consider me an apostate, a heretic, a heathen for refusing to genuflect before the altar—and to mend a fence with Gar, who listed Vertigo as a romantic touchstone, let me concede that Hitchcock had, among many other virtues, the best scores of any filmmaker of his time, due to the inimitable Bernard Hermann, my favorite composer of film scores ever, and that the love theme from Vertigo is a particular favorite:


71 thoughts on “What We Talked About When We Talked About Movies at Bouchercon

  1. Reine

    Hi David,

    It's going to take me a week to read this. I'll be bck. I have a compulsion to watch all the videos you post and follow an endless trail of links from there. So god knows when I'll be back. xo

  2. David Corbett

    I know. I could have easily made six posts out of this one, but it seemed odd to chop it up. I think I bit of more than I can chew, and more than anyone else is going to even want near herr plate, but so be it. It's a resource if people want to think of it that way. I hope they do. Otherwise it's just a grand waste of time.

  3. Jake Nantz

    I think I would have had to go toe-to-toe with Stroby on THE USUAL SUSPECTS, though I'm not that smart, so it might not have gone many rounds. The way he describes it, you'd think he was mildly chastising a film like LUCKY NUMBER SLEVIN (a film I loved, but which barely plays fair and is hardly a classic). Come on, USUAL has a HELL of a lot going for it besides Spacey. Chazz Palmentari gave a phenomenal performance as well, and the banter between Hockney, Fenster, and McManus perfectly offsets the brooding of Gabriel Byrne (who was a bit of a yawner, admittedly, in this film).

    I would also have stood up for TRUE ROMANCE in the 80s&90s category. I think it shows the underside of crime as less sinister, and more about luck. Kinda reminds me of Matthew Broderick, Connery, and Dustin Hoffman in a film called FAMILY BUSINESS (or something to that effect) and Norton and De Niro (with Brando) in THE SCORE. Although the latter two are just good flicks, and I think TR is a fricken classic of filmaking.

    Imust say, I'm surprised that none of the Grisham films made anyone's list. I think RUNAWAY JURY is probably my favorite, but the fact that not a single one showed up is interesting. Oh well, who knows.

  4. David Corbett


    The more I think about all of this, the more films I'm surprised slipped through the cracks. I agree, TRUE ROMANCE is one of my favorites of all time, but you only get three in a time period and it came out in the unreasonably long 20-year "Reaction" era. (We didn't do decades because they seemed artificial and there would be too many categories that way.) I'd even say TRUE ROMANCE might be Tarantino's best script, but on reflection I think that's a stretch.

    I don't hate USUAL SUSPECTS as much as Wallace, but I see his point. What I find most interesting is as you look at the picks for each writer, you really get a sense of each one's sensibility, as it were (sorry). And Wallace's picks in particular really resonate with his writing.

  5. David Corbett


    As a resident of Vallejo, I was charmed by Zodiac, I must admit. Always nice to know a serial killer has put one's humble home on the map. I liked the film, but have to admit I'd largely forgotten it. But I think the strength of Megan's and Wallace's other picks shows they know their stuff, so I'm tempted to revisit it. I take it you're not. What films would you pick from the past decade?

  6. Alafair Burke

    Holy moly, dude. How did you remember all that? Notes? During a B'con panel? Must be a first. I was about to declare Todd Ritter the superior film critic til he got on that Mulholland Drive business. Lord, I hated that movie.

  7. David Corbett


    I had help from my fellow panelists. No, the way my memory works, I could hardly have relied on that.

    I'm not surprised by your favoring Todd's choices. He's the most mainstream of the five of us. I'm not much of a Lynch fan, either, and he might have made my sacred cow list had I not wanted to pick a fight with Todd over Hitchcock (arguments make for much livelier panels).

  8. Todd Ritter

    Thanks, Alafair. Sort of. Maybe. I admit, Mulholland Drive makes not a lick of sense. But it's hypnotic in a way that few movies are. More like a dream than an actual narrative.

  9. David Corbett

    Welcome, Todd!!

    Folks, may I say that Todd Ritter is one of the best fellow panelists I've ever had. He took my attitude with a grain of salt, stuck to his guns — hell, why shouldn't he, he knows what he's talking about — and helped make the panel as fun, informative and energetic as it was. Check him out. (A link to his website is in the post.)

    If it's any consolation, Todd, I received a email from someone who attended the panel who thinks I deserve a brick upside my head for my picks.

  10. Cornelia Read

    David, you're KILLING me with this!!!! As if I needed more reasons to hate having had to miss Bouchercon, you gotta go rub it in with the brilliance of all of this. What a panel! What a post! You're a goddamn genius, dude. But I knew that…

  11. Todd Ritter

    Thanks, David! The panel was a blast and it illustrated what I've known all along: When it comes to movies, everyone is right. No opinion is wrong. People have reasons for liking what they like, and it's fascinating to share those reasons. (And you're right. I have very mainstream tastes, with just a dash of the macabre and the bizarre.)

    As for the person who threatened you with a brick, was it the same woman who booed Wallace Stroby over his utter disdain for The Usual Suspects?

  12. David Corbett


    No, it was a guy, and otherwise very complimentary. But it is amazing how intensely people feel about their films.

    BTW: By mainstream I mean "successful." That's not a dig. One of the great curses of my own career is that I seem to prefer the shadowy corners to the well-lit center of the room. As my picks bear out.

  13. Alexandra Sokoloff

    D, a lot of what I'd list is on the list, it's exhaustingly comprehensive! One granddaddy omission, so to speak, which perhaps is so obvious no one needed to mention it – The Godfather.

    My lists correspond more to Todd's and Megan's, as they listed more films with, well, women.

    I'm with Wallace on Usual Suspects, though.

  14. Allison Davis

    This ought to help me fill in all the blanks in my movie knowledge. My mom was the one who kept all this information straight, knew the actors and the genres…Nice to have this reference material. But this is one of those conversations where I nod and drink and don't really chime in. I think I've only seen the sacred cows…

  15. David Corbett


    Yes, it's interesting that THE CONVERSATION got picked but not Coppolla's signature film.

    I mention THE GODFATHER in my list of great "Revolution" era films I decided not to choose in favor of KILLING OF A CHINESE BOOKIE, and my reasons were quirky, I admit. I was really trying to pick films that I remember vividly that seldom get mentioned as often as I think they deserve.

    I've taken your comment about women in the films to heart.

  16. Gar Haywood


    This was awesome, dude. Nice job.

    For the most part, I'm right with Stroby all down the line, especially when it comes to his disdain for THE USUAL SUSPECTS. I could not have described the problems with that movie better. There was simply NO THERE THERE, and when he says the film doesn't play fair narratively, he's being kind. All its alleged "cleverness" is the result of cheats, plain and simple, and cheating is the lowest form of plotting, in my book.

    As for you and your picks, I've got no gripe. But I do still look upon you as an apostate, a heretic, and a heathen. Sorry.

  17. David Corbett


    Two bits of advice: Invest in a TV. And now that the Giants' season is over, when you go out, see a movie. I know it's not your style, but I'll drag you out if I have to.

    Miss you, girl. Let's get together soon.

  18. Lisa Alber

    Holy toledo, I needs me some filmic education! I'm sorry I missed this panel, truly. Two movies popped into my head that probably wouldn't top anyone's list, but I still feel are worthy of honorary mentions: A SIMPLE PLAN and SEVEN. The latter was a gross-out, but then I love Catholic-inspired creepiness.

    It's funny about THE USUAL SUSPECTS: At the time I saw it I was floored, wowed, impressed, you name it. But, at that time I hadn't learned much about fiction craft either. Now, yes: cheaters!

    Thanks for a great blog post, David!

  19. David Corbett


    You know, SIMPLE PLAN could easily have been my Overlooked Film Everyone Should Check Out or whatever I called that category. I agree, it's brilliant. And Billy Bob Thornton had his hand in Wallace's rare gem, ONE FALSE MOVE.

    Though I enjoyed SEVEN, and thought the cinematography and performances were stellar, it was a little too "high concept" for my tastes. I'm a realist at heart, which is why I'm so out of step with the current zeitgeist.

    Glad you enjoyed the post. Lot to chew on, I admit.

  20. Reine

    David this is gorgeous! I've even copied it into my resource file.

    There was something about Zodiac . . . maybe the unsolved part . Also may e the costumes and weird message codes. God, remember how he used to call the all-night radio talk show hosts. If it was him. I was sure it was back then.

    Like Cornelia said, you are a goddamn genius.

  21. David Corbett


    I do think the creepiness and the fact the crimes remained unsolved gave ZODIAC its appeal. It's a hometown favorite, as I said, for all the wrong reasons.

    Thanks for the note on how pretty this turned out. I mean, I just snatched pics off the web, so it's hardly my doing. I particularly like the topmost pic, which is almost painterly. I wonder if anyone can guess from which film it comes — I'll send a signed book to the first person who answers correctly (i.e., gives a damn).

    As for this genius nonsense. I was a math major. I met real geniuses, some of them as young as six. Trust me, I ain't no genius. (But thanks for the compliment.)

  22. David Corbett


    Excuse my Oh Duh moment: Of course, BOTH Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton were teamed together in A SIMPLE PLAN as well as ONE FALSE MOVE. And they both truly are rare gems.

  23. Lisa Alber

    I agree, especially about Bill Paxton–he doesn't get enough credit. Still love Thornton most of all in SLING BLADE. These days he annoys me. I'm not sure why except that PUSHING TIN comes to mind…

  24. David Corbett

    Do you know the story of how SLING BLADE came to be? Thornton was waiting tables in Hollywood, trying to make it as an actor, and Billy Wilder sat down at one of his tables. Thornton shamelessly asked his advice on how to break through, and Wilder very kindly and astutely told him that, with his features, he'd have difficulty as a leading man, unless he wrote a script for himself and got the film made as a kind of showcase. The rest, as they say, is …

  25. Wallace Stroby

    If you had asked me, in the immediate hours after I saw ZODIAC, if it would ever have made my list, I would have said no. In terms of a mainstream film, it frustrates on too many levels. But it burrowed its way into my psyche in the following weeks in a way only a handful of movies have done. I also admired the way it respected the facts of the case and the people involved, unlike most true crime movies, which tend to toss reality aside for dramatic purposes.

  26. Louise Ure

    Hey, David. Sorry to be late to the party; I'm having trouble posting comments today.

    Thanks for yet another list of now "must see" films that I'd previously never heard of.

    But I agree with Alex about Zodiac, even if it did feature my home town.

  27. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Okay, I can see that, Wallace. I guess I wanted more than the facts – the movie didn't get to the MYTH of the Zodiac as I experienced it growing up in California.

    I think the real thing that was missing from the film – for me – was the FEAR of this guy. This all happened before serial killing was even named that, but Zodiac was one of the first modern celebrity killers, and I can't believe the killings didn't have more of an impact – like on a panic level – on the citizens of those communities. YEARS after this guy had dropped off the map, we kids were scaring ourselves senseless by telling ourselves Zodiac stories around the fire at Girl Scout camp. He was our Boogeyman. So if that legend pervaded with kids, it must have been there at the time, too, that deep, mythic fear of this creepy unknown guy and his creepy ciphers and threats of killing schoolkids.

    I didn't feel any of that in the movie. And I didn't even feel much fear in the murder scenes – I had only passing empathy for the victims, when obviously, those situations would be terrifying.

    But all that is about what I wanted and didn't get, and maybe I'm talking more about my own genre than crime. And maybe I'm just avoiding working.

    But maybe Louise knows what I mean…?

  28. Judy Wirzberger

    David, I have no comment on your excellent post except to say that I spent my life in East St. Louis, Illinois, where we were afraid to go to the movies and sit in the dark. I guess one might say I've led an uneducated life in the land of Lincoln.

  29. Reine

    Hi Alex,

    I know what you mean about the non-thriller aspect of ZODIAC, but I was secretly grateful scaredy cat that I am. I wonder if it was filmed that way to show it from Zodiac's non-feeling aspect . . . flat affect/no conscience?

  30. David Corbett

    Judy: I think that's why God invented TV, so kids like you could watch movies without fear of getting mugged (except by advertisers).

    Reine, Alex & Wallace: I think the power of he Zodiac myth comes thorugh in how much you guys still feel compelled to discuss it. That alone says a great deal.

    Whereas, no one has mentioned a single on of my picks. Maybe because no one's seen any of them — which, of course, is my own damn fault.

    BTW: Wallace, I'm with Gar, if I hadn't chosen my flicks in a great many cases I would have chosen yours. But I kinda saw that coming, and so turned toward the more obscure for the sake of variety.

    But Alex still thinks we're chauvinist shmucks. Regrettably, in my case at least, I think she may have a point. I looked over my picks and went, hmmmm. Guy movies.

  31. Reine

    Hi David,

    Your top classic pick with Peter Lorre, who always tops my list in that category, is true-to-genre classic. I am always spell bound by his manner, speaking and movement.

    The scariest movie ever for me was the sacred cow, SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. I think it changed so much of what we see in thrillers, and what we expect in the "sharing" of police knowledge and use of profiling, that it caused a huge shift in TV and films of the genre.

    I recall one thing scarier for myself, and it revisits me often, was my father's repeated imitation of the "chianti and fava beans" scene — whenever I was in his kitchen alone with him in Altadena.

  32. David Corbett


    I'm a subtle reader of subtext, i.e., I'm Catholic, with the usual hair-trigger guilt (Seriously, I went back at my list and went, hmmm. She's got a point.)


    You always manage to dig up a real life experiences that make movie/book "scary" seem like nuthin. Jesus. And in beautiful Altadena of all places.

    I love Lorre and wish he'd not been ghettoized into character actor land by Hollywood. Imagine anyone else but him playing Ugarte in Casablanca. Other than Raskolnikov in CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, and the Mr. Moto movies, his only starring role was in his own German film, Der Verleone, based on his own novel and the script from it; he also directed — that's what he had to do to play a leading man. Here's the IMDb link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0044188/

  33. Vince Keenan

    I was lucky enough to be at this panel, and it was as entertaining as advertised. David, thanks for pointing out that IL BIDONE is on YouTube. Maybe not the ideal way of seeing the film, but it beats breaking into your place and swiping your VHS copy.

    The reactions to ZODIAC are interesting. When I first saw it I thought it was a primary example of, to bust out a college English term, "the fallacy of the imitative form." An obsessive movie about obsession. But over time it's had the same effect on me that it's had on Wallace. It haunts.

    And I will also defend THE USUAL SUSPECTS. From moment to moment it's hugely entertaining. And while I understand the complaints about narrative cheating, I prefer to think of it as a meta-movie about storytelling. And as such, it succeeds brilliantly. So there.

  34. David Corbett


    Good news. IL BIDONE is now available on Netflix. Who knew?

    So is BELLMAN & TRUE in downloadable play format. Very cool.

    MICKEY ONE remains distressingly hard to find. It's available on DVD-by-Demand through amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004CZZZAE/?tag=googhydr-20&hvadid=13523456616&ref=pd_sl_5f3sc022od_e

    GARDE A VUE is available for about $90 through amazon.

    And if I may recommend another rarity: LISBOA, available on DVD (not Netflix, yet).

    That's all for now. Thanks for the props. And the stellar addition to the debate.

  35. Shizuka

    I had the same reaction as Alex: ZODIAC? Most of the acting was stellar and the murder scene by the lake chilling. But the movie sort of lost me in the middle. By the time we got to the end, I really didn't care about the conclusion. It wasn't emotionally engaging.

    Out of your choices, I found KILLING OF A CHINESE BOOKIE so-sp.
    It could have been the overly seventies feel of the film (but that doesn't stop me from really liking
    MIDNIGHT COWBOY) or maybe it's just Cassavetes. His films somehow never work for me although they have a slow burn realism. It's probably the characters.

    In contrast, AMORES PERROS was amazing. The pacing, the fractured storytelling, and the sense of an interesting and desolate world. Also, he never overexplains. I liked piecing together what happened (ditto in 21 grams).

    And I just rewatched SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. It still really works because we root so strongly for Clarice. Although the second viewing ruined one thing for me: I'll never be able to view the captain in the MONK series in the same way again. I'll always imagine him dancing around naked with his willy between his legs.

  36. Wallace Stroby

    I have to say about ZODIAC that I'm also inclined toward it because it's a great newspaper movie – and there are very few of those. It wasn't until nearly 20 years after the events of the film that I first set foot in a newsroom, but, believe me, they hadn't changed much. Just seeing the way Fincher and crew captured the newsroom culture – and their proper use of the lingo – impressed me greatly.

  37. David Corbett


    Well, if that's the only thing that ruined Monk for you, you're way ahead of me.

    I picked KILLING OF A CHINESE BOOKIE as a kind of out-on-a-limb pick. I have a lot of problems with the film, but I also love certain scenes — and that's Cassavettes, the most over-indulgent, uneven director in teh history of film. But when he was on, when the scenes crackled with their humanity, there was nobody like him. Ergo, my pick.

    AMORES PERROS has a great soundtrack too, btw.

    I'm staying out of the ZODIAC discussion because I frankly can remember little about the film, except the last scene which was shot in my local hardware store. Maybe that says enough.

    I think SILENCE isn't as great as its reputation but it's still an incredibly taut thriller, with impressive thematic unity realized through expert art direction and control of the script. But it still has a crazy gay person stalks normal people theme I could live without, and I'm not much on serial killer movies.

    Deb says hi. We talked about you at B'con: Love you, admire you, miss you.

  38. Reine

    "You always manage to dig up a real life experiences that make movie/book "scary" seem like nuthin. Jesus. And in beautiful Altadena of all places."

    And that, my love, is nothing without the rest of it. The whole story. The story I will never write. Don't dare to write. Would love to write. Cannot.

  39. Rosemarie Keenan

    Thanks so much for the recap. It was a fun panel.

    You picked some favorites of mine (Scarlet Street, The Secret in Their Eyes), but I think my tastes probably line up more with Todd's. I'm a huge Hitchcock fan. It's too late in the workday for me to articulate this coherently but I don't think that formalism necessarily negates genuine human emotion. Hitchcock gets that rap (sometimes deservedly) but I find Vertigo, Shadow of a Doubt and Strangers on a Train, for example, very human films. The Coen brothers are often criticized for that same kind of coolness but I don't know – does a movie have to be full of badly dressed people sweating and ad-libbing to be in touch with human feeling?

    OK, that last bit sounded a bit sarcastic. Sorry. I think I need to head home now.

  40. Reine

    PS: I'd love to win that book, David, but all I can think of when I look at the photo is Aging Serpico and the Flight from Fawlty Towers. That wouldn't be it. Would it?

  41. David Corbett

    Rosemarie, how beautifully thou doest snark! Didn't know ya had it in ya. But I should have guessed. You're too smart to be as gentle as you seem.

    Well, you answer your own question: THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES gets to genuine emotion and the people are all dressed quite nicely, if at times somewhat true to their station. I think AMORES PERROS does as well in spots. as does IL BIDONE and MICKEY ONE, etc. Ben Gazzarra is by no means shabbily attired in CHINESE BOOKIE (and, in another Cassavettes ordeal, HUSBANDS has all three men impeccably dressed and acting like alligators). So no, of course not. It's a 70s affectation that only the downtrodden can possess true feeling.

    It isn't the attire at issue, it's the unwillingness to let your actors cut loose. Hitchcock had a notorious short fuse with actors, which is why he so seldom used top names. He didn't want anyone, well, acting. And, imho, it shows. Even in Vertigo and Psycho, the staging shows through — except in scenes of violence, specifically at the end of Vertigo, which I discovered on recent viewing is a far more brutal scene than I'd remembered. Jimmy Stewart kicks the living crap out of Kim Novak. And it works. (I know, I know, send me the cards and letters, folks.)

  42. Jeremy

    I would have given anything to have had 90-120 minutes. I really do think we could have held the audience for that long.

    Maybe in the future, we can revisit and tackle dif sub-genres. Todd, David, Wallace and Megan all rock!

  43. Megan Abbott

    David, I didn't — mostly, I think I wondered how a movie could be so ponderous and self important and yet so egregiously campy at the same time–then went on to exalt (in only semi-coherent fashion) the glories of MANHUNTER. But from now on I'm using "phony feminism" instead (perhaps with a dismissive nose twitch). So much more intriguing!

  44. David Corbett

    Jeremy — I think you may be right. I also suspect we'll never know.

    Gang, I'm heading out for 3 hours to attend a class with my local police department — yes, Vallejo PD, you Zodiac groupies. I'll be back around 9:15 PST to respond to comments.

    meanwhile, one last note to Rosemarie: Tarantino had a great many slovenly dressed guys emoting all over the place but I find it every bit as contrived as Hitchcock. You have to allow actors and actresses the room in front of the camera to surprise you. I can feel it when that doesn't happen, I suspect a great many people can. And I'm usually disappointed in the results.

  45. Lisa Alber

    I just realized that no one's mentioned GONE BABY GONE. That movie surprised the hell out of me — maybe I wasn't expecting much because of the "Affleck" last name, but shit — blew me away.

    Great anecdote about Wilder and Thornton, David. A little pearl of knowledge that, alas, I'll probably forget. (I suck at Trivial Pursuit.) Oh, where is the literary Wilder to my Thornton? 🙂

  46. David Corbett


    I could have sworn you said something to the effect that the Clarice character was problematic for you in some way. Seriously, I apologize for the misquote — though you're welcome to steal it. It does have a certain je ne sais quoi.


    The problem with something like this is that you invariably miss films that you wish you could have named. I loved GBG too, but there really have been some exceptional films since 2000. In fact, I'm tempted to call this something of a golden age. We're lucky.

  47. Peter

    Yep, Hitchcock was notoriously reluctant to let actors cut loose, but "seldom used top names"? I don't know what stages these folks were at in their careers when they worked with Hitchcock, but Cary Grant? Ingrid Bergman? Jimmy Stewart? Michael Redgrave? Gregory Peck? Jane Wyman (a star at the time)?

    What Hitchcock didn't use were emoters like Marlon Brando. In any case, the tight rein he kept on actors may be what coaxed such a memorable performance out of Jimmy Stewart in "Rear Window."

    P.S. And don't forget Ivor Novello in "The Lodger"!
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

  48. David Corbett

    You're right, Peter, I bungled that. I was thinking more Anthony Perkins and Sean Connery pre-007 and Tippi Hedren and Kim Novak before she got, well, big. In the star sense. But Hitchcock did indeed use top-shelf stars, and I misspoke.

    Jimmy Stewart was an actor of incredible range who I think could work within any constraints, even those imposed by Hitchcock. I think he's stunning in Vertigo, except for the scene when he falls into Midge's arms at the beginning, which is Hitchcock, not Stewart. Over-directing. The scene feels contrived and "intentional" in the worst way. Which, as noted, is my problem with Hitch.

  49. Gordon Harries

    In defense of Zodiac..

    I love it’s subdued tone: it doesn’t feature a cop who burns through three marriages in pursuit of a killer and the Graysmith character sleepwalks through his actual life (on a ‘date that doesn’t end’) because he doesn’t have the critical f…aculties that would protect him from the case. It’s mundane, in the nicest possible way.

    And don’t get me wrong, I do love Seven but the subdued tone of that movie obfuscates the fact that it’s high concept all the way. This film is the only one of Finchers’ that ultimately is substantive.

    (And I know everyone and their aunt appears to love ‘The Social Network’, but that’s a film about over privileged children. This is a film about a working cartoonist and police officers. It’s essentially blue collar and therefore easier for me to give a shit about.)

    My sacred cow (other than 'The Social Network'!) would be 'Silence of the Lambs'. I taught a class on it which involved reading a book on it and watching the film five times within a week– enougth to curdle anyone's entusiasm– but I honestly think that film's a mess.

  50. David Corbett


    I'm teaching SILENCE this weekend, and would love to touch base with you on the aforementioned problems. I have my own (the Act 2/Act 3 transition is one of the feeblest I've ever seen, e.g.) but I'd love to hear your take on the matter.

  51. Ali

    THE SECRETS IN THEIR EYES deservedly won the foriegn film Oscar, though i was upset that it beat A PROPHET, until that is I sat hypnotised by that wonderfully chilling Argentine crime drama. Pity I had a panel clash as this was one panel I wanted to see, thanks for posting the notes, and yep i'm a ZODIAC fan too, great scary film.

  52. David Corbett


    I didn't see A PROPHET until after I saw THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES, and I think it's a crime one of them had to lose. They're so incredibly different and brilliant in their own ways. And that once again brings up the point I made earlier — I think we're living in a golden era of films premised on crime, if not exactly crime films. The number of mind-blowing movies since 2000 is really pretty staggering.

    I remember when Manohla Dargis of the New York Times damned SECRET with faint, coy, catty praise. That was the day I started calling her Manhole Dogpiss.

  53. Susan Shea

    Late to the party and the conversation. What a generous post, David, and I'm taking notes like crazy. I was so happy to read Megan's comment about LAMBS, however, because I too thought it was "phoney feminism." I'm catching up on crime film and tv series these days and so damn tired of the victim being a young woman lying on the floor in a puddle of blood, or a series of young women lying on the floor in puddles of blood, or lying on the bed in rumpled sheets and puddles of blood, or handcuffed to the bed, lying there in puddles of blood. C'mon, we're only 50% of the population!

    I liked what you said about building the script in LAMBS at your seminar, and get it from that perspective.

  54. David Corbett

    Regrettably, Susan, the "phoney feminism" remark was a bit of inadvertent ventriloquism on my part. Megan maintains she never said that, though I distinctly recall her saying SOMETHING to that effect. Oh well. She now embraces the term as "intriguing." Glad you agree (I think).

    If you're taking notes, make sure to track the comments, for I point out that Netflix and YouTube have viewing options for some of the films I thought were unavailable, like IL BIDONE and BELLMAN AND TRUE.

  55. David Corbett


    "Theory" in general makes me itch. But I like the French New Wave, and many of its practitioners, as I understand it, got stamped with the "auteur" brand. I do think a director makes all the difference, especially in the post-studio era. But that's not a license for, well, excess.


    You needn't apologize for not being as film savvy as a couch potato raised in the MIdwest where movies were the Great Escape.


  56. Reine

    Do you suppose I might have been rebelling against my father's reading Eliot Norton's reviews to me from the age of four, then quizzing me on the reconciliation of the film adaptation, when and if done?

  57. John Shannon

    Nobody mentioned True Confessions? Sure it's flawed, but it's a fine study of cynicism as wounded innocence. Sort of a dark Graham Greene inverse sentimentality. There's one long long shot of DeNiro taking off his shoes and, presumably, contemplating his own corruption that is one of the bravest shots I've seen from a director. And, BTW, nice to see somebody else finds Hitchcock hollow and facile.

  58. David Corbett


    Lynn already guessed it, Vince, I'm sorry. But I'm an easy touch — still want a book? Send me your address at david at davidcorbett.com


    I liked TRUE CONFESSIONS but don't remember enough about it to say I could call it great. (That's a crucial determinant — how much do I remember about the damn thing. Sadly, often on reviewing, I discover that I've actually MISremembered a great deal.)

    Thanks for joining me in the anti-Hitchcock ghetto. Like the cheese, we stand alone.

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