RARA-AVIS: Re: From David Peace to Politics in Writing

From: JIM DOHERTY (jimdohertyjr@yahoo.com)
Date: 02 Jun 2010

  • Next message: Bill Crider: "RARA-AVIS: Gil Brewer"


    Re one tiny paragraph from your recent message below"

    "The conservative backlash began in the 1950s with They Walk By Night, . . ."

    It was HE WALKED BY NIGHT and it was released in 1948.

    ". . . the first police procedural film that I know of:"

    I take it then, that you've never heard of THE HOUSE ON 92ND STREET, THE STREET WITH NO NAME, THE NAKED CITY, and T-MEN, all of them "semi-documentary" cop movies, all of which preceded HE WALKED BY NIGHT.

    But even before MARCH OF TIME producer Louis De Rochemont brought documentary techniques to dramatic films, there were plenty of films that showed cops in a positive light, criminal in a poor light, and made at least a token stab at technical accuracy. THE RACKET and WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS in 1928, THE BUREAU OF MISSING PERSONS in 1933, G-MEN in 1935, BULLETS OR BALLOTS in 1936, and THE KID GLOVE KILLER in 1942 (the precursor to today's C.S.I. franchise), to name only six.

    And that's just in movies. In prose, just on this side of the Atlantic, you had ex-police reporter Thomas Walsh, ex-cop Leslie T. White, and just plain interested researcher Lawrence Treat all writing police procedural short stories and/or novels years before the term had even been coined. And those were just the ones who made a point of getting it right, and who specialized in cop stories. Almost every pulp mystery writer, including Hammett, Chandler, Woolrich, Burnett, Daly, Max Brand, et. al., at least dabbled in the cop story, whether or not they made any effort to sweat the details.

    "Criminals aren't like us, and we're not criminal at heart. Criminals are pathological predators that need to be hunted down and destroyed by smart, brave, virtuous men and women.?"

    Exactly so. But that's in real life.

    Fiction, even realistic police fiction, didn't necessarily take such an unnuanced view, absolutely correct though that unnuanced view might have been.

    Off-hand, again returning to movies, take a look at the film version of Burnett's THE ASPHALT JUNGLE, which depicts criminals as family men, as proud farm boys, as unfortunte women who just took a wrong turn, and we have the description of crime as "just a left-handed form of human endeavor." That was in 1950, two years after HE WALKED BY NIGHT. THE ASPHALT JUNGLE didn't do anything except win a couple of Oscars, get raved over by critics, gross a ton at the box office, and start Marilyn Monroe on her way to become a film icon. And it did all this, apparently, by swimming against the tide of this "conservative backlash" you're so sure HE WALKED BY NIGHT (which, notwithstanding how well-made it was, was a low-budget cheapie from a cut-rate studio) started all by itself.

    But, in fact, you're misreading HWBN, if you think it totally dehumanized its villain (based on real-life cop-killer Erwin Walker). There were all sorts of human touches given to him. His genius for electronics. His love for animals. Even his personal charm, which disarmed, figuratively if not literally, the cop who stopped him, allowing the Walker figure to get the drop on him and kill him, was a humanizing touch.



    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 02 Jun 2010 EDT