Friday, July 3, 2009


Summer is here, and that means dumb movies. Don't get me wrong, I love dumb movies. Nothing beats pushing aside the velvet drapes and settling into a broken chair with a barrel of soda and a 55 gallon drum of popcorn and opening a vein. Especially in the summertime. Winter is when the Oscar contenders parade before our eyes, the tepid period pieces, overwrought dramas, and literary adaptations, but summer screens are jammed with silly fun, chase scenes, crime, super heroes, bad sequels, cartoons, sci-fi epics, lightweight love stories, and giant toys. Not every movie can be "The Bicycle Thief," right?

"These few dollars you lose here today are going to buy you stories to tell your children and great-grandchildren. This could be one of the big moments in your life; don't make it your last!" -John Dillinger

My money's on this guy. Dillinger was a bank robber who said a few clever things and got riddled with bullets outside the Biograph theater. Hope I didn't spoil it for you. Read a book, for godsakes. Anyway, Johnny Depp is playing him in a new movie, and unlike Dillinger, Depp can do no wrong. In the box office, anyway. Dillinger's story has been made into several movies. Here's one of them. I could make some easy comments about crime movies and how they provide a catharsis for the viewer, but in the end enforce the social code. After providing vicarious thrills, the scofflaw dies in the last reel and order is restored.

Crime movies are essentially morality tales, and conservative in nature. In the old days these values were enforced by the Hays movie code, a set of industry guidelines controlling what went on the screen. A crook or a hussy MUST get punished; crime could NOT pay. Period. And there were detailed rules that had to be followed or the film couldn't be released. It wasn't until Bonnie and Clyde came out in the sixties that the crooks got away with, actually they got riddled with bullets in the last reel, but they seemed to have some fun as endearing anti-heroes who wore their costumes well.

Bonnie and Clyde, 1967

They were glamorous and you rooted for them, and this caused quite a stir at the time. Their punishment wasn't swift and antiseptic but brutal and sadistic, the camera lingering on their bodies as they were shot in slow motion. Director Arthur Penn clearly sided with the outlaws, and the lawmen were portrayed as uptight authority figures, stingy obsessed jerks, reflecting the time the film was released in 1967.

The real Bonnie and Clyde weren't nearly as sexy, as you can see from this photograph. They look like, well, crooks. They had some style, sure, but they weren't exactly Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty. I wonder what tack the new Dillinger flick takes. What kind of crook do we deserve?

Johnny Depp as Dillinger, 2009

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