08 December 2008

The Couple-in-Crime Film

I recently finished a rather long essay for my film genres class on the couple-in-crime (sub)genre. It focuses on a study of six films:

You Only Live Once (1937) dir. by Fritz Lang
They Live By Night (1948) dir. by Nicholas Ray
Gun Crazy (1949) dir. by J.H. Lewis
Bonnie and Clyde (1967) dir. by Arthur Penn
Badlands (1973) dir. by Terrence Malick
Thieves Like Us
(1974) dir. by Robert Altman

I uploaded the essay here and encourage you to read it if you have interest in any of the films listed. The insights aren't always brilliant, but there are certainly (what I hope to be) interesting points made every now and then.

(John Dall and Peggy Cummins in Gun Crazy)

Here is an excerpt:

"The couple-in-crime genre is an especially tricky genre to frame within certain thematic or stylistic structures and conventions since its evolution has a somewhat ambiguous starting point. For example, in many ways Bonnie and Clyde marks the genre’s full emergence, but it is a film made in the ’60s, a mid-point in the history of film, that feels like a post-modern revision of itself. Even so, I would suggest certain elements to distinguish the couple-in-crime genre. First, there is the eponymous couple, who are young and in love. Within the couple it is primarily the male gangster who is already involved in crime before he meets a female companion. The female’s decision to stay with the gangster-male despite the dangerous lifestyle cites a thematic element of love displacing fear of death. Second, the milieu which the outlaw-couple occupies is typically rural. Elements of the road movie genre can be seen as the couple constantly flees from town to town, which allows a series of tableau, a structural element of the couple-in-crime film. Third, the couple is punished for stealing/killing at the end of the film through their own death. Often they are forced into crime due to economic or societal pressures or because they are outsiders who cannot fit into society. Whether it is just the gangster-male who dies or the couple, there is a sense of inescapable death and hopelessness from the beginning of the film, not unlike the necessary deaths of gangsters in films from the 1930s. The nature of their death, however, can have different readings – tragic, justified, ambiguous – depending on the director’s depiction of the couple and the social forces (mainly the law) which bring them down."


James said...

Going to read your essay soon. IT does seem long.

Solomon said...

nice analysis. i read the intro and from bonnie and clyde on and i'm definitely interested in this group of films- seems like a pretty awesome genre.

James said...

Read your essay. Very good. I must see all these films. I have just see two of them.