A crime-laden gallery. As an homage to classic crime films and the legends who portrayed the criminals, following is a historical pictorial from the earliest days of the crime genre on film through the 1940s. These depict the faces of crime through time. Some are obscure, some are familiar, but I hope all are enjoyable.
D. W. Griffith’s, The Musketeers of Pig Alley, 1912 (Watch it here)
“One good turn deserves another.”
Considered the first, real gangster film that tells the story of organized crime in the Western world.
Raoul Walsh’s, Regeneration, 1915 (Watch images here)
From lawlessness in New York’s lower East Side, a boy grows up to be a professional gangster.
Wallace Worsley’s, The Penalty, 1920 (Watch it here)
“Some excellent judges think that I resemble Satan.”
Fritz Lang’s, Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler, 1922 (Access a clip here)
Arch-criminal Dr. Mabuse sets out to make a fortune and run Berlin. (IMDB)
“There is no such thing as love, only passion! No luck, only the will to gain power!”
Karl Grune’s, The Street, 1923 (Watch it here)
A wrongly accused man is lured into crime. Only images in this one, no title cards in an influential film.
Alfred Hitchcock’s, The Pleasure Garden, 1925 (Access a clip here)
An early femme fatale and…murder! Who cares who the criminal is in a Hitchcock film – what matters is the murder weapon. And legs…he loved to shoot them.
Josef von Sternberg’s, Underworld, 1927 (Access a clip here)
“How long since you had the body washed and polished?”
Lewis Milestone’s, The Racket, 1928 (Access a clip here)
Bootlegging and corrupt officials – “Take a tip, Mac… change your racket.”
Roland West’s, Alibi, 1929 (Access a clip here)
Academy Award-nominated crime melodrama.
As key to setting the stage as those earlier crime films are, the Hollywood crime/gangster films earned their place in the history of film during the 1930s and 1940s. At the time the streets of Chicago and New York were replete with violent crime and criminals. It stands to reason that Hollywood would sensationalize these for profit. And I say, thank goodness, as these films remain entertaining and very popular.
George W. Hill’s, The Big House, 1930
“Timely! Tremendous! Thrilling! Drama of Love and a Jail-Break!”
Jack Conway’s, The Unholy Three, 1930
Remake of 1925 Todd Browning Silent film and Lon Chaney’s last film and only “talkie.”
Alfred E. Green’s, Smart Money, 1931
The familiar, pre-code, unscrupulous gangsters.
Girl: Who’ll give me a half a dollar for my hand?
Nick ‘The Barber’ Venizelos: Uh, I wouldn’t give you a nickel for your whole body.
Howard Hawks’, Scarface, 1932
An unforgettable film starring an unforgettable portrayal by an unforgettable actor. Paul Muni stars as Tony ‘Scarface’ Camonte.
Roy Del Ruth’s, Lady Killer, 1933
“Is Hollywood howling ! at this inside story of The Screen Idol Who Threw -?- -?- -?- Out Of His -?- -?- -?- On Her -?- !”
Josef von Sternberg’s, Crime and Punishment, 1935
The code is in effect now, the criminal is haunted by his crime.
“I am Sonya! You don’t know who or what I am… the police know! They know I’m in love with a murderer! But a woman like me might still save a man’s soul!”
Archie Mayo’s, The Petrified Forest, 1936
Alan Squier: What’s your story, Duke? What’s your life been like?
Duke Mantee: You know the story. Most of my life in jail; the rest of it dead!
William Wyler’s, Dead End, 1937
“THE GREATEST GANGSTER THRILLER THAT EVER EXPLODED FROM THE SCREEN!” (1944 reissue print ad tagline)
Michael Curtiz’, Angels with Dirty Faces, 1938
There’s no doubt that crime doesn’t pay in this one – the gangster as a lesson to youth.
“The saga of America’s dirty faced kids… And the breaks that life won’t give them!”
Raoul Walsh’s, The Roaring Twenties, 1939
Considered by some as the last, great gangster film before film noir took over the crime genre in film in the early 1940s.
“The land of the free gone wild! The heyday of the hotcha! The shock-crammed days G-men took ten whole years to lick!”
Raoul Walsh’s, High Sierra, 1941
“The Blazing Mountain Manhunt for Killer ‘Mad-Dog’ Earle!”
Humphrey Bogart’s first starring role. And that “mountain manhunt” is a standout for me as it is quite the magnificent ending for a criminal, a greatly sympathetic one. While the code’s directive remained “crime doesn’t pay,” we really feel for this criminal.
John Huston’s, The Maltese Falcon, 1941
“A guy without a conscience! A dame without a heart!”
Then noir reached its peak and the criminals and thugs could lurk in shadows or wear fabulous clothes. But so did the heroes as the lines between good and evil blurred. Strong women drove the action, hit men and dirty cops ruled the underworld and heroes always had dark pasts.
Frank Tuttle’s, This Gun for Hire, 1942
“Lover without a heart…killer without a conscience!” (very similar tagline to the one I chose for The Maltese Falcon)
Billy Wilder’s, Double Indemnity, 1944
“It’s Love And Murder At First Sight !”
The ultimate femme fatale and an almost perfect crime.
Michael Curtiz’, Mildred Pierce, 1945
“Please don’t tell anyone what Mildred Pierce did!”
A killer with attitude and shoulder pads but it’s hard to argue with a mother’s love.
Edgar G. Ulmer’s, Detour, 1945
“He went searching for love… but Fate forced a DETOUR to Revelry… Violence… Mystery!”
Robert Siodmak’s, The Killers, 1946
“One Moment with Her…And He Gambled His LUCK…LOVE…and His LIFE!”
Burt Lancaster’s screen debut is a great one.
Charles Vidor’s, Gilda, 1946
“I was true to one man once… and look what happened!”
Jacques Tournuer’s, Out of the Past, 1947
“A guy without a fortune! A girl with too much past!”
Robert Wise’s, Born to Kill, 1947
“The coldest killer a woman ever loved”
John Cromwell’s, Dead Reckoning, 1947
“He Doesn’t Trust Anyone . . . especially Women!”
Abraham Polonsky’s, Force of Evil, 1948
Joe Morse: The money has no moral opinions.
Roy Del Ruth’s, Red Light, 1949
“I’m giving you a job to do, baby…Don’t ask questions and you won’t get hurt!”
Raoul Walsh’s, White Heat, 1949
“Searing the screen like the death-blast of a sub-machine gun ! ! !”
The decade ends with the familiar – the quintessential gangster.
These are just a few of the memorable faces of crime, those lowlives that have given us so much pleasure. Many more successful and quality crime films were produced in the 1950s and beyond. In truth the genre’s popularity has never waned as our curiosity and appetite for the seedier side of life remains constant. But capturing the legendary and historical appeal of the films of the 1930s and 1940s has been virtually impossible since the end of that era. We haven’t things like prohibition to exploit and organized crime rarely makes headlines these days. Perhaps that’s why we so love to revisit with the films and actors who are firmly rooted in the history of the crime film, many of the faces shown above. These are the legends and this post is for them – the thugs, the mugs and the dames.
This is one of my entries to the Scenes of the Crime blogathon hosted by Furious Cinema, Criminal Movies, and Seetimaar – Diary of a Movie Lover. It’s a guarantee you will find enjoyment even if in the underbelly of society within the many more entries about Scenes of the Crime so go to one of the host sites and take a look around. Plenty more stories of thugs, mugs and dames.
What a great collection of films and “mug” shots! So many great movies here – and you’ve given me some to put on my Must-Watch list.
Oh, that’s great. I’ve seen all of these but for a few it’s been years. The silents I watched online fairly recently. Such fun. Thanks for stopping in.
Reblogged this on Outspoken and Freckled.
this. is. epic. Bogart and Cagney. That’s all i’m gonna say. epic.
Lol. Indeed Bogart and Cagney is all. I tried to feature less obvious choices but no way to get around those two and the important role they played in the genre. Glad you liked this.
Gosh Aurora, I really need to look for those earlier films. I haven’t seen a lot of those. This is a great reference on top of having terrific photos. Thanks!
Hi Sarah! I added clips of the silents thru 1929 in case you want to take a look or save them for later. Not all are easily available in their entirety. I’m glad you liked it – thought it would be fun to see the progression – or as close to one as I could get in a post without including hundreds of pictures. Some greats in there.
Dear Aurora, I’m nearly fainting in my desk: I LOVE crime films, specially the ones with gangsters! You gave me a must-watch list, and The Penalty will probabl be the first I’ll check: Lon Chaney is my favorite silent actor, and James Cagney playing the crippled guy in Man of a Thousand Faces just made me get crazy to watch the 1920 movie.
I think I’ll wite some entries for this blogathon in 2013!
Fun stuff and so glad you liked this short history in images. I tried some key ones not generally known. Enjoy and I look forward to your entries!
Thank you, Aurora, for gathering these wonderful stills. I believe I’ve seen all the films, with the exception of “Red Light.”
By the way, should you ever feel inclined to expand your gallery, may I nominate two of my favorite femmes fatales: namely, Claire Trevor in “Murder My Sweet” and Yvonne DeCarlo in “Criss Cross”?
Oh, Ed – I may add those two to re-VAMP the gallery!! Excellent choices! I never tire of these images!
Thanks for stopping in.
Have just come across this site and my jaw is on the floor as you have created film heaven!!! The images, info and films are a buffs delight!!
Love the B/W photos here Aurora. Especially Cagney with Robinson in Smart Money. It wasn’t a great film but it was the only film Robinson and Cagney ever did together. I think Jack Warner knew what he was doing keeping them apart since both had such dominating screen presences. Both of them just take over any movie they are in.
I also love the photo of Bogart with Allen Jenkins in the background. Jenkins had some voice and was always a special actor to me. He was born in my hometown.
The Garfield photos in Force of Evil wreaks with that NYC flavor. This movie just really shows off NYC and all it’s great architecture. It was a B film but a great film in my opinion. Thomas Gomez was great as Garfield’s brother in here. Wow, Aurora just so much to see and read on your website. You are quite the film aficionado.
You may have noted already I love images of these old films. Movie posters too. And take any and all opportunities to feature them. Just so much fun, and ultimately what takes the most time, to search for just the right images to include in different posts. It’s a blast – honestly.
I do love the films and old-time Hollywood. I’m glad you got that sense. This site is just a fun place for me to gush about them all.