Monday, June 10, 2019

Crime with a twist. Comedy with a kink. Comedy noir.

By Marietta Miles

Because of the specific intent of most crime thrillers, they often lean to the dark and heavy. Making murder, robbery and general mayhem funny is no easy task. It takes a delicate balance and at the same time, the courage to commit completely. 

There might be chases, twists, double-crosses, hopefully a bit violence, and distinct characters. Psychotic mob bosses. Bungling henchmen. Down-on-their-luck detectives or hit-men. Fast-paced story lines and bursts of unexpected drama make for the best ex.

As most of my stories are rather weighty, I often yearn to dip my toe in the bubbly water of the funny pool. Ready to dive in, I take a look at some of my favorite films in this category.


The Sting – Directed by George Roy Hill

Starring – Paul Newman and Robert Redford

The Sting is the classic 1973 crime caper in which Robert Redford and Paul Newman play a pair of grifters looking to get even with a ruthless mob boss who killed their friend. The movie is set in Chicago during the 1930’s. These cons cook up an elaborate plan for revenge complete with actors and sets. However, the grift doesn’t go as planned and chaos ensues.

Favorite scene: Poker planning scene, intercut with Eileen Breenan trying to dissuade Charles Durning from searching the private rooms of her gin joint. “You’d be busting in on the chief of police.”

A Fish Called Wanda - Directed by Charles Crichton

Starring – John Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline, and Michael Palin

This fast-paced heist comedy tells the tale of a British crime boss as he organizes a giant diamond heist. The plan is bungled, leaving his hapless henchman, played by Michael Palin, and a pair of vulgar American associates, Jamie Lee Curtis and Kevin Kline, to find where their boss may have hidden the diamonds. Wanda attempts to seduce George's stuffy lawyer, Archie Leach (John Cleese), to find out where he hid the diamonds.

Favorite scene: The interrogation scene. Otto (Kline) attempts to force Ken (Palin) to tell him where the diamonds have been hidden by eating his much-loved fish one by one. Both Kline and Palin make this scene hilarious.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels - Directed by Frank Oz

Starring – Michael Caine, Glenne Headly, and Steve Martin

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is a remake of Bedtime Story, a 1964 heist film. Marlon Brando and David Niven originally played the Steve Martin and Michael Caine characters. These two are international con artists preying on gullible wealthy women all along the French Riviera. Martin and Caine compete over which one will grift innocent heiress Glenne Headly.

Favorite scene – The dinner scene. Caine and Martin compete to win the emotions of Headly. “May I go to the bathroom?”

The Big Lebowski – Directed by Joel Coen

Starring – Jeff Bridges, Steve Buscemi, John Goodman, Julianne Moore, Phillip Seymour Hoffman

Not initially a hit, The Big Lebowski became a cult phenomenon well after initial release. The movie stars Jeff Bridges as "The Dude", a Los Angeles slacker and bowling aficionado. He is mistaken for a millionaire of the same name and assaulted as a result. The millionaire’s wife is kidnapped, and he hires The Dude to deliver the ransom to secure her release; but the plan goes awry when the Dude's friend schemes to keep the ransom money. As the story moves forward, we find that no character is who or what they appear.

Favorite scene – The Dude covered in ashes.

Raising Arizona – Directed by Joel Coen

Starring – Nicolas Cage, Holly Hunter, Trey Wilson

H.I. "Hi" McDonnough (Nicholas Cage) is a thoughtful but misguided career criminal. Hi falls in love with Edwina, or Ed, an intake officer he becomes acquainted with during his many arrests. Eventually, Hi asks Ed to marry him and promises to go straight if she says yes. They live simply in a trailer in the gorgeous Arizona desert, where Hi holds down a factory job while Ed continues as a police officer. After trying unsuccessfully for a child of their own, Ed slips into a deep depression. When a well-to-do local family gives birth to quintuplets, Hi sees an opportunity.

Favorite scene – When Hi falls off the wagon and attempts to steal diapers. “Better hurry it up, I’m in dutch with the wife.”

Hot Fuzz – Directed by Edgar Wright

Starring – Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Bill Nighy, Timothy Dalton

Nicholas Angel, ace detective from London, is transferred to the small, crime-free village of Sandford. Not necessarily welcomed with open arms, he does meet overeager officer Danny Butterman. Danny is infatuated with cop movies and the excitement he believes comes with being a big city police officer. However, a run of gruesome deaths rock the quiet village and Angel is convinced that Sandford is not what it seems. Together with the hapless and hilarious miniscule police department Angel and Danny must get to the bottom of the murders.

Favorite scene – Shakespeare dinner theatre. “Love me, love me…”

More to enjoy...The Pink Panther🗡Trading Places😃Fargo🗡 Pulp Fiction😃Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels🗡My Cousin Vinny.

What are some of your favorite crime-comedies?


Dana King said...

This is a great list and I love all these films. One I would have added is THE NICE GUYS, with Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling.A much underrated film.

Claire Booth said...

These are great picks. Fargo tops my personal list.

scott adlerberg said...

Some great films here. And you're right. For pure pleasure, when it's done well, it's hard to beat a story involving crime but done with a humorous touch.

Dana King said...

I knew I'd think of something later: THE HOT ROCK, based on one of Donald Westlake's Dortmunder novels and starring Robert Redford, George Segal, Ron Liebman, and Moses Gunn. The helicopter scene is hilarious, but it also has one of the great lines ever when Gunn, after watching Dortmunder's crew trying to steal the same stone several times with varying levels of accomplishment, says, "I have heard of the habitual criminal, but never thought I would become part of the habitual crime."