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Cops and Robbers
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A Night at the Movies: Cops & Robbers and Crime Writers

Since the Keystone Kops in the early days of the movies, the police have been an important part of film history, while criminals were a staple from the moment Edwin S. Porter presented them in the first American story film, "The Great Train Robbery" (1903). The popularity of films about cops and robbers has created a synergy in recent years, as crime writers who grew up on the movies have seen their own works adapted to the screen and, in some case, have become filmmakers in their own right. This new documentary in TCM's A Night at the Movies series looks at the way the movies have inspired some of the publishing world's most popular writers.

Among the guests on this hour-long special are James Ellroy (L.A. Confidential), Joseph Wambaugh (The New Centurions) and Chuck Hogan (Prince of Thieves. Ellroy's story is typical. As a child, going to the movies was a regular activity for him and his father. Crime films like Plunder Road (1957) and Stakeout on Dope Street (1958) had a special effect on him and would end up inspiring him to write about crime himself. He even credits them with helping to shape his voice as a writer. Other writers point to films like White Heat (1949), which taught Heywood Gould (Fort Apache: The Bronx) the importance of "vivid characters living intensely." He also describes the mentoring relationship between seasoned homicide detective Barry Fitzgerald and younger police officer Don Taylor as a major influence on his own Fort Apache: The Bronx. For Hogan, a key influence was The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973), whose authentic Boston-area locations inspired his own attention to geographic detail in Prince of Thieves, which Ben Affleck would film as The Town (2010).

The special is organized around themes and topics in cops and robbers films like the big heist at the center of The Asphalt Jungle (1950) and Rififi (1955), the rogue cop taking on the corrupt establishment in pictures like Bullitt (1968) and Dirty Harry (1971), and the sympathetic crook depicted in Side Street (1950) and Charley Varrick (1973). Tess Gerritsen, author of the Rizzoli & Isles novels, offers a special tip of the hat to the femme fatale, a character type played by actresses as varied as Peggy Cummins in Gun Crazy (1950) and Tippi Hedren in Marnie (1964), which offered influential images of female empowerment, however lethal.

The special also highlights two individuals who made special contributions to the genres. With Serpico (1973), Dog Day Afternoon (1975) and Prince of the City (1981), director Sidney Lumet offered a distinct take on crime New York style. He made the city a major character in films dealing with the everyday pressures of police work, including the temptation to corruption. Also considered is Joseph Wambaugh, who started writing true crime stories and novels while still serving on the LAPD, becoming one of the first cops to write about cops. His The New Centurions, filmed in 1972, remains one of the most iconic of all police stories, while his The Onion Field introduced the concept of post-traumatic stress disorder to the police film. Wambaugh made the transition from novelist to filmmaker in 1979 when he mortgaged his house to finance his own adaptation of The Onion Field because no Hollywood producer would touch it.

Cops & Robbers and Writers is the work of lifelong film buff Laurent Bouzereau, who produced, directed and wrote the special. As a young man in his native France, Bouzereau collected memorabilia about the latest new films from idols like Steven Spielberg and Brian De Palma, so it was only natural for him to turn to filmmaking. After working in film distribution and writing 1988's The De Palma Cut he got into the movies by recording an audio commentary for Criterion's Laserdisc of Carrie (1976). That led to producing Laserdiscs for them and other distributors and work on electronic press kits. In 1995, he broke into directing with The Making of Steven Spielberg's 'Jaws,', which was followed by almost 300 documentaries, many of them feature-length making-of films about everything from Psycho (1960) to Avatar (2009). He started his association with TCM in 2011 with A Night at the Movies: Merry Christmas!, the first of the A Night at the Movies specials for the classic film network. He also recently premiered the theatrical documentary Don't Say No Until I Finish Talking: The Story of Richard D. Zanuck (2013).

By Frank Miller

Producer-Director-Writer: Laurent Bouzereau
Cast: James Ellroy, Heywood Gould, Otto Penzler, Chuck Hogan, Michael Connelly, George Pelecanos, Don Winslow, Joseph Wambaugh, Randy Jurgensen, Philip Kerr, Lee Child, Tess Gerritsen, Karin Slaughter, Robert Daley (Themselves) VIEW TCMDb ENTRY

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