Free The Crime Genre in American Movies: In Cold Blood vs. Dog Day Afternoon Essay Sample

Depicting the crime and showing antisocial behavior of the criminals have become the central topics of numerous movies. The advantage of the American films of the criminal genre is that most of them received the inspiration from real events or books describing true crimes. The art of depicting the violence in criminal drama genre differs from later action movies. The beginning of filming the crimes depicts logically sequenced events showing the feelings and motives for committing the malicious actions and in most cases financial motifs are present. One of such films is In Cold Blood (1967) directed by Richard Brooks. Although the movies depict the screen version of non-fiction book by Truman Capote, the events the author choose based on the actual evidence provided by the inhabitants of Kansas City. The boys Perry Smith and Richard Hickock murder the Clutter family in Holcomb attempting to find ten thousand dollars in their safe. Another movie Dog Day Afternoon shows the real bank robbery committed by three boys to make the transsexual operation for one of the robber’s spouse, which depicts Life magazine article The Boys in the Bank. The justice rules when the police arrest the criminals and kill them. Emotional vulnerability, ignorance and social fall overcome by justified murder comprise the principal idea of the American crime genre films because the financial motivation for the crime fails to acquit the deeper problems associated with the absence of self-realization at work and family life to approve the social roles and lively achievements.

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The Reality of Social Fall at the american Criminal Drama

The genre of criminal drama became popular in late 60-70s of the previous century. Social stabilization after the world war and the increase of mafia and criminal authorities oppressed the socially lower layers of population. The problem of unemployment stroke America, so that its citizens ventured on committing the crime. The people would not stop before taking the life away and do not realize it to be more than money reward or know they are to receive the fair punishment. The commitment of crime is against the human nature, so it provokes psychological problems. Criminals are special people ready to take risks: “they felt the urge to kill before they committed murder” (Officer Rohleder, In Cold Blood). Though they manage to combine romanticism and cruelty by hoping to be happy, they become violent to meet their goal and attract the viewers for this reason.

The crimes depicted in the movies are senseless because the characters find little money. The efforts of the criminals are in vain as they cannot get the sufficient costs. In the film Dog Day Afternoon the bank robbery cost several thousand dollars: “There's only about four thousand in singles, and maybe a few hundred in larger bills... he's going to kill us!” (Miriam, Dog Day Afternoon) At the film In Cold Blood the murders cost 40 dollars: “And how cheaply those lives were bought…10 dollars a life” (Prosecutor, In Cold Blood). The idea of becoming the one solving the lives of the others like the God is characteristic for the villains in both movies. Still, the justice defeats the attempts to achieve their personal aims by exceeding sacrifices. The criminals represent the Shakespearean image of Macbeth, the dark person trying to reach the power by murder. The resolution demonstrates that malicious intentions cannot last long and receive the unbiased punishment. 

The issue of family relations appears in both films.The unwelcomed and boring family life impacted Sonny, the principal character of Dog Day Afternoon to part with his wife and become a bisexual. The deviation from the customary social conduct appears in later years because of lack of self-realization. The insufficiency of social approval forced the main heroes to become villains and tend to robbery and murder. In both cases strive to be rich does not vindicate their actions. The failure to escape from law is not only the reason of dilettantism, but also the approval of the justifiable truth that punishment will meet all the crimes. For this reason, the policeman murdered Sal, the accomplice of Sunny in the robbery. The Life magazine article serving the inspiration for the movies mentions the homicide: “Is Sal dead?” – “Dead on arrival”.

Death becomes the punishment for the characters of the film In Cold Blood and killing the criminal is present in the last episode Dog Day Afternoon. The murder of the family for getting money is the central conflict of In Cold Blood showing thetotal absence of respect for family virtues. The principal characters intend to steal $10 000 from the family and go to Mexico. Perry Smith is of Mexican descent, the former prisoner having no family. His accomplice has children, but his mate left him after becoming pregnant, so he is devoid of family values. Understanding and entering the image of the principal character by the actor Robert Blake had detrimental effect on his family life: “I think I went too far in In Cold Blood... I kind of bent my head permanently by playing an obviously neurotic, inhibited very sick guy. It was very, very hard on my wife and children, living with Perry Smith for two years”. From this point acting a criminal with broken soul unable to get rid of cruelty is complicated. Although Perry does not have a family, he is less cruel compared to the inventor of the plan Dick Hickock. Having experienced cruelty Perry resorts to recollecting his mother and beating her by the father-drunkard. Perry understands the unfair attitude and realizes the severity of the murder he and Dick committed: “We are the living example that crime doesn’t pay” (Perry, In Cold Blood). Both criminals later realize they killed kind people who were a peaceful family.

The contradictory feature of the films remains the severity of the crimes. Sonny and Sal do not attempt to kill anybody, whereas Perry and Dick kill the family of four having no enemies. Sonny releases the guard of the bank when he has the asthma attack as the sign of good will. The bank robbery turns into comedy when the policemen invite Sonny’s “wife” Leon asking to speak to the thief. Leon is psychologically imbalanced and unhappy with himself, so that Sonny offered him to become a woman and tried to rob the bank for this operation. The murderers of the Clutters had no mercy despite the absence of the safe, whereas Sonny does not kill anybody though always repeats “we’ll start throwing the dead bodies”.

The images of the characters also diverge as their deeds do. Sonny is bisexual. Perry and Dick are heterosexuals. Sonny and Sal are careless and unskilled criminals, whereas Perry and Dick are the former prisoners and can kill with no twinge of remorse. The murderers from In Cold Blood are devoid of families, whereas Sonny is married and tries to get money for his spouse. Perry is a musician and romantic which appears when he plays the guitar. Sonny swears all the time and acts rudely though he is not as cunning as Dick.

The psychological conflicts of the characters differ and make the plot of both movies gripping and thought-provoking. The heroes of the film In Cold Blood have lower social background. Their parents raise them in poverty and both men are perfect liars, though Dick’s father is sincere in expressing love for his son: “...there's good inside that boy. Sonny, the character of Al Pacino, acquired the psychological discomfort after the years of college and work. He suffers from emotional distress being married and the family life becomes stressful for him. Leon also describes Sonny’s parents to be “like a bad car wreck - he lets it all slide off his back, he sees them, he pays their rent”. Sonny finds solace in bisexuality and marries him having a wife and children. His partner Leon is emotionally unsetting and is afraid to talk to his spouse when the police ask him to. Conversely, Dick and Perry are cold-minded and clever. They leave no evidence of the murder, only bloody footprints prove their fault. They plan everything carefully and provide bad cheques, buy tuxedos and rings for the stolen money, steal and sell the cars. The In Cold Blood murders are cold-hearted when they carelessly think of their further adventure, either to go to Mexico or Los Angeles. When anyone retreats, the other threatens to kill. When they get into the police department, Dick accuses Perry of committing the crime himself and retorts any participation in the crime. In Dog Day Afternoon Salvatore and Sonny are friends as they are in equal misfortunate conditions locked in the bank together with the hostages. They would rather kill themselves than anybody of the bank workers in the bank. Such differences make Sonny and Sal more virtuous compared to Dick and Perry in spite of their tastes and behavior. Such conducts gives the idea of forgiving the foolishness, but the cruel intention come true does not deserve the forgiveness.


The severity of the social realia often conditions numerous individuals to commit the crime regardless their social status. The reason of cruelty towards the others lies in unrealized consequences which do not coordinate with the actual result the crime brings. Financial motivations become neglectful when the criminals cannot find the sufficient sum of money and murders linked to the actual situation become senseless even more.

The film depiction of crime in the American cinematography finds wide popularity among the people because the plot is truthful representation of the lively situations and impressions of the witnesses. In Cold Blood and Dog Day Afternoon are the classical depiction of the crime and punishment of cruelty and ignorance of the consequences and the evil intention deepening the severity of the deeds committed by the characters.

The criminal personages of the films though remain heroes and receive the support of the general viewer as they share their difficulties and profound psychological problems which seem impossible to resolve. As America is the country of dreams and opportunities, it rewards its citizens when they try their best and punishes those attempting to gain success by cruel ways. The combination of romanticism and psychological problems makes the characters of the American criminal drama unusual personalities leaving nobody indifferent.


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