chapter  5
16 Pages

Men, women and money

One characteristic of films featuring professional criminality in the post-war years is that they are only ostensibly about professional crime. More accurately they should be seen as films that use crime to express men’s contradictory experience of power. Under patriarchy, men may be dominant but they can also feel a sense of powerlessness (Coltrane 1994; Kaufman 1994). From the evidence offered in British crime films, this contradiction seems to have been particularly acute in the two decades after 1945. Two separate themes were prominent in constructing a sense of masculine crisis through narratives about professional crime in this period. First, attention was paid to the problems of readjustment of returning ex-servicemen. A contrast in fortune was often drawn in crime films of the late 1940s between the unrewarded demobilised servicemen and the ‘spivs’ who had unfairly prospered in their absence. However, the contrasting of a satisfying masculine performance in war-time with an unsatisfactory post-war experience of peace and prosperity, continued to influence the crime film in the 1950s and 1960s. The unifying theme of these influences was a loss of masculine status. As the actor George Baker has recalled, ‘There was an awful lot of people wandering about who were unable to find their place again’ (McFarlane 1997:38).