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Summertime Crime Movies: Summer in the City


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In my last two posts in this series, I have joked that living in New York City during the summer makes me want to go somewhere else (take a road trip or go to the beach). But actually, no, living in New York City during the summer also just makes me want to stay here, because I love summer in New York City. I do. What’s not to love? I love almost getting hit by a barreling ice cream truck every time I cross the street. I love that I can’t take a stroll down to the river in the evenings without six old Italian men blowing cigar smoke in my face. I love wondering “leaf or cockroach?” every time I step on something crackly in the dark. You would love it all, too, if you, like me, never left and therefore didn’t realize other places are probably better.

But if you’re like me, after you’ve taped your window AC-unit to the wall so it doesn’t pop out and murder passerby on the street below, you’re not just going to want to live in the city in the summer… you’re going to want to watch things about it too. Or maybe you’re not in New York and you miss it. Somehow? In any case… whether you’re waking up in the city that never sleeps to find you’re king of the hill/top of the heap, or you want your little town blues to melt a way… have we got a list for youze.

As always with the Summertime Crime Movie series, these films are not ranked. That would be impossible.

Do the Right Thing (1989)

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Like I just said, this list isn’t ranked, but if it were, Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing would be right at the top—because it’s a masterpiece but also because it  perfectly represents an excruciating New York City summer day. Taking place at Sal’s Pizzeria in Bed-Stuy on the hottest day of summer, it is a story of racism and neighborhood tensions boiling over until they culminate in extraordinary violence against the Black neighborhood citizens.

Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

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Another of the many masterpieces on this list, Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon is based on true events, and follows Al Pacino and John Cazale as they attempt to rob a Brooklyn bank on a hot summer afternoon, but wind up stuck inside after the police arrive—and, in a surprising twist, rallying the bank workers and the crowds outside in genuine support.

Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995)

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Die Hard with a Vengeance, otherwise known as Die Hard 3, takes a break from the Christmas Eve settings of the previous two films and instead sets this one in the summer, in New York City. John McClane (Bruce Willis) is once again having marital issues, and he winds up alone and on suspension from the NYPD when a mysterious psychopathic puppet-master (Jeremy Irons) insists that innocent people with die if John doesn’t play a game with him. Samuel L. Jackson gets involved, and the two of them wind up having to solve riddles, disarm bad guys, commandeer cars, prevent subway cars from exploding, *and* find out the name of the 21st U.S. President in an era before Google. To save the day.

Romeo and Juliet (1968)

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Surprised? Don’t be. In Act 1, Scene 3 of Romeo and Juliet, Benvolio warns the Montagues against hotheadedly brawling with the Capulets: “The day is hot, the Capulets abroad, And, if we meet, we shall not scape a brawl; For now, these hot days, is the mad blood stirring.” The sweltering heat is a really important part of why the tension between the play’s two warring families mounts so strongly, and Franco Zefferelli’s very 60s Romeo and Juliet leans into this beautifully. It’s a really hot summer in Verona, and the kids are not all right.

Rear Window (1954)

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One of the first shots of Rear Window reveals the red in Jimmy Stewart’s mercury wall thermometer stretching past 90 ℉. Not only is he stuck in a wheelchair in his apartment for weeks, but he’s stuck there during the hottest days of the year. His neighbors are sleeping out on the fire escape and murdering their wives, and he’s spying on them all. People do crazy things in hot temperatures.

Taxi Driver (1976)

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Taxi Driver is one of the rare films that visually represents what New York City SMELLS LIKE during a bad summer heatwave, because it wound up being filmed during the famous Sanitation Workers’ Strike, which was also during a heatwave. There is garbage everywhere. Everywhere. (58,000 tons, to be exact.) Travis Bickle might say he’s waiting for the sun to shine, but he’s actually not, because New York smells worse in the daytime.

City of God (2002)

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Another masterpiece, this film, directed by Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund, takes place in Rio de Janeiro, from the 1960s through 1980s, following the lives of several children from the city’s poorest area, one of whom grows up to be a kingpin, one who grows up to be his right-hand-man, and one who wants to become a photographer.

Speed (1994)

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Speed, mostly takes place inside a hijacked Los Angeles city bus, rather than out in the streets itself, but the bus embodies the city, in a microcosm. Plus the whole movie is really about infrastructure. I WANTED to put The Taking of Pelham 123, which is the best city-hijacking movie ever, on this list, but regrettably, it takes place during a cold time of year.

Blow Up (1966)

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If I were you, I wouldn’t pass up a chance to watch Michelangelo Antonioni’s spectacular ’60s thriller about a fashion photographer who catches a glimpse of a crime after he takes some candid photos.

Blow Out (1981)

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Drian De Palma’s Blow Out is a clever re-imagining of Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow Up (the film listed right above), only featuring an a movie sound engineer (John Travolta) accidentally recording a murder, rather than catching it on film. This film has a lot to say about what surveillance, scandal, and murder have to do with America—and thus it’s set in Philadelphia during the Fourth of July.

Run Lola Run (1998)

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Tom Tykwer’s hyper-kinetic German indie movie from the late 90s is very much an examination of how characters navigate their city as they attempting to pull off the back-end of a crime (over and over). Also, I love this movie; I was a Cinema Studies major.

West Side Story (1961)

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I mean, if regular Romeo and Juliet fits the bill, then New York Romeo and Juliet definitely does.

Falling Down (1993)

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Michael Douglas stars in this White Male Loner film about a divorced and unemployed former defense engineer who crosses Los Angeles on foot to try to make it to his daughter’s birthday party. But along his Odyssey, he meets many figures who contribute to his simmering disgust and bring him to the point of extreme violence.

Summer of Sam (1998)

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Summer of Sam is Spike Lee’s classic imagining of the events of the summer of 1977, when the Son of Sam serial killer terrorized New York City, particularly sending shock-waves through an Italian-American neighborhood in the Bronx.

The Anderson Tapes (1971)

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Another classic from Sidney Lumet! On Labor Day Weekend, John Anderson (Sean Connery) takes a crack team of thieves (including a young Christopher Walken!!!) from all over New York into an expensive Manhattan Apartment building to burglarize it, without noticing all the electronic surveillance operations that are going around him… and capturing his every move. It’s an incredibly interesting film, plus the Watergate scandal the following year would reveal how prophetic it was.

Breathless (1959)

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Jean-Luc Godard’s seminal New Wave  masterpiece is about a petty thief who winds up murdering a police officer and then absconding to Paris and romancing his (pregnant) young, American, journalism-student girlfriend, trying to get her to escape with him to Italy before he is found.

Nashville (1975)

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You might not think that Robert Altman’s nearly three-hour-long look at the city of Nashville’s preparation for a bicentennial Independence Day country music concert is a crime movie. But if you don’t think that, you didn’t watch it to the end.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)

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Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is about a lot of things, but mostly it is about a very particular time and place, which is to say, Los Angeles in August of 1969.

12 Angry Men (1957)

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Really, this list is a Sidney Lumet appreciation post, in disguise. Even though the film 12 Angry Men doesn’t physically leave the swelteringly hot courtroom chamber where the jurors are deliberating after a murder trial, its twelve characters travel through the city as they attempt to reconstruct the crime they must assess.

Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)

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This original John Carpernter classic, not its John Carpenter-remake (which is set on New Year’s Eve), is about a few motley people in a Los Angeles police station who wind up having to defend it against an attacking street gang.

Barton Fink (1994)

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I debated with a friend whether or not this Barton Fink is a proper crime movie (I think it qualifies for this list because it’s ALL about L.A. in the summer and it’s probably the sweatiest film ever made, plus there is also a vicious murder in the middle of it) but he thinks not a crime movie as much as a terrifying, vaguely supernatural movie about a mental breakdown. Still… decide for yourself.

 

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Michael Neff
Algonkian Producer
New York Pitch Director
Author, Development Exec, Editor

We are the makers of novels, and we are the dreamers of dreams.

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