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Top Ten underrated Crime Movies of the 1970s

by Released : 2023-09-05

1. Straight Time (1978) 

Ulu Grosbard who also directed another underrated crime film True Confessions (1981). Left this film while it was filming due to clashes with Dustin Hoffman. So, Hoffman took over directing duties and also gave one of the best performances of his career. Written by career criminal Edward Bunker, of Reservoir Dogs fame. Kathy Bates and Garey Busey are also good here in their first roles. Hoffman plays a criminal determined to go straight after being released from prison, but life and his temper keep getting in the way. Popular character actors Harry Dean Stanton and Emmet Walsh light up the screen in their brief time. One of the most grittiest crime movies ever, puts the audience in the mind of the criminal.

2. Farewell my Lovely (1975)

Philip Marlowe is like the James Bond of private detective archetypes. The character had films during the height of the genre's popularity in the 1940s as well as multiple tv shows. Most Recently Marlowe was played by Liam Neeson in Marlowe 2022. However, in the 1970s the character is most remembered for being played by Elliot Gould in Robert Altman’s The Long GoodBye. This adaptation updated the character and setting for modern times. A more whimsical Marlowe compared to the past gruff versions. Although, The Long GoodBye is now considered one of Altman’s best films and a cult favorite among filmmakers, at the time of its release critics hated it believing it mocked the character and genre as whole. Hollywood listened and comminsed a more traditional Marlowe film set in the 1940s. Originally Richard Burton was sought for the role, but was too busy to accept. Robert Mitichum was perfect for the part, already famous in this genre with “Out of the Past”. A remake of another Marlowe adaptation Murder My Sweet.  There was some pushback on Mitchum’s casting because of his age, at the time he was the oldest actor to play Marlowe. He would later become the only actor to play Marlowe twice on film in a remake of The Big Sleep, which sought to combine the classic noir feeling of the previous film with an updated setting in 70s london, but Farewell my Lovely remains the best Mitchum Marlowe film. The film even features all-time great character actor Harry Dean Stanton, Charlotte Rampling in one of her first American films and a young Sylester Stallone. A hardboiled detective story with great music, production design, and twists

3. Rolling Thunder (1977)

One of Tarantino's favorite films so much so that in the 1990s he had a production company named after the film with the goal of giving new or old films wider releases and audiences. Paul Schroeder wrote the initial script and although other writers were brought in and scenes changed his spirit can still be felt throughout the film in every frame. Hollywood tried to make William Devane a star in the 70s and although his career never reached the heights that others hoped he’s outstanding here. The initial mixed reviews of this film and poor box office reception stalled his promising career. A young Tommy Lee Jones in one of his first films is also great here. One of the most unique openings ever, the film also contains one of the best shootouts put to film. Listen to Tarantino, it's one of the best revenge thrillers ever!

4. Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974)

Directed by Michael Cimino before Deer Hunter (1978) fame, although a box office success when released the film is unknown today. Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges have seamless chemistry. Jeff Bridges, who was nominated for best supporting actor for this part, somehow manages to outshine Eastwood at the peak of his powers. Takes the buddy cop formula and flips it on its head, before it was popular. George Kennedy gives the best performance of his career since Cool Hand Luke and Garey Busey also makes an appearance. One of the best road trip movies ever. The film combines action, comedy, and crime and does not feel dated at all, moving at an incredibly fast pace. Has one of the best car chases ever.

5. Across 110th Street (1972)

One of the most realistic mob movies ever, the film accurately portrays the Italian Mob’s hold over Harlem in 1970s New York. The film also does an excellent job of depicting the power structure of the mob as shown by Anthony Franciosa’s bumbling performance of the son-in-law of a mafia boss. Richard Ward playing a Bumpy Johnson type role is also great here. Films like Hoodlum (1997) show the Mob’s influence on Harlem going back to the 1920s. But this film does a great job of showing the terror the Mob could induce in New York City Residents. Yaphet Kotto is excellent here as a tough cop I role he would later popularize in Midnight Run (1988) and Homicide life on the street. Anthony Quinn in one of his last leading roles commands the screen as a racist corrupt cop. Burt Young also makes an appearance. 

6. Fingers (1978)

One of the most underrated mob movies ever. Harvey Kitel is breathtaking as mob enforcer, piano prodigy Jimmy Fingers; he would later give a similar performance in Bad Lieutenant (1992). Directed by James Toback who wrote other great mob movies The Gambler (1974) and Bugsy (1991). The film is best known for being referenced by John Travolta’s character in Get Shorty (1995). Michael V. Gazzo of Godfather Fame is also great here as the mob boss father to Jimmy Fingers. A young Danny Aiello and Tony Sirico are also great here as mob enforcers. NFL hall of famer Jim Brown gives the best performance of his acting career as the malicious pimp Dreems. 

7. The Big Fix (1978)

Richard Dreyfuss was one of the most popular actors of the 1970s and this was his first film fresh off an Oscar Win for The Goodbye Girl (making him the youngest actor ever to win best actor at the time). Although a modest box office success making 13 million the film is completely forgotten today. One of the best private detective movies ever. Drefyuss brings his signature charm and although some thought he was miscast in this role, he’s perfect as an ex 60s radical turned jaden 70s PI. A young F Murray Abraham and John Lightow are also great here. Fans of cops or detective films, this is a must watch!

8. Night Moves (1975)

One of the smartest and most witty Screenplays of the 70s. Gene Hackman plays a washed up NFL player turned Private detective. He's as charming as ever and gives one of the best performances of his career.  A young James Wood is as slimy as ever here. The film was shot in 1973, but not released till 1975 due to controversy surrounding Melanie Griffith being only 16 years old in the film. Despite her young age she’s outstanding here as a young teenage runaway. Alan Sharp delivers one of the sharpest screenplays of the 70s; he had previously written two great underrated westerns: The Hired Hand (1971) and Ulzana’s Raid (1972). Arthur Penn and Gene Hackman do it again. Outside of French connection this is their best collaboration. 

9. The Boys from Brazil (1978)

If you enjoy the tv show Hunters (2020) or nazi films in general then The Boys From Brazil is right up your alley. Laurennce Oliver, fresh off another better known Nazi Hunting film Marathon Man (1976), once again was nominated for the Oscar. Gregory Peck’s last large role in a major production. Peck, like Oliver tried to revive his career and snag an oscar nomination, but critics called his performance hammy and this film stalled his career. However, the critics were wrong and Peck is great here as an ode to the mustache twirling villains of 1930s serials from Peck’s childhood. One of the most absurd premises ever: ‘Dr. Josef Mengele (Gregory Peck) clones Hitler 95 times, and hopes to raise the resulting boys in Brazil, giving them childhoods identical to Hitler's. An over the top, but fun film with steady direction from the great Franklin J. Schaffner. 

10. The Fury (1978)

Carrie (1976) is considered one of Brian De Palma’s best films. But, everyone always forgets that he made another film about a troubled teen with telekinetic powers. Kirk Douglas’s last great leading role, besides The Man from Snowy River (1982). John Cassavevtes, Amy Irving, and Charles Durning are also great here. Takes the telekinetic powers from Carrie and turns it up to eleven. This film  combines multiple genres: horror, paranoia, 70s spy thriller, and Scfi. Excellent set pieces, action, and suspense. De Palma as always masterfully directs this film and injects it with his signature style.