This is the most substantial consideration of a film genre that is a distinctive part of American popular art. It brings a range of theoretical interpretation and critical analysis to the task, and the writing is in sharp focus, free of both academic dead weight and in-group jargon. The aim is to elucidate, not to mystify, and to widen, rather than narrow, the context of our involvement and understanding. Dreams and Dead Ends provides a framework of explanation for a group of films that viewers have found puzzling, disturbing, compelling, and at times alarming. Through detailed discussion, it argues the sources of their power and persuasiveness. The book will appeal to thoughtful viewers/readers who wish to extend their sense of the genre's nature and significance, and of how and why it has exerted so durable a hold on our imagination.
Shadoian seeks to define the character and boundaries of the gangster/crime genre, but not through a doctrinaire approach that artificially limits its scope. Indeed, tracing the genre from the early 1930's to the 1970's, much of the emphasis is on the way the genre has changed and evolved and been colored by the changing American mood and condition over succeeding decades. Moreover, individual films are seen and discussed on their own terms, which allows the author to highlight the distinctive qualities that give each film a life of its own within the generic framework.
These 18 films were chosen by the author in part to show the variety and versatility of the genre; among them are (in Shadoian's words from the Preface) "A films and B films, films celebrated and films maudit, classic films that had to be written on and curiosities that otherwise seemed destined to a premature oblivion, each a serviceable index to the directions the genre was taking at the time of its release, and each proving substantial upon reviewing."
The author is especially provocative in writing about audience identification with the gangster/criminals portrayed in the gloom of the theater. Without overworking the analogy, he traces the connection between our being "spellbound in darkness" by the underworld and those unconscious human urges to throw off societal restrictions, desires that are released in dreams but are seen to be dead-end fantasies in the harsh light of next morning's realities and practical imperatives. The films are both liberating dreams and sobering truths. They reflect both American optimism and despair. Dreams and Dead Ends gives proper critical attention to the films of the genre as works of art and also as conscious and unconscious revelations of the underside of American society and the darker aspects he individual psyche.
Films discussed: Little Caesar (1930); The Public Enemy (1931); High Sierra (1941); The Killers (1946); Kiss of Death (1947); Force of Evil (1947); Gun Crazy (1949); D.O.A. (1949); White Heat (1949); Pickup on South Street (1953); 99 River Street (1953); The Phoenix City Story (1955); Bonnie and Clyde (1967); Point Blank (1967); The Godfather (1972); and Godfather II (1975).