Thursday, June 18, 2009
The Universal Criminal
Hi, I'm Kelli. I'm here to talk about my favorite Criminal Mind ... so come on down! :)
First, let's loosely define a criminal mind as a villain, someone who commits illegal, immoral or amoral (and sometimes downright evil) acts for reasons sometimes understandable and most times not. Fair enough? Now, let's move a little closer ... not too close! Criminals aren't known for their grooming habits. OK, safe? Let's break this down further. Y' see, in order to figure out if I can even have a "favorite" criminal mind, I want to take a look at some broad categories of criminal.
They are ...
1. The Godfather. We all know (and some of us secretly love) this CM. He's the Don, he's Marlon Brando, he's DeNiro and Pacino. He's Tony Soprano! The Godfather is a CM who commits crimes for reasons that can seem somewhat reasonable. It's the business! You gotta protect the family! If I don't sell it, the neighbors will! That kind of thing. We understand their motives, understand greed, tradition, and family squabbles. They're criminals who make sense, because they're professional, they've got codes, they want to be rich, and we've seen them in a lot of movies.
A subset of this category, though, is The Dictator. The same kind of ruthless, power-hungry, sociopathic ego that drives The Godfather can also drive a politician to crime (think Nixon). The chief difference is that the politicians are never as charismatic, and they do what they do for power more than money. They're much more dangerous than la famiglia. Khan, the greatest Star Trek villain of all time, fits in this category.
2. The Bad Seed. OK, confession time. I played a sort of Bad Seed type character when I was acting in community theater as a teenager. (It was Mary Tilford in Lillian Hellman's The Children's Hour, in case you're a theater buff). Later on, I played the tortured mother who gives birth to the Bad Seed in an actual Bad Seed production. So I've looked at Bad Seeds from both sides now ...
This is the CM that can't be rehabilitated. Whether you go for Maxwell Anderson's Bad Seed pseudo-science--it's all genetic, I tell you, genetic!!--or you opt for nurture over nature, this villain is the pyscho,
the Norman Bates, the all-too-real serial killer we're terrified of. They are mysteries to the hardened Godfathers of the crime world, because their reasons for killing--and other Hannibal Lecter-esque atrocities--are beyond the human ken. In the old days, they'd just be called evil, and that was that.
Brrr ... I don't even like thinking about them.
3. The Damaged. Here's another popular group. Kinda Bad Seed-like, but not so over the borders of behavior that brave (or foolhardy) psychiatrists think they're beyond redemption. Actually, even at 13, I didn't want to play a true Bad Seed, so I used a line in The Children's Hour about Mary's father killing himself to kind of build in the idea that she had been very damaged by the loss. Unlike Rhoda Penmark (will the real Bad Seed stand up?), Mary didn't kill anybody ... though, to her CM street credit, she drove a teacher to suicide.
These tend to be vigilantes, imposters, kidnappers, etc., who are reenacting the bad stuff that was done to them on the world. Poor world! Best example might be a little known TV movie starring a young Martin Sheen and Linda Blair, called Sweet Hostage. Yeah, I grew up in the '70s, and it scarred me.
4. Last but not least, and (ta da!) my favorite CM: The Universal Criminal. OK, have I gone off the deep end? Wait--don't answer that! You know the universal criminal, because she--or he--is inside all of us.
Ever watch The Postman Always Rings Twice? Ever see or read Double Indemnity? You noir fans know what I'm talking about. The UC is the average Joe or Jane who makes the wrong--make that very, very wrong--decision at a turning point.
Gee, should I call the cops and tell them I wasn't part of that robbery where the cop was killed--that hoodlums stole my truck and threatened my wife? No, I think I'll run away with my pregnant wife in tow, hitchhike across the country, steal a car and crash at her Uncle and Aunt's Czech farm house. (I didn't make that up--it's basically the plot of Desperate (1947). Gee, should I tell the cops that the man who picked me up hitchhiking just keeled over with a heart attack, or should I steal his identity? (Detour, 1945). Gee, should I cuddle up next to [Lana Turner, Barbara Stanwyck, Ava Gardner, etc. etc.] even though she's married/wants me to kill her husband/sent me to prison and ditched me? (try Postman, and Double Indemnity and The Killers, respectively).
Yup, my favorite Criminal Minds are those every day schmoes who get suckered by a femme or homme fatale and make a really stupid decision that usually involves NOT calling the police. Their crime was in succumbing to the temptation we all feel--for money, for love, for desire, for something we're not getting and desperately want. And, to give Hollywood credit, the temptations of both genders were usually very hard to resist. The Universal Criminal ... the Noir Hero/ine ... who, but for the grace of actually dialing the cops--is us.
So, can you think of a criminal mind that doesn't fit in one of these categories? Let me know ... I'd love to hear about it! :) And don't forget ... we're giving away signed books and a $50 Barnes and Noble gift certificate this month!
P.S. Playing Mary Tilford was a lot of fun ... particularly because she gets to slap people. Villainy has its pleasures ...