Screening Evil in History: Rope, Compulsion, Scarface, Richard III

in The Changing Face of Evil in Film and Television
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If set in the past, filmed evil is easier to depict, to explain - and to name; committed filmmakers can also use historical evildoing to reflect on the immoralities of their own times. Taking murder as the index of evil, and after briefly assessing the value of historicising, this chapter analyses the representations in four visually and verbally striking films that encompass a half-century of film history. Rope and Compulsion, made around mid-twentieth century as the Cold War and its hysteria emerged, use the 1924 Leopold/Loeb child-killing case to denounce the atmosphere around wealthy, cosmopolitan, godless, intellectual elites as conducive to psychopaths. From the 1980s and ‘90s, Scarface and Richard III turn to 1970s anti-Castroism and the “war on drugs” and to the threat of British fascism in the 1930s to suggest the capacity of late capitalism and of Thatcherite hegemony to produce sociopaths with a relentless drive for murderous power.