Cody Jarrett, a psychotic murderer and thief from the American crime movie White Heat, is an escapee, whose fugitive nature is masked by his criminal background and the habits of a professional robber. Shadoian (2003, p. 145, p. 149) called the movie “the gangster’s […] last stand” “in a romantic rage of selfhood”. The film bears multiple allusions to the concept of escape. The main character confesses in a minor crime to escape from a severe sentence for the bigger heist and shooting of FBI agents.
Then, Cody escapes from the jail holding a prison psychiatrist on the gunpoint. As Shadoian (2003, p. 148) suggested, the hero of White Heat is “a mental case”. He is viewed as a mentally insane by his closest friends and relatives (his own wife refers to him as “ain’t human” (cited Shadoian 2003, p. 148). The only two things in the world, which Cody counts with, are the Oedipal affection to his mother and the desire to be a success.
Dying atop an exploding gas tank in the end of an unhappy heist of the chemical factory, the main character manifests his two human desires in the yell, “Made it, Ma! Top of the world! ” . Pinkie Brown, the hero of Brighton Rock, lives almost the same time as Cody. But being a clear case of the British spiv, Pinkie is different from the American Cody-like type of a promethean maniac of success at any price. This “pathetic, doomed” (Chibnall and Murphy 1999, p. 4) creature fits the purely British tendency to be “chary of showing too much sympathy for the criminal”.
The reserved manner of early British directors to typify gangster differs from the compassionate manner of American masters. The difference can be explained both by national mentalities and iconography. Gangster films grew out of the American experience of violent struggles for power among gangsters grown rich supplying the public with alcohol during the Prohibition era. Their exploits very quickly found their way into novels and films. British gangsters kept a lower profile and provided less scope for mythology.
Their main source of income came from protection racketeering on the racecourses and the illegal street-betting industry and they tended to be shadowy figures who kept well away from the limelight. In contrast to the spectacular gun battles American gangsters seemed to enjoy, internecine conflicts in Britain were settled with chivs (taped-down razors) and broken bottles. Nemesis for a British gangster was more likely to come in the form of a bottle smashed over his head in a pub toilet than a machine gun attack on his luxury mansion.
British gangsters operated with a casual brutality […]. But in terms of iconography their style and methods were less easy to adapt for the cinema than the guns, cars and high death counts of American gangsters. (Chibnall and Murphy 1999, pp. 5-6) The heroes of the later British crime movie Sexy Beast differ less from their American colleagues in regard to the degree of prosperity and its outer symbols. The film offers an interesting psychological treatment of such universal outside-the-national-boundaries concepts as fear, terror, guilt and soul misbalance.
It enables the spectator to analyse the relationships between a victim, a retired jewel thief Gary ‘Gal’ Dove (Ray Winstone), and a torturer, Gal’s former associate psychopath Don Logan (Ben Kingsley). In the recent films the depths of the characters are investigated not only through visual means (for example, close-ups) or editing but also through the characters’ language. The conflict of the victim and the pursuer is brightly enacted in Gal’s and Don’s dialogues:
Gal: This is madness, I’ve had enough of this “Crime and Punishment” bollocks. I’m happy here. Don: I won’t let you be happy, why should I? Don: Talk to me, Gal. I’m here for you. I’m a good listener. Gal: What can I say, Don? I’ve said it all. I’m retired. Don: Shut up. Gal: I am going to have to turn this opportunity down. Don: No, you are going to have to turn this opportunity yes! The manner of Don Logan’s speech resembles the one of the characters in Pulp Fiction [USA] that is discussed below.
The Brutishness of Sexy Beach manifests itself though Don – “the absurdly pumped-up, crazily enraged criminal” (Eggert 2003, p. 86) – who recites “Quentin Tarantino’s hip, rap-influenced dialogue” with Cockney accent. This language, as Kingsley delivers it in Sexy Beast, takes on an extraordinary nonsensical lyricism that, in the context of the film’s generic derivativeness, ultimately connects it to the rat-a-tat-tat ethnic-character dialogue of 1930s gangster films […] – the very films that […] were blamed for undermining traditional English values […].
Despite the character’s “Englishness,” Kingsley’s Don Logan speaks a language that voices the history of an ethnically accented American popular entertainment. In the process Kingsley both perfects the “muscular and exuberant” style […], and joins in the remaking of British film as a new kind of minstrel show […]. (Eggert 2003, p. 86)