Welcome to Fear City

Crime Film, Crisis, and the Urban Imagination

By Nathan Holmes

Subjects: Film Studies, American History, Urban Studies, Criminology, History
Series: SUNY series, Horizons of Cinema
Hardcover : 9781438471211, 244 pages, October 2018
Paperback : 9781438471204, 244 pages, July 2019

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Table of contents


Introduction: Crime Film and the Messy City

1. Parking Garage, Apartment, Disco, Skyscraper: Alan J. Pakula’s Banal Modernity

2. Everyone Here Is a Cop: Urban Spectatorship and the Popular Culture of Policing in the Super-Cop Cycle

3. Detroit 9000 and Hollywood’s Midwest

4. Bystander Effects: Death Wish and The Taking of Pelham One Two Three

Conclusion: The Lure of the City


Analyzes how location-shot crime films of the 1970s reflected and influenced understandings of urban crisis.


2019 CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title

The early 1970s were a moment of transformation for both the American city and its cinema. As intensified suburbanization, racial division, deindustrialization, and decaying infrastructure cast the future of the city in doubt, detective films, blaxploitation, police procedurals, and heist films confronted spectators with contemporary scenes from urban streets. Welcome to Fear City argues that the location-shot crime films of the 1970s were part of a larger cultural ambivalence felt toward urban life, evident in popular magazines, architectural discourse, urban sociology, and visual culture. Yet they also helped to reinvigorate the city as a site of variegated experience and a positively disordered public life—in stark contrast to the socially homogenous and spatially ordered suburbs. Discussing the design of parking garages and street lighting, the dynamics of mugging, panoramas of ruin, and the optics of undercover police operations in such films as Klute, The French Connection, Detroit 9000, Death Wish, and The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, Nathan Holmes demonstrates that crime genres did not simply mirror urban settings and social realities, but actively produced and circulated new ideas about the shifting surfaces of public culture.

Nathan Holmes is a New York–based scholar and teacher, with a PhD in film and media studies from the University of Chicago.


"Holmes delivers a superlative study of early 1970s crime film in Welcome to Fear City … Few authors have considered the intersection of urban sociology and popular film as brilliantly as Holmes does. This volume should fascinate not only film studies readers but also anyone interested in the 20th-century American city. " — CHOICE

"Rejecting the easy abstractions and postmodern playfulness of noir and neo-noir criticism, Holmes places 1970s crime films, as he says, 'in relation to the urban context that was their location, setting, and subject. ' He does this brilliantly, convincingly, and uniquely. " — David Desser, former editor, Cinema Journal