The Best Movie Ever | Crime Comedies

Crime comes hand in hand with certain types of behavior: secrecy, desperation, and good old-fashioned scheming. And although in real life most crime wouldn’t qualify as a laughing matter, those characteristics are the cornerstone of many of our greatest comedies. It only makes sense that some of our funniest films have been about lovable lawbreakers who bend the rules until they snap.

Also: Shane Black Talks ‘The Nice Guys,’ ‘The Predator’ and ‘Doc Savage’ (Interview)

Shane Black’s new comedy The Nice Guys may be more of a “private detective” comedy than a crime comedy, but why split hairs? This is as good a time as any for The Best Movie Ever to finally tackle the genre. We asked our critics – Crave’s William Bibbiani and Witney Seibold, and Collider’s Brian Formo – to each pick only one crime comedy that they think qualifies as the genre’s very best, and usual they can’t agree on a thing.

Check out the hilarious movies they picked, and come back next Wednesday for another all-new, highly debatable installment of The Best Movie Ever!


Brian Formo’s Pick: Monsieur Verdoux (1947)

Janus Films

Monsieur Verdoux is Charlie Chaplin’s most criminally underseen movie. The public didn’t rush to see the Tramp as a serial married man and serial murderer. By the time the silent film came about the audiences stopped supporting the world’s biggest star. But he kept on making great movies and Verdoux was his final masterpiece.

Chaplin’s Tramp had tackled hard times before, but he flips his formula on its mustache here as Monsieur Verdoux. Verdoux is a sharp-dressed socialite who took up an odd profession when he could no longer find work and had an illegitimate child to feed: he gained the trust of older women, married them, poisoned them and collected money from the stocks that continue to come because the women themselves (older) are isolated from their former circles; Verdoux leaves the second that he gets a hint that someone has discovered their disappearance and then he moves on to the next woman in another country. He sees himself as a Robin Hood because he’s stealing from old money, the people who were not hit hard by the combination of the Great Depression and World Wars. He sends the money to the mother of his child, ironically the one woman he didn’t marry because he didn’t want any trails of his deceit to find them.

Chaplin’s Verdoux is as charming as Chaplin always was, but Verdoux is a massively different film for him. He is lonely. He has killed those whose trust he’d gained and lives amongst their possessions. At this point in his career, Chaplin made his films in Europe, where he was still worshipped. But the love he holds most is for American audiences at home, and they’d abandoned him, found new movie loves, and entirely new genres. With Verdoux, Chaplin lets us see him ache but not break and still get a charge from performing and feeling adulation from women of all ages. And he keeps sending love notes home to his most beloved bastard: America.


Witney Seibold’s Pick: A Fish Called Wanda (1988)


The mind of the criminal is, as it is depicted in most films, a dark place; It takes a certain disregard for rules and no small amount of sociopathy to commit to a life of crime. And while the world’s sampling of great, dark dramas that delve into the twisted, violent psychology of the career criminal is legion, few of those films bother to acknowledge that sociopathy, unchecked criminal rage, and over-the-top sadism can be, when looked at from a certain perspective, downright absurd. 

Enter A Fish Called Wanda, the final film directed by Charles Crichton (The Lavender Hill Mob). In A Fish Called Wanda, a pair of Americans (Jamie Lee Curtis and Kevin Kline) team up with a pair of Brits (Tom Georgeson and Michael Palin) to stage a diamond heist. The heist goes off relatively well, until Georgeson is apprehended by the police. He also hid the diamonds. From there, it’s a matter of murdering a witness, seducing a lawyer (John Cleese), and torturing Palin until he reveals the location of the diamonds. 

On paper, the story is no different from hard-boiled noir. In execution, however, it’s one of the funniest films of the 1980s. The characters are all willful bastards who seem unaware of their own extremity, and whose criminal behavior is depicted as little more than an extreme form of broad, silly American rudeness. Kline’s character, Otto, is especially maniacal, and earned Kline his only Oscar to date. Otto quotes Nietzsche in between beating people. Grounding the entire film is the poor duped Cleese who happily begins having – or trying to have – an affair with Curtis, only to embarrass himself at every turn. There’s ultimately a sweetness to his love for Curtis that will eventually wear through her cynicism, ensuring the film is also kind of sweet. Which is an odd thing to say about a movie where Michael Palin murders a series of dogs. 


William Bibbiani’s Pick: My Blue Heaven (1990)

Warner Bros.

There sure are a lot of crime comedies out there. Picking just one was damn near impossible, especially with half the Coen Bros. movies duking it out with Bottle Rocket and coming to a draw. But the more I thought about it the more I realized that I knew all along what the greatest crime comedy was. It’s actually one of my favorite comedies, and it’s actually a film about trying to NOT to commit crimes.

My Blue Heaven is based on the same biography as Goodfellas, but where Goodfellas ends, My Blue Heaven is just getting started. Steve Martin plays a New York mafioso who gets renamed “Todd Wilkinson” and sent to suburban San Diego, where life – for him – is a living hell. He can’t find arugula anywhere. Nobody knows how to say “capiche.” And the temptation to take advantage of his neighborhood’s peaceful attitudes is too much to handle: Todd starts himself a little crime wave, stealing books from B. Dalton’s and giant fish from giant fish markets (apparently). 

My Blue Heaven is a fish out of water story, and a fantastically funny one. But it’s also a sweet little saga of a man who proves that you can have a big heart and a bigger rap sheet. Steve Martin, Rick Moranis and Joan Cusack are phenomenal, the writing by Nora Ephron (When Harry Met Sally…) is full of zingers, and every moment seems delightfully absurd. “Todd Wilkinson” mows his lawn in a sharkskin suit, and whatever crimes he has committed, I love him for it.


Previously on The Best Movie Ever:

Top Photo: MGM / Warner Bros. / Janus Films