Detective comedy

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A crime comedy , often referred to as crime comedy for short , is the representation of a crime story in the theater or in a film using the means of comedy . The focus of the action is an alleged or real crime and its investigation. The characters of the main characters and their actions or dialogues give the serious situation a comical touch. Mistakes, deceptions and unexpected twists and turns, as they often determine a crime story, are here dramaturgically resolved with the means of humor or the laughable. Although the term comedy comes from the dramatic art movement, the term crime comedy is also often used today for cheerful works of narrative crime literature, but it means comic crime .


In 2006, The Mousetrap was played in London for the 54th consecutive year.

Similar to the crime novel itself, crime plays are particularly popular as a literary form on the stage. As a genre of tabloid theater , whose action-oriented theater forms were originally expressed as crime and adventure pieces, crime comedy has mostly developed as a crude comedy, burlesque or swank . Surprising twists and turns and mix-ups are more important in the plot of the tabloids than an accurate drawing of the characters and their conflicts. This makes them performable for amateur and school theater as well. The form of the short piece with a length of 30 to 45 minutes, which is often used in modern crime comedies, also serves to make it easier to stage.

Successful stage plays

A popular example of a successful detective comedy on stage is Arsenic and Old Lace (Arsenic and Old Lace) by Joseph Kesselring , whose successful performance on Broadway in 1941, the film premiere was delayed by three years. Dialect transmissions such as Arsen and Spitzenhauberl in Austria or Arsen und Spitzehübli in Switzerland point to the popularity of this black comedy in the German-speaking world .

Often performed crime comedies are also Die Mausefalle (The Mousetrap) by the English crime novelist Agatha Christie , Eight Women (Huit Femmes) by the French playwright Robert Thomas or the play Hocus-Pocus or: How do I make my husband disappear ...? by Curt Goetz .

Dinner thrillers

One form of the dinner crime thriller uses the crime comedy as light but exciting entertainment, while the audience has a multi-course dinner , which is included in the ticket price for the event. In most cases, viewers are invited to participate in the investigation of the fictional criminal case and to guess who the perpetrator could have been.

Movie and TV

Scene from the silent film Buster and the Police with Buster Keaton . A rogue comedy from 1922.

In the cinematic context, the crime comedy is not necessarily to be understood as a hybrid of a crime film and a film comedy , as is often suggested in American film studies for “criminal comedy”, because film comedy is not a narrower genre than crime film Meaning acts.

Crime comedies in the cinema

Mixtures of genres and styles

“The process of differentiation within the crime genre, which exists due to an obviously great social need for films about norm violation and norm confirmation, has given rise to further sub-groups, which, however, have developed less clearly as their own sub-genres. This includes [...] forms such as the crime comedy, which is primarily characterized as a crook comedy [...]. Murder is seldom the subject of this, the border crossings are mostly limited to theft and robbery, whereby it usually affects the wealthy. The gentleman criminal [...] are at home here, but also Robin Hood , who fights for the needy [...]. "

- Knut Hickethier : genre systematics

Rogue comedies are often referred to as caper movies in the Anglo-American language area . In films such as The Clou (USA, 1973) and Ocean's Eleven (USA, 2001), the comic moment arises from the inventive talent with which the criminals gain access to the coveted object.

In Topkapi (USA, 1964) and in Die Olsenbande sets the course (Denmark, 1975) the overdrawing of the characters is another humorous element. In both films, the clever theft plans fail because of a little something. In Topkapi it is a small bird that gets into the museum building while the break-in is taking place. In The Olsen Gang sets the course it is the timetable change of the Danish State Railways .

Nobility Committed (Great Britain, 1949) and Ladykillers (Great Britain, 1955), like many other English films and series, contain black humor . Both films are rogue comedies, but also black comedies . The gentleman criminal named in the above definition by Knut Hickethier is often sought in vain in such films. In Ladykillers , the crooks are finally defeated by an old woman.

“The black Ealing comedy is formally identified by a conventional structure. In addition to the confrontation of the criminal machinations of the gangsters with the virtuous tenacity of Mrs. Wilberforce, Ladykillers is characterized in particular by perfect comedic timing. A two-stage dramaturgy, which virtuously slows down and accelerates the narrative speed, repeatedly leads to absurd situations right up to the final punch line. Hair-raising highlights are skillfully set, but only in order to surpass them again in the next twist. In addition to exaggerating stereotypes such as that of the ›quirky old people‹ and that of the conspiratorial gangsters , the film caricatures parodistically lively genre elements of the horror and gangster films , combines them with slapstick interludes and does not save with allusions to milieu portrayals as in social drama. "

- Burkhard Röwekamp : Ladykillers

Further examples of the combination of rogue comedy and black comedy are Wir sind keine Engel (USA, 1955), Bube, Dame, König, grAS (Great Britain, 1998) and Kill the Boss (USA, 2011).

Irony through to cynicism and sarcasm can also be found in some of the films noirs . Examples are Pulp Fiction (USA, 1994) and Fargo (USA, 1996).

Detective comedies don't have to be humorous gangster films. The Thin Man (USA, 1934) is a detective film . Like the aforementioned Arsenic and Lace Top , it mixes the crime film with the screwball comedy . It works by developing the comedic narrative form of screwball on the basis of a tried and tested Whodunit plot, an over-the-top, crazy variety of film comedy that became one of the most popular narrative forms in Hollywood cinema of the 1930s through The Thin Man , among other things . In media history, this expansion of the crime film genre into the comedy area was made possible by the introduction of the sound film in 1928.

Another possibility of mixing styles is between a crime film and a slapstick comedy. This is shown by examples such as The Pink Panther (USA, 1963), They called him Flatfoot (Italy / France, 1973), The Naked Cannon (USA, 1988) and Kevin - Alone at Home (USA, 1990).

With some detective comedy is a parody or satire of a sub-genre of the detective film. The tall blonde with the black shoe (France, 1972) parodies the spy film , Beverly Hills Cop - I'll definitely solve the case (USA, 1984) the police film . A corpse for dessert (USA, 1976) satirized the detective film.

Age rating

The crime comedies were discussed controversially by the FSK and media educators in the post-war period. During the FSK 1960 a crime comedy like Agatha, stop killing! Already released for twelve-year-olds, it was a bit too much for the advocates of conservation education at that time for the young people, who were denied the ability to "use irony to find a distance from what was happening on the screen."

Crime comedy in Germany

The German-language crime comedy did not have it easy after the Second World War to establish itself against the competition from the United States and the United Kingdom . Der Spiegel wrote about the work of eleven well-known screenwriters for the film Agatha, stop killing! : "But even this massive use of hard-working pens does not dispel the skepticism that is appropriate with regard to German comedies, crime films and especially crime fiction films." The film An angel is not shot in the direction of Rolf Thiele was called "flat." "Unimaginative tabloid comedy" in which actors like Gustav Knuth , Boy Gobert and Bruno Hübner act as "bad boys so listless" that the viewer is downright relieved when the film finally comes to its showdown .

However, some German productions were able to convince. Well-known crime comedies from Germany are The Man Who Was Sherlock Holmes (1937), The Black Sheep (1960), The Gentlemen With The White Waistcoat (1969), MitGift (1975) and Didi and the Revenge of the Disinherited (1985).

Crime comedy series on television (selection)

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Scientific advisory board of the Duden editorial team (ed.): The large foreign dictionary. Origin and meaning of the foreign words. Dudenverlag, 4th edition, Mannheim - Leipzig - Vienna - Zurich 2007, ISBN 3-411-04164-1
  2. ^ Rainer Rother (Ed.): Sachlexikon Film. Rowohlt, Reinbek bei Hamburg 1997, ISBN 3-499-16515-5 , pp. 174-176
  3. ^ John McCormick: Popular Theaters on Nineteenth-Century France. Routledge, London - New York 1993
  4. The Mousetrap ( Memento of the original from June 26, 2012 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. on the St. Martin's Theater website @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  5. Patrick Schubert: depictions of death in the crime television series "Tatort". Chapter 2: Theoretical Approaches: The Crime Genre, Its Function and History . GRIN Verlag, 2012
  6. ^ Petra Grimm: Notes on the German comedy film . In: Hans Krah (Hrsg.): History (s): NS-Film - NS traces today. Verlag Ludwig, 1999, ISBN 3-933598-00-1 , pp. 54-55
  7. Knut Hickethier / Katja Schumann (eds.): Film genres: crime film (e-book version). Reclam, Stuttgart 2012, ISBN 978-3-15-960130-4 , p. 28
  8. Heinz-B. Heller / Matthias Steinle (eds.): Film genres: Comedy (e-book version). Reclam, Stuttgart 2012, ISBN 978-3-15-960133-5 , p. 318
  9. Knut Hickethier / Katja Schumann (eds.): Film genres: crime film (e-book version). Reclam, Stuttgart 2012, ISBN 978-3-15-960130-4 , p. 86
  10. Erich Wasem: The horror film. - A conclusion in 1963 . Jugend Film Fernsehen, 1, pp. 33–57, 1963, p. 42
  11. Agatha, stop killing (Germany) . The Spiegel print edition 4/1961 of January 18, 1961, at Spiegel Online, accessed on November 28, 2014
  12. You don't shoot angels Film review on, accessed on December 1, 2014


  • John McCormick: Popular Theaters on Nineteenth-Century France. Routledge, London - New York 1993
  • Knut Hickethier / Katja Schumann (eds.): Film genres: crime film (e-book version). Reclam, Stuttgart 2012, ISBN 978-3-15-960130-4
  • Heinz-B. Heller / Matthias Steinle (eds.): Film genres: Comedy (e-book version). Reclam, Stuttgart 2012, ISBN 978-3-15-960133-5