Cinema: Cops and Robbers

At their closest, England and France are a scant 18 miles apart. But the emotional gap is virtually infinite. Take, for example, the reliable litmus of crime. As two new films demonstrate, the accounts of evildoer and pursuant vary enormously with the turf. The favored French mode is the grittily realistic roman policier, in which the detective, like Simenon's Inspector Maigret, is presumed human, hence flawed. In England both criminal and captor implicitly play the gentlemanly hare-and-hounds game—a legacy of what W.H. Auden called the "guilty vicarage" tradition.

The Villain is Richard Burton,...

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