Picks and Pans Main: Screen

updated 06/18/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/18/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

The allure of evil isn't exactly a '90s phenomenon. Satan, after all, has had as durable a career as his arch-adversary—he even had all the best lines in Paradise Lost. But the movies' recent focus on (and their inevitable glorification of) villainy, apparent last year in Batman and again now in Dick Tracy, seems to suggest a new motif in popular culture. There have always been plenty of colorful movie evildoers, of course; think of Margaret Hamilton, Richard Widmark or Jack Palance. But today's neovillains are often not only more colorful than their foes, they're portrayed by attractive, top-line actors who can upstage the superheroes. This phenomenon may have started with Gene Hackman opposite the relatively bland Christopher Reeve in Superman. Certainly Jack Nicholson in Batman and Al Pacino in Dick Tracy are the centers of attraction; they're obviously going to go down, but they take the movie with them. While it's probably too soon to start a new branch of psychotherapy to deal with villain obsession, we might want to consider what effect it has on us and our children to see the good seeming so lifeless and staid in comparison to the wicked.

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