Showing posts with label favorite mystery movies. Show all posts
Showing posts with label favorite mystery movies. Show all posts

26 November 2013

My Hit List Strikes Again


by Terence Faherty

Last June I posted My Hit List, a list of thirty of my favorite mystery/crime films, many of them obscure and forgotten.  (Okay, most of them obscure and forgotten.)  Just to show that I can do this all day long, here are another thirty films for which I'm thankful on this Thanksgiving week.  

I'm once again purposely avoiding mystery series, about which I've also posted and may post again when you least expect it.  And again, I've passed over some better known and undeniably great films, like The Big Sleep and Chinatown, because they don't need a plug from me.  Even without the former title, the films of the 1940s are overrepresented here, as they were in my original list.  What can I say?  The forties were to mysteries what the fifties were to westerns and the sixties to Annette Funicello pictures.  A golden age.

I hope you've had a chance to sample a couple of films from the original list and that you'll also try a few of the following guaranteed gems.


1930s

The Phantom of Crestwood (1932)
A real curiosity.  A movie based on a radio serial with an ending voted on by listeners (or so the producers claimed).  The solid cast is headed up by Ricardo Cortez, the movies' first Sam Spade.

Star of Midnight (1935)
William Powell of The Thin Man fame in a Thin Man knockoff, with Ginger Rodgers. 

The Princess Comes Across (1936)
Carole Lombard and Fred MacMurray in a comic mystery set aboard an ocean liner.  (What did you think the title meant?)  MacMurray even sings.

Night Must Fall (1937)
Robert Montgomery established his acting chops in this film version of the famous Emlyn Williams play about a brutal killer in rural England.


1940s

The Glass Key (1942)
An underappreciated Dashiell Hammett novel becomes the best of the Alan Ladd/ Veronica Lake teamings.  William Bendix is a truly scary bad guy.

Murder, My Sweet (1944)
Former musical star Dick Powell is a believable Philip Marlowe, at least until he takes off his shirt.  The great Claire Trevor is in support in this adaptation of Raymond Chandler's Farewell My Lovely.

The Blue Dahlia (1946)
Many people would pick this as the best of the Ladd/Lake pictures.  I think it's only a close second, in part because the original script, by Raymond Chandler, was watered down during filming.  Another solid supporting turn by William Bendix.

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)
What long-ago crime binds Barbara Stanwyck, Van Heflin, and Kirk Douglas?  Noir regular Lizabeth Scott would like to know.
  
Riffraff (1947)
Graying but game Pat O'Brien versus oil field hijackers in Panama with the aid of Anne

Jeffreys.

The Unsuspected (1947)
Actually, you will suspect the solution before it's revealed, but the cast, which includes Claude Rains and three striking blondes (Constance Bennett, Audrey Totter, and Joan Caufield), makes this worthwhile. 

Force of Evil (1948)
Very short, very intense noir film features John Garfield as a glib mob lawyer.  The always good Thomas Gomez is especially so here.

The Big Clock (1948)
Ray Milland is a magazine editor assigned to head up a murder investigation.  Every clue his staff turns up points to. . . Ray Milland.  Charles Laughton plays his oily boss.

Criss Cross (1949)
More noir with Burt Lancaster running afoul of Yvonne De Carlo and Dan Duryea.

 

1950s

Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950)
Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney, and director Otto Preminger, all Laura veterans, reunite for a much tougher and darker film.

Man With a Cloak (1951)
Barbara Stanwyck again and Joseph Cotton, as a mystery man out to save Leslie Caron in 19th Century New York.  This time Stanwyck sings.

Detective Story (1951)
Kirk Douglas as the grandfather of all burned out cops.  The film's stage roots show, but a great cast brings it to life.  William Bendix (who is to this list what Herbert Marshall was to my first one) is again outstanding in a serious supporting role.  (This movie was nominated by Herschel Cozine after my original list was posted.) 

Kansas City Confidential (1952)
John Payne out to clear his name.  A interesting mix of fading stars, like Payne and Preston Foster, and up and comers, like Lee Van Cleef and Jack Elam, a characteristic of most B pictures.



The Narrow Margin (1952)
Low-budget cult film of cop Charles McGraw trying to keep star witness Marie Windsor alive during a train trip from Chicago to LA.  McGraw is tougher than Intermediate German.
 
The Blue Gardenia (1953)
Why should dahlias have all the fun?  When Anne Baxter is accused of murdering Raymond Burr, columnist Richard Conte comes to her aid.



The Big Heat (1953)
Glenn Ford as a cop who loses everything in his pursuit of a crime ring.  Lee Marvin is a particularly slimy mobster. 


1960s

A Shot in the Dark (1964)
Comic whodunit was the second Inspector Clouseau film and the only one without any Pink Panther business.  For that reason, and the participation of Elke Sommer, it's also the best.

Mirage (1965)
A Hitchcock thriller made without Hitchcock.  Gregory Peck has lost his memory (as he did in Hitchcock's Spellbound) and he's on the run (and he was in Hitchcock's Spellbound).  P.I. Walter Matthau tries to help.

Point Blank (1967)
A film that's more iconic than obscure.  Lee Marvin wants the mob to pay him his money and shoots his way through the organizational chart to get it.  Why don't they just pay the guy?  Angie Dickinson heads up the supporting cast.

 Cogan's Bluff (1968)
How obscure can it be with Clint Eastwood as its star?  Contemporary Arizona lawman comes to New York to butt heads with Lee J. Cobb and meet Susan Clark.  Betty Fields, a bright young face of the 1940s, makes her sad last film appearance here. 

P.J. (1968)
A 1960s take on film noir, starring George Peppard as a P.I. hired to bodyguard Gale Hunnicut by her millionaire husband Raymond Burr, a veteran of forties noir.



1970s

They Only Kill Their Masters (1972)
James Garner is a small-town policeman trying to solve a complex murder.  Katharine Ross is the romantic interest, but the supporting cast is largely made up of names from the forties brought on to give this a forties feel.  They include June Allyson, Peter Lawford, Edmond O'Brien, and Anne Rutherford.  

Charley Varrick (1973)
Thriller detailing the plight of Walter Matthau, a small-time bank robber who accidently knocks over a mob bank.  Joe Don Baker almost steals the film as the hit man sent after him.

Night Moves (1975)
California P.I. Gene Hackman is in over his head in the Florida Keys.  Directed by Arthur Penn. 

The Late Show (1977)
Aging P.I. Art Carney sets out to solve the murder of his old partner Howard Duff. (Duff was old-time radio's Sam Spade, making this an evocative bit of casting).  Lily Tomlin in support.

Murder by Degree (1979)
Peter Finch as Sherlock Holmes and James Mason as Dr. Watson face off against Jack the Ripper, one of whose victims is Susan Clark.  John Gielgud, who once played Holmes on the radio, does a cameo.  


Once again, I didn't make it to the eighties, but last time I didn't get past 1974, so I did break new old ground.  Maybe next time, when My Hit List Strikes Back, I can "finish off" the century.


25 June 2013

My Hit List


by Terence Faherty

On May 25, John Floyd posted a list of his thirty favorite crime/mystery/suspense films, in no particular order.  John's theory was such a list reveals as much about the compiler as the subject being addressed, which I think is true.  My somewhat impromptu list, given below, reflects my love of forgotten and obscure titles and actors.  For the most part, I've left out comic mysteries, and I've also intentionally excluded most series films, which leaves out a lot of great ones.  I may address mystery film series in a future post.  So here are my thirty.  I hope you'll give one or two of them a try.

1920s


Bulldog Drummond (1929)

Ronald Colman's first talkie shows that not all early sound films were deer in the headlights of the new technology.  (Yes, he made a second Drummond, but are two a series?)

1930s


Murder! (1930)

Herbert Marshall in an early (and creaky) Alfred Hitchcock talkie.  Marshall lost a leg in World War I, but still had a long film career, as this list will show.

The Maltese Falcon (1931)

A pre-code version of the Hammett classic.  The Bogart version implies that Spade was a hound.  Ricardo Cortez demonstrates it, with the aid of Bebe Daniels and Thelma Todd.

Murder on a Honeymoon (1935)

The one true series mystery I let slip in, from the Hildegarde Withers series starring Edna May Oliver and one of the great comedy-relief policemen, James Gleason.

The Ex-Mrs. Bradford (1936)

One of the best Thin Man imitations, because it has William Powell himself, plus Jean Arthur.

It's a Wonderful World (1939)

Really a screwball comedy, but it has a murder and James Stewart as a private detective.  Plus Claudette Colbert and the dumbest cop in the movies, Nat Pendleton.

1940s


Grand Central Murder (1942)

A nice little B picture by MGM, a studio whose B's look like A's.   Van Heflin leads a solid cast that includes another great comedy cop, Sam Levene.

Keeper of the Flame (1943)

The first and least typical of the Spencer Tracy/Katherine Hepburn teamings has Citizen Kane pretentions but is really a murder mystery, with great early '40s atmosphere.

The Phantom Lady (1944)

Ella Raines sets out to clear her boss of murder.  Based on a Cornell Woolrich novel.

The Mask of Dimitrios (1944)

Peter Lorre and Sidney Greenstreet in a story by Eric Ambler.  Enough said.

Laura (1944)

Okay, they can't all be obscure.  Cop Dana Andrews falls in love with Gene Tierney's picture.  And who can blame him?

Green for Danger (1946)

English murder mystery set in a rural hospital during the V-1 barrage.  Alastair Sim (of Christmas Carol fame) plays a policeman who is both comic and clever.

The Killers (1946)

A Hemmingway short story as the launch pad for a noir mystery starring Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner.  The investigators are Edmond O'Brien and Sam Levene, this time playing it straight.

Crack-Up (1946)

An almost Hitchcock-grade mystery of a man, Pat O'Brien, who claims to have been in a train wreck no one else remembers.  Supporting cast includes film noir veteran Claire Trevor and Herbert Marshall, still soldiering on, but now in featured roles.

Deadline at Dawn (1946)

Great year, 1946.  This one's a little talky, but the talk is by Clifford Odets, so it's okay.  Susan Hayward stars.

Ride the Pink Horse (1947)

A nice little film noir directed by and starring Robert Montgomery.  The solid supporting cast includes another noir stalwart, Thomas Gomez.

My Favorite Brunette (1947)

Right in the middle of the Philip Marlowe craze, Paramount came out with this burlesque of Chandleresque PI films staring Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour, and Peter Lorre.

Out of the Past (1947)

Robert Mitchum in the film noir, with Jane Greer and Kirk Douglas.   If only Mitchum had played Philip Marlowe at this age.  More cult film than obscure film, but it had to make the list.

The Naked City (1948)

Maybe the first real police procedural, with Barry Fitzgerald, Don Taylor, and the real New York City.

1950s

Mystery Street (1950)

I thought we'd never get out of the '40s.  This little film is an early (but not the earliest) celebration of crime scene forensics.  It stars another Ricardo, Ricardo Montalban.

D.O.A. (1950)

Another cult film.  Good location work in LA and San Franciso and a great performance by Edmond O'Brien as a man trying to solve his own murder.  Gets me every time.

Cry Danger (1951)

Dick Powell as a parolee out to prove his innocence (or profit from his time in jail).  Nice location work in backstreet LA.  Rhonda Fleming and William Conrad in support.

On Dangerous Ground (1952)

Tough cop Robert Ryan meets blind Ida Lupino.  Great Bernard Hermann score.

23 Paces to Baker Street (1956)

Van Johnson, also blind, tries to solve a crime in London.  Vera Miles, one of Hitchcock's crushes, stands by him.

1960s

The List of Adrian Messenger (1963)

John Huston directed this murder mystery starring George C. Scott.  One of Herbert Marshall's last films, released an amazing thirty-three years after Murder!

Harper (1966)

Not exactly obscure, since it stars Paul Newman, but a solid PI film with a great cast, including Lauren Bacall.  Based on The Moving Target by Ross Macdonald.

Marlowe (1969)

For my money, a successful transportation of Philip Marlowe to the Summer of Love, starring James Garner.  Based on Chandler's The Little Sister.

1970s

The Carey Treatment (1972)

If you need a 1970s fix, this is the film.  Blake Edwards directed James Colburn and Jennifer O'Neill.  Based on Michael Crichton's A Case of Need.

Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973)

As I wrote in a recent post, this authentic little mob picture is the anti-Godfather.  It stars Robert Mitchum, a veteran of 1940s noir, and Peter Boyle. 

The Midnight Man (1974)

Another aging noir star, Burt Lancaster, starred in, co-wrote, and co-directed this mystery set on a college campus.  It also stars Susan Clark and Cameron Mitchell.

Did they make movies after 1974?  I'll look into it and get back to you.