Showing posts with label favorites. Show all posts
Showing posts with label favorites. Show all posts

07 October 2013

100 Favorite Mysteries of the Century

A little over 10 years… to be exact, it was in 2000 which was 13 years ago, The Independent Mystery Booksellers Association selected and published their list of 100 Favorite Mysteries of the Century. The book was edited by the President of IMBA, Jim Huang.

 My husband, Elmer and I had owned Mysteries and More bookstore in Austin for nine years. We had just decided to retire and had just liquidated the store after trying for months to sell it. We knew that we could continue as online booksellers as long as we wished. We were charter members of IMBA. And we definitely wanted to be part of this project.

This list is from the accumulated wisdom of the most knowledgeable booksellers in the business of selling mysteries.  Not the books we considered best sellers, but the books that we've most enjoyed through the years, hand sold to our customers and books that we read over and over ourselves. The project was began in late 1999, our tribute to the new upcoming new century. Our membership at that time consisted of 39 members, most with traditional stores, the remainder with online or internet and or mail-order stores. Some members did all three at once.

Each member was to list 100 titles. When the first list came in, around 700 different titles were listed. (All members didn't participate.)  After much discussion and back and forth calls and e-mail we came up a couple of unofficial rules...for authors with a series, we'd list only the first in their series. Several prolific authors had more than one series, but we were able to rally for only one title from those authors. This wasn't a rule and on occasion there was more than one title for an author. This second round had around 85 titles with fairly strong support from several stores. And a large number of titles that seemed worthy of consideration.

The lists were all going into our President and editor, Jim Huang.  He eventually had to appoint owners of The Raven Bookstore and The Black Bird Mysteries to a committee to help narrow down the list. The surprising thing was with all the diversity of the stores how much agreement there was. Keep in mind however this list is NOT the best or bestselling but FAVORITE. It's not favorite authors either. For whatever reason it's the bookstore members chosen favorites (this included employees of the store and/or co-owners.)

After publication, one criticism was that we were influenced by sales. None of us felt this to be true.
It's possible that we have selected titles that we recommended more to our customers because we enjoyed them more.

The second criticism was we tended to list more recent titles. That's probably true because more recent titles are richer in characterization. Authors write more about what's going on in the real world because that's what readers want. Real life situations, but high quality writing. And don't forget, bookseller's are readers too.

All of the above comes from the introduction by Jim Huang, but using my words and some of his,

Part 1

The Hounds of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle (1902)
The Circular Staircase by Mary Roberts Rinehart (1908)

The Thirty-nine Steps by John Buchan (1915)

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie (1926)

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett (1930)
The Sands of Windee by Arthur Upfield (1931)
Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy L. Sayers (1933)
The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain (1934)
The Three Coffins by John Dickson Carr (1935)
Hamlet, Revenge by Michael Innes (1937)
The Beast Must Die by Nichols Blake (1938)
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (1938)
Some Buried Caesar by Rex Stout (1938)
A Coffin for Dimitrios by Eric Ambler (1939)
The Big Sleep by Raymond Chlandler (1939)

Death of a Peer by Ngaio Marsh (1940)
The Wrong Murder by Craig Rice (1940)
Green For Danger by Christianna Brand (1944)
The Moving Toyshop by Edmund Crispin (1946)
The Fabulous Clipjoint by Fredric Brown (1947)
I Married a Dead Man by Cornell Woolrich (1948)
Cat of Many Tails by Ellery Queen (1949)
Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey

Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert (1950)
An English Murder by Cyril Hare (1951)
The Tiger in the Smoke by Margery Allingham  (1952)
The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith  (1955)
A Dram of Poison by Charlotte Armstrong  (1956)
The Hours Before Dawn by Celia Fremlin  (1958)
The List of Adrain Messenger by Phillip MacDonald (1959)

And that is where I have to stop, class. How many of these have you read?

25 June 2013

My Hit List

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.

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?)


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

10 November 2012

Cowboys and Aliens

Since it's been awhile since we've had a column just on movies, and since I love movies, and since my wife's been out of town again (during her absence, I wound up once more watching a bunch of oldies from my DVD stash and a bunch of newies from Netflix), I thought I'd spend some time talking about stories on the screen rather than stories on the page.  Bear with me--I promise I'll reprogram my GPS and get back on the mystery/literary freeway two weeks from now.

As fate would have it, I ran into an old friend from my IBM days in the supermarket earlier this week (yes, I was in there buying more TV dinners) and he asked me if I could suggest any good movies.  Movie maniacs love to hear that question, and I dutifully rattled off a few titles.  Afterward, it occurred to me that some of the films I had recommended to him might not be considered great--or even good.  They were just movies I happen to like.  Sure, sometimes the ones I like are good, in terms of critical acclaim, but sometimes they're not.  A lot of my favorites never took home an Oscar or even came close, but they remain my favorites.  Know what I mean?

I'm sure Rob and Leigh will know what I mean when I say that all this gave me the uncontrollable urge to make a list.  A list, in this case, of what I consider to be the best movies I've seen.  All are based on my opinion only; as they say on the news, this study is not scientific.  In fact, the word "favorites" here simply means "the ones I found most entertaining."  (Can you spell "guilty pleasures"?)
Enough excuses.  Here are my thoughts regarding bests and favorites:

Best known: The Godfather Best crafted: The Silence of the Lambs My favorite: Die Hard

Best known: High Noon Best crafted: Shane My favorite: Once Upon a Time in the West

Best known: Star Wars Best crafted: Blade Runner My favorite: Aliens

Best known: Gone With the Wind Best crafted: Casablanca My favorite: The Graduate

Best known: Halloween Best crafted: Psycho My favorite: Silver Bullet

If you go beyond the basic five categories and wander into the murky forest of other genres and subgenres, I like To Kill A Mockingbird (drama), Raising Arizona (comedy), The Natural (sports), Dumbo (children), Apocalypse Now (war), It's a Wonderful Life (classics), Holes (young adult), and Raiders of the Lost Ark (adventure).

And don't forget cross-genre movies.  My personal favorites are probably Blazing Saddles (comedy/western), Witness (mystery/romance), Galaxy Quest (sci-fi/comedy), Somewhere in Time (romance/fantasy), Sleepless in Seattle (romance/comedy), and yes, Cowboys and Aliens (sci-fi/western).

Taste test
What are some of your favorite films, by genre?  What are some that you consider well constructed, and/or well written?  Do you find that the ones you enjoy the most are seldom the ones that got the best reviews?  Or even the best comments by your friends and neighbors?

For some reason, everyone I know (including critics) hated Lady in the Water.  I loved it.  And everyone I know (including critics) loved the remake of The Thin Red Line.  I hated it.

I must confess that the above list would probably have been different a year ago, or even a month ago, and would probably be different next month or next year.  I change my mind more often than a presidential candidate.  But I do have a pretty reliable litmus test for which movies I think are good and which are not.  The good ones are the ones I will happily watch over and over again.  (I need to be educated--or bored silly--only once; I need to be entertained constantly.)

I feel the same way about novels and stories.  Which reminds me--
Recalculating route