More Mystery Movies

The movies haven’t all come from novels, but they are outstanding examples of mysteries on the silver screen.

An Agatha Christie classic – Miss Marple is portrayed by Angela Lansbury in the 1980 film, The Mirror Crack’d.  As usual, the film is studded with performances by a multitude of stars, Geraldine Chaplin, Tony Curtis, Rock Hudson, Kim Novak and Elizabeth Taylor. As usual, everyone has a reason to kill.
A good example of an English manor mysteryGosford Park is a 2001 film starring Helen Mirren, Maggie Smith and Michael Gambon among others.  It was nominated for a total of 61 film awards, worldwide, winning 25 of them.
Film Noir – Taken from a 1939 novel by Eric Ambler, The Mask of Dimitrios was released in 1944. Peter Lorre portrays a mystery writer trying to track down the history of a famous criminal, Dimitrios, whose body has been washed up on the shore.
The hard-boiled detective – No one played the hard-boiled detective like Humphrey Bogart. It’s hard to pick just one, but Ernest Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not is my favorite. This is the movie that started the love affair between Bogie and Bacall.  It was her first film. The great scene where she says, “You know how to whistle, don’t you…” was her screen test and not even in the movie script, but it was such a great scene they put it into the film.  And the rest is history….
A Police Detective – The 1971 film, The French Connection, was a fictionalized drama of two real NYPD detectives. It won 6 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and the Best Actor award for Gene Hackman. The car chase scene (actually a car chasing an elevated train) is one of best in film history.
After the bad guy is caught there is a trial12 Angry Men begins with the judge sending the jury off to deliberate the verdict in a murder case. It seems an open and shut case, but one juror believes the defendant to be innocent.  This movie has been remade several times, but the best film is the 1957 version starring Henry Fonda and Lee J. Cobb.  It is considered one of the best films of all time in any genre.
The historical mysteryThe Name of the Rose takes place in northern Italy during the 14th century. Based on the book by Umberto Eco, this1986 film stars Sean Connery as the Franciscan friar William, Christian Slater as his apprentice and F. Murray Abraham as the representative of the Inquisition.  The movie did poorly in the US for some reason but was widely acclaimed in Europe.
The Cozy Mystery – One doesn’t think of Alfred Hitchcock and the term “cozy mystery” together, I will admit.  But Hitchcock’s 1955 movie, The Trouble With Harry, fits the bill. The ‘trouble’ with Harry is that he is dead.  And his body causes a lot of trouble while folks figure out what to do with it!  Starring John Forsythe and Shirley MacLaine, it was filmed in Barre, Vt., during a colorful autumn.
Sherlock Holmes – Most film critics consider The Hound of the Baskervilles as one of the classic movies of all time.  And if you are looking for a film of an actual Holmes story it is the one to watch. For contrast, however, you might give the new Sherlock Holmes, starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law a try.

Mystery/Suspense – Kenneth Branagh plays Mike Church, a know-it-all LA private eye who specializes in missing persons, in the 1991 film Dead Again. The film also stars Emma Thompson, Andy Garcia, Derek Jacobi and Robin Williams. Emma Thompson plays a woman that is suffering from amnesia and having recurring nightmares about a murder. The movie starts out seeming like a quiet, ordinary mystery but suspense builds throughout and the climax is a real finger-nail biter.

I Didn’t See That Coming

When you have watched lots and lots of movies, or read lots and lots of mysteries, you soon ‘see the plot coming’ long before it gets there.  My family gets upset with me every time I announce an ending before the movie is even half-way through.

Nine Queens took me in completely and I was totally surprised by the final twist.

If you are someone who won’t watch a foreign film because of having to read the sub-titles you are really missing a great con movie, one which I believe will someday be considered a classic in this genre.

This gem is from Argentina and stars people I didn’t know and you probably won’t either – Ricardo Darin, Gaston Pauls and Letice Bredice.  It is perfectly put together. Done on a lean budget, the movie is refreshingly lean.  Every scene is needed, each builds on the one before it and it’s not over until it’s over.

The plot in a nutshell: It begins with a familiar, small con in a convenience store and grows to become a big-time con about a rare sheet of stamps called The Nine Queens.

After I saw it the first time I immediately watched it again to see if there had been something to give away the ending.  I couldn’t find anything. On a scale of 1 to 5, I give it a 5.

Published in: on February 18, 2011 at 12:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Mysteries Go To The Movies

Here are a few books and detectives that were made into films.  Phillip Marlowe (Raymond Chandler’s detective) and Sam Spade (Dashiell Hammett’s character) were so defined by Humphrey Bogart – even though both were also portrayed by other actors – that it doesn’t matter whether or not they were true to the book character.

Agatha ChristieMiss Marple has been portrayed by three different actresses in 12 films.  The portrayal closest to the book character, according to Dame Christie herself, is by Joan Hickson in the BBC movies. – Hercule Poirot was probably played best in films by Albert Finney (check out Murder on the Orient Express, 1974), but thanks to TV Poirot became best known by the David Suchet portrayal.

The Big Clock – by Kenneth Fearing was made into film twice; first as The Big Clock starring Ray Milland & Charles Laughton and then as No Way Out starring Kevin Costner & Gene Hackman. No Way Out, while enjoyable, is so loosely based on the book I would recommend trying to find the original, black & white, 1948 version.

Darker Than Amber – by John D. MacDonald. To my knowledge it isn’t out on VHS or DVD, but if you get a chance to see it on late-night TV don’t miss it. Starring Rod Taylor and Jane Russell, it is possibly the best of the Travis McGee movies.

Devil In A Blue Dress – by Walter Mosely. The ending is different than in the book, but the film is excellent. Denzel Washington is Easy Rawlings, but the star of the film is Don Cheadle as Easy’s friend “Mouse”, a role that won him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar.

The Jessie Stone series – by Robert B. Parker. These films were made-for-TV and star Tom Selleck.  Tom Selleck IS Jesse Stone. (Even Parker thinks so.)

Kiss Me Deadly – by Mickey Spillane. Several actors have played Mike Hammer, both in film and on TV but this is the one to watch. Starring Ralph Meeker, it doesn’t follow the book completely but the portrayal of Hammer is the best.

Mute Witness – by Robert L. Fish. The movie is Bullitt with Steve McQueen. The story has moved from NYC to San Francisco and there are some other minor changes, but the movie contains one of the most famous car-chase scenes in film.

The Saint series – by Leslie Charteris. The 15th book in the series, The Saint in New York, with Louis Hayward, was the first to become a film. However, George Sanders, who played in later Saint films, is considered to be the best. Look for The Saint in London (1939).

Sherlock Holmes series – If you want to compare Holmes portrayals watch The Hound of the Baskervilles. The 1939 film stars Basil Rathbone, the 1959 flick has Peter Cushing, the 1983 version features Ian Richardson and the made-for-TV movie (1988) is with Jeremy Brett.  You decide who makes the best Holmes!

Published in: on February 16, 2011 at 12:16 pm  Leave a Comment  
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