The Thin Man is a 1934 American pre-Code comedy-mystery B movie directed by W. S. Van Dyke and based on the novel of the same name by Dashiell Hammett. The film stars William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles, a leisure-class couple who enjoy copious drinking and flirtatious banter. Nick is a retired private detective who left his very successful career when he married Nora, a wealthy heiress accustomed to high society. Their wire-haired fox terrier Asta was played by canine actor Skippy. In 1997, the film was added to the United States National Film Registry having been deemed ...
Murder! is a 1930 British drama film co-written and directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Herbert Marshall, Norah Baring and Edward Chapman. Written by Hitchcock, his wife Alma Reville and Walter C. Mycroft, it is based on a novel called Enter Sir John by Clemence Dane and Helen Simpson. It was Hitchcocks third all-talkie film, after Blackmail and Juno and the Paycock.
Bellamy - known as Inspector Bellamy in the U.S. - is a French murder mystery film released in 2009. It is the last film of celebrated French director Claude Chabrol and the only time he worked with star Gerard Depardieu. Chabrol said in an interview that the film is like a "novel that Simenon never wrote", a kind of "Maigret on vacation".
Bulldog Drummond is a 1929 American pre-Code crime film in which Hugh "Bulldog" Drummond helps a beautiful young woman in distress. The film stars Ronald Colman as the title character, Claud Allister, Lawrence Grant, Montagu Love, Wilson Benge, Joan Bennett, and Lilyan Tashman. Produced by Samuel Goldwyn and directed by F. Richard Jones, the movie was adapted by Sidney Howard from the play by H. C. McNeile. Colman was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role, and William Cameron Menzies for Best Art Direction. Two previous Bulldog Drummond films had been produced: B ...
A young officer, Sergei Korshunov, becomes an employee of the criminal investigation department, but in the process of investigating a series of crimes he realizes that this is not as simple as he thinks.
Village Detective is a 1969 Soviet crime comedy film directed by Ivan Lukinsky and based on the novella of the same name by Vil Lipatov. Lyrical detective lives of rural local policeman Aniskin. Later on the screens came two sequels: Aniskin and Fantomas 1973 and Aniskin Again 1978.
ⓘ Mystery film
A mystery film is a genre of film that revolves around the solution of a problem or a crime. It focuses on the efforts of the detective, private investigator or amateur sleuth to solve the mysterious circumstances of an issue by means of clues, investigation, and clever deduction.
The plot often centers on the deductive ability, prowess, confidence, or diligence of the detective as they attempt to unravel the crime or situation by piecing together clues and circumstances, seeking evidence, interrogating witnesses, and tracking down a criminal.
Suspense is often maintained as an important plot element. This can be done through the use of the soundtrack, camera angles, heavy shadows, and surprising plot twists. Alfred Hitchcock used all of these techniques, but would sometimes allow the audience in on a pending threat then draw out the moment for dramatic effect.
This genre has ranged from early mystery tales, fictional or literary detective stories, to classic Hitchcockian suspense-thrillers to classic private detective films. A related film subgenre is spy films.
1. Definition and characteristics
Mystery films mainly focus with solving a crime or a puzzle. The mystery generally revolves around a murder which must then be solved by policemen, private detectives, or amateur sleuths. The viewer is presented with a series of likely suspects, some of whom are "red herrings," –persons who have motive to commit the crime but did not actually do it–, and attempts to solve the puzzle along with the investigator. At times the viewer is presented with information not available to the main character. The central character usually explores the unsolved crime, unmasks the perpetrator, and puts an end to the effects of the villainy.
The successful mystery film adheres to one of two story types, known as Open and Closed. The Closed or whodunit mystery conceals the identity of the perpetrator until late in the story, adding an element of suspense during the apprehension of the suspect, as the audience is never quite sure who it is. The Open mystery, in contrast, reveals the identity of the perpetrator at the top of the story, showcasing the "perfect crime" which the audience then watches the protagonist unravel, usually at the very end of the story, akin to the unveiling scenes in the Closed style.
Mystery novels have proven to be a good medium for translation into film. The sleuth often forms a strong leading character, and the plots can include elements of drama, suspense, character development, uncertainty and surprise twists. The locales of the mystery tale are often of a mundane variety, requiring little in the way of expensive special effects. Successful mystery writers can produce a series of books based on the same sleuth character, providing rich material for sequels.
Until at least the 1980s, women in mystery films have often served a dual role, providing a relationship with the detective and frequently playing the part of woman-in-peril. The women in these films are often resourceful individuals, being self-reliant, determined and as often duplicitous. They can provide the triggers for the events that follow, or serve as an element of suspense as helpless victims.
2.1. History Literary influences
The earliest mystery films reach back to the silent era. The first detective film is often cited as Sherlock Holmes Baffled, a very short Mutoscope reel created between 1900 and 1903 by Arthur Marvin. It is the earliest-known film to feature the character of detective Sherlock Holmes, albeit in a barely recognisable form.
In France, the popular Nick Carter detective novels inspired the first film serial, Nick Carter, le roi des detectives 1908. This six-episode series was followed with Nouveaux aventures de Nick Carter in 1909. Louis Feuillade created the highly popular Fantomas 1913–14 serial based on the best-selling serial novel about a super-criminal pursued by a stubborn inspector Juve. Dujardin wears a mask and costume similar to Fantomas in an apparent tribute in The Artist, a nostalgic 2011 film about silent cinema. Later detective serials by Feuillade include The Vampires 1915, Judex 1916, Tih Minh 1918, and Barrabas 1919. Feuillades films, which combined realism, poetic imagery, and pure fantasy, influenced the American The Perils of Pauline 1914, directors such as Rene Clair, and Surrealists such as Andre Breton.
The earliest true mystery films include The Gold Bug 1910, also from France, and The Murders in the Rue Morgue 1914. Both are derived from stories by Edgar Allan Poe, which is appropriate as Poe is often credited with creating modern detective fiction as well as the first private detective character, C. Auguste Dupin. Universal Pictures renamed him Pierre Dupin in Murders in the Rue Morgue 1932, an atmospheric horror-mystery starring Bela Lugosi. The film was remade twice more in 1953 and 1971. Poes second Dupin story, The Mystery of Marie Rogêt, was filmed in 1942. More recently, The Raven 2012 presented a fictionalized account of the last days of Poes life. Here, the author pursues a mysterious serial killer whose murders are directly inspired by his stories.
Charles Dickens unfinished novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood 1870 was completed by another author and eventually adapted to the screen. Two films, now believed lost, were made in 1909 and 1914. Universal produced The Mystery of Edwin Drood 1935. The story was remade again in 1993. Universal, known mostly for its long list of classic horror films, also created perhaps the first supernatural horror-whodunit hybrid with Night Monster 1942.
American author Mary Roberts Rinehart 1876–1958, is credited with inventing the "Had-I-But-Known" school of mystery writing as well as the phrase, "The butler did it". Her 1920 "old dark house" novel and play The Bat was filmed as The Bat 1926, as The Bat Whispers 1930, and a third time a remake, The Bat 1959, starring Vincent Price. Another movie based on a play, The Cat and the Canary 1927, pioneered the "comedy-mystery" genre. Remade several times, including a version with Bob Hope released in 1939.
Undoubtedly the most famous of the amateur detectives to appear on the silver screen is the archetypal Sherlock Holmes. Since 1903 Holmes has been portrayed by a multitude of actors in over 200 films. Perhaps the earliest detective comedy is Buster Keatons Sherlock Jr. 1924. Until recently, the only American-made series starred Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as Holmes and Dr. Watson. Together they made 14 films between 1939 and 1946. The first two, at 20th Century Fox, were period piece mysteries set in the late-Victorian era of the original stories. By the third film, Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror 1942, now taken up by Universal Studios, Holmes was updated to the present day. Several films dealt with World War II and thwarting Nazi spies.
The crime novelist Dorothy L. Sayers 1893–1957 created the archetypal British aristocratic sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey in 1923. Peter Haddon first played Wimsey in The Silent Passenger 1935, written by Sayers specifically for the screen. This was followed by Busmans Honeymoon 1940, also released as Haunted Honeymoon, with Robert Montgomery as Wimsey. Later, Montgomery would also play Raymond Chandlers detective Philip Marlowe in The Lady in the Lake 1947.
Doubledays The Crime Club imprint published a variety of mystery novels that also inspired a radio show. Universal Pictures struck a deal to produce a series of 11 Crime Club mystery films released from 1937 to 1939. These include The Westlake Case 1937 and Mystery of the White Room 1939.
Other literary sleuths who were brought to the screen include Charlie Chan, Ellery Queen, Nancy Drew, Nero Wolfe, and Agatha Christies Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot. To date, 32 films and dozens of television adaptations have been made based on Christies novels. British private detective and adventurer Bulldog Drummond was featured in 24 films from 1922 to 1969 and was one of the prototypes for Ian Flemings James Bond character.
2.2. History Classic period: the 1930s
A few silent Charlie Chan films, now lost, were produced in the 1920s. Starting in 1929, the B-picture unit at Fox Film Corporation later part of 20th Century Fox began a series of 28 commercially successful Charlie Chan films. Monogram Pictures continued the series from 1944 to 1949 with 17 more entries. The success of the Chan films led Fox to hire exiled actor Peter Lorre to play Japanese sleuth Mr. Moto in 8 films from 1937 to 1939. Monogram responded by creating their own gentlemanly Oriental detective, Mr. Wong, adapted from a Hugh Wiley story. Beginning with Mr. Wong, Detective, Boris Karloff played Wong in 5 of 6 films produced from 1938 to 1941.
Over at Warner Brothers studios, the Perry Mason novels by Erle Stanley Gardner were faithfully adapted into a series of six films from 1934 to 1937. Most of these placed the crusading attorney in a standard murder mystery whodunit story. Warner Bros. also created the Torchy Blane films which were notable for featuring one of the few female sleuths in a series. Starting with Smart Blonde, Glenda Farrell played the brassy, mystery-solving news reporter in 8 of 9 films made between 1936 and 1939. Another novel film is When Were You Born 1938 with Chinese actress Anna May Wong as an astrologer who helps solve a murder using her star-gazing talents.
RKO purchased the rights to a Hildegarde Withers story by Stuart Palmer and launched a six-film series starting with The Penguin Pool Murder 1932. Edna May Oliver played Withers, a schoolteacher with a yen for sleuthing who becomes involved with a police inspector. The last film was released in 1937.
The Philo Vance detective novels by S. S. Van Dine inspired 15 feature films released from 1929 to 1947. The Canary Murder Case 1929, starring William Powell as Vance, has been called the first modern detective film. Initially made as a silent movie, it was converted into a talkie halfway through production. Co-star Louise Brooks was blacklisted by Paramount Pictures after famously refusing to return to Hollywood to dub her dialog. Powell played the suave New York detective in the first three films. A pre-Sherlock Holmes Basil Rathbone played Vance in the 4th movie. Powell returned once more for the fifth feature, the highly regarded The Kennel Murder Case 1933 produced by Warner Brothers.
Powell then landed his signature role playing the equally debonair Nick Charles opposite Myrna Loy as his carefree wife "Nora" in the Thin Man series. Six films in all were produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer from 1934 to 1947. Based on The Thin Man novel by Dashiell Hammett, these were witty, sophisticated romps that combined elements of the screwball comedy film within a complex murder mystery plot. In the middle of this series, RKO hired Powell and Jean Arthur for The Ex-Mrs. Bradford 1936, a breezy comedy-mystery that successfully replicated MGMs Thin Man formula. Warner Brothers responded with a similar comedy, Footsteps in the Dark 1941, with Errol Flynn playing a married stockbroker who leads a double life as a mystery writer/sleuth.
Many of the films of this period, including the Thin Man series, concluded with an explanatory detective denouement that quickly became a cinematic and literary cliche. With the suspects gathered together, the detective would dramatically announce that "The killer is in this very room!" before going over the various clues that revealed the identity of the murderer.
There were also a great many low-budget "old dark house" mysteries based on a standard formula that were plot- rather than star-driven. Some typical examples are The Cat Creeps 1930, a remake of The Cat and the Canary, The Monster Walks 1932, Night of Terror 1933 with Bela Lugosi, and One Frightened Night 1935.
The 1930s was the era of the elegant gentleman detective who solved drawing-room whodunit murders using his wits rather than his fists. Most were well-to-do amateur sleuths who solved crimes for their own amusement, carried no weapons, and often had quirky or eccentric personality traits. This type of crime-fighter fell out of fashion in the 1940s as a new breed of tough, hardboiled professional private detectives based on the novels of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and an ensuing slew of imitators were adapted to film.
2.3. History The 1940s–1950s
With the onset of World War II, crime films and melodramas in particular suddenly took on a dark mood of cynicism and despair that had not existed in the optimistic 1930s. Eventually, this cycle of films which cuts across several genres would be called film noir by French film critics. Pessimistic, unheroic stories about greed, lust, and cruelty became central to the mystery genre. Grim, violent films featuring cynical, trenchcoat-wearing private detectives who were almost as ruthless as the criminals they pursued became the industry standard. The wealthy, aristocratic sleuth of the previous decade was replaced by the rough-edged, working-class gumshoe. Humphrey Bogart became the definitive cinema shamus as Sam Spade in Hammetts The Maltese Falcon 1941 and as Philip Marlowe in Chandlers The Big Sleep 1946. Dick Powell also made an indelible impression as Marlowe in the classic Murder, My Sweet 1944, adapted from Chandlers Farewell, My Lovely. The Falcon Takes Over 1942, starring George Sanders, was also based on the same novel.
Lady in the Lake 1947, from the Raymond Chandler novel, starred Robert Montgomery, who also directed. This film was filmed entirely from Marlowes viewpoint. The audience sees only what he does. Montgomery only appears on camera a few times, once in a mirror reflection. Another Chandler novel The High Window was made into the film The Brasher Doubloon also 1947 starring George Montgomery. This was essentially a remake of Time to Kill 1942, a Michael Shayne adventure starring Lloyd Nolan. Chandler also wrote an original screenplay for The Blue Dahlia 1946 starring Alan Ladd. The Glass Key 1942, also starring Ladd, was the second film adaptation of Hammetts novel.
Another standout film of this period is Out of the Past 1947 starring Robert Mitchum, who would go on to play Philip Marlowe three decades later. Otto Premingers Laura 1944 is also a classic murder mystery featuring Dana Andrews as a lone-wolf police detective.
Pulp novel detective Nick Carter returned in a trilogy of films released by MGM starring Walter Pidgeon: Nick Carter, Master Detective 1939, Sky Murder 1940, and Phantom Raiders 1940. Columbia produced a serial, Chick Carter, Detective 1946. The lead character was changed to Nick Carters son as the studio could not afford the rights to produce a Nick Carter serial. The whodunit novels of Baynard Kendrick about blind private detective Mac Maclain were made into two films starring Edward Arnold, Eyes in the Night 1942 and The Hidden Eye 1945.
The popular radio show The Whistler was turned into a series of 8 mystery films from 1944 to 1948. Richard Dix would introduce the stories and alternate between playing a hero, a villain, or a victim of circumstance. In Mysterious Intruder 1946, he was a private eye. It was one of the few series to gain acceptance with the public and critics alike. Another radio drama, I Love a Mystery 1939–1944, about a private detective agency, inspired three films starring Jim Bannon. I Love A Mystery 1945, The Devils Mask and The Unknown both 1946 combined offbeat murder mystery stories with atmospheric horror elements.
Chester Morris played Boston Blackie, a former jewel thief turned detective, in fourteen films from 1941 to 1949. Produced by Columbia Pictures, many were mysteries laced with comic relief such as Meet Boston Blackie 1941, Boston Blackie Booked on Suspicion 1945, The Phantom Thief 1945, and Boston Blackies Chinese Venture 1949. Columbia also turned the Crime Doctor radio show into a series of mystery films starring Warner Baxter. Most of them followed the standard whodunit formula. Ten features were produced beginning with Crime Doctor in 1943 and ending with Crime Doctors Diary 1949.
Another popular series featured George Sanders as the suave Falcon. Sixteen films were made from 1941 to 1949. Sanders decided to leave the series during the fourth entry, The Falcons Brother. His character was killed off and replaced by Sanders real-life brother, Tom Conway. Comedian Red Skelton played inept radio detective "The Fox" in a trio of comedies, Whistling in the Dark 1941, Whistling in Dixie 1942, and Whistling in Brooklyn 1943.
Brett Hallidays "Michael Shayne" detective novels were made into a series of 12 B-movies between 1940 and 1947 starring Lloyd Nolan and later Hugh Beaumont. Mickey Spillanes equally rugged Mike Hammer character was adapted to film with I, the Jury 1953, My Gun is Quick 1957, and the influential Kiss Me Deadly 1955. Spillane even played Hammer once in the 1963 film The Girl Hunters.
With Spellbound 1945, director Alfred Hitchcock created an early psychological mystery thriller. This film, along with Fear in the Night 1947, explores the effects of amnesia, hypnosis, and psychoanalysis. Both films also feature surreal dream sequences which are essential to the plot.
2.4. History Provisional detectives
A frequently used variation on the theme involved an average person who is suddenly forced to turn ad hoc detective in order to solve the murder of a friend or clear their own name. Prime examples include Jack Oakie in Super-Sleuth 1937, Ella Raines in Phantom Lady 1944, Lucille Ball in both The Dark Corner 1946 and Lured 1947, Alan Ladd in the aforementioned The Blue Dahlia as well as Calcutta 1947, George Raft in Johnny Angel 1945, June Vincent and Dan Duryea in Black Angel 1946, Humphrey Bogart in Dead Reckoning 1947, and Dick Powell in Cry Danger 1951.
Perhaps the last word in this subgenre is D.O.A. 1950, where a man dying from a slow-acting poison has to solve his own murder in the hours he has left. This film was remade in 1969 as Color Me Dead and again as D.O.A. in 1988.
Also among this group, the issue of racism as motive for murder is central to Crossfire 1947, Bad Day at Black Rock 1954, and A Soldiers Story 1984.
2.5. History Ten Little Indians
Agatha Christies novel Ten Little Indians presented the concept of a mysterious killer preying on a group of strangers trapped at an isolated location in this case, Indian Island. This was made into And Then There Were None 1945, directed by the French exile Rene Clair. Three more film versions, all titled Ten Little Indians, were released in 1965, 1974, and 1989 along with the 1987 Russian film Desyat Negrityat.
This premise has been used countless times, especially in "old dark house" genre horror films. A few examples include Five Dolls for an August Moon 1970 directed by Mario Bava, Identity 2003, Mindhunters 2004, made-for-television films Dead Mans Island, 1996, a miniseries Harpers Island, 2009, and episodic television such as The Avengers "The Superlative Seven", The Wild West "The Night of The Tottering Tontine" both from 1967, and Remington "Steele Trap" in 1982.
2.6. History Revival and revisionist era: 1960s–1970s
The 1960s and 1970s saw a neo-noir resurgence of the hardboiled detective film and gritty police drama, based on the classic films of the past. These fall into three basic categories: modern updates of old films and novels, atmospheric period piece films set in the 1930s and 1940s, and new, contemporary detective stories that pay homage to the past.
2.7. History Classics made contemporary
Veteran private eye Philip Marlowe returned as a modern-day sleuth in Marlowe 1969 played by James Garner based on Chandlers The Little Sister, and in Robert Altmans revisionist The Long Goodbye 1973 played by Elliott Gould. Robert Mitchum played Marlowe in the remake of The Big Sleep 1978 set in contemporary London. Paul Newman portrays a modernized Lew Archer changed to Harper in Harper 1966 and The Drowning Pool 1976, based on Ross Macdonalds 1949–50 novels.
Craig Stevens reprised his role as suave private eye Peter Gunn in Gunn 1967, a sixties-mod update of his atmospheric, film noir Peter Gunn TV series 1958–61. Bulldog Drummond returned as a contemporary sleuth in Deadlier Than the Male 1967 and Some Girls Do 1969. Both films were produced in the extravagant style of a James Bond espionage yarn. The remake of I, the Jury 1982 brought back Mike Hammer revived again in the 1984–87 television series, Mickey Spillanes Mike Hammer. Kiss Bang 2005 is a modernized adaptation of Brett Hallidays 1941 Michael Shayne novel Bodies Are Where You Find Them.
The old-fashioned whodunit formula from the 1930s was given a fresh update in The List of Adrian Messenger 1963, Sleuth 1972, The Last of Sheila 1973, and the comedy Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? 1978.
The early films of Brian De Palma include the slasher comedy Murder la Mod 1968, the Hitchcock-inspired Sisters 1973, and Obsession 1976, a remake of Hitchcocks 1958 classic Vertigo. The influence of Hitchcock emerged in several French thrillers, especially The Champagne Murders 1967 directed by Claude Chabrol and The Bride Wore Black 1968 by François Truffaut.
2.8. History Period films
The many period films set in the 1930s and 1940s are led by Roman Polanskis classic Chinatown 1974 starring Jack Nicholson and its belated sequel, The Two Jakes 1990, which Nicholson also directed. Robert Mitchum played Marlowe for the first time in Farewell, My Lovely 1975, perhaps the most faithful adaptation of this often-filmed book. The obscure Chandler 1972 is set in the 1940s but has nothing to do with Raymond Chandlers writings. The television film Goodnight, My Love 1972 with Richard Boone and two short-lived TV series, Banyon 1972–73 and City of Angels 1976 were also set in the 1930s and pay tribute to the Sam Spade/Philip Marlowe model. And the television film Who Is the Black Dahlia? 1975 recreates the true unsolved murder case from 1947.
Agatha Christies elegant Murder on the Orient Express 1974 and Death on the Nile 1978 were colorful, lavish productions rich in 1930s period detail. Earlier, a series of lighthearted Miss Marple mysteries were loosely adapted from Christies novels. Margaret Rutherford starred in Murder, She Said 1961, Murder Most Foul 1964, Murder Ahoy! 1965, and did a humorous cameo appearance as Marple in the Hercule Poirot mystery The Alphabet Murders 1965.
The evergreen Sherlock Holmes was given a revisionist treatment in Billy Wilders The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes 1970. In The Seven Percent Solution 1976, Dr. Sigmund Freud himself cures Holmes of his drug addiction. And two films, A Study in Terror 1965 and Murder by Decree 1979, which includes scenes of lurid gore, put Holmes in pursuit of the mysterious real-life serial murderer Jack the Ripper. The definitive and most faithful adaptation of the original stories was done by the British TV series The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes starring Jeremy Brett as Holmes and David Burke as Watson, in 41 episodes which ran from 1984–1994.
Later Holmes films are often inventions that have little or nothing to do with the original Arthur Conan Doyle stories, such as Young Sherlock Holmes 1985, produced by Steven Spielbergs Amblin Entertainment, which puts the teenage sleuth in an action-adventure story replete with computer-generated special effects. The reinvention of Holmes has continued as evidenced by the revamped, big-budget Warner Bros. series directed by Guy Ritchie. In Sherlock Holmes 2009 and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows 2011, the cerebral detective played by Robert Downey, Jr. is transformed into an athletic and romantic action hero in a steampunk fantasy version of Victorian England.
2.9. History The New Wave
The New Wave of modern detective films may well begin with Jean-Luc Godards offbeat Alphaville 1965 with its traditional, raincoat-and-fedora private eye placed in a futuristic, science fiction-based story. The film is part homage, part parody of the detective genre. Godard followed this with Made in U.S.A. 1966, an ironic, unconventional murder mystery of sorts that lightly references the Howard Hawks classic The Big Sleep.
Frank Sinatra is a cynical, Bogart-like gumshoe in Tony Rome 1967 and its sequel Lady in Cement 1968 - and a tough police investigator in The Detective 1968. John D. MacDonald wrote 21 Travis McGee novels, but only one, Darker than Amber 1970 was filmed. George Peppard is a traditional private detective in P.J. 1968. Kirk Douglas is an ex-cop turned private sleuth/body guard in the more light-hearted A Lovely Way to Die 1968. Robert Culp and Bill Cosby are hard-luck private eyes in the downbeat and violent Hickey & Boggs 1972. Burt Reynolds plays a tongue-in-cheek Shamus 1973, and Burt Lancaster is a retired cop turned sleuth in The Midnight Man 1974. Two of the finest examples star Gene Hackman in The Conversation 1974 and Night Moves 1975.
The blaxploitation B-movie industry adopted the standard private detective format for several action-mysteries such as Trouble Man 1972, Black Eye 1974, Sheba, Baby 1975 starring Pam Grier, and Velvet Smooth 1976.
Brick 2005, written and directed by Rian Johnson, is a unique homage bordering on parody which brings the terse, slang-filled dialog of Raymond Chandler to a modern-day California high school where a teenage sleuth investigates a murder connected to a drug ring.
Noteworthy police detective dramas of the period include The French film The Sleeping Car Murders 1965, In the Heat of the Night winner of five Academy Awards, including Best Picture in 1967, Bullitt, Madigan both 1968, Klute 1971, Electra Glide in Blue 1973, and two non-mysteries: Dirty Harry, and The French Connection both 1971. The Parallax View 1974 is the first murder mystery structured around political assassinations and high-level conspiracies in America.
2.10. History Memory loss mysteries
Using amnesia as a central plot device in mysteries began in 1936 with Two in the Dark remade as Two OClock Courage, 1945, followed by Crossroads 1942 starring William Powell, Crime Doctor 1943, The Power of the Whistler 1945, and Somewhere in the Night 1946.
In the 1960s amnesia stories had a resurgence in the mystery-thriller genre. Here the protagonist loses his pre-existing memories after some mental or physical trauma and embarks on a quest to recover his identity. At the same time he finds himself at the center of a mysterious conspiracy involving murder, espionage, or both. Films in this category include Mirage with Gregory Peck, The Third Day starring George Peppard, the British film Hysteria from Hammer Films all from 1965, Mister Buddwing 1966 with James Garner, and Jigsaw 1968, a remake of Mirage.
Concurrently, the hero-gets-amnesia story became a frequently used television cliche see TV Tropes. There were two series, the western A Man Called Shenandoah 1965–1966, and the contemporary drama Coronet Blue filmed 1965, broadcast 1967, both about a man with no memories. Numerous crime-dramas, adventure shows, and comedies featured episodes in which the lead character has temporary amnesia. These include The Addams Family, The Munsters both 1965, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. 1966, Get Smart 1967, The Wild West, The Big Valley, Star Trek all from 1968, It Takes a Thief 1969, The Mod Squad 1971, Hawaii Five-O 1972, Gunsmoke 1973, and Charlies Angels 1978. By the end of the 1970s, this now shop-worn plot device became dormant once again until resurfacing in a spate of mystery thrillers in the 1990s see the Psychological thriller section below.
2.11. History Italian Giallo thrillers
In Italy, a new type of controversial horror-based thriller called the Giallo film which began in the 1960s became a popular and influential genre by the early 1970s. Films in this category range from police procedurals to gothic horror. The stories tend to center around a series of grisly murder sequences with shocking grand guignol style gore, sometimes mixed with sadistic eroticism the victims often being beautiful women. The villains are usually mysterious, psychopathic serial killers often wearing masks or disguises who are eventually hunted down by the police and/or an average person turned sleuth. The first important film in this genre is Blood and Black Lace 1964 directed by Mario Bava.
Some examples that follow a standard murder mystery format include Five Dolls for an August Moon 1970 by Mario Bava, three by director Dario Argento: The Cat o Nine Tails, Four Flies on Grey Velvet both 1971, and Deep Red 1975 – as well as A Lizard in a Womans Skin 1971, The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh 1971, Black Belly of the Tarantula 1971, Who Saw Her Die? 1972, What Have You Done to Solange? 1972, Casa dappuntamento aka The French Sex Murders, 1972, and The Red Queen Kills Seven Times 1972.
The Giallo style has had an enduring influence on horror films in general as well as the subgenre slasher and splatter films that would soon follow. Early examples of this influence can be seen in the British Circus of Fear 1966, based on a Edgar Wallace novel, Berserk! 1967, and the American mystery-thrillers No Way to Treat a Lady 1968, Klute 1971, Pretty Maids All in a Row 1971, based on an Italian novel, Eyes of Laura Mars 1978, and Hitchcocks Frenzy 1972.
2.12. History From Blowup to Blow Out
One mystery film stands out in a category by itself. Michelangelo Antonionis provocative Blowup 1966 is a unique anti-whodunit symbolizing the aimless hedonism of the 1960s. A swinging London photographer uncovers clues to a murder, but solving the crime is rendered irrelevant in a society where no one really cares. This contrasts sharply with the ending of The Maltese Falcon where Sam Spade solves the murder of his partner, Miles Archer. He sacrifices the woman hes fallen for, not because he was fond of Archer he wasnt, but because its the right thing to do.
In 1981, Brian De Palma remade this as Blow Out, turning it into a more traditional political thriller. In the DVD audio commentary for The Conversation, director Francis Ford Coppola revealed that Blowup was a major source of inspiration for that film.
Electra Glide in Blue 1973 is another rare example of a murder-mystery plot used as a vehicle for a story concerning greater issues. In this case, disillusionment and the death of dreams and idealism in a world full of immorality.
2.13. History The 1980s to the present
Since the mid-1970s, only a handful of films with private detectives have been produced. These include I, the Jury, Angel Heart, Hollywood Harry, The Two Jakes, Devil in a Blue Dress, Pure Luck, Under Suspicion, Twilight with Paul Newman, and Ben Afflecks Gone Baby Gone.
Raymond Chandlers original Philip Marlowe short stories from the 30s which he later expanded into novels were adapted by the HBO cable network into eleven one-hour episodes for cable television. The series, Philip Marlowe: Private Eye 1983–1986, starred Powers Boothe as the hard-bitten detective.
Films with female detectives have not fared well. Kathleen Turner as private eye V.I. Warshawski 1991, was to be the start of a new franchise based on the book series by Sara Paretsky, but the film was a box-office failure. Plans to turn the Honey West novels into a film have been in and out of development for over a decade with no film in sight.
Since 1980, ten films based on the ever-popular novels of Agatha Christie have been released. Two with eccentric sleuth Hercule Poirot, Evil Under the Sun 1982, Appointment with Death 1988, and one with Miss Marple The Mirror Crackd 1980. Christie herself became the subject of a mystery film in 1979s Agatha starring Vanessa Redgrave. The film was a fictional speculation on her famous 11-day disappearance in 1926.
2.14. History Military mysteries and police procedurals
Complex murder mysteries related to military men began with Crossfire 1947. More recent examples include A Soldiers Story 1984, No Way Out 1987, The Presidio 1988, A Few Good Men 1992, Courage Under Fire 1996, The Generals Daughter 1999, and Basic 2003.
The police procedural film, often with a surprise twist ending, has also remained a vital format with Cruising 1980, Gorky Park 1983, Tightrope 1984, The Dead Pool 1988, Mississippi Burning 1988, Mortal Thoughts 1991, Rising Sun 1993, Striking Distance 1993, The Usual Suspects 1995, Lone Star 1996, Under Suspicion 2000, Blood Work 2002, Mystic River 2003, Mindhunters 2004, In the Valley of Elah 2007, and Righteous Kill 2008.
The political thriller involving murder, cover-ups, and high-level conspiracies is represented by such films as JFK 1991, Murder at 1600 1997, Enemy of the State 1998, State of Play 2009, and Madras Cafe 2013.
2.15. History Horror and thriller
In the 1990s and early 2000s, many horror films and thrillers started to blend mystery and suspense into stories centered around clever, sociopathic serial killers or various mysterious supernatural occurrences. The Hannibal Lecter novels by Thomas Harris have inspired four films, Manhunter 1986, the Academy Award-winning The Silence of the Lambs 1991, Hannibal 2001, and Red Dragon 2002.
Other films in which this blend occurs include When the Bough Breaks 1994, Seven 1995, Kiss the Girls 1997, adapted from the James Patterson novel, The Bone Collector 1999, Mercy 2000, Along Came a Spider 2001, also by Patterson, Insomnia 2002, and Taking Lives 2004.
The 2007 film Zodiac is an account of the real hunt for a serial killer in the San Francisco area in the late-1960s and early 1970s. Contemporary real-life serial killings have been portrayed in The Alphabet Killer, Ed Gein, Gacy, Ted Bundy and Dahmer. The French period-piece film Brotherhood of the Wolf 2001 examines a series of killings that took place in France in the 18th century.
In many modern day mystery films, everyday characters are dragged into a dangerous conflict or a mysterious situation, either by fate or their own curiosity. Common elements in these stories include searching for a missing person a friend or family member as in Flightplan 2005 with Jodie Foster, while being surrounded by red herrings, espionage, criminal or political conspiracies, and friends/relatives with a secret past or a double life.
Such films include the horror mysteries Scream and its sequels 1996–2011, the Saw franchise 2004–2010, The Orphanage 2006, What Lies Beneath 2000, Cry Wolf 2005, Devil 2010, The Ring 2002 and the mystery thrillers Secret Window 2004, The Machinist 2004, The Forgotten 2005, The Number 23 2006, and Identity 2003.
The retrograde amnesia plot also resurfaced in a new wave of mysteries where discovering the lead characters true identity and/or history forms the core of the story. Main examples include: The Morning After 1986, Shattered 1991, The Long Kiss Goodnight 1996, Memento 2000, the Bourne film series 2002–2012, and Shutter Island 2010. Kenneth Branaghs highly stylized Dead Again 1991 pays homage to Hitchcock and Orson Welles in a complex story of amnesia, hypnosis, and reincarnation. There are also science fiction thrillers such as Total Recall 1990, remade in 2012, and Paycheck 2003 which center around technology-induced memory loss.
2.16. History Revisionist period piece films
Period-piece L.A. police detective stories set in the 1940s and 1950s returned - with a harder edge and occasional parallels to contemporary issues - in Mulholland Falls 1996, and L.A. Confidential 1997 which was nominated for nine Academy Awards and won two. Both True Confessions 1981 and De Palmas The Black Dahlia 2006 are based on an actual unsolved Hollywood murder case from 1947. Hollywoodland 2006 explores the mysterious 1959 death of actor George Reeves, who is portrayed by Ben Affleck.
Raymond Chandlers final unfinished novel, Poodle Springs, from 1958, was completed by another author and made into an HBO cable film in 1998. Set in 1963, it stars James Caan as Philip Marlowe.
Among the few nostalgia-based comedy-mysteries are the board game-inspired Clue 1985, set in 1954, and Radioland Murders 1994, which recreates the era of old-time radio programs and pays homage to 1930s screwball comedies. Larry Blamires Dark and Stormy Night 2009, set in 1930, spoofs the cliched characters and plot elements of vintage "old dark house" murder mysteries.
Devil in a Blue Dress 1995, set in Los Angeles c. 1948, features an African-American private eye. The film captures the atmosphere of the hard-boiled detective stories of the past as well as the racial climate of the times.
Coming full circle, Robert Altmans nostalgic Gosford Park 2001, set in an English mansion in 1932, is an original story that revives the old-fashioned murder mystery format.
3. Genre blends: horror, fantasy, science fiction, historical
By the 1970s and 1980s, detective and mystery stories began to appear in other genres, sometimes as the framing device for a horror, fantasy or science fiction film or placed in an earlier, nontraditional time period.
- Hec Ramsey, a 1972–74 television series starred Richard Boone as a Sherlock Holmes-type detective in the Old West at the turn of the 20th century.
- The Harry Potter films 2001–2011 are fantasy stories that contain many mysteries concerning the main characters, especially in the first three entries: The Philosophers Stone 2001, The Chamber of Secrets 2002 and The Prisoner of Azkaban 2004.
- The Wisdom Tree 2013, is an independent film that blends science fiction with mystery and mysticism, art and music.
- Escape to Witch Mountain 1975, Return from Witch Mountain 1978 and Race to Witch Mountain 2009, created by Alexander Key and produced by The Walt Disney Company are about two children from another world searching for their origins.
- Alien Nation 1988, a murder-mystery police procedural in a science fiction setting. A race of stranded aliens must co-exist with humans on Earth in the near future. The story uses aliens to explore the issues of xenophobia, exploitation, and racism.
- Faceless 1988 is a gory Jess Franco private-eye horror-mystery.
- Angel Heart 1987, set in 1948, begins as a retro detective yarn but soon becomes a supernatural horror shocker. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me 1992, and the cult TV series of which this is a prequel, also blends murder-mystery forensic work with supernatural horror.
- Someone Behind You 2007, is a South Korean supernatural thriller/murder mystery based on a comic book.
- Yesterday Was a Lie 2008, neo-noir black-and-white detective mystery combines science fantasy and film noir.
- Blade Runner 1982, a neo-noir science fiction classic set in the future. This comes closest to capturing the spirit of Raymond Chandlers Marlowe with Harrison Fords sardonic, voice-over narration.
- Looker 1981, a science fiction murder mystery film involving futuristic computer technology.
- Eyes of Laura Mars 1978 is a Giallo-inspired murder mystery thriller that involves the paranormal.
- The Name of the Rose 1986, from the Umberto Eco novel, features a 13th-century Sherlock Holmsian monk. The medieval era Cadfael series of television mysteries also took the form of historical fiction.
- The Reckoning 2003, a murder-mystery set in medieval England.
- The Ring 2002 is a horror mystery in which a reporter named Rachel Keller investigates the origins of a cursed videotape which threatens to take her life.
- The Reincarnation of Peter Proud 1975, supernatural detective story about a man who solves his own murder from a previous life.
- The science fiction films Soylent Green 1973, Outland 1981, Minority Report 2002, and I, Robot 2004 all involve futuristic police detectives solving a murder that leads to a larger conspiracy.
- Lord of Illusions 1995, Clive Barker story of supernatural horror with New York P.I. Harry DAmour, who has an affinity for the occult.
- Sleepy Hollow 1999, set in 1799, this features a constable who uses Holmsian scientific methods and forensic science to solve a series of murders in this horror-fantasy film from Tim Burton.
- Cast a Deadly Spell 1991 is a cable film with gumshoe Harry P. Lovecraft a reference to horror/fantasy author H. P. Lovecraft set in a fantasy version of 1948 Los Angeles where sorcery and voodoo abound. This was followed by Witch Hunt in 1994, a mock fantasy/mystery set in 1953. Private eye Lovecraft Dennis Hopper uncovers witchcraft and murder in Hollywood.
4. Parodies and homages
- Kiss Bang 2005, crime-noir comedy inspired by hardboiled detective fiction and vapid L.A. culture.
- Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man 1951, A&C are detectives out to save a man framed by mobsters.
- Gumshoe 1971 is a crime comedy about a man so inspired by Bogarts films he decides to play private eye.
- A trio of Chevy Chase comedies, Foul Play 1978, Fletch 1985, and Fletch Lives pays homage to vintage detective films and Hitchcock.
- Wheres Marlowe? 1998 drama about film makers following a low-level L.A. private detective.
- The Pink Panther 1964 is the first in a series of comedies featuring Peter Sellers as the bumbling Inspector Clouseau.
- The Late Show 1977, quirky, contemporary detective story is largely an affectionate tribute to the classic Hammett/Chandler era.
- Woody Allens nostalgia for film noir, mysteries, and Bogarts tough-guy persona is evident in Play it Again, Sam 1972, Manhattan Murder Mystery 1993, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion 2001 and Irrational Man 2015.
- Hammett 1982, fictional account of Dashiell Hammett involved in actual mysteries that inspired his novels.
- Trenchcoat 1983, comedy about a female mystery writer who has to solve a real crime.
- Clue 1985, set in 1956, a period-piece whodunit spoof based on the popular board game.
- A Low Down Dirty Shame 1994, comedy with Keenen Ivory Wayans as a private detective.
- I Heart Huckabees 2004 offbeat philosophical comedy involves two "existential detectives" Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin hired to uncover the meaning of life.
- In My Favorite Brunette 1947, Bob Hope is a cowardly baby photographer who is mistaken for a private detective played by Alan Ladd in a brief cameo. Later that year, The Bowery Boys released Hard Boiled Mahoney with the same mistaken-identity plot.
- The Singing Detective 1986, a British miniseries about a mystery writer named Philip Marlow who is confined to a hospital bed. There his vivid fantasies of being an old-fashioned gumshoe are brought to life. Later remade as a feature film The Singing Detective in 2003.
- The Gumshoe Kid 1990, an adolescent obsessed with Bogart gets his chance to be a detective in this R-rated comedy with Tracy Scoggins.
- Without a Clue 1988 comedy about an actor Michael Caine hired to impersonate Sherlock Holmes.
- The Scream franchise 1996-2011, which is a satire of the horror genre, has heavy elements of the detective, mystery and crime fiction genres, and is often self-referential.
- Dead Men Dont Wear Plaid 1982, set in the 1940s and filmed in black and white, Steve Martin plays a traditional hard-boiled detective who interacts with vintage film clips in Carl Reiners cut-and-paste film noir farce.
- Twilight 1998, Paul Newman stars in this old-fashioned private eye yarn thats reminiscent of earlier films in the genre as well as his two Lew Harper films.
- Broken Lizards Club Dread 2004 is a murder mystery film that spoofs slasher films.
- The Naked Detective 1996, an R-rated softcore parody of film noir with fetish model/actress Julia Parton.
- A Prairie Home Companion 2006, film of Garrison Keillors radio show features the recurring character Guy Noir, a Chandler-esque hardboiled detective whose adventures always wander into farce.
- Lady on a Train 1945 is a murder mystery comedy starring Deanna Durbin that also satirizes film noir.
- Dark and Stormy Night film 2009, affectionate "old dark house" spoof set in the 1930s.
- Who Done It? 1942, an Abbott and Costello comedy, is one of the first film spoofs of the genre.
- Grindhouse sexploitation filmmakers also spoofed the genre. Natures Playmates 1962 is one of exploitation producer H.G. Lewis many "nudie-cutie" flicks. A beautiful female private eye tours Florida nudist camps in search of a missing man with a distinctive tattoo. Surftide 77 1962 parodied TV detective series Surfside 6 1960–1962. Take It Out In Trade 1970 is Ed Woods softcore porn take on the Philip Marlowe films. Cry Uncle! 1971 is another sex comedy inspired by vintage private eye films. Ginger 1971, The Abductors 1972, and Girls Are for Loving 1973 are softcore sexploitation comedies featuring Cheri Caffaro as tough private-eye Ginger. England also produced the sex comedy Adventures of a Private Eye 1977.
- In 1987 Robert Mitchum was the guest host on Saturday Night Live where he played Philip Marlowe for the last time in the parody sketch, "Death Be Not Deadly". The show also ran a short film he made called Out of Gas, a mock sequel to his 1947 classic Out of the Past. Jane Greer reprised her role from the original film.
- In the season 6, episode 11 of Married. with Children, Al Bundy dreams hes a private detective whos being framed for the murder of a rich womans father.
- The Private Eyes 1980 is a detective comedy with Tim Conway and Don Knotts.
- Browns Requiem 1998, detective story based on James Ellroys Chandleresque first novel.
- The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes Smarter Brother 1975, a Gene Wilder comedy.
- They Might be Giants 1971 stars George C. Scott as a mental patient who believes he is Sherlock Holmes. He and his female psychiatrist Dr. Watson go on a Don Quixote-type odyssey through New York.
- The Black Bird 1975, critically panned comedy sequel to The Maltese Falcon starring George Segal as Sam Spade Jr. and Elisha Cook, Jr. reprising his role of Wilmer Cook.
- A Gun, a Car, a Blonde 1997, a paraplegics fantasy filmed in black and white of being a tough private eye in a 1950s film noir world.
- Camouflage 2001, private-eye comedy with Leslie Nielsen.
- Private Eyes 1953, The Bowery Boys open up a detective agency after Sach develops the ability to read minds.
- The Naked Gun 1988 and its sequels features Leslie Nielsen as an inept police lieutenant. Based on the short-lived Police Squad! TV series.
- Zero Effect 1998 updates the Sherlock Holmes concept with a detective who is brilliant when working on a case but an obnoxious cretin when off duty.
- The Man with Bogarts Face 1980, a detective has his face changed and becomes involved in a mystery that resembles The Maltese Falcon.
- Murder by Death 1976 is Neil Simons broad spoof of mystery films and Sam Spade, Charlie Chan, and Miss Marple. This was followed by The Cheap Detective 1978, an even broader spoof starring Peter Falk as a Bogart-like private eye.
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