Mystery / Film Noir

  • 99 River Street
    There are worse things than murder. You can kill a man one inch at a time. Another of my recommendations, Kansas City Confidential, brought together Director Phil Karlson, Producer Edward Small and Actor John Payne in 1952. They re-teamed the following year to make another fine film: 99 River Street. Payne is compelling as […]
  • Across 110th Street
    Blaxploitation films are often described as sloppily produced, overly violent, sexist, racist, and demeaning to their audiences. Those gibes definitely apply to many entries in the genre, but roses exist among the thorns, particularly when a film had a bit more budget than usual and drew on other genres in creative ways (e.g., Blacula, […]
  • Act of Violence
    Someone once defined the essentials of film noir as “a dame with a past and a guy with no future”. One could add to that another line , which is uttered by Burt Lancaster’s character in The Killers and captures the driving mood of a subset of these marvelous films: “I did something wrong […]
  • And Then There Were None
    Agatha’s Christie’s tale of 10 strangers on a remote island who are mysteriously killed off one by one has been adapted countless times on stage, on television and on the big screen. But it will be hard to ever top the 1945 version that was the highlight of the otherwise forgettable English-language phase of […]
  • Bend of the River and The Naked Spur **Double Feature**
    Nobody can hate like a good man, and maybe that’s why Jimmy Stewart was so magnetic and moving in the hard-bitten Westerns he made with Anthony Mann after World War II. Stewart was a huge star at the outbreak of the war, during which he served with distinction. When the All-American, gee-whiz nice guy […]
  • Black Angel
    Dan Duryea, sometimes called “the heel with sex appeal” was usually cast as a second lead or a one-dimensional villain (For example in the outstanding noir Too Late for Tears, recommended here). But in 1946, he landed a leading part that let him show that he could portray complex characters with competing motives: Black […]
  • Bonnie and Clyde
    Hollywood studios were in a rut in the late 1950s and early 1960s, struggling to cope with the rise of television, the loss of control of movie theaters after the Paramount case, and a widening cultural chasm between modern audience tastes and studio traditions. In desperation, the studio chiefs opened up filmmaking to a […]
  • Boomerang!
    The duty of the prosecutor is to seek justice, not merely to convict. 1947’s Boomerang!, based on a real-life murder case that was never solved, stands out among Hollywood’s many courtroom dramas due to its excellent acting, unusual plot structure and creative storytelling style. The crime that provides the basis for the movie occurred […]
  • Brighton Rock
    The 2010 remake of Brighton Rock got mixed reviews, so I recommend discovering instead the 1947 original, which is both a fine character study and a solid piece of British film noir. Made just after the war by the Boulton Brothers, this story of razor-wielding gangsters was considered shocking in its day. Though a […]
  • Bullitt
    Steve McQueen had an incredible run of hits in the 1960s, which put him in position to start his own production company. Solar Production’s original six film deal with Warner Brothers eventually fell apart and only resulted in one film, but what a film: Bullitt. The first time through, what stays with most people […]
  • Chiefs
    Chiefs was broadcast on CBS 30 years ago and like millions of other Americans I was glued to the set each night as its sprawling, multi-generational tale of law enforcement, small town life, racism and the hunt for a clever serial killer unfolded. The mini-series centers on three police chiefs in the town of […]
  • Cotton Comes to Harlem
    When you steal from white people, that’s your business. But when you steal from Black people, that’s my business! So growls badass but ethical Police Detective Ed Coffin (Raymond St. Jacques), who along with his more laid back but equally badass partner Gravedigger Jones (Godfrey Cambridge) protects the Black community in the most successful […]
  • Cry Danger
    What the difference between a first time directorial outing by a former film editor versus that of a movie star? In general, about 10-20 minutes of unnecessary footage. As directors/producers, movie stars tend to have too much sympathy with the actors (especially if they have cast themselves in the film) and not enough with […]
  • D.O.A.
    I have recommended The Turning Point, starring Edmond O’Brien and featuring Neville Brand in a small part as a vicious killer. For a change of pace, let me also recommend a film starring Edmond O’Brien, featuring Neville Brand in a somewhat larger part as a vicious killer: 1950’s D.O.A. D.O.A. has one of best […]
  • Dear Murderer
    Have you been sleeping with my wife, my dear chap? Yes old man I’m afraid I have been. Cigarette? Thanks awfully. You realize old bean that I’ll have to murder you of course. I’d think very little of you if you didn’t. Care for some Scotch? I have a weakness for Brit movie dialogue […]
  • Defence of the Realm
    David Drury’s thriller Defence of the Realm is a taut British conspiracy tale set on Fleet Street. This 1986 film embodies the left-wing paranoia of the Thatcher years, with its deep scepticism of nuclear weapons, the US-British alliance, and grey men in dark suits secretly controlling society from their Whitehall back offices and private […]
  • Devil in a Blue Dress
    For years, I believed that no one would ever write a Los Angeles detective novel as well as did Raymond Chandler. But then a friend gave me the book Black Betty, which changed my mind. Walter Mosley’s detective, Ezekiel (Easy) Rawlins roams in an atmospheric, corrupt, and dangerous LA just as did Phillip Marlowe, […]
  • Dial M for Murder
    I have recommended a clutch of Hitchcock films (Notorious, Psycho, The 39 Steps, and The Lodger), but omitted some of his best known. Some of his classic films (e.g., Rear Window) have been written about so much that I can’ t think of anything novel to add. Others exceed my powers: I’ve seen Vertigo […]
  • Ellery Queen Mysteries
    In a few minutes, this man is going to be murdered. The question is: who killed him? Was it the frustrated nephew? The spurned housekeeper? The fiancé with a shady past? The willful heiress? Or was it someone else? Match wits with Ellery Queen, and see if you can guess who done it! Oh […]
  • Farewell, My Lovely
    A film critic once wrote of one of my recommendations, the 1998 retro-noir Twilight, that you might have to be over 35 to really enjoy it. That may also be true of this week’s film recommendation, a reverent revival of detective noir starring an old hand at the genre: 1975’s Farewell, My Lovely. The […]
  • Get Carter
    How appealing an actor is Sir Michael Caine? Put it this way: While watching him play Colonel Steiner in The Eagle Has Landed, a lot of otherwise sensible film goers find themselves rooting for the Nazis. In the classic 1971 Brit gangster film, Caine’s likability and magnetism are in full flower, as he somehow […]
  • Gilda
    Rita Hayworth was a big singing and dancing star of musicals in the early 1940s, but the film that made her an international sex bomb (literally) wasn’t released until 1946: Gilda. The plot, which echoes Casablanca in a number of respects, concerns a love triangle in a faraway land, in this case, Argentina. Johnny […]
  • Green for Danger
    If Lt. Columbo had been Scottish, he would have born a strong resemblance to Inspector Cockrill, as wonderfully played by Alastair Sim in 1946’s Green for Danger. In the film role that helped make him a huge star, Sim perfectly essays the role of the dowdy looking, socially clumsy police detective who has a […]
  • Hangover Square
    Supplementing my recommendation of The Charmer, I offer another Patrick Hamilton adaptation, albeit one that departs more substantially from the original novel: 1945’s Hangover Square. The plot: In Edwardian London, brilliant, troubled classical composer George Bone (Laird Cregar) suffers fugue states during which he commits violent acts which he cannot recall afterwards. As Bone […]
  • He Walked By Night
    Crime investigation procedurals became popular after World War II and continue to be a staple of television and movies today. A fine example of the form with pronounced noir elements is 1948’s He Walked by Night. Normally, police detectives have substantial advantages over perpetrators. The typical violent offender is unintelligent, impulsive, minimally-skilled and ignorant […]
  • I Walk Alone
    Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas had remarkably parallel careers. They both made their first film in 1946, quickly became huge international stars, and maintained their cinematic dominance for decades. Both were handsome, athletic men who were also intelligent enough to play parts with nuance and depth. Both ultimately broke away from the studio system […]
  • In a Lonely Place
    To hell with happiness. More important was excitement and power and the hot stir of lust. Those made you forget. Dorothy Hughes’ bewitching and disturbing novel In a Lonely Place was thankfully re-issued by New York Review of Books in 2017. It very much recalls some of Jim Thompson’s darkest works, though she’s arguably […]
  • Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978 Version)
    When I recommend multiple adaptations of the same story, I typically package them as double or triple features. But in this case, the remake of a classic film I have recommended is so well-made and so distinctly its own work of art that I grant it an essay of its own: the 1978 version […]
  • It Always Rains on Sunday
    There’s a special joy that comes when you watch an old movie with no preconceptions because you’ve never heard of it and come away loving it. That’s the lucky experience I had some years ago with It Always Rains on Sunday. A big hit for Ealing Studios in 1947, it was forgotten in the […]
  • Kansas City Confidential
    In the years after the war, actor John Payne, director Phil Karlson, and producer Edward Small collaborated in various configurations, yielding a solid run of modestly-budgeted, high quality films. The post-war period saw many movies merge elements of film noir with the traditions of the gangster melodrama, including the first collaboration of these three […]
  • Kiss Me Deadly
    They? A wonderful word. And who are they? They’re the nameless ones who kill people for the Great Whatsit. Does it exist? Who cares? Everyone everywhere is so involved in the fruitless search for what? In 1955, detective film noirs were nearing the end of their magnificent cycle, with seemingly little fresh to say. […]
  • Les Yeux Sans Visage
    In the decades immediately following the war, French film makers didn’t produce many horror movies, but when they did they took more risks than studios in other countries who simply revived classic monsters or reworked hoary ghost stories. Among the most compelling and influential of such productions shocked audiences when it was released in […]
  • Lured
    No doubt you have often said “I’d love to watch a 1947 Douglas Sirk movie starring Lucille Ball and Boris Karloff that was a remake of a French film and was re-made again a half century later with Lucy’s part played by Al Pacino.” Okay, you’ve never said that, but nonetheless I gave you […]
  • Män Som Hatar Kvinnor
    The left-wing Swedish author Stieg Larsson had a strange and remarkable life. As a teenager, he witnessed some of his friends commit gang rape, and was haunted thereafter both by guilt about his failure to intervene and the omnipresence of violence against women. As a journalist he was unknown outside of Sweden when he […]
  • Marlowe
    Immediately after reading Raymond Chandler’s splendid The Little Sister, I decided to revisit a 1969 adaptation of the book I remembered liking many years ago. I am happy to report that having read the source material made me appreciate the movie version even more than I did the first time through. Therefore I give […]
  • My Name is Julia Ross and Dead of Winter **Double Feature**
    The 1941 novel The Woman in Red has been used as the basis of a film twice, with a four-decade gap between versions. As a special double feature, I recommend both adaptations: 1945’s My Name is Julia Ross and 1987’s Dead Of Winter. My Name is Julia Ross was a modestly budgeted Columbia production […]
  • Nightmare Alley
    Tyrone Power was one of most dashing leading men in Hollywood history and was a massive box office draw beginning in the mid-1930s. However, after many swashbuckling Saturday matinees, musicals, and romantic dramas, he longed to do something more weighty. He used his star power to convince a skeptical Daryl Zanuck to produce a […]
  • Notorious
    Nazis in hiding! Smuggled uranium! Espionage! All minor distractions from the central tantalizing mystery that keeps the audience in delicious suspense: Does Cary Grant’s character really love Ingrid Bergman’s or not? It’s all there in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1946 classic Notorious. The plot: Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman, in one of her career-defining roles) is the […]
  • Obsession
    In my recommendation of Dear Murderer, I described my fondness forBritish films in which brutal people say awful things with perfect manners and diction. Another fine example of the “Terribly sorry old chap, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to kill you” school of Brit Noir is 1949’s Obsession. Like Dear Murderer, the […]
  • Outland
    Disappointed in “Cowboys and Aliens” and looking for a film that does a better job of blending the Western and Sci-Fi genres? Look no further than the gritty and exciting Peter Hyams film Outland. The plot of one decent man fighting a corrupt system while trying to redeem himself at the same time is […]
  • Peter Gunn
    I haven’t owned a television for a quarter century, and almost never recommend television shows because I don’t know enough to judge them. But I am happy to make an exception for a trendsetting, utterly fresh, and cool as all get out TV series that ran from 1958-1961: Peter Gunn. Blake Edwards, prior to […]
  • Pickup on South Street
    Many films have been set in seamy settings where everyone is on the make, believing in nothing and exuding cynicism until something comes along to drive one person into moral behavior (e.g., The Third Man, Casablanca, The Mission). Sometimes what makes the worm turn is romance, sometimes it’s an attack of conscience, sometimes it’s […]
  • Plunder Road
    Some decades ago, after being up all night playing cards with a Papua-New Guinean family on their first train journey across America, I sat down in the observation car to watch the sun rise over the Utah Salt Flats. A tired-looking middle-aged woman sat down directly opposite me but looked away, as if she […]
  • Point Blank
    The above is one of the many memorable shots (accompanied by even more memorable sound!) in this week’s film recommendation, Director John Boorman’s outstanding 1967 US debut film: Point Blank. Point Blank weds the style and techniques of 1960s experimentalism with the traditional gangster/crime melodrama, with unique and unforgettable results. The film begins with […]
  • Psycho
    Part of Alfred Hitchcock’s magnificence as a filmmaker stemmed from his restlessness. He ruled 1950s cinema, delighting both audiences and critics with big budget, suspense-and-romance movies shot in glossy color. The studio heads at Paramount Pictures expected that for the final film he was contracted to shoot for them, he would go back to […]
  • Railroaded!
    Anthony Mann is justly revered by film buffs for his noir westerns with Jimmy Stewart, but he alo essayed more traditional urban noirs. One of the best is his 1947 low-budget triumph, Railroaded!. The film opens with a high-voltage portrayal of a blown stickup, as some luckless bad guys fail to get away clean […]
  • Ride the Pink Horse
    I have recommended Dorothy Hughes’ dark novel In a Lonely Place and its classic film adaptation. Almost as good is a 1947 adaptation of a crime thriller she set in her home town of Santa Fe, New Mexico: Ride the Pink Horse. Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer, two of Hollywood’s finest screenwriters, adapted her […]
  • Seance on a Wet Afternoon
    Most movies fit into particular genres, with plots that in at least some respects are recycled. There is nothing inherently wrong with this: The same thing could after all be said of almost all of Shakespeare’s plays. But just as The Tempest is refreshing because of its novelty, so too are films with unique […]
  • Strange Impersonation
    Let’s get one thing out of the way up front: The only plot elements in Strange Impersonation that are not utterly predictable are completely preposterous. But everything else is right in the under-appreciated Anthony Mann’s 1946 noirish tale of two formidable women locked in intellectual and romantic combat. The film was made just after […]
  • Taste of Fear
    London-based Hammer Films had a fertile and fiscally rewarding period in the 1950s and 1960s styling itself as the British second coming of the old Universal Studios Monster Movies. They gave Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Mummy quite a workout, relying on generally solid and scary scripts, a stable of dependable stage-trained actors, not-bad special […]
  • The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
    Beginning with a Mutoscope adaptation made in 1900, Sherlock Holmes has been one of the most oft-portrayed roles in world cinema. Among the most handsome of the countless movie productions featuring the world’s greatest consulting detective were made by 20th Century Fox in 1939. The first of these was the excellent Hound of the […]
  • The Blue Carbuncle
    Christmas time is here, happiness and cheer, fun for all, that children call, their favorite time of year! Mine too, not least because there are so many enjoyable Christmas films to recommend, including an episode from Granada Television’s justly revered Sherlock Holmes series: The Blue Carbuncle. Eccentric, unstable, dashing Jeremy Brett, whose acting (as […]
  • The Charmer
    The movies have been good to British novelist and playwright Patrick Hamilton (1904-1962), who might otherwise not be remembered at all even though he produced some good work and claimed some significant admirers before depression and heavy drinking dissipated his gifts. Hitchcock’s Rope, two versions of Gaslight, and Hangover Square all remain eminently watchable […]
  • The Chase
    The Chase is an obscure, strange, yet compelling 1946 film noir. Made through low budget studio Monogram but released by United Artists, this off-beat movie is not for all tastes, but has developed a cult following among fans of the genre. Based on a Cornell Woolrich’s pulp crime novel, the film tells the story […]
  • The Crooked Way
    Amnesia is one of the most overused and hokey plot devices in film. Yet if the rest of the elements of a good movie are wrapped around it, viewers can suspend disbelief and really enjoy themselves. A perfect example is 1949’s The Crooked Way. The plot: A war veteran who thinks his name is […]
  • The Hands of Orlac
    The idea that a possession or even more creepily a body part of a dead person can take over the life of its living owner has appeared in fairy tales and ghost stories for centuries. In cinema, the touchstone story of this sort is Maurice Renard’s 1920 novel Les Mains d’Orlac, which has been […]
  • The Hitch-Hiker
    Ida Lupino was a central figure in the breaking of the all-male lock on the Hollywood director’s chair. While she was looking for a new project to make with her then-husband Collier Young, she met one of the men who had been kidnapped and forced to drive through Mexico by spree killer Billy Cook. […]
  • The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)
    Hound of the Baskervilles has a special place in The Sherlock Holmes canon. Arthur Conan Doyle’s story is substantially longer than the typical Holmes outing, allowing him to weave two distinct mystery tales together. It’s also remarkable for putting Watson at center stage for a significant part of the book, allowing the sidekick a […]
  • The Innocents
    Many an eerie film has been described as a “spine-tingling” experience, but few live up to that description literally for most cineastes. The movie that did that to me more than any other, giving me physical shivers like a bucket of ice down my back, is The Innocents. Producer/Director Richard Clayton’s 1961 art house […]
  • The Kennel Murder Case
    In Hollywood detective serials of the 1930s and 1940s, it was downright dangerous to be an industrialist, socialite, European baronet, heiress or well-heeled widow: You had precious little chance of surviving until the end credits. On the other hand, appropriate to your upper class status, a suave, well-dressed sleuth who moved in your circles […]
  • The Lady Vanishes
    As the British phase of his magnificent career was winding down, Alfred Hitchcock turned in a film as entertaining as anything he would make in America: 1938’s The Lady Vanishes. For the first 25 minutes, the movie is a light-hearted romantic comedy featuring an utterly charming Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgrave as, respectively, a […]
  • The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane
    Hollywood superstar Jodie Foster had a remarkable 1976, with five movies hitting the theaters. They showcased her talent and poise — both startling for an actress who has just become a teenager — and also the tendency of 1970s cinema to lionize teenage liberation while at the same time exploiting it through sexualization. Foster’s […]
  • The Lodger **Double Feature**
    I had long wanted to experience Alfred Hitchcock’s first foray into suspense, 1927’s The Lodger (sometimes subtitled “A Story of the London Fog”), but could never get through the film because the available prints were so beat up as to make it virtually unwatchable. To the rescue came British Film Institute, which despite the […]
  • The Long Arm
    If The Long Arm had been one of the films pitched to producers in Robert Altman’s superb film The Player, the pitcher would have said “It’s ‘Father Knows Best’ meets ‘Dragnet’! In London! And we’ll get that British guy to star, you know, uh, what’s-his-name!”. That ‘British guy’ in this case, would be Jack […]
  • The Naked City
    Disruptive innovations in technology have been one of the defining aspects of the short history of cinematic art. The introduction of sound in the 1920s, followed by color in the 1930s, followed much more recently by computer-generated imagery — all of which had profound creative implications — are the ones with which most movie […]
  • The Night Stalker and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde **Double Feature**
    I’m a fan of the horror and science fiction work of writer Richard Matheson and Producer/Director Dan Curtis, including films on which they collaborated, like the electrifying Amelia segment of Trilogy of Terror (My recommendation here) Their admirers could argue forever about which of their films were the most entertaining, but purely in terms […]
  • The Offence
    The James Bond films made Sean Connery an international superstar, but presented him few challenges as an actor. In the midst of Bondmania, desperate to avoid typecasting and to take on more substantial roles, Connery began collaborating with Director Sidney Lumet. This resulted in one financially successful and entertaining film (The Anderson Tapes), but […]
  • The Parallax View
    The horrifying assassinations of the 1960s generated countless conspiracy theories that continued to rattle about in the 1970s, particularly after Watergate further damaged the public’s faith in once-respected institutions. During this period, Alan J. Pakula was arguably the film maker who most effectively translated the public’s anxieties onto the screen. The two best known […]
  • The Prowler
    This week’s film recommendation is an unusual, disturbing film noir that has enjoyed a renaissance in recent years: 1951’s The Prowler. Made by left-wing artists who were being harassed by the House Un-American Activities Committee, it’s a dark take on class resentment, sexual repression, and the ruthless pursuit of the American dream. Many film […]
  • The Scarlet Claw
    Of the many film series of the 1930s and 1940s, Sherlock Holmes stood out both for its watchability and its unusual provenance. It was launched at 20th Century Fox in 1939 as a high-end period production. But after two very strong films, The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (my […]
  • The Sniper
    Edward Dmytryk was a talented filmmaker whose career and life were severely damaged during Hollywood’s red scare. As one of the Hollywood Ten, he refused to testify to the House of Un-American Activities Committee and was sentenced to jail. He fled to England, where he made some high quality films including another of my […]
  • The Spy Who Came in From the Cold
    What the hell do you think spies are? Moral philosophers measuring everything they do against the word of God or Karl Marx? They’re not! They’re just a bunch of seedy, squalid bastards like me: little men, drunkards, queers, hen-pecked husbands, civil servants playing cowboys and Indians to brighten their rotten little lives. So says […]
  • The Turning Point
    Recognizing that post-war audiences were gripped by more realistic, torn from the headlines crime stories, Hollywood producers were giddy over the Kefauver Committee’s investigation of organized crime. Many Americans were transfixed by the hearings, both because they provided their first glimpse into the workings of the Mafia and because they were on this new […]
  • The Web
    When I was in graduate school, I shared an apartment with a fellow student who was also a film buff. One night we were watching television and saw a commercial announcing that our cable provider would soon start carrying a channel called “American Movie Classics”. We sat there mesmerized as the advertisement trumpeted that […]
  • The White Knight Stratagem
    The White Knight Stratagem was the final episode of a handsomely produced 2000-2001 British television series that re-imagined the Sherlock Holmes stories. The protagonist of the Murder Rooms: The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes series was Arthur Conan Doyle (center of photo above) who learns the methods of Professor Joseph Bell (far right) as they […]
  • They Made Me a Fugitive
    Despite the end of the war, food, clothing and other essentials were rationed in Britain throughout the late 1940s, a policy so hated that it ultimately lead the voters to dump Atlee’s Labour government. Because post-war rationing was not seen as legitimate, many otherwise law-abiding people began buying goods on the black market. The […]
  • Timetable
    Many movies start out creative and intriguing but then at some point lapse into formulaic filmmaking, thereby disappointing the viewer. Mark Stevens’ 1956 film noir Timetable is an admirable example of the reverse phenomenon, a movie that starts out in familiar territory but ends up somewhere far more engaging: . The film opens with […]
  • Too Late for Tears
    I’ve recommended I Walk Alone, a 1948 gangster melodrama directed by Byron Haskin with Lizabeth Scott and Kristen Miller in supporting parts and Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas in the leads. The following year, the first three of those talented people re-teamed to make Too Late for Tears. This time around, men move to […]
  • Twilight
    My name is Harry Ross, and here’s the way my life has gone: First I was a cop and then a private detective. And then…a drunk. Also, in there somewhere, a husband and a father. You’d think with all that, the world would lose its power to seduce. But you’d be wrong. So intones […]
  • Where the Sidewalk Ends
    In 1944, Andrews and his frequent co-star Gene Tierney, Director/Producer Otto Preminger and Cinematographer Joseph LaShelle made Laura, a classic film of high society longing, love and murder. Take that same foursome, move the story setting down significantly in economic strata and add a dose of brutality and you have 1950’s Where the Sidewalk […]
  • Witness for the Prosecution
    Agatha Christie’s popular blend of mysterious murders, eccentric characters, droll humor, and surprise endings have translated smoothly into many entertaining movies, including some all time-classics. In that glittering club along with another of my recommendation (And Then There Were None) is Billy Wilder’s 1957 gem Witness for the Prosecution. Plot: While recovering from a […]