Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated Detective/Mystery films ""

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Underrated Detective/Mystery films

Welcome to my new list series! Hopefully I can keep these going for a while, but they may tend to get a bit specialized like this. I must admit that I've been really getting into this kind of film a lot more in the past three years so many of these have only been seen by me for the first time somewhat recently. The movies and lists should be rather varied in this series as the scope is a bit wide which will allow for private eye movies, police procedurals and other mystery-based films. Hope you enjoy!
My favorite of the Chan films that I've seen(about ten or so). This feels like a cross between Agatha Christie and Universal Horror. Also feels like something that John Carpenter might possibly have looked at before making THE THING. Great atmosphere on a low budget.

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THE LAST OF SHEILA(1973; Herbert Ross)
Anthony Perkins and Stephen Sondheim penned this fantastic whodunnit with a ridiculous cast. I know I rave about casts a lot here but this one is truly outstanding: Richard Benjamin, Dyan Cannon, James Coburn, James Mason, Ian McShane, Raquel Welch, and Joan Hackett.
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PENGUIN POOL MURDER (1932; George Archainbaud)
If ever a woman was born to play a role, Edna May Oliver was born to play Hildegarde Withers. She reminds me an indignant Carol Burnett on some level. Seeing she and James Gleason Play off each other makes it easy to see why this series of films was so popular(if perhaps too short lived). Oliver as the titular spinster school teacher/detective is a no-nonsense gal with little time or patience to suffer fools. Gleason's Inspector Piper is equally ill-equipped to deal with idiots so they shuffle them aside as they take in clues and motives to analyze on their way to crime solving. PENGUIN POOL MURDER is probably the best of all the Hildegarde Withers films as it is a tight, clever whodunnit with some interesting suspects and an intriguing locale (a local aquarium). Part of the Warner Archive Hildegarde Withers Mystery Collection.
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THE LATE SHOW (1977; Robert Benton)
I adore this flick and it is another that I find fascinating in that it came out in 1977. Though it may not have literally been in theaters at the same time as STAR WARS, I always imagine some older couple reading the newspaper and trying to decide if they should see that sci-fi thingy or the Art Carney movie. Anyway, Carney is fantastic in this and he plays an aging detective who still uses words like "Dolly" to describe women. In fact the whole movie is laced with wonderful film noir-ish dialogue like that and I love it. Carney's detective is put on the case of finding a lost cat for an adorable flibbertigibbet (Lilly Tomlin), but it turns into something bigger than that. The cat tie-in makes it a nice double with THE LONG GOODBYE.
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CASE OF THE CURIOUS BRIDE (1935; Michael Curtiz)
2012 was really the year of Warren William for me. Saw a bunch of his films(many will show up in part 2 of my list). Great actor that has this charismatic quality of a Barrymore of some kind. Here he returns as Perry Mason in what may be my favorite entry in the series(Warner Archive put out a nice set). Allen Jenkins in a recurring role as 'Spudsy' gives the film a boost as does having the great Michael Curtiz as its director.
Part of the Perry Mason Mysteries Collection from Warner Archive.
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PHANTOM LADY (1944; Robert Siodmak)
From IMDB -"A beautiful secretary risks her life to try to find the elusive woman who may prove her boss didn't murder his selfish wife."
If only folks could find help like this these days! Anyway, it's a tremendous little noir mystery and only recently arrived on DVD via this "Dark Crimes" TCM set:
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The fact that it also includes THE GLASS KEY and THE BLUE DAHLIA makes it a no-brainer kind of purchase.

CUTTER'S WAY (1981; Ivan Passer)
While it is nice to see John Heard crop up in things like SHARKNADO and other such schlock, it saddens me deeply on another level because I think he is/was one of the great actors of the 1980s. People will always remember him from his roles in HOME ALONE and BIG, but far too few have seen his turns in CHILLY SCENES OF WINTER and CUTTER'S WAY. Here he plays Alex Cutter, an embittered and crippled alcoholic Vietnam veteran. He has an odd friendship with Richard Bone (Jeff Bridges) a sort of drifter gigolo and when Bone witnesses a murder, Cutter takes it upon himself to help investigate it. This film is remarkable and I am so glad for the Twilight Time Blu-ray release.
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THE BIG FIX (1978; Jeremy Kagan)
Richard Dreyfuss in one of his best roles as an ex-activist private detective Moses Wine. Sadly, this film has never been on DVD so folks don't really know about it. It was on Netflix Instant for a stretch so keep an eye out for it to pop up there again. I spoke about the film at length on the Forgotten Films Podcast:
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NIGHT MOVES (1975; Arthur Penn)
Not only one of my favorite detective films, but one of my favorite films all-time. Amazing Gene Hackman performance, right up there with his turns in other 70s favorites of mine like THE CONVERSATION and SCARECROW. Hackman had a run of perfect films around this time and this is one of them. It's also one of the best "neo-noir" films ever made.
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MYSTERY TEAM (2009; Dan Eckman)
I was lucky enough to see this a little bit before it's official 'release' (which was sadly quite limited) and I just loved it. It seemed to me a cult classic in the making right out of the gate. Just a quirky oddball comedy with a silly premise, but the fact that the Derrick Comedy players took these characters into extreme places and in a very R-rated direction really makes the movie stand out. Many of you are now familiar with Donald Glover at this point I'd assume, but this was early on for him and he is showing all the great comedic instincts we've come to know and love here.
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SATAN MET A LADY(1936; William Dieterle)
Interesting screwball comedy take on THE MALTESE FALCON. Not recommended for all, but Warren William fans will enjoy.  
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REMEMBER LAST NIGHT?(1935; James Whale)
Enjoyable, breezy murder-mystery-comedy from the director of FRANKENSTEIN & BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. Kim Morgan's list from last year had this on it: 

GUMSHOE (1971; Stephen Frears)
Albert Finney plays a guy who calls bingo in a nightclub and he's looking for a change in his life. To facilitate said change, he buys a trench coat and hat and advertises himself as a private eye in the newspaper. The resulting adventure is quite a neat little self-aware mystery. Released on dvd as one of Sony Home Entertainment's "Martini Movies" (a silly name for a great group of films actually).
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Robert M. Lindsey said...

Last of Shelia, The Late Show, and Gumshoe have all been on my list for a while. Need to pop them up toward the top.

The Big Fix is great.

Rupert Pupkin said...

hope you dig those when you see 'em Robert!

Peter said...

Hot damn! Thrilled about this list series!

Caftan Woman said...

For years I had read only bad things about "Satan Met a Lady". What a pleasant surprise when I finally saw it. The dark humour is a big part of "The Maltese Falcon", and I think playing up that aspect really worked and William was a master at that sort of thing.

Jack Criddle & Anne Morgenstern said...

I love PHANTOM LADY and MYSTERY TEAM - good call!

Andrew Wickliffe said...

Fantastic list!

I too have been meaning to see The Late Show and Gumshoe for quite a while.

Silver Screenings said...

I'm embarrassed to admit this, but many of these films I have not seen! However, I'm excited about all this new-to-me viewing ahead. Great list!