Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated Detective/Mysteries - Ariel Schudson ""

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Underrated Detective/Mysteries - Ariel Schudson

Ariel Schudson is a film archivist and preservationist. She has earned two Master’s degrees from UCLA, one in Moving Image Archive Studies and another in Cinema and Media Studies. She was recently presented with the Nancy Mysel Legacy Grant from the Film Noir Foundation and will be working with them on future restoration projects. Until then she is working on various freelance assignments, film festival work and any journalism-driven work that may be thrown her way.
On Twitter @Sinaphile.

It’s hard for me to do an “underrated detective stories/mysteries” piece because I am such a noir fan and not all detective stories are noirs and not all noirs are mysteries. I did my very best to stick to straight up DETECTIVE STORIES or MYSTERIES, which (indeed) have their own genre, and should be appreciated as such.
There is something absolutely wonderful about everything that Agatha Christie ever did and all the Sherlock Holmes work. Those are most certainly in the “mystery genre” and have been shot down, overlooked and cast out as boring and terribly unattractive in this day and age (unless they star Benedict Cumberbatch or Idris Elba- his show LUTHER would count).
And the vast majority of the detective work does tend towards noir, so that simply cannot be helped. However, I hope that I can offer, through this list, a few films that you may not have seen and that you will see in the future.
I wish to introduce some foreign work, some documentaries, some rarities and some “thrillers” (films which lie on the edge of terror and mystery- my favorite, really) that will keep your viewing experience more interesting. Please enjoy!

1) OF DOLLS & MURDER – dir. Susan Marks, 2012 – avail on Netflix. This documentary centers on Francis Glessner Lee and her contribution to investigative police work. A fascinating woman in many ways, one of the primary things that she did in her life was build incredibly life-like and graphic dollhouse crime scenes that homicide squads and detective still use to this day for training.

2) DETECTIVE STORY – dir. William Wyler, 1951 – avail on WAC. Adapted from the play by Sydney Kingsley, this film shows Kirk Douglas in his prime. Also featuring the lovely Eleanor Parker, this film is a unique drama that builds into a genuine crescendo, leaving you gripping anything in your immediate vicinity.

3) STRAY DOG - dir. Akira Kurosawa, 1949 – avail on Criterion. Toshiro Mifune is a baby. It’s a detective story by Kurosawa. I don’t wanna say more than that because you don’t need more. If you haven’t seen it, it needs to be seen.

4) THE TALL TARGET – dir. Anthony Mann, 1951 – avail on WAC. So, this is a historical detective story and counts as historical noir as well. Just go with it. And believe me- you’ve never seen anything like it. I have watched this film probably 4-5 times since I first saw it thanks to the Film Noir Foundation’s annual festival, Noir City, and I can’t stop thinking about it. Dick Powell, Adolphe Menjou,Paula Raymond and, my very favorite, a role by the exquisitely young and gorgeous Ruby Dee that will have you going crazy for days. Just trust me- this is a great film.

5) MEMORIES OF MURDER - dir. Bong Joon-ho, 2012 – Avail on DVD. I feel like this is not only a detective film but also a mystery, so with this brilliant piece of Korean cinema you have a 2-in-1. I’m a Korean cinema nut. So I’ll put that out there right now. Just like I’m a noir fiend. But this film may be one of the most exquisite pieces that I own. It’s funny, tragic, weird and wrong. It’s uncomfortable and holds just enough back that you don’t know and never will. This is part of mystery. And yet, it is a fully satisfying work on the detective angle. This work would have made Hitchcock proud. I love it madly.

6) THE VANISHING - dir. George Suizer, 1988 – Avail. on Criterion. Here’s a secret about this film: I haven’t seen it in over 10 years. Probably even more than that. But I remember such visceral fear and to-my-scalp-every-hair-on-my-head-sensations from it that I had to put it on this list. It’s not a scary horror movie. I wasn’t terrified like I was in Robert Wise’s The Haunting. There is something very strange and “off” about this work. There is something contained within this narrative that is so traditionally weird that it struck me as harkening back to the ways that we define “mystery” and it is exactly that which makes the film chilling and more powerful than the remake. I have never forgotten it. I probably never will.

7) M – dir. Joseph Losey, 1951 – not avail for local home viewing.  After seeing this recently at the 2014 Noir City Hollywood in Los Angeles, I was floored. I have always been a giant fan of the Fritz Lang film about a child-killer and the community that serves as their own “detective squad” alongside the actual police force, but this film????? This is a triumph and a unique work unto itself. The last film Losey made before skipping town and becoming a well-known and respected filmmaker in the UK due to HUAC and the Blacklist, this film is a mirror to that experience in an extremely troublesome manner. The cast itself is a “who’s who” of who ended up becoming blacklisted within the next few weeks, months and years after the film’s production. Losey’s M is a remake, sure, but it is a one of a kind film that will leave you gasping for air. The print that was screened by the Film Noir Foundation was an incredible restoration done by the Library of Congress. So for those who may consider resorting to other means of finding this film, I would beg you not to. I would ask this: start writing letters and find ways of engaging people to put this out on disc so that we may see this film distributed. You do not want to watch this movie in ANY other form than the one that was played at Noir City. It was just immense.

8) BLACK EYE – dir. Jack Arnold, 1974 – Avail on WAC. Directed by the same man who helmed THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN and THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, this film is actually quite a bit better than it might seem. First of all, Fred Williamson. That should be enough. But the fact that it isn’t an exploitation film or a Blaxploitation film is something, especially in 1974. In fact, Williamson is a straight-up private investigator in Los Angeles, more reminiscent of Phillip Marlowe than Shaft. Great L.A. visuals (especially in Venice Beach and Santa Monica) and killer car chases. He’s a hellova tough guy and this is a hellova great detective film.

9) EUROPA – dir. Lars Von Trier, 1991 – Avail on Criterion. First of all, this is not like any of the other LVT films. So if you can’t deal with his other work, don’t worry, this is most definitely not NYMPHOMANIAC or BREAKING THE WAVES. This film has a train, mystery, WWII, and noir-tinged Nazi narratives. It has remarkable visuals and carries with it a story that made me fall in love with Von Trier and want to see anything & everything he ever did afterwards. I can’t say that my relationship with him is the same now, but relationships change, eh? This film remains a masterpiece of noir and mystery to me and always will be so. I originally knew it as ZENTROPA, and I still have my VHS copy. I rented it out to many people when I worked at a video store and they all really enjoyed the film. I hope you do as well.


Caftan Woman said...

"The Tall Target" is as good a movie as Hollywood ever gave us.

You have really piqued my interest in the "M" remake.

Laura said...

Great list, Ariel! I'm glad you were as impressed as I was by M. I'd been a little leery of it because of the subject matter (child killer) but the concept and style really blew me away, especially the climactic scenes in the Bradbury Building. (Loved the Downtown L.A. vibe in general. This movie deserves to move out from the shadow of the original.

Best wishes,

Anonymous said...

The Vanishing is pretty mortifying stuff...I love it to death. Unfortunately the same director went for the $$$ with a TERRIBLE remake...ack. I read the story in the original Dutch, and it's really breathtaking.

Clayton @ Claytonology

Squadro said...

What a fantastic list, a great mix of relatively well known films with a couple I've never heard of. Adding these to my watch list immediately.

I echo the CK Walter's post about The Vanishing, the short novel is astounding even if you've seen the film. Really haunting.

Thanks again Ariel!