Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated Detective/Mysteries - Emily Rauber ""

Friday, May 23, 2014

Underrated Detective/Mysteries - Emily Rauber

Emily Rauber started The Vintage Cameo ( as a place to catalog and discuss classic film, with a particular focus on MGM musicals and, by extension, Gene Kelly’s butt. She’s also on Twitter as @vintagecameos and Letterboxd as muggles.
My Favorite Brunette (Elliott Nugent, 1947)
I’m a huge fan of the Hope/Crosby/Lamour Road pictures, and my affection is strong enough to carry over to this goofy detective spoof. Bob Hope plays a baby photographer mistaken for a private detective, becoming entangled in a murder mystery that, luckily, doesn’t seem to slow down his speed in generating trademark quips. It’s a mile-a-minute zing-off between Hope and Dorothy Lamour, with Crosby—and many other faces familiar to detective film fans—appearing in cameo roles.

The Gazebo (George Marshall, 1959)
The Gazebo is an ultra-ultra-black comedy about a TV writer (Glenn Ford) attempting to appease a blackmailer who has nude photos of his wife (Debbie Reynolds). He concludes that his only way out is to kill this guy, so he establishes and follows a very sensible murder checklist (“Step one: Put on gloves”), burying the corpse in the fresh cement of his wife’s prized new gazebo installation. This is an odd, funny little flick that somehow successfully harnesses a normal guy’s attempt at homicide for hearty laughs.

Tony Rome (Gordon Douglas, 1967)
Frank Sinatra stars as the eponymous detective, in this, the first of three detective pictures he made with director Gordon Douglas. Tony Rome is a hard-drinking playboy of an ex-cop, something of a caricature of Sinatra’s own public persona. He gets caught up in a mystery involving a family with, of course, several generations of gorgeous women. Set in late-1960s Miami, Tony Rome is a hip, swinging spin on the traditional detective story that also indulges in many of its most comforting twists and clich├ęs, to a fun extent.

Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (Carl Reiner, 1982)
I first learned of this movie when I bought the foreign poster as a travel souvenir, mistakenly thinking it was an older film due to the presence of names like Humphrey Bogart and Joan Crawford. When I found out it was a 1980s comedy starring Steve Martin, I was initially dismayed—but once I actually watched it, I was floored by the creativity involved in meshing 20-odd 1940s noirs into a single joint. The editorial effect can admittedly be jarring at times (and lead to middling scores on certain film community-based review sites), but overall I enjoy the effect of being asked to consider these classic films in a new light.

Devil in a Blue Dress (Carl Franklin, 1995)
A sticky, steamy modern noir, Devil in a Blue Dress got a bit lost in the shuffle of mainstream Denzel Washington thrillers and the decade-specific obsession with 1940s culture. It’s a wholly Hollywood production to be sure, but it also uses the period setting as a way to make a subversive commentary on contemporary race relations and politics. There’s an intoxicating aura to this film, largely due to Washington’s star performance as Easy Rawlins. I love that we see that Easy not only has to unravel the case, as other movie detectives routinely do, but more uniquely, he also has to factor in his race as an element of his crime-solving—sometimes beneficial, often a hindrance. It’s like that old saying about Ginger Rogers… here, Easy’s doing everything Sam Spade is, just, you know, as a black man in 1948.

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