Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated Detective/Mysteries - Marty McKee ""

Friday, May 9, 2014

Underrated Detective/Mysteries - Marty McKee

Marty's seen more than a few metric tons of movies in his life and is always good for recommendations. He writes about movies at Marty's Marquee (film reviews):
and Johnny LaRue's Crane Shot (blog):
Also, he's on twitter @MartyMckee.-----------------
Often unfairly characterized as a blaxploitation picture, this United Artists release directed by television journeyman Barry Shear is actually a strong, gritty crime drama for any audience with a taste for violent street chases and shootouts. Realism and racism abound, as three black robbers dressed as cops gun down a roomful of Italian and black mobsters and make off with $300,000 in dirty cash. Corrupt Italian-American cop FrankMattelli (Anthony Quinn) is assigned the case and forced by the brass to work with straight-arrow black detective William Pope (Yaphet Kotto). Shear doesn’t flinch at the violence, the despair, the squalor these characters face every day. He and cinematographer Jack Priestley squeeze tension out of scenes by filming them in tight quarters—the back of an ambulance, a crowded precinct house, a tiny, rat-ridden apartment.

I had to get a giallo on the list, so why not one that opens with the arousing Barbara Bouchet receiving a nude body massage(two other Bond Girls—Claudine Auger and Barbara Bach—fill the cast)? And what a crazy gimmick—a killer of sexy women who paralyzes his victims by plunging an acupuncture needle into their necks and then cutting open their stomachs as they liethere conscious, unable to defend themselves or even scream in pain. BLACK BELLY sets up an interesting dynamic betweenpolice inspector Tellini (Giancarlo Gianniniand his wife, especially in the scenes where he expresses his weariness with his job and a desire to quit the case. The lurid murders are carried out in typical giallo style, made even more thrilling byEnnio Morricone's lush score, and the revelation of the killer's identity is indeed a surprise.

Michael Rooker is very good as P.I. Fritz Brown in this adaptation of a James Ellroy novel. Brown's investigation into an underage girl (Selma Blair) and a wealthy mobster (Elliott Gould) leads him down a few roads he'd rather not take, involving fraud, murder, pornography, incest, and his own personal demons. An involving mystery directed by one-and-done Jason Freeland, who does a nice job capturing Ellroy'strademark L.A. and even manages to pay homage to the quintessential Los Angeles private eye movie, CHINATOWN, by dressing Rooker in a bloody headband for a few scenes.

Newly arrived in Boston for a new job as a pathologist at a swanky hospital, swinging Dr. Peter Carey (James Coburn) turns amateur sleuth after his friend and colleague David Tao (James Hong) is accused of killing a fifteen-year-old girl during an illegal abortion. He uncovers most of his leads through bullying and wisecracks, but Coburn is such a charming performer that he can get away with anything. Blake Edwards directed this job of work from a pseudonymous script based on a Michael Crichton novel. It’s ludicrous and sloppy, but I’ve always had a soft spot for it (Edwards hated it), and it gives Coburn the chance to be groovy and hip and cool, which few movie stars did better.

Ronald Reagan played Secret Service agent Brass Bancroft infour B-pictures for Warner Brothers, and this is probably the best of them. Oddly, Reagan reportedly hated it, and so did producer Bryan Foy and Warners. I can’t imagine why—it’sslick, fast, action-packed, and entertaining at a lean 58 minutes. Brass is framed for the murder of a fellow agent and is chased into Mexico, where he investigates a counterfeiting ring. Your mileage may vary with the other three Bancroft programmers, but this one is great fun.

FUZZ (1972)
As much comedy as crime drama, FUZZ is based on EdMcBain’s 1968 novel. McBain (aka Evan Hunter) also wrote the screenplay and stays fairly faithful to the book, ably the chaotic camaraderie and plodding clue-chasing that typifies police work in McBain’s fictional 87th Precinct. Burt Reynolds, Tom Skerritt, Jack Weston, Raquel Welch, James McEachin, Steve Ihnat, and Stewart Moss play the 87th Precinct cops, and Yul Brynner is their notorious archenemy, known only as the Deaf Man (he appeared in six 87th Precinct novels). While Hunter’s screenplay adroitly balances the character-based humor and intricate plotting that highlighted his novels, director Richard A. Collakeeps the pace rapid and the atmosphere of the squadroomproperly gritty and hectic. FUZZ’s black comic tone fits snugly in tune with the anti-police attitudes of the era and provides an entertaining watch.

A real obscurity, but quite a sleeper if you can find it. Busy character actor John Hoyt (ATTACK OF THE PUPPET PEOPLE) co-wrote, co-produced, and played a police detective in this existential black-and-white crime drama directed by one-and-done Antonio Santean. Weary L.A. detectives, veteran Lt.Westman (Hoyt) and younger Sgt. Bradley (Bob Kelljan, later the director of SCREAM, BLACULA, SCREAM and RAPE SQUAD), investigate the shooting of a prowler at the apartment of a fragile beauty, Ellen Sawyer (the gorgeous Arlene Martel, Spock’s betrothed in “Amok Time”). It won’t take long for you to figure out the mystery, but its psychological overtones may have been unusual at the time.

Star/director Robert Culp’s very bleak L.A. noir may not be underrated anymore, now that people are finding out about it and it’s more readily available to see. Culp and his I SPY co-star Bill Cosby are down-and-out private eyes looking for a missing girl and $400,000 from a botched bank robbery. Story is confusing and disjointed, but there's some good use of Los Angeles locations, and Culp handles the action sequences well. Highlights include exciting shootouts in the L.A. Coliseum and the Dodger Stadium parking lot. Culp and Cosby eschew their familiar hip, wisecracking personas for dourer, seedier personalities, but the chemistry between them remains. Culp directed for television a handful of times, but never got another crack at a feature, which is a damn shame.

Superlative pilot for the KOJAK television series is one of the great made-for-TV films of the 1970s. Director Joseph Sargent(TRIBES) and writer Abby Mann (JUDGEMENT AT NUREMBERG) both won Emmys, and star Telly Savalas, who was nominated, won one a year later for the KOJAK series. Lieutenant Theo Kojack (sic) heads the investigation into the brutal slashing murders of two young women in their Manhattan apartment. A black youth, Lewis Humes (Gene Woodbury) is accused, based on a trumped-up lineup and a coerced confession, but Kojack has his doubts about Humes’ guilt. Racism and departmental politics trump the truth, unless Kojackcan buck the system and find the real killer. Grungy New York location filming and a wonderful supporting cast meld with the superb contributions of Savalas, Mann, and Sargent to create an intense and insightful crime drama.

Burt Lancaster wrote, produced, and directed this low-key Universal mystery with screenwriter Roland Kibbee, who won an Emmy for executive-producing COLUMBO. He plays Jim Slade, a third-shift security guard at a sleepy Georgia university who pokes around after troubled co-ed Catherine Bach is murdered in her dorm room. It plays very much like a COLUMBO. The killer’s identity is fairly obvious, but the way the pieces fit together isn’t. In fact, the plot is ridiculously complex, and by the end, when Lancaster is traipsing around town arresting the myriad of co-conspirators involved, you almost expect the gaffer and the camera operator to take some lumps too.

Never been on DVD and maybe not on VHS, for that matter.I’ve only seen it on television. George Peppard is usually dirty, grungy, bloody or a combination of the above as Los Angeles police detective Vince Newman, a tough but honest cop investigating a reputed druglord named Lo Falcone (LouisZorich). Solid and action-packed (including a food market shootout bearing a close resemblance to one in BUSTING the same year), NEWMAN'S LAW stands out as a nice showcase for Peppard's patented tough-guy persona, positing Newman as one of a long line of loner cops who eat junk food, come home to a cluttered apartment, and live only to bring bad guys to justice. 

T-MEN (1947)
Cinematographer John Alton is the real star of this hard-hitting documentary-style noir, which casts light leading man Dennis O'Keefe against type as Treasury agent Dennis O'Brien, who is sent undercover to ferret out a squad of counterfeiters. T-MEN isan extremely good-looking film; Alton paints nearly every frame with shadows and unusual lighting effects to create a gritty atmosphere. O'Keefe is very good playing essentially two characters, and he's nearly matched by veteran heavy Charles McGraw, who's never less than terrifying. Anthony Mann directed several other terrific crime dramas (SIDE STREET, BORDER INCIDENT, RAW DEAL, HE WALKED BY NIGHT, FOLLOW ME QUIETLY) that are well worth seeking out.

The last feature ever filmed on MGM’s historic backlot, this intimate mystery brings in a marvelous cast of old-time supporting actors for nostalgia’s sake. Anchoring it is James Garner as easy-going Abel Marsh, police chief of sleepy, coastal Eden Landing, California, who investigates a rare murder of a local woman and unfortunately uncovers sordid details of her life and others in the small town. Director James Goldstone and writer Lane Slate do a nice job establishing Eden Landing's homey setting—the kind of place where everyone knows everyone else in town and the informal police force borrows the official car to take their wives to the dentist. The mystery unfolds in classic fashion, and, although it seems the murderer's identity pops out of nowhere, the script plays fair and sprinkles the right clues if the audience knows where to look for them.

In this failed pilot, Andy Griffith plays Sam McNeill, chief of police in the small town of Eagle Lake in snowy Northern California. His first murder case in a long time is a married woman who was shotgunned to death through her bedroom window on a chilly morning. McNeill’s only real clue is a message spraypainted in the snow outside the shattered window: “THE FIRST.” As in many rural mysteries, infidelity and family secrets are involved. Director Jud Taylor grips the audience from the beginning with a creepy killer clad in a black ski mask and an opening murder that’s suggested rather than depicted outright. Griffith, always apt at projecting folksy intelligence, anchors the mystery within the effectively snowy Big Bear locations, and the plot by TO CATCH A THIEF’s John Michael Hayes and David Karp (THE DEFENDERS) proceeds logically and with suspense. Griffith’s later rural-cop pilots THE GIRL IN THE EMPTY GRAVE and DEADLY GAME are also good and obviously underrated.

1 comment:

Torei said...

This list has a few of my favorites, plus some I'd forgotten to seek out and a few I'd never heard of. In other words, it's perfect. Thank you.