Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated Detective/Mysteries - Barry P. ""

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Underrated Detective/Mysteries - Barry P.

Barry P. runs the eclectic movie blog Cinematic Catharsis, focusing on the little films that slipped through the cracks, with an emphasis on genre titles. Some regular features include: classic spotlights, capsule reviews and overlooked gems.
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The Mighty Quinn (1989) Directed by Carl Schenkel and written by Hampton Fancher, this charming, fast-paced murder mystery is buoyed by an infectious reggae score and convivial atmosphere. Denzel Washington, in one of his most memorable, but least known roles, stars as Detective Quinn. He’s hot on the trail of the elusive drifter Maubee (Robert Townsend), who might or might not have committed murder. The solid cast features veteran character actor M. Emmet Walsh as a shady American businessman, and some nice supporting performances by Sheryl Lee Ralph as Quinn’s estranged wife, James Fox, Mimi Rogers and Esther Rolle. Don’t miss it.

Cast a Deadly Spell (1991) Not a theatrical release, but an HBO TV movie with better than average production, and a unique premise. The terrific cast includes Fred Ward, David Warner and Julianne Moore, who occupy an alternate-reality 1948 Los Angeles, where magic and witchcraft are the norm. Ward stars as private detective Lovecraft, tasked with finding the Necronomicon for his wealthy client. Lovecraft lives by his own code of honor – in a world where everyone uses magic, he’s the last honest detective, refusing to relent. While it’s all too obvious that the filmmakers drew more than a little inspiration from Who Framed Roger Rabbit, with its post-war Los Angeles setting and a down-on-his-luck private eye, Cast a Deadly Spell is a charmer, filled with enough quirky moments (including references to Cthulu and the Old Ones) to stand apart from the typical gumshoe story. It’s easy to see how this could have formed the basis for a series, but alas, we only have this stand-alone story. So, why isn’t this available on DVD?

Young Sherlock Holmes (1985) Dismissed during its initial release as “Sherlock Holmes and the Temple of Doom,” Young Sherlock Holmes is a delightful combination of mystery, suspense and adolescent awkwardness. During its initial release, this fanciful take on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s enduring sleuth got lost in the shuffle, and that’s too bad. This film from director Barry Levinson and writer Chris Columbus could have, would have, should have been a wonderful start to a series of films, featuring the early adventures of fiction’s greatest detective. Nicholas Rowe is perfect in the title role, displaying a love for logical puzzles and contempt for authority, Alan Cox makes a fine Watson.

Night Tide (1961) Dennis Hopper stars in an early role, as Johnny, a Navy recruit from Denver, Colorado. While on leave in Santa Monica, California, he encounters a mysterious woman named Mora (Linda Lawson), who works as a mermaid in a sideshow. As fragments of her shadowy past are gradually revealed, he learns his life might be in danger, and that her act might be more than it seems. Hopper is earnest and intense as a young sailor who just wanted to see the world, and Lawson is appropriately demure and melancholic as the femme fatale. Writer/director Curtis Harrington’s low-key mystery/thriller, shot on a miniscule budget of $25,000, builds slowly, energized by an omnipresent sense of impending dread. David Raksin’s jazzy score adds to the film noir-ish atmosphere. It’s too bad the film is hampered by an unsatisfying ending that attempts to strip away any ambiguity by explaining everything, but Night Tide stands out as a compelling mood piece. (A version of this capsule review original appeared in the July 2013 edition of Quick Picks and Pans.)

The Return of Doctor X (1939) While investigating the death and mysterious re-appearance of a famous actress, ace reporter Walter `Wichita’ Garrett (Wayne Morris) stumbles upon Dr. X and his nefarious doings. First-time director Vincent Sherman’s semi-sequel to 1932’s Doctor X was loosely based on William J. Makin’s story “The Doctor’s Secret,” which originally appeared in Detective Fiction Weekly. Humphrey Bogart appears in one of his most unusual (supporting) roles, as the skunk-haired Doctor Maurice Xavier, back from the dead, and kept alive by synthetic blood. He reportedly hated this horror/mystery, but it shouldn’t stop you from giving it a shot. Despite Bogart’s disdain for the material, he delivers a performance that’s never less than professional. The story never rises above B-grade Saturday matinee material, but taken in the right light, it’s a hoot, especially for Bogie fans.

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