Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated Detective/Mysteries - Chris Clark ""

Friday, June 6, 2014

Underrated Detective/Mysteries - Chris Clark

Chris Clark works in TV and film post production. As a teenager, he reviewed movies for a newspaper and his fate was sealed. He lives in Manhattan, where he writes screenplays, ducks into screenings, and takes photographs ( to stay sane.
On Twitter: @blueneurosis.
Darker Than Amber (1970)
There's a clumsy blend to this pilot-esque adaptation of John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee, the boat based Florida sorta-PI (he takes cases based on if he can take half of whatever is at the end of the case). On one hand, there's about as much of an emotional oomph to it as an episode of Hawaii Five-0, but then there are moments where it shows a mean streak, such as how Travis handles a Richie Cunningham-looking kid that hassles him for no reason than the fact he's brought a black woman into a restaurant for a brief interview. This film would be almost entirely forgotten if it wasn't for the finale (talked up recently as a point of inspiration by Steven Soderbergh for his Haywire), which involves a fight that was, even by today's stunt choreography standards, brutal.

Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982)
While you don't have to recognize the catalogue of film noir it plays with, it adds an extra layer on top of the story's silliness.  It's impressive to see just how acrobatic the script gets to find a way to have private investigator Steve Martin in blond femme fatale drag trying to seduce Fred MacMurray within scenes of Double Indemnity. It may strike some as a feature length reference marathon, but there's something to be said about watching an Edith Head (her final production!) costumed Martin repeatedly admonish Humphery Bogart for his tie choices (or lack thereof).

Detective Bureau 2-3: Go To Hell Bastards! (1963)
A Dean Martin level suave Jô Shishido makes ends meet at his private investigation business which he shares with a righteous lush of a tabloid rag editor. Tonally all over the place, as Joe makes time for two girlfriends, a musical number, and time permitting maybe bag a Yakuza gun running syndicate by going undercover. This film happened right before Seijun Suzuki's big break with the studio programmers, and a lot of that restless energy can been seen percolating here.

Electra Glide In Blue (1973)
Fed up highway patrolman Robert Blake tries to crack a suicide that smells like a murder in a desperate attempt to trade his bike beat for a detective badge. We get to see why he's sick of the open road, no matter how pretty cinematographer Conrad Hall makes it look, as well as the strain of keeping his head straight while it seems like the entire country seems to be going nuts (including his co-workers). Director James William Guercio composes the score for the film, including the end credits song that some may recognize from the series finale of Miami Vice.

Harper (1966)
Paul Newman goes from zero to likable in record time, as William Goldman adapts Ross MacDonald, with the titular PI character attempts to juryrig a morning coffee during the opening credits. His Harper is well aware of the pop culture expectations of being a PI, and has been around the block enough to know it's not worth it trying to live up to it. A cooly wicked Lauren Bacall tasks him with finding her equally wicked husband, and she couldn't care less if he were alive or dead. The supporting characters/suspects (a Shelley Winters' gone-to-seed starlet, Robert Wagner's live-in boytoy/pilot) seem to have an angle on the husband, mostly as a meal ticket. Plus, there's a few amusing bits trying to show the LA scene for hep long haired kids in clubs who listen to go-go, jazz, and...calypso music? An interesting look at how the studio system was struggling to keep the detective genre fresh and relevant until something like The Long Goodbye comes along. 

Hickey & Boggs (1972)
The I Spy duo of Robert Culp and Bill Cosby swap the globetrotting spycraft they were known for to a bracingly drab, no-frills detective work in Los Angeles. Handed a seemingly basic missing person case, the duo realize too late that they may be ill-equipped to handle the heat bearing down on them. Culp directs himself with a Walter Hill penned script, loaded to the brim with his trademark unsentimental tone.

In the Mouth Of Madness (1994)
John Carpenter's style and the scale of this story seem at odds, as jump scares and fakeouts can't really do justice to the horrors implied with an End Of The World scenario brewing in a sleepy small town that no one can seem to find on a map. Still, there is pleasure to be found in it, especially in watching Sam Neill lose his mind (and occasionally his accent). His insurance fraud investigator thinks his current case, an insanely popular horror author gone missing, is the stuff of bad pulp stories and PR stunts...and oh how awfully correct he may be.

Mike's Murder (1984)
Debra Winger is a lovesick woman who finds herself falling for her tennis teacher after a fling, only to see him wink in and out of her life over the course of a few months under increasingly dire circumstances. While we see the Why for Mike's murder, the film becomes more about Winger trying to figure out just who Mike was and how much of his mess remains for those who knew him to clean up. Apparently the original version of the film was told in reverse, a more straightforward cut was created (and re-scored by John Barry). 

Rider on the Rain (1970)
Marlène Jobert survives a harrowing encounter only to find herself with a body to dispose of. Things get complicated when Charles Bronson, at his disarmingly charming best, shows up at her front door knowing way more than anyone else should...and insisting that she answer a few more questions.

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