Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated Detective/Mysteries - Dan Budnik ""

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Underrated Detective/Mysteries - Dan Budnik

Dan Budnik writes for Bleeding Skull.com. He is the co-author of Bleeding Skull!: A 1980s Trash Horror Odyssey. He has been a fan of mysteries ever since his Uncle Roger leant him a Sherlock Holmes collection when he was 8. He is currently attempting to write a murder mystery. It’s not as easy as he’d thought it would be.
Dan was also a recent guest on the horror podcast Killer POV covering the topic of shot-on-video horror:
http://geeknation.com/podcasts/killer-pov-ep-63-direct-to-video-horror/
Dan can be found on Twitter @DanBudnik.
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Nero Wolfe Mysteries – “The Mystery of the Golden Spiders” (2000) – Superb entertainment. This two hour TV movie is the precursor to the two season Nero Wolfe show that aired on A&E. Maury Chaykin plays Wolfe superbly. (Although my mother-in-law thought he wasn’t fat enough.) He is gruff, arrogant, prone to temper tantrums and a genius. Timothy Hutton is perfect as Archie Goodwin. Not quite Wolfe’s sidekick but an invaluable assistant to the big man. This movie is based on the Rex Stout novel of the same name and follows it fairly closely. A young boy sees a woman in a car whispering “Help Me.” The boy hires Wolfe to help find the lady. Tragedy and endless complications follow. The movie is set in the mid-50s and the production design is gorgeous. The show itself used a stock cast who rotated in and out of assorted roles. This is a sharp, funny and sumptuous mystery. In fact, the whole series is superb. Not a bad episode in the bunch. (If you like Timothy Hutton here, watch his dad, Jim, as Ellery Queen in the brilliant 70s series Ellery Queen Mysteries with David Wayne as Inspector Queen. Not a bad episode in that bunch either. In fact, watch an Ellery and then watch a Nero. It’s a great night of mystery.)

Without A Clue (1986) – Michael Caine is Sherlock Holmes. Ben Kingsley is Dr. Watson. Their famous relationship is a hoax. Holmes is an actor and not a smart one. Watson is the real brains behind it all. This is a very funny, exciting comedy-mystery from the mid-1980s that, for some reason, always seemed to get lukewarm reviews. There were three films from my younger days that were very confusing experiences for me: Toys, Back to the Future Part II and Without A Clue. I went to see each of them the day they came out, loved them and told everyone I knew to watch them. Then, reviews started coming in and friends starting coming back from the theater and people weren’t that impressed. I didn’t know what they were talking about. These were good films. I don’t think I always understand people. Michael Caine plays a comic Sherlock Holmes. Ben Kingsley is just as funny as Watson. Ben Kingsley! Gandhi, people! He is hysterical here. Plus, the mystery is a good one. The tension builds as it goes but the comedic element is never lost. I watch this film several times every year and pray for a decent release of it. Just the reveal of what Holmes thinks the anagram for Moriarty's name is is worth the price of admission.

Hec Ramsey – “The Century Turns” (1972) The NBC Mystery Movie was a fantastic idea. It consisted of four rotating detective/ mystery series. Three of which became 1970s staples:Columbo, McCloud & McMillan & Wife. Many shows went in and out of the fourth time slot but only two had any sort of staying power. One was Quincy M.E., which was made into an hour-long show when the Mystery Movie was cancelled. The other was a product of Jack Webb’s studio: Hec Ramsey. Starring Richard Boone as Hector Ramsey a lawman of long standing. The year is 1901. Hec has joined a group of lawmen in New Prospect, Oklahoma. And, there is a murder right after he arrives. The joy of the show is that it is 100% Western. It looks like a Western, sounds like one, even smells like one. But, Hec uses forensic techniques to ferret out suspects. While his co-workers are roughing people up, Hec is examining fingerprintsand doing primitive ballistic tests on bullets. Everyone is in a Western except for Hec who could have worked alongsideMcCloud. There were ten TV movies for Hec. This is the first one. It’s a good story, a good setup and a very good mystery. It’s worth hunting down and watching alongside the other members of the NBC Mystery Movie stable.

Father Brown, Detective (1954) – Sir Alec Guinness plays the unassuming Catholic priest who has the knack of seeing things other people miss. Jorge Luis Borges said that the best mystery stories are written by the best writers. He was referring to G.K. Chesterton and the Father Brown series. Although Father Brown is not my favorite detective, when I’m in the mood, his stories always hit the spot. If you’re interested in the character, you can’t do better than Sir Alec playing the part. The film is based on the very first Father Brown story “The Blue Cross” and features the priest matching wits with master thief/ master of disguise Flambeau, who is attempting to steal a priceless cross. It’s a battle of two brilliant minds rather than a big deductive journey. But, it’s all the better for it. It’s not a fast paced film but it is an intelligent one filled with charm, humor and some surprises. And, if it sends you to the Chesterton stories, so much the better.

The Panther’s Claw (1943)  I spent a lot of time debating which William Beaudine-directed mystery to put on here. I almost put on Detective Kitty O’Day or Mystery of the 13thGuest. I chose The Panther’s Claw because it holds a specialplace in my mystery memory. I was never into 1930s/ 1940s mystery-type films. I knew there were a lot of them and I was very interested in immersing myself in that world. But, Icouldn’t find the right entryway. One afternoon, minding my own business, I decided to watch The Panther’s Claw. And I loved it. I had such a good time. There’s a blackmailer calling himself The Panther. There’s a nebbishy wig maker who keeps getting caught up in criminal shenanigans. Then, a singer is murdered. The film is rather lighthearted and cheerful throughout, even with the murder. It does an odd thing where there isn’t actually a lead character. The wigmaker seems to be very important but he kind of fades a bit as the film goes on. Then, the policeman in charge takes up more prominence. But, never quite becomes the star. As in all Monogram films of this sort, a lot of the scenes are just people stepping in and out of cheap looking sets. But, it all coalesces and becomes a really fun time. A lot of the Beaudine films have seen are like this. They’re sort of effortlessly entertaining. Never flashy, never calling attention to themselves. The camera is always in the right spot and everyone seems to know exactly what they’re supposed to do. The Panther’s Claw is a fairly fast moving, funny and very cheap mystery that I really enjoy.

Honorable mentions:
The Gore Gore Girls (1972) – It sure is gory but the detective is clearly a parody of Ellery Queen from the 1930s novels or Philo Vance. The film itself (apart from the gore interludes) is structured as a mystery. The detective spends a lot of timequestioning suspects, being smarter than the police and trying tosuss out who is committing these atrocious crimes.

Malibu Express (1984) – Cody Abilene, private detective, is sent to a mansion in Malibu to uncover all sorts of shenanigans. Andy Sidaris’s first film is set up like a mystery with a mansion full of strange people, a weird murder and many, many red herrings. It also has a lot of car chases, gunfights and naked people. So much so that you can forget that it is a mystery. Butin the end, Abilene assembles everyone on his yacht and reveals the killer. I’d frankly forgotten about the murder by that point but that’s my problem.

2 comments:

AndyHunt said...

I must commend you on your choice of 'Without a clue'
One of my favourite movies, which is, as you mention, unfairly underrated .
Its silly fun, but so well constructed and executed it puts many other comedies to shame. The cast is superb, and the script (for those paying attention) is as sharp and layered as anything else out there.
Holmes proclaiming that a victim was 'bludgeoned to death with a blunt excrement' and then going on to cover his slip up, has me in stitches still, despite many repeat viewings.

Top choice Sir!

Mike Drew Flynn said...

Holy shit, Malibu Express is on this list.

I'd call that the craziest entry you could possibly get on any of these lists.