Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated Detective/Mysteries - Eric J. Lawrence ""

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Underrated Detective/Mysteries - Eric J. Lawrence

Eric J. Lawrence is the Music Librarian over at KCRW(a wonderful radio station) and I have been a fan of his radio show there for more than 10 years now. It is truly my favorite radio program out there. Quite an eclectic mix of new and old songs, it's described on KCRW's site as thus:
"A musical line-up of criminally overlooked tunes, hidden gems, guilty pleasures and standout selections from the latest releases... from Jacques Brel to Mott the Hoople to Gary Numan to the Fall, and everything in between. Like playing poker with dogs -- only better."
I can't really recommend the show higher than a decade of listenership can I? Check it out! 

Eric is also an adventurous cinephile whose tastes I respect very much. In fact, it was he who first turned me onto THE MASK OF DIMITRIOS which has slowly become one of my very favorite films. 
For more cool film recommendations, check out his 'Film Discoveries' lists for 2011, 2012 & 2013 below:

ALSO - check out his Underrated Westerns list from April for even more recommends!

Find him on Twitter at @ericjlawrence:

Charlie Chan at Treasure Island (Norman Foster, 1939)
Everyone seems to have their own favorite Chan film (assuming you can get over the yellowface to begin with). Having seen mostly Sidney Toler interpretations, my pick goes to this one from early in his run.  Director Foster helmed most of Peter Lorre’s Mr. Moto series, which are more action-based than the more static, detection-style Chan films.  But for the noir-ish atmospherics of this one I give it the nod, featuring the mysterious mask-wearing mystic Dr. Zodiac (inspiration for the Zodiac Killer of 30 years later?), Cesar Romero as an “Amazing Randi” type magician/debunker, and the exotic setting of San Francisco’s Golden Gate International Exposition.
The Uninvited (Lewis Allen, 1944)
Although The Uninvited is a ghost story and a good one at that (mainly for being a rare one from the Golden Age of Hollywood to take the supernatural seriously), at its spectrally beating heart is a mystery of why Windward House is haunted, and the solution is arrived at by the kinds of detective work typical of films of the time.  Lots of top-notch acting here, from leads Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey, to character greats Donald Crisp and Alan Napier (60s Batman’s Alfred), to tragic starlet Gail Russell.
Man on a Swing (Frank Perry, 1974)
Based on a true story, this slow-burn of a film stars Cliff Robertson as a small-town police chief with a troublesome murder of a teen in a supermarket parking lot on his hands.  Joel Grey (fresh from his Oscar-winning performance in Cabaret) plays a psychic who wants to help, but knows too much about the case to make Cliff comfortable.  Then things get really weird.  About as good as a film based on an unsolved crime can be.
The Dain Curse (E.W. Swackhamer, 1978)
A four-part CBS miniseries starring James Coburn as Dashiell Hammett’s classic Continental Op (although he has a name here: Hamilton Nash, obviously punning with his creator’s name).  Yes, it irks Hammett purists, as a number of other things were altered as well (Coburn is hardly the squat protagonist of the book & they switch the book’s San Francisco setting for the East Coast), and being a TV miniseries it can feel episodic.  But then again the “novel” was episodic, and much of the flavor of it is retained, particularly the creepiness of the religious cult and the supposed family curse.  They seem to capture the period nicely as well. Don’t mess with the edited version – the plot is complicated enough – stick with the 2-disc DVD version.
Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (Carl Reiner, 1982)
A loving tribute to noirs, Steve Martin’s third picture as a lead pairs him, through crafty use of old clips, with the likes of Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, Kirk Douglas, Bette Davis, Cary Grant and many others, not to mention the lovely Rachel Ward as the femme fatale.  The storyline is a jigsaw puzzle that just barely adds up, but that’s hardly the point.  The mere fact it hangs together at all despite all the fun ridiculousness is a tribute to Martin, screenwriter George Gipe & Carl Reiner’s love of the genre. The presence of screen legends costume designer Edith Head and composer Miklos Rozsa (the final film for both) speaks volumes as well.

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