Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated Detective/Mysteries - Mike Flynn ""

Friday, June 27, 2014

Underrated Detective/Mysteries - Mike Flynn

Mike Flynn is a journeyman of sorts. Writer, salesman, son, brother, film lover, karaoke wildman—he has quite the variety of talents. Holding a B.A. in Communication Arts with a writing focus from Ramapo College of New Jersey, he spends many a night watching awful action movies, some barely released theatrically or not at all. Above all, he is a smart, well-spoken man. He has many projects in the pipeline, but his most accessible at the moment is The Pleasuredome, a new blog where he writes not only about film but about the entire spectrum of pop culture. You can subscribe to him on Facebook at, or follow his Twitter feeds, @MikeDrewFlynn and @ElPleasuredome.

Hickey & Boggs (1972, dir. Robert Culp)
What hath the 70’s brought to the private eye? Costly divorces, violent radical groups and a dollop of dishonesty operating in the guise of friendly bureaucracy and the streetwise omnipresence of the LAPD. Walter Hill’s first produced screenplay, this is a slow and insidious burn into the world of two detectives lost in the irreparable damage to their personal and professional lives.

It’s a nice slice of cynicism where the good guys can’t effectively discredit the sleazy, eccentric British lawyer who sunbathes in the company of children, or conquer an attack helicopter with their Model 29’s. Plus, anyone who only knows Cosby for sweaters and Jell-O shilling are in for a rude awakening.

Night Moves (1975, dir. Arthur Penn)
As crucial to New Hollywood as Chinatown. Harry Moseby is one of the greatest characters that Gene Hackman has ever played—a washed-up sleuth somewhere between tragic hero and genuine bastard, trying to unlock a convoluted yet too-easy mystery out of blunt desperation. Coincidence or not, its arrival on the coattails of the Watergate fallout makes it a definitive critique of the era.

Hardcore (1979, dir. Paul Schrader)
Culture shock is a force of devastation. This is the core morality of Paul Schrader’s follow-up effort to the magneticBlue Collar, an allegory for his struggles as a young man who fought to deviate from the path of his strict Calvinist upbringing. George C. Scott gives the best performance of his career as the conservative Jake Van Dorn, whose late-blooming shattered innocence is the tragedy of this piece. From The Yakuza to Light Sleeper, Schrader has always run deep psychologically, and the seediness of Los Angeles as Van Dorn sees it turns our stomach—and it is his only path to salvation, to see the darkness the world has to offer for his daughter. And Jack Nitzsche’s score lends the film further into an ambient nightmare.

Cutter’s Way (1981, dir. Ivan Passer)
Of all the 70’s and early 80’s movies I ate up in the first year I steadily held onto a Netflix account, this may be one of the best ones I held onto. Trying to convince friends to watch it is futile; the only way I can strum up some kind of interest is by saying something along the lines of “It’s like a dramatic version of The Big Lebowski.” The Jeff Bridges connection certainly helps, but it’s John Heard’s one-armed, one-eyed, one-legged Vietnam veteran, Alex Cutter, who propels the entire film. When Richard Bone (Bridges) discovers a dead beauty queen being tossed into a dumpster by an oil magnate, Cutter doesn’t just give into the theory—he embellishes it, instigates it, thrusts the lives of himself and anyone close to him into deadly paranoia. Bone accuses Cutter of having “an overactive imagination,” to which Cutter coldly replies, “These are just the facts, Rich. I mean, I haven't even begun to let my imagination loose on this thing.

I’d make a stern argument that this is the most cynical entry to my list—it may be one of the most pessimistic films of all time at that. Representative of all kinds of post-Watergate paranoia, Cutter’s Way is a strangely beautiful and sharply written film whose disturbing echo lasts well past its elegantly sudden finale.

Cop (1988, dir. James B. Harris)
In my honest opinion, the mere presence of James Woods in a film makes anything worth watching. Case in point: I don’t just enjoy Salvador and Diggstown. I think The Specialist is a blast because of his film-sabotaging villain. He was one of many wonderfully entertaining components of last year’s misunderstood White House Down. Hell, I even gave the Straw Dogs remake a pass because of his lunatic redneck.

This pre-L.A. Confidential James Ellroy adaptation is no different. Woods plays on the edge routinely, and the opening Steadicam shot of him barking orders around the squad room at fellow detectives makes that abundantly clear. In a way, Cop is contingent on a performer like Woods: his wild eyes and wiry frame vindicate his desperation for the hooker-slaughtering killer. He possesses great menace and an overzealous demeanor, but he has great affinity for his two young daughters that help balance his edginess. We sympathize for Lloyd Hopkins not because we worship him, but because he fascinates us—he’s a killer antihero and he delivers what may be my favorite final line of a film of all time.

Jack’s Back (1988, dir. Rowdy Herrington)
Here’s a fantastic movie everyone into this genre needs to see. Breathlessly atmospheric and stylishly grisly, Jack’s Back is a rare “slasher noir”—like Manhunter before it and The Silence of the Lambs and Se7en after it, it emerges above the cheap thrills and tropes of young-people-must-die cash-ins of the 1980’s by evoking a smart, pragmatic method to its murder-ravaged plot. All you need to know is that someone is recreating Jack the Ripper’s murders in L.A. a century after he terrorized London, and James Spader is the wrong man—or is he? Just go to Netflix and watch it!

The Adventures of Ford Fairlane (1990, dir. Renny Harlin)
I wrote extensively at my blog on this film, so I’ll try not to reiterate my grandstanding about the virtues of this joyously excessive yet acerbically satirical attempt to christen Andrew Dice Clay a surefire movie star. From the cartoon logic to the mockery of a music industry revolutionized by MTV and promotional endorsements, its obnoxious nature is intentional bless.

A Few Others I Didn’t Mention:

Pretty Maids All in a Row (1971, dir. Roger Vadim): Is it a sex comedy? Is it a murder mystery? It’s fucking brilliant.

The Late Show (1977, dir. Robert Benton): Echoing the love on this. Art Carney is so smooth here.

52 Pick-Up and Dead Bang (1986/1989, dir. John Frankenheimer): Two on-the-cusp efforts from the great Frankenheimer. The former has a following despite not being fully embraced—it’s also one of the best Golan-Globus films of all time. Dead Bang is a trashy but fun Don Johnson vehicle with some fun big-city-versus-hillbillies action.

Off Limits (1988, dir. Christopher Crowe): Platoon meetsLethal Weapon. Willem Dafoe and Gregory Hines have great chemistry in this underseen wartime detective thriller.

Shakedown (1988, dir. James Glickenhaus): LawyerPeter Weller and cop Sam Elliott battle corrupt cops in pre-Giuliani New York. Plays beautifully in between grindhouse and mainstream.

Black Rain (1989, dir. Ridley Scott): Another one probably too famous to be “underrated,” but not enough credit is given to Ridley for crafting such a slick, hardassed Eastern-tinged variation on The French Connection. Seen it countless times, regularly quote it and would put it right below Blade Runner and Alien as Scott’s best.

Color of Night (1994, dir. Richard Rush): Clunky, overlong, tonally broken and completely demented… but as a baroque comedy, it’s brilliant.

1 comment:

Will Errickson said...

I've seen many of these and liked them to one extent or another but NIGHT MOVES is truly one of the great unheralded films of the 1970s, a must-see for cinephiles of all stripes. When I first saw it, maybe 6 or 7 years ago now, I thought I was pretty well-versed in movies of that era. Boy was I wrong! Everything about it works beautifully.