There are so many good films about clever detectives solving mysteries that I expect this week’s edition of my five favorites series will draw some comments from readers who want to chide the list-maker for leaving off one of their favorite movies.
After all, these lists are not supposed to represent what is generally accepted among the critics and film scholars to be the best of a genre. They are just one guy’s five favorites on the day he made the list. They are being posted to call attention to some good movies, some that may be new titles to a reader. And, mostly we hope they will stimulate some lively conversations about film, in general.
This list only includes movies in which the sleuth is actually a detective, whether he’s a cop or a private dick. So mystery movies with a plot that thrusts a person from another walk of life into the role of a detective, such as “The Third Man” aren’t being considered.
Neither is this list strictly about the element of mystery. “Blow Up” is a splendid mystery movie, in its way. But its cocky investigator is a fashion photographer, whose doubts get in the way of his investigation.
To further narrow the focus, I’m sticking to domestic productions. So, one of my biggest favorites of any category, “Z”, by Costa-Gavras has to wait for another day’s list of five.
My five favorite detective movies set and produced in America are as follows (listed alphabetically):
“Chinatown” (1974): Directed by Roman Polanski; Cast: Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston
“The Conversation” (1974): Directed by Francis Ford Coppola; Cast: Gene Hackman, John Cazale, Cindy Williams
“L.A. Confidential” (1997): Directed by Curtis Hanson; Cast: Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Kim Basinger
“The Maltese Falcon” (1941): Directed by John Huston; Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre
“The Thin Man” (1934): Directed by W.S. Van Dyke; Cast: William Powell, Myrna Loy, Maureen O’Sullivan
At least this week’s list has a nice span of time between the oldest feature and the most recently made — 63 years. Three on the list are in color, which should please any anti-black-and-white-movies readers. Please do come back next week for another installment.
— F.T. Rea