Mystery film

Mystery film

Mystery film is a sub-genre of the more general category of crime film and at times the thriller genre. It focuses on the efforts of the detective, private investigator or amateur sleuth to solve the mysterious circumstances of a crime by means of clues, investigation, and clever deduction.

The successful mystery film adheres to one of two story types, known as Open and Closed. The Closed (or whodunit) mystery conceals the identity of the perpetrator until late in the story, adding an element of suspense during the apprehension of the suspect, as the audience is never quite sure who it is. The Open mystery, in contrast, reveals the identity of the perpetrator at the top of the story, showcasing the "perfect crime" which the audience then watches the protagonist unravel, usually at the very end of the story, akin to the unveiling scenes in the Closed style.

Suspense is often maintained as an important plot element. This can be done through the use of the soundtrack, camera angles, heavy shadows, and surprising plot twists. Alfred Hitchcock used all of these techniques, but would sometimes allow the audience in on a pending threat then draw out the moment for dramatic effect.

Mystery novels have proven to be a good medium for translation into film. The sleuth often forms a strong leading character, and the plots can include elements of drama, suspense, character development, uncertainty and surprise twists. The locales of the mystery tale are often of a mundane variety, requiring little in the way of expensive special effects. Successful mystery writers can produce a series of books based on the same sleuth character, providing rich material for sequels.

Until at least the 1980s, women in mystery films have often served a dual role, providing a relationship with the detective and frequently playing the part of woman-in-peril. The women in these films are often resourceful individuals, being self-reliant, determined and as often duplicitous. They can provide the triggers for the events that follow, or serve as an element of suspense as helpless victims.



Literary influences

The earliest mystery films reach back to the silent era. The first detective film is often cited as Sherlock Holmes Baffled, a very short Mutoscope reel created between 1900 and 1903 by Arthur Marvin. It is the earliest-known film to feature the character of detective Sherlock Holmes, albeit in a barely recognisable form.[1][2][3]

The earliest true mystery films include The Gold Bug (1910) from France and The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1914). Both are derived from Edgar Allan Poe stories, which is appropriate as Poe created detective fiction as well as the first private detective character, C. Auguste Dupin. In 1932, Universal Pictures renamed him Pierre Dupin in Murders in the Rue Morgue, an atmospheric horror-mystery starring Bela Lugosi. The film was remade twice more in 1953 and 1971. Poe's second Dupin story, The Mystery of Marie Rogêt, was filmed in 1942.

Charles Dickens' unfinished 1870 novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood was completed by another author and eventually adapted to the screen. Two films, now believed lost, were made in 1909 and 1914. Universal produced The Mystery of Edwin Drood in 1935. The story was remade again in 1993. Universal, known mostly for its long list of classic horror films, also created perhaps the first supernatural horror-whodunit hybrid with Night Monster in 1942.

American author Mary Roberts Rinehart (1876–1958), is credited with inventing the "Had-I-But-Known" school of mystery writing (as well as the phrase, "The butler did it"). Her 1920 "old dark house" novel (and play) The Bat was filmed in 1926 as The Bat, again in 1930 as The Bat Whispers, and a third time in the 1959 remake, The Bat, starring Vincent Price.

Undoubtedly the most famous of the amateur detectives to reach the silver screen was the archetypal Sherlock Holmes. He first appeared in 1903, and has been portrayed in scores of films by a multitude of actors. Perhaps the earliest detective comedy is Buster Keaton's Sherlock, Jr. from 1924. The only American-made series starred Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as Holmes and Dr. Watson. Together they made 14 very popular films between 1939 and 1946. The first two, at 20th Century Fox, were period piece mysteries set in the late-Victorian era of the original stories. By the third film, Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror (1942), now at Universal Studios, Holmes was updated to the present day. Several films dealt with World War II and thwarting Nazi spies.

Other famous literary sleuths who were brought to the screen include Charlie Chan, Ellery Queen, Nancy Drew, Nero Wolfe, and Agatha Christie's Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot. To date, 32 films and dozens of television adaptations have been made based on Christie's novels alone. British private detective and adventurer Bulldog Drummond was featured in no less than 24 films from 1922 to 1969 and was the prototype for Ian Fleming's James Bond character.

Classic period: the 1930s

A few silent Charlie Chan films, now lost, were produced in the 1920s. Starting in 1929, the B-picture unit at Fox Film Corporation (soon to become 20th Century Fox) began a series of 28 highly popular Charlie Chan films. (Monogram Pictures continued the series from 1944 to 1949 with 17 more entries.) The success of the Chan films led Fox to hire German actor Peter Lorre to play Japanese sleuth Mr. Moto in 8 films from 1937 to 1939. Monogram came back with their own gentlemanly Oriental detective, Mr. Wong, adapted from a Hugh Wiley story. Starting with Mr. Wong, Detective, Boris Karloff played Wong in 5 of 6 films produced from 1938 to 1941.

Over at Warner Brothers studios, the Torchy Blane films were notable for featuring one of the few female sleuths in a series. Starting with Smart Blonde, Glenda Farrell played the brassy, mystery-solving news reporter in 8 of 9 films made between 1936 and 1939.

William Powell starred in a series of detective films as the suave Philo Vance — the most successful example being The Kennel Murder Case (1933). Powell also played the equally debonair "Nick Charles" opposite Myrna Loy as his carefree wife "Nora" in the hugely popular Thin Man series from 1934 to 1947. Based on The Thin Man novel by Dashiell Hammett, these were witty, sophisticated romps that combined elements of the screwball comedy film within a complex murder mystery plot.

Many of these films concluded with an explanatory detective dénouement that quickly became a cinematic (and literary) cliche. With the suspects gathered together, the detective would dramatically announce that "The killer is in this very room!" before going over the various clues that revealed the identity of the murderer.

The 1930s was the era of the elegant gentleman-detective who solved drawing-room whodunit murders using his wits rather than his fists. Most were well-to-do amateur sleuths who solved crimes for their own amusement, carried no weapons, and often had quirky or eccentric personality traits. This type of crime-fighter fell out of fashion in the 1940s as a new breed of tough, "hard boiled" professional private detectives based on the novels of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and an ensuing slew of imitators were adapted to film.

The 1940s-1950s

During World War II, film noir came into style and proved a popular medium for darker, more violent stories featuring cynical, trenchcoat-wearing private detectives who were almost as ruthless as the criminals they pursued. The wealthy, aristocratic sleuth of the previous decade was gradually replaced by the rough-edged, working-class gumshoe. Humphrey Bogart became the definitive cinema shamus as Sam Spade in Hammett's The Maltese Falcon (1941) and as Philip Marlowe in Chandler's The Big Sleep (1946). Dick Powell also made an indelible impression as Marlowe in the classic Murder, My Sweet (1944), adapted from Chandler's Farewell, My Lovely. The Falcon Takes Over (1942) was also based on the same novel.

Chandler's The Lady in the Lake was filmed in 1947. Robert Montgomery was the director and star. That same year Chandler's novel The High Window was made into a film called The Brasher Doubloon. He also wrote an original screenplay for The Blue Dahlia (1946) starring Alan Ladd. The Glass Key (1942), also starring Ladd, was the second film adaptation of Hammett's novel.

Another standout film of the period is Out of the Past (1947) starring Robert Mitchum, who would go on to play Philip Marlowe three decades later. Otto Preminger's Laura (1944) is also a classic murder mystery featuring Dana Andrews as a lone-wolf police detective.

The popular radio show The Whistler was turned into a series of 8 mystery films from 1944 to 1948. Richard Dix would introduce the stories and alternate between playing a hero, a villain, or a victim of circumstance. In Mysterious Intruder (1946), he was a private eye. It was one of the few series to gain acceptance with the public and critics alike.

Chester Morris played Boston Blackie, a former jewel thief turned detective, in fourteen films from 1941 to 1949. Produced by Columbia Pictures, many were mysteries laced with comic relief such as Meet Boston Blackie (1941), Boston Blackie Booked on Suspicion (1945), The Phantom Thief (1945), and Boston Blackie's Chinese Venture (1949). Columbia also turned the Crime Doctor radio show into a series of mystery films starring Warner Baxter. Most of them followed the standard whodunit formula. Ten features were produced beginning with Crime Doctor in 1943 and ending with Crime Doctor's Diary (1949).

Another popular series featured George Sanders as the suave Falcon. Sixteen films were made from 1941 to 1949. Sanders decided to leave the series during the fourth entry, The Falcon's Brother. His character was killed off and replaced by his real-life brother, Tom Conway. Comedian Red Skelton played inept radio detective "The Fox" in a trio of comedies, Whistling in the Dark (1941), Whistling in Dixie (1942), and Whistling in Brooklyn (1943).

Brett Halliday's "Michael Shayne" detective novels were made into a series of 12 B-movies between 1940 and 1947 (starring Lloyd Nolan and later Hugh Beaumont). Mickey Spillane's equally rugged Mike Hammer character was adapted to film with I, the Jury (1953), My Gun is Quick (1957), and the influential Kiss Me Deadly (1955). Spillane even played Hammer once in the 1963 film The Girl Hunters.

Provisional detectives

A frequently used variation on the theme involved an average person who is suddenly forced to turn ad hoc detective in order to solve the murder of a friend or clear their own name. Prime examples include Lucille Ball in both The Dark Corner (1946) and Lured (1947), Alan Ladd in the aforementioned The Blue Dahlia, George Raft in Johnny Angel (1945), and Humphrey Bogart in Dead Reckoning (1947).

Perhaps the last word in this sub-genre is D.O.A. (1950), where a man dying from a slow-acting poison has to solve his own murder in the hours he has left. This film was remade in 1969 as Color Me Dead.

Also among this group, the issue of racism as motive for murder is central to Crossfire (1947), Bad Day at Black Rock (1954), and A Soldier's Story (1984).

Ten Little Indians

Agatha Christie's highly influential 1939 novel Ten Little Indians (originally Ten Little Niggers, later changed to And Then There Were None) presented the concept of a mysterious killer preying on a group of strangers trapped at an isolated location (in this case, Indian Island). This was made into a classic film And Then There Were None in 1945. Three more films, all titled Ten Little Indians, were released in 1965, 1974, and 1989 along with the 1987 Russian film Desyat Negrityat.

This premise has been used countless times in other films such as Five Dolls for an August Moon (1970) directed by Mario Bava, Mindhunters (2004), made-for-television films (Dead Man's Island, 1996), a miniseries (Harper's Island, 2009), and episodic television such as The Avengers ("The Superlative Seven"), The Wild Wild West ("The Night of The Tottering Tontine") both from 1967, and Remington Steele ("Steele Trap") in 1982.

Revival and revisionist era: 1960s-1970s

The Sixties and Seventies saw a neo-noir resurgence of the hardboiled detective film (and gritty police drama), based on the classic films of the past. These fall into three basic categories: modern updates of old films and novels, atmospheric period piece films set in the '30s and '40s, and new, contemporary detective stories that pay homage to the past.

Classics made contemporary

Philip Marlowe returns as a modern-day sleuth in 1969's Marlowe played by James Garner (based on Chandler's The Little Sister), and in Robert Altman's revisionist The Long Goodbye (1973) played by Elliott Gould. Robert Mitchum is Marlowe in the 1978 remake of The Big Sleep set in contemporary London. Paul Newman portrays a modernized Lew Archer (changed to Harper) in Harper (1966) and The Drowning Pool (1976), based on Ross Macdonald's 1949-1950 novels.

Gunn, set in the mod millieu of 1967, is an update of the Peter Gunn TV series (1958–1961) starring Craig Stevens. Bulldog Drummond returned as a contemporary sleuth in Deadlier Than the Male (1967) and Some Girls Do (1969). And the 1982 remake of I, the Jury brought back Mike Hammer (revived again in the 1984-1987 television series, Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer).

The old-fashioned whodunit was given a fresh update in Sleuth (1972), The Last of Sheila (1973), and the comedy Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? (1978). And Brian De Palma's Obsession is a 1976 remake of Hitchcock's 1958 classic Vertigo.

Period piece films

The many period piece films set in the Thirties and Forties are led by Roman Polanski's classic Chinatown (1974) starring Jack Nicholson and its belated sequel, The Two Jakes (1990), which Nicholson also directed. Robert Mitchum played Marlowe once again in Farewell, My Lovely (1975), perhaps the most faithful adaptation of this often-filmed book. The obscure Chandler (1972) is set in the 1940s but has nothing to do with Raymond Chandler's writings. The television film Goodnight, My Love (1972) with Richard Boone and two short-lived TV series, Banyon (1972–73) and City of Angels (1976) were also set in the 1930s and pay tribute to the Sam Spade/Phillip Marlowe model. And the 1975 telefilm Who Is the Black Dahlia? recreates the true unsolved murder case from 1947.

Agatha Christie's elegant Murder on the Orient Express (1974) and Death on the Nile (1978) were colorful, lavish productions rich in '30s period detail. Also a series of lighthearted Miss Marple mysteries were loosely adapted from Christie's novels. Margaret Rutherford starred in Murder, She Said (1961), Murder Most Foul (1964), Murder Ahoy! (1965), and did a cameo appearance as Marple in The Alphabet Murders (1965).

And the evergreen Sherlock Holmes was given the first of many revisionist treatments in Billy Wilder's The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970) and The Seven Percent Solution (1976).

The new wave

The New Wave of detective films may well begin with Jean-Luc Godard's offbeat Alphaville (1965) with its traditional, raincoat-and-fedora private eye placed in a futuristic, science fiction-based story. The film is part homage and part parody of the detective genre. Frank Sinatra is a cynical, Bogart-like gumshoe in Tony Rome (1967) and the sequel Lady in Cement (1968) — and a tough police investigator in The Detective (1968). John D. MacDonald wrote 21 Travis McGee novels, but only one, Darker Than Amber (1970) was filmed. George Peppard is the laconic private eye P.J. (1968). Robert Culp and Bill Cosby are hard-luck private eyes in the downbeat Hickey & Boggs (1972). Burt Reynolds plays a tongue-in-cheek Shamus (1973), and Burt Lancaster is a retired cop turned sleuth in The Midnight Man (1974). Two of the finest examples star Gene Hackman in The Conversation (1974) and Night Moves (1975).

The blaxploitation B-movie industry adopted the standard private detective format for several action-mysteries such as Trouble Man (1972), Black Eye (1974), Sheba, Baby (1975) starring Pam Grier, and Velvet Smooth (1976).

Noteworthy police detective dramas of the period include: In the Heat of the Night (winner of five Academy Awards, including Best Picture in 1967), Bullitt, Madigan (both 1968), Klute (1971), and two non-mysteries: Dirty Harry, and The French Connection (both from 1971).

Rod Steiger as an ingenious psycho-killer who enjoys taunting the police in No Way to Treat a Lady (1968), along with Klute, The Cat o' Nine Tails (1971) from horror director Dario Argento, and Hitchcock's disturbing Frenzy (1972) would serve as models for a new genre of increasingly gory serial killer films to come in the following decades.

From Blowup to Blow Out

One mystery film stands out in a category by itself. Michelangelo Antonioni's provocative Blowup (1966) is a unique anti-whodunit symbolizing the aimless hedonism of the Sixties. A swinging London photographer uncovers clues to a murder, but solving the crime is rendered irrelevant in a society where no one really cares. This contrasts sharply with the ending of The Maltese Falcon where Sam Spade solves the murder of his partner, Miles Archer. He sacrifices the woman he's fallen for, not because he was fond of Archer (he wasn't), but because it's the right thing to do.

In 1981, Brian De Palma remade this as Blow Out, turning it into a more traditional political thriller. In the DVD audio commentary for The Conversation, director Francis Ford Coppola revealed that Blowup was a major source of inspiration for that film.

The 1980s to the present

Since the mid-Seventies, only a handful of films with private detectives have been produced. These include I, the Jury, Angel Heart, Hollywood Harry, The Two Jakes, Devil in a Blue Dress, Pure Luck, Under Suspicion, Twilight with Paul Newman, and Ben Affleck's Gone Baby Gone.

Films with female detectives have not fared well. Kathleen Turner as private eye V.I. Warshawski (1991), was to be the start of a new franchise based on the book series, but the film was a box-office failure. Plans to turn Honey West into a film have been in and out of development for over a decade with no film in sight.

Since 1980, ten films based on the ever-popular novels of Agatha Christie have been released. Two with eccentric sleuth Hercule Poirot, Evil Under the Sun (1982), Appointment with Death (1988), and one with Miss Marple The Mirror Crack'd (1980). Christie herself became the subject of a mystery film in 1979's Agatha starring Vanessa Redgrave. The film was a fictional speculation on her famous 11-day disappearance in 1926.

Neo-noir erotic thrillers

In the Eighties, filmmakers began to take a revisionist approach toward 1940s film noir (aka neo-noir). The implied sexuality of the vintage films was enhanced and made explicit in a new wave of erotic thrillers. The most influential of these are Body Heat (1981), and two from Brian De Palma: Dressed to Kill (1980) and Body Double (1984).

Many of these films, such as the 1981 remake of The Postman Always Rings Twice, Angel Heart (1987), Basic Instinct (1992), and Sliver (1993) gained more notoriety for their explicit sex and nude scenes than for anything else. The frontal male nudity in Color of Night (1994) was controversial, as was Body of Evidence (1993) with Madonna and Meg Ryan's image-changing nude scene from In the Cut (2003). None of these films were well-received by the critics.

One of the few noteworthy films to successfully balance sexuality and suspense is the Al Pacino thriller Sea of Love (1989).

Military mysteries and police procedurals

Complex murder mysteries related to military men began with Crossfire (1947). More recent examples include A Soldier's Story (1984), No Way Out, The Presidio (1988), A Few Good Men (1992), Courage Under Fire (1996), The General's Daughter (1999), and Basic (2003).

The police procedural film, often with a surprise twist ending, has also remained a vital format with Cruising (1980), Gorky Park (1983), Tightrope (1984), The Dead Pool (1988), Rising Sun (1993), Striking Distance (1993), The Usual Suspects (1995), Lone Star (1996), Murder at 1600 (1997), Under Suspicion (2000), Blood Work (2002), Mindhunters[4] and Righteous Kill (2008).

Psychological thriller

In the 1990s, a new trend, sometimes called Psycho-noir (psychological thriller and film-noir combined), emerged. This blends mystery, horror and suspense into stories centered around clever, sociopathic serial killers. The Hannibal Lecter novels by Thomas Harris have inspired four films, Manhunter (1986), the Academy Award-winning The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Hannibal (2001), and Red Dragon (2002).

Other films in this category include Seven (1995), Kiss the Girls (1997), The Bone Collector (1999), Mercy (2000), Along Came a Spider (2001), Insomnia (2002), and Taking Lives (2004).

The 2007 film Zodiac is an account of the real hunt for a serial killer in the San Francisco area in the late-Sixties and early Seventies. Other real-life serial killings have been portrayed in The Alphabet Killer, Ed Gein, Gacy, Ted Bundy and Dahmer.

Recently, there have been films where ordinary characters (as instead of cops or detectives) becoming involved in a mystery. In many modern day mystery-thrillers, everyday characters (such as teens, mothers, fathers, businesspeople, etc.) are dragged into a dangerous conflict or a mysterious situation, either by fate or their own curiousness, and they are not prepared to solve.

Common elements in these type of psychological mysteries include; searching for a missing person (preferably a loved one) whilst being surrounded by red herrings who kidnapped the person, group of characters trying to find out who is the killer among them (usually turns out to be one of them), character being suspicious of a mysterious neighbour or friend, characters trying to determine what is true and what is not, and characters being confused about who they are and try to discover their true identity. Movies like that include the Scream franchise (1996-2011), Shutter Island (2010), Flightplan (2005), Saw franchise (2004-2010), The Orphanage (2006), What Lies Beneath (2000), Cry_Wolf (2005), Devil (2010), Secret Window (2004), The Ring (2002), The Machinist (2004), The Forgotten (2005), The Number 23 (2006)[5], Identity (2003), Memento (2000)[6]and The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya (2010)

Revisionist period piece films

Period-piece L.A. police detective stories (set in the 1940s and '50s) returned — with a harder edge and a contemporary sensibility — in Mulholland Falls (1996), and L.A. Confidential (1997) which was nominated for nine Academy Awards and won two. Both True Confessions (1981) and De Palma's The Black Dahlia (2006) are based on an actual unsolved Hollywood murder case from 1947. Hollywoodland (2006) explores the mysterious 1959 death of actor George Reeves, who is portrayed by Ben Affleck.

Raymond Chandler's final unfinished novel, Poodle Springs, from 1958, was completed by another author and made into an HBO cable film in 1998. Set in 1963, it stars James Caan as Philip Marlowe.

Coming full circle, Robert Altman's nostalgic Gosford Park (2001), set in an English mansion in 1932, is an original story that revives the old-fashioned murder mystery format.

Genre blends: horror, fantasy, science fiction, historical

By the Seventies and Eighties, detective and mystery stories began to appear in other genres, sometimes as the framing device for a horror, fantasy or science fiction film or placed in an earlier, nontraditional time period.

  • Angel Heart (1987), set in 1948, begins as a retro detective yarn but soon becomes a supernatural horror shocker. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992), and the cult TV series of which this is a prequel, also blends murder-mystery forensic work with supernatural horror.
  • Faceless (1988) is a gory Jess Franco private-eye horror-mystery.
  • Cast a Deadly Spell (1991) is a cable film with gumshoe Harry P. Lovecraft (a reference to horror/fantasy author H. P. Lovecraft) set in a fantasy version of 1948 Los Angeles where sorcery and voodoo abound. This was followed by Witch Hunt in 1994, a mock fantasy/mystery set in 1953. Private eye Lovecraft (Dennis Hopper) uncovers witchcraft and murder in Hollywood.
  • Hec Ramsey, a 1972-74 television series starred Richard Boone as a Sherlock Holmes-type detective in the Old West at the turn-of-the-century.
  • The Name of the Rose (1986), from the Umberto Eco novel, features a 13th century Sherlock Holmsian monk. The medieval era Brother Cadfael series of television mysteries also took the form of historical fiction.
  • Sleepy Hollow (1999), set in 1799, this features a constable who uses Holmsian scientific methods and forensic science to solve a series of murders in this horror-fantasy film from Tim Burton.
  • Blade Runner (1982) is a neo-noir science fiction classic set in the future. This comes closest to capturing the spirit of Chandler's Marlowe with Harrison Ford's sardonic, voice-over narration.

Parodies and homages

  • In My Favorite Brunette (1947), Bob Hope is a cowardly baby photographer who is mistaken for a private detective (played by Alan Ladd in a brief cameo). Later that year The Bowery Boys released Hard Boiled Mahoney with the same mistaken-identity plot.
  • Private Eyes (1953), The Bowery Boys open up a detective agency after Sach develops the ability to read minds.
  • Underground sexploitation filmmakers also spoofed the genre. Nature's Playmates (1962) is one of exploitation producer H.G. Lewis' many "nudie-cutie" flicks. A beautiful female private eye tours Florida nudist camps in search of a missing man with a distinctive tattoo. Take It Out In Trade (1970) is Ed Wood's softcore porn take on the Philip Marlowe films. Cry Uncle! (1971) is another sex comedy inspired by vintage private eye films. And Ginger (1971), The Abductors (1972), and Girls Are for Loving (1973) are softcore sexploitation comedies featuring Cheri Caffaro as tough private-eye Ginger.
  • Gumshoe (1971) is a crime comedy about a man so inspired by Bogart's films he decides to play private eye.
  • The Black Bird (1975), critically panned comedy sequel to The Maltese Falcon starring George Segal as Sam Spade Jr. and Elisha Cook Jr. reprising his role of Wilmer Cook.
  • The Late Show (1977), quirky, contemporary detective story is largely an affectionate tribute to the classic Hammett/Chandler era.
  • The Man with Bogart's Face (1980), a detective has his face changed and becomes involved in a mystery that resembles The Maltese Falcon.
  • Hammett (1982), fictional account of Dashiell Hammett involved in actual mysteries that inspired his novels.
  • Trenchcoat (1983), comedy about a female mystery writer who has to solve a real crime.
  • Clue (1985), set in 1956, a period-piece whodunit spoof based on the popular board game.
  • The Singing Detective (1986), a British miniseries about a mystery writer named Philip Marlow who is confined to a hospital bed. There his vivid fantasies of being an old-fashioned gumshoe are brought to life. Later remade as a feature film The Singing Detective (film) in 2003.
  • In 1987 Robert Mitchum was the guest host on Saturday Night Live where he played Philip Marlowe for the last time in the parody sketch, "Death Be Not Deadly". The show also ran a short film he made called Out of Gas, a mock sequel to his 1947 classic Out of the Past. Jane Greer reprised her role from the original film.
  • The Gumshoe Kid (1990), an adolescent obsessed with Bogart gets his chance to be a detective in this R-rated comedy with Tracy Scoggins.
  • The Naked Detective (1996), an R-rated softcore parody of film noir with fetish model/actress Julia Parton.
  • The Scream franchise (1996)-(2011), which is a satire of the horror genre, has heavy elements of the detective, mystery and crime fiction genres, and is often self-referential.
  • A Gun, a Car, a Blonde (1997), a paraplegic's fantasy (filmed in black and white) of being a tough private eye in a '50s film noir world.
  • Zero Effect (1998) updates the Sherlock Holmes concept with a detective who is brilliant when working on a case but an obnoxious cretin when off duty.
  • Where's Marlowe? (1998) drama about film makers following a low-level L.A. private detective.
  • Camouflage (2000), private-eye comedy with Leslie Nielsen.
  • Twilight (1998), Paul Newman stars in this old-fashioned private eye yarn that's reminiscent of earlier films in the genre as well as his two Lew Harper films.
  • Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005), crime-noir comedy inspired by hardboiled detective fiction and vapid L.A. culture.
  • In the season 6, episode 11 of Married... with Children, Al Bundy dreams he's a private detective who's being framed for the murder of a rich woman's father.

Movie sleuths

Mystery films have portrayed a number of notable fiction sleuths. Most of these characters first appeared in serialized novels.

Sleuth(s) Author/Creator First film
Lew Archer Ross Macdonald Harper (1966)
Boston Blackie Jack Boyle Boston Blackie's Little Pal (1918)
Torchy Blaine Louis Frederick Nebel Smart Blonde (1937)
Charlie Chan Earl Derr Biggers The House Without a Key (1926)
Nick and Nora Charles Dashiell Hammett The Thin Man (1934)
Hugh Drummond Herman Cyril McNeile Bulldog Drummond (1922)
Mike Hammer Mickey Spillane I, the Jury (1953)
Nancy Drew Carolyn Keene Nancy Drew, Detective (1938)
Sherlock Holmes Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes (1908)
Michael Lanyard Louis Joseph Vance The Lone Wolf (1917)
Philip Marlowe Raymond Chandler Murder My Sweet (1944)
Miss Marple Agatha Christie Murder, She Said (1961)
Mr. Moto John Phillips Marquand Think Fast, Mr. Moto (1937)
Hercule Poirot Agatha Christie Alibi (1931)
Ellery Queen Frederick Dannay
and Manfred B. Lee
The Spanish Cape Mystery (1935)
Easy Rawlins Walter Mosley Devil in a Blue Dress (1995)
Michael Shayne Brett Halliday Michael Shayne, Private Detective (1940)
Sam Spade Dashiell Hammett The Maltese Falcon (1931)
Simon Templar Leslie Charteris The Saint in New York (1938)
Dick Tracy Chester Gould Dick Tracy (1937)
Philo Vance S. S. Van Dine The Canary Murder Case (1929)
Hildegarde Withers Stuart Palmer Penguin Pool Murder (1932)
Nero Wolfe Rex Stout Meet Nero Wolfe (1936)
James Lee Wong Hugh Wiley Mr. Wong, Detective (1938)


  1. ^ International, URL accessed January 28, 2010
  2. ^ Jon Tuska, The detective in Hollywood (Doubleday, 1978), p.1
  3. ^ Jim Harmon, Radio Mystery and Adventure and Its Appearances in Film, Television and Other Media (McFarland, 2003), p.176
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^

See also

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