Five Favorite Mystery Films
Like so many film fans, I love a mystery. I enjoy trying to pick out the culprit or solving the puzzle presented before it gets revealed at the end. And the more suspense, the better! Below are five of my mystery favorites listed in chronological order.
LAURA (1944). How many times have I watched this classic black-and-white who-done-it? I’ve lost count! Each viewing presents more things to admire. Directed by Otto Preminger and adapted from a novel by Vera Caspary, Laura boasts a splendid cast, witty dialogue and excruciating suspense. It also won – and deserved -- Best Oscar for Black-and-White Cinematography.
Dana Andrews plays a police detective trying to find out who killed Laura, a beautiful woman portrayed by stunning Gene Tierney. And complicating the case is that this veteran detective has fallen for the victim. He even sits in her apartment and looks longingly at Laura’s portrait when he’s not interrogating the chief suspects played by Clifton Webb and Vincent Price.
Webb fits perfectly in the role of a cultured and selfish writer who loves Laura in a “My Fair Lady” way, and Price matches that performance by making his gigolo character who wants to marry Laura almost sympathetic at times. All this is happening while in the background we hear the movie’s haunting “Laura” theme by David Raskin. When a doozy of a surprise happens in this special motion picture, be prepared to gasp out loud. It’s that great!
VERTIGO (1958). Whenever someone asks me to name my favorite films the answer changes a bit depending on my mood. But Vertigo always makes it to the top five. I never get tired of watching Jimmy Stewart’s riveting obsession with Kim Novak’s character in Hitchcock’s haunting psychological mystery thriller about an acrophobic police detective who falls in love with two women. When the first one gets killed, he becomes obsessed with turning the second woman, a lookalike, into a carbon copy of his first love. Or could she be the same woman?
This is one of the most hypnotic mysteries I’ve ever seen. No matter how many times I watch Vertigo, Jimmy Stewart always makes me believe his character is truly under the control of a powerful feeling that the beautiful woman he loved can be resurrected if he makes a lookalike change her hair color and style, wear the same kind of clothes his loved one wore, and so forth. Watching Stewart and Novak interact as this transformation unfolds is a fascinating, suspenseful and poignant pleasure for movie buffs like me. Their marvelous performances are etched in my mind.
CHARADE (1963). Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant use their star power to give us an amusing Spring/December romance in Stanley Donen’s Charade. This intriguing mystery makes us try to figure out why a group of creepy men are after a woman who has just lost her husband. It also keeps us guessing about Cary Grant’s real identity.
Like Laura, the movie’s theme song (this one by Henry Mancini) adds an emotional tone to what’s happening on screen. There’s enough action, suspense, humor, and on-again/off-again romantic scenes to hold our interest from beginning to end. Oh yes, I have to mention it takes place in cinematic Paris, and Audrey Hepburn’s gorgeous attire adds to the film’s visual appeal.
THE BONE COLLECTOR (1999). Directed by Philip Noyce and based on Jeffery Deaver’s best-selling novel, The Bone Collector, is a mystery thriller in which performances overshadow puzzles. Leading lady Angelina Jolie portrays a reluctant rookie cop chosen by Denzel Washington’s quadriplegic character to assist him in catching a brutal serial killer. Neither actor has to worry about lack of physical movement here. They both express volumes through facial expressions and vocal inflections. Washington’s mere glance sideways at a bird perched on his window sill or upward at the falling rain telegraphs his pain and frustration.
When Jolie’s character says to Washington, “How pathetic to use your condition to push me around,” her bitterness couldn’t be more clear if she stomped through the room. As respect and affection develop between these two kindred spirits, I couldn’t help caring about each of them. And that makes the evil they encounter even more frightening.
KNIVES OUT (2019). This entertaining film written and directed by Rian Johnson, includes almost everything I like to see in a mystery film. It takes place in an old Gothic mansion, exudes an atmosphere of suspense, drops a lot of clues, introduces fascinating suspects, adds a bit of humor, and kept me guessing right up to the end. I believe Agatha Christie would enjoy Knives Out.
Johnson has given the movie a modern feel by dealing with characters from a mega-wealthy family who think they are entitled to inherit the fortune of their father, a famous mystery novelist. When his fortune is bequeathed to someone else, all hell breaks loose. Johnson picked an excellent cast to bring his story to life on screen, starting with Daniel Craig as a celebrity detective hired to solve the mystery of the patriarch’s death. Plus, Ana de Armas delivers a strong performance as the caring nurse who becomes the detective’s helper. They make a very watchable duo. Complicated and fun to watch, Knives Out made it to my 2019 Top Ten Movies list.