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Mystery Films

by Daniel McAdam

Strangers on a Train

I know, I know - it's always dangerous to try to tell people (especially mystery movie fans!) what's best.  Still, people need some guidance, especially those who are new to the mystery genre.  I'm not saying these are the best fifteen mystery movies of all time.  I'm just saying that these are fifteen films you should be sure to see:

  1. The Maltese Falcon.  Not only one of the best mystery films ever made, but one of Humphrey Bogart's best films as well.  Based on a novel by Dashiell Hammett.
  2. The Thin Man.  William Powell as the title character, Myrna Loy as the love interest.  And yes, there are several "Thin Man" movies.  Based on a novel by Dashiell Hammett.  Hmmm . . . we see a trend developing.
  3. Laura.  Cinema noir classic.
  4. The Usual Suspects.  Great plot, great acting (especially by Kevin Spacey), great director.
  5. Rear Window.  Based on a story by Cornell Woolrich, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, stars James Stewart.  Who could ask for more?
  6. Out of the Past.  There are those who consider this the definitive film noir, and it would not be easy to disagree with such an assertion.  Made in 1944, and centering around the deadly triangle of Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, and Kirk Douglas, the movie was based on Build My Gallows High.
  7. The Big Sleep.  We very much prefer the 1946 version with Humphrey Bogart to the 1978 film, which starred Robert Mitchum (good, but maybe a bit old for the part) and Sarah Miles (good), but which was set, for some reason that is a mystery in itself, in England, rather than California (very bad).  Based on a novel by Raymond Chandler.
  8. The Godfather.  Actually, all of the "Godfather" movies are great.  "I'll make you an offer you cannot refuse." 
  9. Strangers On a Train.
  10. Vertigo.  1958 version, with James Stewart and Kim Novak.  A Hitchcock classic, perhaps his masterpiece.  And doesn't Kim Novak do a terrific job of acting in this movie?  This pair also made Bell, Book, and Candle, which I try to watch every Halloween. 
  11. Fargo.  Unique, creative, and great accents. 
  12. The Sting.  Would it have been as great without Marvin Hamlisch's reworking of Scott Joplin ragtime tunes?  Who knows?  But is is a well-paced, intriguing buddy film, and Paul Newman and Robert Redford are excellent in it. 
  13. Dirty Harry.  A hero (played by Clint Eastwood) with memorable lines, including, "Go ahead; make my day."  There are actually five Dirty Harry films: Dirty Harry, Magnum Force, The Enforcer, Sudden Impact, and The Dead Pool.
  14. Murder on the Orient Express.  Agatha Christie's books rarely translated well into film, but this one succeeded; the all-star cast didn't hurt.
  15. Body Heat.  1981.  William Hurt, Kathleen Turner.  You can almost feel the sweat in this movie, a well-written, well-scripted 1980's film with all the classic elements of a great mystery.


Mystery Movies That Almost Made the List

  • Bonnie and Clyde.  Interesting.
  • French Connection.  We liked this movie, and we loved the chase scene.  We think they made a French Connection II, and we think it was awful, but we're really trying hard not to remember bad sequels . . . like the two awful (and unnecessary) Matrix movies . . .
  • Get Shorty. 
  • Gorky Park. 
This list is a work in progress, and is subject to change.  A great mystery movie could come along any day now (wouldn't we all love that?), or we could discover some old mystery film that's terrific. 


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