Charade

Posted by on Mar 12, 2012 | 10 comments

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Story: A Paris housewife is widowed, only to discover that a number of parties want money her husband hid… and think she’s the one who has it.

Detective: Regina Lampert/Peter Joshua

Release Date: December 5, 1963

Writer: Peter Stone

Source: “The Unsuspecting Wife” by Peter Stone and Marc Behm

Mystery Analysis:
Detective as protagonist?

Jenny: Yes.  Reggie’s pretty much forced into it because everybody thinks she killed her husband and hid the money.
Lani: Yes, although an amateur, forced into the role by circumstance, but still functioning as a detective in the story.

Murderer as antagonist?
Jenny: Terrific antagonist.  All his moves are logical and smart and yet you never see him coming.
Lani: Yes, and wonderfully present throughout.

Conflict created by murder?
Jenny: The body falls off the train at the very beginning, and even that flirting scene at the beginning is Peter/Alex trying to find out if she killed him.
Lani: Yes, and also by the mystery of where the money is.

Fair play with all the clues given?
Jenny: Yes
Lani: Yes.

Solved using deduction, not luck?
Jenny: Yes.  She tracks down every clue.
Lani: Yes; it’s Reggie who figures out how Charlie hid the money, and it’s through her deduction that she’s able to follow the trail through to the end

Story Analysis & Ratings:

Jenny says: 5 Pops
Mystery: 5, Craft: 5, Suspense: 5, Romance: 5

Lani says: 5 Pops
Mystery: 5, Craft: 5, Suspense: 5, Romance: 5

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Laura

Posted by on Mar 5, 2012 | 6 comments

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Story:
A detective falls in love with the woman whose murder he’s investigating.

Detective:
Mark McPherson

Release Date:
November 1944

Writer:
Vera Caspary (novel), Jay Dratler (screenplay) and Samuel Hoffenstein (screenplay) and Elizabeth Reinhardt (screenplay) (as Betty Reinhardt) Ring Lardner Jr. (uncredited)

Source:
Laura, by Vera Caspary

Mystery Analysis:
Detective as protagonist?

Jenny: Yes.  Introduced in the first scene, then dropped while a suspect he’s interviewing throws the movie into one hellacious long flashback, then back to him.  Waldo’s voiceover is confusing, too.  The beginning of this movie is really botched, but MacPherson is definitely the protag.
Lani: Yes… once we finally get to him. The first third of the movie, Waldo’s presented as the protagonist, and the switch isn’t made gracefully.

Murderer as antagonist?
Jenny: Yes.  He does everything he can to muddy the investigation and throw suspicion on the other suspects.
Lani: Sure. Mostly.

Conflict created by mystery/murder?
Jenny: Yes.
Lani: Yes, the death of Laura brings the protagonist and antagonist together.

Fair play with all the clues given?
Jenny:  Yes.
Lani: Yes, in that we get all the clues that the detective does. He doesn’t get many actual clues, though.

Solved using deduction, not luck?
Jenny: Yes.
Lani: Yes, although if he’d looked inside the clock right after Waldo first mentioned it… but no nitpicking. Yes.

All threads pertaining to the mystery pull together at the end?
Jenny: Yes.
Lani: Yes. Not a lot of threads there, but yes.

Story Analysis & Ratings:

Jenny says: 3 Pops
Mystery: 4, Craft: 3, Suspense: 2, Romance: 2

Lani says: 2.5 Pops
Mystery: 4, Craft: 3, Suspense: 2, Romance: 1

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March: Romantic Mystery

Posted by on Mar 2, 2012 | 2 comments

Hey, it’s March.  And this post was supposed to be up yesterday.  Apologies.

Romantic mystery is a natural.  Mystery has plenty of plot but not much room for character development; romance is all about character but has a tougher time with plot; marry the two and you’ve got a winner.  Romantic suspense, woman-in-jeopardy, rom-crime, whatever you call it, this kind of story puts two people under a great deal of stress while they work together.  If there’s one thing we learned doing rom-com, it’s that working together is a great way to build a relationship in a story, and working together under life-or-death circumstances only heightens that bond.  Stress is great fuel for romance–that’s why there are so many office romances and war babies–because it provides one of the two basic emotions necessary for people to fall in love: pain.  If you have a story where your protagonist isn’t sure that the love interest isn’t the guilty party, the stress is even more heightened (see Laura, Charade, Trenchcoat, The Big Easy . . . uh, see the movies we’re watching this month).  The other emotion?  Joy.  The excitement of falling in love, the fun of flirting, the exhilaration of great sex . . . .  A good romantic mystery has it all.

So why are they so hard to find?  Once we’d identified our subgenre–a mystery with a subplot romance that is so strong it can’t be removed from the story without wrecking the primary mystery plot–we really had to scrounge to find films that were mysteries first with good romances second that didn’t have protagonists we wanted to strangle.  Laura was a no-brainer for me–I’d read the book ages ago and loved it and the premise has tremendous juice–and Charade is one of the greatest romantic mysteries of all time.   And The Big Easy . . . well, everybody should see “You’re luck’s about to change, cher” plus a truly good mystery plot (I think; it’s been awhile since I saw it and I’m a lot more critical these days).   Then one more.  I picked Trenchcoat because I’ve always loved it and because it has a mystery writer heroine; then I found out Roger Ebert called it one of the worst movies of all time.    Lani and I will be watching it soon; if she’s with Roger, we may switch to To Catch A Thief which was fun.   That’s two Cary Grant films, but if you’re going to wonder if the guy is going to kill you, it might as well be Grant.

So here’s the tentative schedule.  Lani and I will be previewing Trenchcoat tomorrow night to see if it makes the cut so stay tuned, there may be some changes:

March 5: Laura

March 12: Charade

March 19: Trenchcoat (or To Catch A Thief)

March 26: The Big Easy

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Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang

Posted by on Feb 27, 2012 | 6 comments

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Story:
A murder mystery brings together a private eye, a struggling actress, and a thief masquerading as an actor.

Detective:
Harry Lockhart

Release Date:
11 September 2005

Writer:
Brett Halliday (novel), Shane Black (screenplay)

Source:
“Bodies Are Where You Find Them”, by Brett Halliday

Mystery Analysis:
Detective as protagonist?

Jenny: Yep.  He’s even first in that stupid prologue.  Unfortunately the mystery doesn’t start there.
Lani: Yep, although it takes a while for the problem to start.

Murderer as antagonist?
Jenny: Yes.  As soon as the murder happens and Harry screws up the murderers nice clean getaway.
Lani: Yes, once the murder has actually happened.

Conflict created by mystery/murder?
Jenny: Yes, but again, not until the murder happens.  This movie needed to start much later; it’s got two prologues and then a huge waste of time about the heroine’s friend, and THEN the murder happens.
Lani: Yes. Until Harry witnesses the dead girl in the trunk, the antagonist couldn’t care less about him.

Fair play with all the clues given?
Jenny: Yes.
Lani: Yes.

Solved using deduction, not luck?
Jenny: Yes.
Lani: Yes.

All threads pertaining to the mystery pull together at the end?
Jenny: Too damn many threads are resolved, some of them having nothing to do with the main plot.  We were hostile at that point.
Lani: Yes, although some threads are resolved when we don’t need them necessarily.

Story Analysis & Ratings:

Jenny says: 4 Pops
Mystery: 5, Craft: 4 (splitting the difference between the sloppy plotting and the incredible dialogue) Suspense: 4, Romance: 3 (Harry and Perry would have gotten a 5; they really missed an opportunity to do a great gay romance here)

Lani says: 4 Pops
Mystery: 5, Craft: 4, Suspense: 4, Romance: 3 (5 between Perry and Harry; 1 between Harry and Harmony, splitting the difference.)

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LA Confidential

Posted by on Feb 20, 2012 | 5 comments


This week on Popcorn Dialogues, Alastair stands in for Jenny as we take a stroll through organized crime and institutional corruption. Sounds like fun!

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Story:
A shooting at an all night diner is investigated by three LA policemen in their own unique ways.

Detective:
Bud White and/or Ed Exley. It’s complicated.

Release Date:
September 19th, 1997

Writer:
James Ellroy (book); Brian Helgeland and Curtis Hanson (screenplay)

Source:
LA Confidential by James Ellroy

Mystery Analysis:
Detective as protagonist?

Lani: Yes. All three of them.
Alastair: Absolutely, although who the protagonist actually is remains open to debate.

Murderer as antagonist?
Lani: Yes.
Alastair: Yes, although the focus shifts from Patchett to Smith.

Conflict created by mystery/murder?
Lani: Yes, it’s the typical shed light/remain in the dark conflict.
Alastair: Yes, it’s present from the second scene of the film — or the first, if I had editorial control.

Fair play with all the clues given?
Lani: Yes; there were some areas that felt a little vague, but overall, I think everything was there all along.
Alastair: Yes, although it can be difficult to appreciate their significance through the smog of 1950s Los Angeles.

Solved using deduction, not luck?
Lani: Yep.
Alastair: Absolutely.

All threads pertaining to the mystery pull together at the end?
Lani: Yes; once you go back through from the end and look at the beginning, it all makes sense why it’s there.
Alastair: Definitely. All those errant strands are pulled tight in the last act, and it comes together beautifully.

Story Analysis & Ratings:

Lani says: 4 Pops
Mystery: 5, Craft: 4, Suspense: 4, Romance: 1

Alastair says: 4 Pops
Mystery: 5, Craft: 3, Suspense: 3, Romance: 2

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The Big Sleep

Posted by on Feb 13, 2012 | 3 comments

This week, the lovely Krissie (Anne Stuart) joined us for the discussion, set on defending one of her favorite movies. Reactions were mixed, and there were complications in the audio (a tech gremlin kept stopping the recordings) but despite all, we pulled out a fun and (we hope) marginally informative podcast. We also honed our approach to defining/rating mysteries, so there’s that.

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Story: The charming Phillip Marlowe is hired by a dying millionaire to find out who’s blackmailing his youngest, and craziest, daughter. In the process, Marlowe gets tangled up in murder, gangsters, rare book sellers and Lauren Bacall.

Detective: Phillip Marlowe

Release Date: August 31, 1946

Writer: Raymond Chandler (book); William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett, Jules Furthman (screenplay)

Source: The Big Sleep, by Raymond Chandler

Is it a mystery?

Detective as protagonist?
Jenny:
Lani: Absolutely. It starts right where the trouble starts, when Phillip Marlowe is called in to help a sick old man get his youngest daughter out of trouble. Problem is, the youngest daughter likes trouble. A lot.

Murderer as antagonist?
Jenny:
Lani: Yep. It’s quite a tangled web the bad guy weaves, and sometimes it’s hard to follow all the threads, but they do all lead—eventually—to the same bad guy.

Conflict created by mystery/murder?
Jenny:
Lani: Yes, the conflict is based on Marlowe wanting to get to the bottom of it all, and the murderer wanting him to keep his nose out of it.

Is it a good mystery?

Fair play with all the clues given?
Jenny:
Lani: Yes, although many of the clues were pretty hard to follow at times.

Solved using deduction, not luck?
Jenny:
Lani: Yes; no cheap tricks for Marlowe.

All threads pertaining to the mystery pull together at the end?
Jenny:
Lani: This is where The Big Sleep falls apart. At the end, it’s still ambiguous as to who the murderer is, which I think is a big drawback for a mystery. And no one knows what the hell happened to the poor chauffeur.

Our Ratings and Breakdown:

Jenny says: ? Pops
Mystery: ?, Craft: ?, Suspense: ?, Romance: ?

Lani says: 3.5 Pops
Mystery: 4, Craft: 4, Suspense: 3, Romance: 3

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The Maltese Falcon 1941

Posted by on Feb 6, 2012 | 7 comments

PODCAST WARNING: Lani and Jenny found it hard to discuss this movie as professionally as they should have; therefore if you’re interested in a serious discussion of The Maltese Falcon, you’ll probably want to skip this one.  If you want to hear two women laughing hysterically about a noir classic, tune in.

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Story: A private detective searches for his partner’s killer and the statue of a black bird, accompanied by a beautiful woman who lies to him a lot.

Detective:
Sam Spade, the most famous hard-boiled detective ever.

Release Date: October 18, 1941

Writer: John Huston, Dashiell Hammett

Source: The novel of the same name by Dashiell Hammett.

Mystery Analysis:
Detective as protagonist?

Jenny: Yep.  First character on the scene, owns the whole movie.
Lani: Yes, the first thing you see is Sam, it’s him all the way through.

Murderer as antagonist?
Jenny: Yep.  Shows up in the first scene, drives the protagonist crazy for the whole movie.
Lani: Also there right from the start, coordinating everything.

Conflict created by murder?
Jenny: It doesn’t seem so at first, but it does become evident at the end.
Lani: As soon as the murder happens, yes. Before that, it’s created by the fact that he doesn’t believe a word she says, right from the beginning. Which was good to discover, because neither did I.

Fair play with all the clues given?
Jenny: All the clues are given, but I think Sam makes a big deductive leap at the end, and there’s no way the police have enough evidence to prosecute.  Of course, it was shot in 1941; maybe back then you didn’t need much evidence.
Lani: I give a qualified yes. Some things Sam came to were based upon his deep knowledge of Miles Archer, and I’m not sure we got that knowledge as well in the first couple of seconds before Miles was plot meat.

Solved using deduction, not luck?
Jenny: Yep.  Spade’s a real detective, digging constantly.
Lani: Absolutely. The entire movie is him picking at people for clues. He’s a great example of an active protagonist.

Story Analysis & Ratings:

Jenny says: 5 Pops: Solid mystery, well told.  The romance gets a 1 because that was sex, honey, not love, but then The Maltese Falcon isn’t a romance, so who cares?  The comedy, though: It’s not supposed to be funny but we were on the floor.  We NEED a gif of Brigid kicking Joel Cairo.
Mystery: 4, Craft: 5, Suspense: 4, Romance: 1, Comedy: 5

Lani says: 5 Pops – As a mystery, it’s a five. It does all the things a mystery is supposed to do. The ridiculous things we laughed hysterically about didn’t take away from that, so neither will I. I do have to say, it hasn’t aged well, in that I was laughing at a lot of things I don’t think they intended to be funny. On the other hand, it’s a movie I would absolutely watch again, if for nothing more than the moment he takes the gun away from Cairo, only to give it back loaded. And then, when he does it again with Wilmer. It’s the again that makes it funny.
Mystery: 5, Craft: 4, Suspense: 3 (I was laughing too hard and didn’t give a rat’s ass about any of them), Romance: 1, Comedy: 5

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