Mysteries, We Got Mysteries

As we’re gearing up to start the PopD Mystery series (and we’re all sick right now, so take “gearing up” with a grain of salt), it’s a good time to talk about what we’re going to do and invite comments and suggestions, starting with our definition of “mystery.”

For the purposes of PopD, a mystery is a story where the goal of the protagonist is to solve a crime, preferably murder.  The protagonist thereby becomes the detective even if he or she is not a private eye or on the police force.  If it detects and solves crime, it’s a detective.  This usually means that the antagonist is the criminal which makes plot analysis so much easier than in a rom com.  It also makes sense because mysteries are plot-centric while romcoms are character-centric.  So for once the good-guy/bad-guy description of protagonist/antagonist is going to work.  Three cheers for a just society.

We’re using all American movies because we’re lazy and because we’re up to our butts in those already.  It’s a shorter series than the romcom series because we were clawing the walls after 36 romantic comedies, so this list is coming in at around 25 titles (we’re still finalizing).  The list is divided into six subgenres–Classic, Noir, Romantic, Supernatural, Non-Traditional, and Comic–so we can see how the different flavors affect the plot.  The earliest movie is from 1934 (<em>The Thin Man</em>) and the latest is from 2010 (the BBC <em>Sherlock</em> pilot).  Thirteen of the movies were based on novels or short stories.

Here’s the list.  Discuss:

Classic Mysteries (5)
*1934 THE THIN MAN  (streaming on Amazon) based on the novel of the same name by Dashiell Hammett
*1954 REAR WINDOW (streaming on Amazon) based on Cornell Woolrich’s short story “It Had To Be Murder.” <a href=””></a>
*1974 MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (streaming on Amazon) based on the novel of the same name by Agatha Christie
*2009 SHERLOCK HOLMES (streaming on Amazon) loosely  based on the Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle
*2010 SHERLOCK: A STUDY IN PINK (streaming on Amazon and Netflix) based on “A Study in Scarlet” by Arthur Conan Doyle

Noir Mysteries (5)
*1941 THE MALTESE FALCON (streaming on Amazon) based on the novel of the same name by Dashiell Hammett
1974 CHINATOWN (streaming on Amazon)
*1997 LA CONFIDENTIAL (streaming on Amazon) based on the novel of the same name by James Ellroy
* 2005 KISS KISS BANG BANG (streaming on Amazon) based in part on the novel Bodies Are Where You Find Them by Brett Halliday
2006 BRICK (streaming on Amazon and Netflix) inspired by the novels of Dashiell Hammett

Romantic Mysteries (4)
*1944 LAURA (streaming on Amazon, rental on Netflix) based on the novel of the same name by Vera Caspary
*1955 TO CATCH A THIEF (streaming on Amazon, rental on Netflix) based on the novel of the same name by David Dodge
*1963 CHARADE (streaming on Amazon Prime (free) and on Netflix) later novelized by screenwriter Peter Stone
1987 THE BIG EASY (streaming on Amazon)

Supernatural Mysteries (2)
1991 DEAD AGAIN (streaming on Amazon)
1996 THE FRIGHTENERS (streaming on Amazon) Warning: This one will scare the hell out of you.
Other possibilities: Sleepy Hollow, The Gift, Stir of Echoes

Non-Traditional Mysteries (4)
*1945 AND THEN THERE WERE NONE (streaming on Amazon) from the novel of the same name by Agatha Christie
*1958 VERTIGO (streaming on Amazon) from the novel D’entre les morts by Boileau-Narcejac.
1993 THE FUGITIVE (streaming free on Amazon Prime) based on the TV series of the same name
1998 WILD THINGS (streaming on Amazon) Warning: Lots of sex in this one.
2000 MEMENTO (streaming on Amazon) adapted from the short story “Memento Mori” by Jonathan Nolan (published in Esquire)

Comic Mysteries (3)
1977 HIGH ANXIETY (streaming on Amazon) parody of Hitchcock films
1998 THE BIG LEBOWSKI (streaming on Amazon and Netflix)
2007 HOT FUZZ (streaming on Amazon) Warning: Lots of gore in this one
[I know, I know, you want Clue, too]

11 responses to “Mysteries, We Got Mysteries”

  1. That is a great list. I am really glad that we can analyse Wild Things (and you are right it’s got a lot of sex and has Denise Richards in it), but I think the plot is really skillful and I love Bill Murray in that movie. I would have loved to have Rushamon and Clue but I can understand why.

    Clue I don’t think actually goes with the rules of what you have laid out what a mystery is. It’s a shame because it’s a great movie but there are loads here that I’m excited about. I’m looking forward to the discussion!

  2. That’s a pretty impressive list! I’m honestly surprised at how many of those I’ve seen, especially since I was pretty adamant for a long time that I hated the mystery genre. Although, I will say that I’m much more fluent in televised serial mysteries (The Inspector Lynley Mysteries! Law and Order: Everything! PD James! Veronica Mars! Agatha Christie! Lewis!), but there are so many of those, it’s downright ridiculous. It will be really fun to follow along with this series.

    I’m also kind of thrilled that “The Thin Man” is the first. I have ridiculous memories of watching that as a small child and LOVING IT. I’m also surprised that “The Big Sleep” isn’t on the list, but then I remembered that the actual mystery is close to incomprehensible, and I’m mostly in it for the Bogie and Becall sexual tension.

  3. I did think of one to maybe add to the untraditional mystery category: “The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency” pilot. It’s such an amazing change in tone of the mystery genre. There’s a gentleness (but not naivate) to it that makes it no less absorbing. Plus, it has two great heroines and my favorite romantic hero since the halcyon days of Luke Danes.

  4. I almost took Wild Things off. It’s so wonderfully sleazy that I thought, “Well, that’s going to offend people.” Then I remember who I was dealing with.

  5. Two Hammetts and no Chandler is not representative of noir, but as I remember, the plot in The Big Sleep was so messy that Chandler couldn’t answer all the questions about it. As part of the team that created the jeep fairy, I feel his pain.

  6. Yep! They did a whole season of seven episodes. It’s available on Amazon here. The whole cast is fantastic, and while it doesn’t back away from hard subjects, the tone is incredibly unique.

  7. Yeah, The Big Sleep isn’t all that coherent. But I love it anyway. Plus I’ve seen it often enough now that I actually understand it – really you just have to watch it twice and pay careful attention. I have the DVD with the unreleased original version, and it has a scene in the DA’s office about midway through that helps clarify the action up to that point. Have never been able to figure out why the hell they cut it. It’s only like 2 minutes.

  8. Katie: I’ve seen that, but isn’t it true that we never really find out who killed the original guy? (Was it the partner?) I just remember that was never cleared up. Still, talk about a movie that is awesome, even when the plot makes little sense. It was actually one of the first dvd’s I ever purchased!

  9. Yes, I agree, The Big Sleep is a MESS. I’ve watched it several times as my husband is a Bogie fan, and he even thinks it’s a big old mess. Convoluted plots take away from the characters for me, and this was surpasses convoluted for me.

    Thin Man is always great, and my faves are on the list – Charade and To Catch A Thief. Love me some Cary Grant!! You’ve put together a great list.

  10. AJ: Is the original guy Geiger or Regan? If I remember right, the chauffeur killed Geiger, Joe killed the chauffeur, and then the bodyguard killed Joe. Eddie Mars killed Regan. At least, that’s what Marlowe thinks happened, even though Eddie told Lauren Bacall that her sister killed Regan. I don’t trust Eddie so I’ve always thought Marlowe was right. I really should read the book; maybe it’s easier to follow than the movie.