LA Confidential

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

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

Release Date:
September 19th, 1997

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

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

The Big Sleep

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.

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?
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?
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?
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?
Lani: Yes, although many of the clues were pretty hard to follow at times.

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

All threads pertaining to the mystery pull together at the end?
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

The Maltese Falcon 1941

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.

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

February: Noir/Hardboiled Mystery

Welcome to February, the Valentine’s month, full of hearts and roses.   Yeah, I’ve never understood that because in Ohio, February is the month of the dead, so we’re doing film noir, the genre that says life is grim and hopeless and women are evil betrayers, but thank god there are some men who go down those mean streets who are not themselves mean . . .

Hardboiled mystery was popularized by Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Cornell Woolrich and a host of other cynical, sardonic, hard-drinking, mostly male authors (Craig Rice is one female standout).  Noir is technically a subset of the hardboiled mystery, its main difference being that the detective is not a professional but an ordinary man thrust into dangerous and violent circumstances.   The terms have blurred now, probably because when hardboiled fiction is brought to the screen, it’s usually called “film noir.”   The four noir mystery films we’ll be watching include two adaptations of hardboiled novels, a modern noir film, and a darkly comic homage to genre:

Feb. 6: THE MALTESE FALCON (1941)  (streaming on Amazon) based on the novel of the same name by Dashiell Hammett

Feb. 13: THE BIG SLEEP (1946) (streaming free on Amazon Prime) based on the novel of the same name by Raymond Chandler

Feb. 20: LA CONFIDENTIAL (1997) (streaming on Amazon) based on the novel of the same name by James Ellroy
Feb. 27: KISS KISS BANG BANG (2005) (streaming on Amazon) based in part on the novel Bodies Are Where You Find Them by Brett Halliday

So we won’t play the sap for you, sweethearts, but we’ll be podcasting every Monday, still trying to figure out what makes a good mystery story.

[Note: I promised a chat at the end of every month, but this month I’ve been blindsided by some big stuff and I just didn’t get my act together.  Those of you who want to chat, please discuss in the comments and pick a good day and time and I’ll try to set it up for this month and the months to come.]


Sherlock: A Study in Pink 2010

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Story: The British police are baffled by a series of suicides until DI Lestrade hires Sherlock Holmes who shows them that they have a serial killer on their hands.

Detective: Sherlock Holmes, the greatest detective the world has ever known, here interpreted as a modern man, but very faithful to Doyle’s original character.

Release Date: July 25, 2010

Writers: Steven Moffat

Source: Arthur Conan Doyle’s “A Study in Scarlet”


Detective as protagonist?

Jenny: Yes, definitely.  He fills the screen and yet is true to the original character of Holmes.

Lani: Absolutely, although I think there might be some argument to be made that Watson and Holmes share the protagonist role in this one, although I’m not sure. More a question than a set theory.

Murderer as antagonist?

Jenny: Yes.  Once he knows Holmes is investigating, it becomes personal.

Lani: Absolutely. Holmes sees the murder as a puzzle, but the murderer is personally targeting Holmes, trying to get his attention.

Conflict created by murder?

Jenny: Yes.  Holmes is drawn into the story by the intellectual puzzle, and the rest of they mystery is played out almost as a chess match.

Lani: Yes. Holmes is already engaged in the murders right from the start, as evidenced in the taunting of the cops in the press conference.

Fair play with all the clues given?

Jenny: Yes.  In fact, the viewer may figure out who the murderer is before Holmes does because he’s particularly blind at one point in a way the original Holmes never would have been.

Lani: Moffat takes special care to add text clues on the screen for anything that might be vague; he is absolutely faithful to the viewer as participant.

Solved using deduction, not luck?

Jenny: Yes.  It’s Holmes’s specialty.

Lani: Absolutely. Although the cabbie got there and revealed himself, Holmes had him tracked down already with the phone GPS.


Jenny says: 5 Pops.  I’d give it 6 if I could.

Mystery: 5, Craft: 5, , Suspense: 5, Comic Relief: 5

Lani says: 5 Pops. I’m leaving the romance score in, because there’s a definite romance between these guys. It may be a just-friends romance, but it’s a romance all the same, and I’m loving it.

Mystery:5 , Craft: 5, , Suspense: 5, Romance: 5, Comic Relief: 5