Turner Classic Movies is featuring mystery films this month, on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, with an emphasis on various detective series. All showings will be entirely without commercial interruptions, as is TCM’s custom.
Those who have had their fill of sensationalistic, ultraviolent, ugly, modern theatrical crime thrillers would do well to take a look at these films, which are mostly lower in production values but much stronger on logic, common sense, insights into human behavior, and what makes for good character.
Tomorrow night the series begins with two of the best films featuring hardboiled detectives. The 1941 film The Maltese Falcon (8 p.m. EST) was written and directed by John Huston and features Humphrey Bogart in the definitive private eye movie performance as Sam Spade. TCM follows that at 10 p.m. with an even better film, Howard Hawks’s superb adaptation of The Big Sleep (1946), by Raymond Chandler.
Those two are must-sees. At midnight, iron-fisted Mike Hammer comes on the scene in Robert Aldrich’s excellent 1955 film Kiss Me Deadly, followed by a poles-apart detective, Hercule Poirot, played by Albert Finney in a star-studded 1974 production featuring Sean Connery, Ingrid Bergman, and Lauren Bacall. After that, at 4:15 a.m., the DVRs will still be running, to record The Scarlet Clue, a minor but amusing Charlie Chan film from 1945—it features the woefully underappreciated comic brilliance of Mantan Moreland as Chan’s driver, Birmingham Brown. Watch this one if only to see how much a great comic actor can do with seemingly ordinary material.
Wednesday night TCM turns to the greatest of all fictional detectives, Sherlock Holmes, as played by the actor who best inhabited the role, Basil Rathbone.
Even though nearly all of the Universal films starring Rathbone with Nigel Bruce as an amusing Watson are set during contemporary times, the World War II years, the films capture the spirit of the orignal stories, combining equal parts deduction and adventure.
The four films showing towmorrow night are good ones: Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon, The Woman in Green, Sherlock Holmes in Terror by Night, and Sherlock Holmes in Dressed to Kill.
The Holmes films are followed, beginning at 1:00 a.m. EST, by four films starring Warren William as the Lone Wolf, Lewis Vance’s reformed jewel thief who has turned to a life of fighting crime. I haven’t seen any of the Lone Wolf films and am looking forward to doing so.
Coming later in the month: films featuring Dick Tracy, Nancy Drew, the Saint, the Falcon, Boston Blackie, and other police detectives, private eyes, and amateur sleuths.