Friday, March 14, 2014

"The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of" - Three Classic Detective Tales

Today, the long-awaited next chapter in one of my favorite detective stories, Veronica Mars will be in theaters.  Although Veronica looked like just another teen drama a la Gossip Girl or 90210, what made it special was that it was actually a clever noir detective story dressed up like a young adult soap complete with corrupt powers-that-be, cynical narration, and a doomed hero. 

Veronica flipped the gender script on most stories about hardboiled investigators, however, because she (Veronica) was the flawed-but-lovable detective and the femme fatale was actually an homme fatale (Logan).  To really appreciate Veronica, you have to understand her investigative predecessors.  To find those, you have to watch a little classic cinema.  So, in honor of Veronica Mars’ theatrical debut, a salute to three iconic mystery films:

The Maltese Falcon:  Private Investigator Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) gets drawn into murder, intrigue, and danger by a dangerous dame who goes by the name of Brigid O’Shaughnessy (Mary Astor).  This is the granddaddy of noir detective films.  Don’t be surprised if when you watch it, you feel like you are watching a series of film clichés.  That’s because you are watching the film that spawned countless imitations, spoofs, etc.  But, even though it feels like you’ve seen it before, there’s still something mesmerizing about Humphrey Bogart’s surly delivery, sad-sack face, and hard-edged-but-soft-inside personality.

Double Indemnity: Phyllis (Barbara Stanwyck) is a bored housewife who is convinced that her life would be better if her husband were gone – permanently.  She and her lover (Fred MacMurray – otherwise known as The Absent-Minded Professor), an insurance salesman, hatch a plan to rid themselves of her husband and live the high life on his insurance policy.  The only thing standing in their way is the pesky insurance claim adjuster, Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson).  Directed by Billy Wilder (who also directed the funniest movie ever made), this is a tense thriller with pitch-perfect performances that stands the test of time. 

Laura: A police detective named Mark McPherson (played stoically by Dana Andrews) investigates the murder of a beautiful young woman named Laura Hunt (the impossibly stunning Gene Tierney) and in the process falls in love (or is it obsession?) with her.  The suspects are numerous (playboy lover, dandy newspaper reporter, wealthy aunt) and in this way the film is a classic whodunit.  But Laura is easily in my top 10 favorite movies ever made for more than just the way that McPherson solves the murder.  The moody lighting, eerie music, and the way the story slowly peels back layer after layer of supernaturally-tinged mystery make it worth watching again and again.

Once again, congratulations, Marshmallows.  Enjoy our movie!

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