Monday, July 23, 2012

Favorite Mystery and/or Thriller Films


50 Favorite Film Mysteries and/or Thrillers.

Definitely not going to refine everything down to individual groupings. Life’s too short.

You know where to go to get strict adherence to genre film lists. (Also, there are many thriller films popular over the years that I just haven’t seen, hence their omission from this list. I've also omitted films or shows done for television - that will be a separate list.)

I’m aware that many of the films other movie mavens swoon over may not appear on this list. Here’s the thing: This is MY list. I’m not saying these are the best mystery (etc) movies ever made. I’m just saying that these are 50 mystery (etc) films for which I have a great deal of affection for a variety of reasons which probably make sense only to me. But I’m sharing them with you anyway. What are friends for?

Feel free to differ, argue, harangue and otherwise disagree.

1) DIVA (1981) a Jean-Jacques Beineix film starring Frederic Andrei, Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez and Richard Bohringer.

In French with subtitles (for those of us not fluent), DIVA is a deliciously devious, twisted, colorful thriller involving an opera singer who has never heard herself sing because she never allows her voice to be taped, and the hapless, lovelorn postman who adores her from afar. But that’s not all, there are also low-life cops, despicably vile henchmen, a knight in metaphysical shining armor, Taiwanese recording pirates, gorgeous camera work, eye-popping interiors and the city of Paris. I mean, really - what on earth more could you want?

Oh, I forgot, there’s also a gorgeous aria sung by Wilhelminia Wiggins Fernandez which is at the heart of a lot of the trouble that befalls our intrepid post man. It all makes for a pretty perfect thriller of a movie. It’s difficult to combine classic beauty and nasty mayhem in a way that is not off-putting, but Jean-Jacques Beineix manages it very well.

The funny thing is that I once shared this film with my brother and his wife and they couldn’t make heads or tails of it, weren’t impressed, didn’t absorb, didn’t see what I saw at all. So, DIVA, is, I suppose, what you make of it, what you bring to it. It may also be that you need a bit of imagination going in. Sorry, bro.

2) The JASON BOURNE Trilogy: The Bourne Identity (2002) director: Doug Liman, The Bourne Supremacy (2004) director: Paul Greengrass, and The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) director: Paul Greengrass. Based on the books by Robert Ludlum.  

Besides ‘Diva’, I truly believe these three Bourne films comprise the finest action thriller movies ever made. At least these are the films that made me change my mind about modern action thrillers. Tell-tale sign: Never once did I roll my eyes while watching, something that happens very often to me while in the presence of most ‘action’ packed films.

I rarely watch modern thrillers (I just don’t have the patience), but when I do, I am very hard to please. The three Bourne films pleased me very much – I even enjoyed the car chases, especially the one featuring a beat up mini Morris out-swerving the French police through the streets of Paris. (The Bourne Identity) Fabulous!

Matt Damon simply owns this character - he inhabits and defines the ominously self-contained Jason Bourne. He makes us care for a man who despite his angst, is, never forget, a trained killer.

My favorite of the three? The Bourne Ultimatum in which if you look away from the screen for a second or two, you’ll miss something interesting and very often beautiful -from a movie-making point of view. In fact, two of the things that amazed me most, I think - about this last film especially: I was not turned off by the herky-jerky movement of the hand-held camera action and the blink-of-an-eye-quick cutting - two movie techniques I generally find fatiguing. A terrific film with an especially heart-stopping ending.

An aside: even an over-acting Albert Finney (who hasn’t aged well) in false teeth didn’t spoil the final film of the trilogy for me.

3)THE THIN MAN (1934) A film directed by S.S. Van Dyke, starring William Powell and Myrna Loy. Based on the book by Dashiell Hammett.

An adaptation of the rather dour Hammett book made livelier by the effervescent presence of Powell and Loy as Nick and Nora Charles and Asta as Asta (wire-haired terrier extraordinare). The Charles’ have an enviable marriage - a bouncy, sophisticated life-style of nightclubs, cocktails, friendly cohorts (many of the Runyonesque low-life variety) and just to keep things lively, a murder or two every now and then.

The ‘thin man’ of the title is an inventor who goes missing over the Christmas holidays. His frantic daughter (Maureen O’Sullivan) wants Nick to find her father. Apparently, she and he are the only sane members of a rather weird family. And that’s not saying much.

4) LAURA (1944) A film directed by Otto Preminger, starring Clifton Webb, Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews and Vincent Price. Based on the book by Vera Caspary.

I never get tired of watching this film even if Dana Andrews was never my favorite actor. He does manage to be wonderful here as the cynical, unhappy cop who falls in love with a beautiful dead woman - actually a portrait of a beautiful woman.

Clifton Webb is weirdly perfect as the obsessed, fastidious, snobbish gossip columnist who befriends Laura and recounts her many attractions in the smarmy voice-over which begins the film.

Speaking of smarmy, Vincent Price personifies the word in his turn as a rather pitiful gigolo.

Gene Tierney is vapid but beautiful in her most famous role.

5) THE 39 STEPS (1935) A film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, starring Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll. Based on the book by John Buchan.

Almost ruined by Hitchcock’s penchant for icy blond leading ladies – Madeleine Carroll - she is SO hard to like to in this. But for Robert Donat, terrific plotting (much better than the book by John Buchan) and moody camera-work, this film would never have made my list.

Donat is everything a leading man should be, especially when we first see him in the early part of the film wearing a dashing trench coat, collar turned up to give him a mysterious air. His speaking voice is perfection. His character, Richard Hannay, is bewildered by circumstances (a dead spy in the kitchen will do that to you) but quick-witted, remarkably self-controlled and, yes, okay I’ll say it, sexy as heck.

Spy thrillers, man-on-the-run films - a Hitchcock specialty from way back then.

6) THE LADY VANISHES (1938) A film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, starring Margaret Lockwood, Michael Redgrave and Paul Lukas. A fun (some of it possibly unintentional) thriller, most of which takes place on a train traveling west from some fictional little blip of a Balkan country - it’s a great train movie for those few who might not know.

When Miss Froy (the charming Dame May Whitty), an elderly spinster on her way home to England (after working as a governess for many years) suddenly goes missing from the train, only Iris Henderson (Margaret Lockwood), a young woman returning home to be married (reluctantly) realizes it. Everyone else will contend they haven’t seen Miss Froy at all and that Miss Henderson was alone in the compartment. Very disturbing, very frustrating.

Among the remarkably incurious assortment of passengers is the annoying guest who’d been staying at Iris’s rickety-rack hotel, playing loud music late into the night. Gilbert (Michael Redgrave) is a musicologist collecting indigenous folk tunes. He becomes Iris’s aide-de-camp, so to speak, when he is finally convinced that Miss Froy did, indeed, exist. He and Iris will search the train forwards and backwards to no avail.

Also among the passengers (luckily for the movie and for us) are Caldicott (Naunton Wayne) and Chalmers (Basil Radford) a kibitzing pair of British travelers who apparently have no use for anything that doesn’t have something to do with cricket. What I love most about them is that when the chips are down and needs must, they step up to the plate and deliver. They are simply delightful.

Both will also appear (as the same characters) in another doozey of a train movie, NIGHT TRAIN TO MUNICH with Rex Harrison.

THE LADY VANISHES is all about pre-WWII Nazi hijinks, a secret contained in a musical phrase, a highly improbable secret agent, not to mention a sinister doctor (Paul Lukas), a nun in high heels and last but not least, a surprisingly good gun battle at the end.

7) MINISTRY OF FEAR (1944)A film directed by Fritz Lang, starring Ray Milland, Marjorie Reynolds and Carl Esmond. Based on the book by Graham Greene.

Dr. Stephen Neale (Milland) is not your run-of-the-mill thriller hero - he’s just been released from an insane asylum after two years, accused of killing his wife.

Neale is on his way back to what passes for normal in a war-time England hobbled by German bombs, Fifth Column activities, insecurity and dastardly spies. He stumbles into  the middle of a sinister plot involving a blind man who isn’t, a fishy-eyed fortune teller, a nefarious refugee organization and a very creepy tailor played by the always reliably creepy Dan Duryea.

No sooner is Dr. Neale back in London, when he is again wanted for murder (the man cannot catch a break) and trying to dodge spies, killers, the police, all the while falling in love with a beautiful refugee.

Director Fritz Lang creates a London that is dark and ominous, a totally unpleasant place to be. Nobody’s ‘normal’ here.

8) IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT (1967) A film directed by Norman Jewison and starring Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger (in an Academy Award winning performance). Based on a novel by John Ball.

This film is definitely of its time and yet the basic ambiance and many of the characterizations, unfortunately, are still recognizable today.

Philadelphia cop Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier) is arrested for murder while simply waiting for a train at the Sparta, Mississippi station. He’s been picked up for being black and a stranger in town.

But when Gillespie (Rod Steiger), the local sheriff learns that Tibbs is not only a cop, but a homicide expert, he reluctantly requests Tibbs’ help in solving the very same local murder for which Tibbs had been scooped up in the first place. Now that’s chutzpah!

Tibbs has to tread carefully. He is regarded with hostility and suspicion by both blacks and whites, everyone except the sheriff (who isn’t that keen on him either) would rather see him gone.

Rod Steiger is perfection as your typical, swaggering, sweaty, overweight, over-bearing small town officer of the law. What sets him apart from those around him is the idea that the right man should be charged with murder (in other words, the man who actually did it) and the galling knowledge that he [the sheriff] is in over his head.

To find a killer Gillespie needs the forensic help of Virgil Tibbs. How the two men become wary friends is not too far-fetched. But this is no fairy tale, Tibbs is very much aware that the sheriff might turn on him at any moment if he should put a step wrong. He walks a dangerous line as the sheriff warns him, “I can’t protect you.” Though, in truth, as the murder investigation develops, Gillespie does his damndest to keep Tibbs - a very proud man - alive.

This is a movie filmed in dark, gritty color which might just as well have been black and white. The ugly small-town atmospherics are presented in an unsparing a manner as was possible in 1967. Sparta, Mississippi is an indolent, back-of-beyond town with its own rules and its own dirty secrets.  

How Virgil Tibbs maneuvers the logistics of this very dangerous hunting ground to find a killer, while slowly establishing a rapprochement with a man he doesn’t quite trust, makes for a splendid film.

9) SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943) A film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, starring Joseph Cotton, Theresa Wright and MacDonald Carey.

The cheery, smiley-face, small town Newton family is about to welcome a viper into their midst. Sinister and oh-so-psychotic Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotton) is coming to town. He is the beloved uncle for whom the daughter, Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Newton (the winsome Theresa Wright) is named. He is also the younger brother of Charlie’s slightly ditzy and totally unaware mom (Patricia Collinge). Both eagerly await his visit. The men in the family – not so much.

Hitchcock’s version of an idyllic Santa Rosa, California town (and family) at first makes you think he might have comedy in mind. Then you think it’s a burlesque of ‘family values,’ I mean, these people are just so darned Andy Hardy cute.

But as soon as the grim-faced Uncle Charlie makes his appearance you realize that Hitchcock just wanted to make sure we noted the wide divide between ‘banal normality’ and ‘banal evil’. In contrast, Uncle Charlie therefore appears that much more hideous.

Though Hitchcock’s acerbic eye leaves very few in the film unscathed. It’s always been obvious to me that he has little affection for this family of well-meaning slow-wits, almost as little affection as he has for the predator visiting among them. If Hitchcock likes anyone in the cast, it’s probably Theresa Wright’s plucky, intelligent ‘young Charlie’.

No spoilers here, we’re aware almost from the very beginning that Uncle Charlie is a total bad guy.

When a laconic cop (Macdonald Carey) also appears in Santa Rosa, searching for a serial killer known as the ‘Merry Widow Murderer’, young Charlie (alone in the entire family) becomes aware that her beloved uncle is the primary suspect. But surely the police must be on the wrong trail. Soon though, young Charlie begins to notice signs that uncle Charlie is not who he pretends to be - suspicions that she is too naïve to hide from her very dangerous uncle.

Joseph Cotton is absolutely chilling as a psychotic predator temporarily hiding out in the midst of 1950’s normalcy. A superb film with a dandy, heart-pounding ending.

10) THE UNINVITED(1944) A film directed by Lewis Allen and starring Ray Milland, Ruth Hussey, Gail Russell, Donald Crisp, Cornelia Otis Skinner and Alan Napier.

My favorite ghost movie which also turns out to be a pretty fine thriller in its own quiet way.

Set on the English coast though very obviously filmed on a California movie backlot, this is the story of a brother and sister, Roderick Fitzgerald (Ray Milland) and his sister Pamela (Ruth Hussey) who, on the spur of the moment, buy Meredith House, a large, cliff-side mansion overlooking the ocean. Fitzgerald wants to devote himself to writing music for a living in this out-of-the-way, seaside spot. Makes sense to me. (The wonderful music by Victor Young, Stella By Starlight, is used as the film’s theme.)

But dangerous things that go bump in the night will keep interfering. It isn’t long before the presence of a rather unpleasant ghost makes itself known to the Fitzgeralds. It has all to do with the frail and lovely and sad ingénue, Stella Meredith (Gail Russell in her first film), fey granddaughter of the house’s grumpy old seller, Commander Beech (Donald Crisp).

Starry-eyed Stella becomes an object of bewilderment, then love for Roderick (called ‘Rick’) – though Ray Milland is obviously too old for her.  

Meredith House was originally the home and studio of Stella’s father, an artist with a roving eye. He lived there with his cold fish of a wife and his not so cold, Spanish model - a nice, combustible mix.

All three are dead now and one of them, or perhaps two, haunt the house on the cliff. Stella is not allowed anywhere near the home she shared with her parents long ago. Her cantankerous grandfather is much put out when he realizes that she has, indeed, gone there to visit with the new owners. He immediately has Stella shipped off to a ‘rest’ home. (?!)

Though the film generates an aura of other-wordly creepiness, there are few special effects except for the chilling breezes that snuff out candles and the dank, iciness which seeps into the room just before a ghostly presence is felt. It’s all mood and atmospherics and terrific camera work.

That’s all you need, really, in the hands of a good director.

11) CHARLIE CHAN ATTHE OPERA (1936) A film directed by H. Bruce Humberstone, starring Warner Oland, Keye Luke and Boris Karloff. Based on characters created by Earl Derr Biggers.

I used to think I preferred Warner Oland’s portrayal of Chan over Sidney Toler’s, but I’ve since decided I like them both – though Oland still has a slight edge. They each bring something unique to the part that I enjoy watching. (But Toler is appreciated by me only in the early Chan films. Later, when Mantan Morland came on board, the movies became silly, unfunny parodies.) If you stick with the Charlie Chan films of the 1930’s and early 1940’s, you won’t go wrong.

In CHARLIE CHAN AT THE OPERA, Boris Karloff (yes, that Boris Karloff) plays an opera singer with amnesia who, as the film begins, is residing in a lunatic asylum. When a newspaper article reawakens his memory, he breaks out and heads for NYC to wreak havoc at the opera house where his most famous role is currently being revived by his ex-wife and those who tried to kill him seven years before. (This part of the plot makes little sense, given the time line, but hey, I’m not a total stickler for reality.)

All these early Charlie Chan movies are worth a good look. I have several favorites (these are just three) that I fully realize are not great films - just good Charlie Chan mysteries, perfect for a chilly autumn night. Okay, I admit I am a Charlie Chan groupie or as Caftan Woman and I like to say, we’re Charlie Chan Fan-girls. I own a bunch of the films.

12) CHARLIE CHAN AT TREASURE ISLAND (1939) A film directed by Norman Foster, starring Sidney Toler, Victor Sen Yung and Caesar Romero. Based on characters created by Earl Derr Biggers.

Here Charlie Chan is called on to solve the in-flight death of an author writing an expose of San Francisco fortune tellers.

Connecting the dots, suspecting a wide-spread blackmailing racket, Charlie decides to get the low-down on the infamous (and downright sinister) mystic known as The Zodiac.

Lots of good production values, snappy dialogue, moody camera-work and a few special effects make for a terrific film.

13) CHARLIE CHAN IN PANAMA (1940) A film directed by Norman Foster, starring Sidney Toler, Victor Sen Yung and Lionel Atwill. Based on characters created by Earl Derr Biggers.

Charlie Chan is incognito, posing as a Panama hatter (though not a mad one), working undercover to try and stop recurring sabotage at the Panama Canal prior to WWII. When his British intelligence contact is murdered right before Charlie’s eyes, the result of a poison-spouting cigarette (?!), it’s time to drop the incognito.

With spies and sinister-browed types lurking about and leaving a trail of bodies for Charlie and Jimmy Chan (who makes his entrance from a jail cell) to find, not to mention a bunch of plague carrying rats, the time begins to run out for the U.S. Naval Fleet soon to enter the Canal.

Kane Richmond shows up in this one as a Canal engineer, the requisite romantic interest for another of those lackluster actresses that turn up regularly in Charlie Chan movies. This time it’s Jean Rogers playing a refugee with no papers who gets a job singing at the local seedy night club. She is dreadful. But since everyone else in the film is pretty terrific, I just ignore her.

There’s lots of action (improbable and otherwise) as well as the always excellent Lionel Atwill playing a suspicious looking British writer and Mary Nash as a middle-aged spinster school-teacher hoping for a bit of excitement.

14) THE GHOSTBREAKERS(1940) A film directed by George Marshall and starring Bob Hope, Paulette Goddard, Willie Best and Richard Carlson.

When Mary Carter (Paulette Goddard) inherits a small island off the coast of Cuba, she is warned to stay away (by a very sinister Paul Lukas - a Cuban businessman with a rather odd accent). ‘No one has ever survived a night at Castillo Maldito’. But, undaunted, Mary decides to go anyway. She’s a plucky gal.

Along for the ocean voyage is Bob Hope as Larry Lawrence (“My middle name is Lawrence too, my parents had no imagination.”) a radio personality who spills mob gossip on the air and has decided, after earlier being mistaken for a murderer, to help Mary survive a night on the ghostly island where a zombie is said to walk.

This film has one of the best set-ups – the first ten or so minutes – I’ve ever seen. Just fabulous. Hint: the lights go out all over New York in the middle of a furious thunderstorm - perfect for a fun mystery and my favorite Bob Hope movie.

15) PIMPERNEL SMITH(1941) A film directed by Leslie Howard, starring Leslie Howard and Francis L. Sullivan.

University professor Horatio Smith (Leslie Howard), a mild-mannered and unassuming chap, is in actuality, a fearless foe of the Nazis. With Great Britain and Germany not yet officially at war, he has helped many victims of the Third Reich escape under the noses of the Gestapo while travel between both countries is still allowed. (Note the resemblance in theme to the 1934 film of The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy which also starred Leslie Howard.)

Francis L. Sullivan plays an odiously pompous Nazi officer determined to stop Smith.

One of my favorite scenes: Smith, evading his pursuers by masquerading as a scarecrow in a field.

Not a great film, but a very entertaining one if you, like me, love this sort of thing.

16) NIGHT TRAIN TO MUNICH (1940) A film directed by Carol Reed, starring Rex Harrison, Margaret Lockwood and Paul Henreid (who, strangely, goes unacknowledged in the film’s credits.)

Another favorite film which, among other things, features a thrilling train ride with a clever English spy, Gus Bennet (Rex Harrison) masquerading as a Nazi officer trying to save a young Czechoslovakian woman and her scientist father from the grasp of the Gestapo. As if the train ride weren’t enough, there’s also a desperate mountain cable car ride to the finish. This is a spiffy spy flick which I discovered only last year.

A very young Rex Harrison is quite unexpectedly fetching. And remember that Caldicott and Chalmers (the two Brit-Twits from THE LADY VANISHES) make their appearance here as well.)

17) GREEN FOR DANGER(1947) A film directed by Sidney Gilliat, starring Alastair Sim, Trevor Howard and Leo Genn. Based on the book by Christianna Brand.

During WWII when patients are plentiful, a postman – injured by an incendiary bomb - dies on the operating table at a hospital in the English countryside. When later, unaccountably, it is determined that the patient was murdered, an oddly quirky Scotland Yard detective with a steely gleam in his eye, shows up to annoy the suspects and track down the culprit.

Inspector Cockrill (Alastair Sim) at first seems a bit too strange to be any good, but he quickly disabuses everyone of that notion. Though in the end, he doesn’t exactly cover himself with glory, the culprit is caught. But not before more murder is done.


18) DIAL M FOR MURDER (1954) A film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, starring Ray Milland, Grace Kelly, Robert Cummings and John Williams.

Though I must tell you up front that the very idea of Grace Kelly and Bob Cummings having any kind of affair (of the heart or otherwise) makes me cringe – still, this remains one of my favorite thrillers. Why? Oh, the plotting which is excellent and the acting of Ray Milland as the conniving husband and that of John Williams as the wily, veteran Scotland Yard inspector who is not a fool.

A murder for hire plan goes seriously awry when the assassin is killed instead, but the villain, open-minded to new possibilities, quickly twists the plot around and works it to his advantage.

Not one of Hitchcock’s flashier pictures, produced in an antiseptic sort of color, set in a studio back-lot London, but despite this, it works. It’s all in the writing and the skill of Milland and Williams playing a cat and mouse game.

19) THE FUGITIVE (1993) A film directed by Andrew Davis, starring Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones. At the time it was unimaginable that the long-running and very much adored 1960’s television series starring David Janssen as Dr. David Kimble could ever work transferred to the big screen.

Well, somehow, the writers (Jeb Stuart and David Twohy based on characters created by Roy Huggins) did it. The casting too, was key. Harrison Ford is about as sympathetic an actor as the 90’s produced. He is perfect as the innocent Kimble who, on the run from the police after being found guilty of his wife’s brutal murder, still manages to stop along the way and help where help is needed.

Tommy Lee Jones as Gerard, the dogged, intensely keen marshal (head of a coterie of quirky law enforcement associates) whose job it is to capture Kimble after an incredible escape in one of the most frightening train crashes ever filmed, is wonderful – very deserving of his Oscar.

My only quibbles with the film are the flashbacks to the murder of Kimble’s wife (Sela Ward) which really, after the first couple of times, seem gratuitous. But other than that, this is a film I can watch over and over again, gratuitously.

20) THE ADVENTURES OF TARTU (1943) A film directed by Harold Bucquet, starring Robert Donat and Valerie Hobson.

A little-known Robert Donat film and the only reason for that that I can come up with is the lame title. It is a very nifty spy thriller set during WWII, with the always superb Donat playing Captain Terence Stephenson aka Jan Tartu, a member of the Romanian Guard.

Stephenson is a London bomb defuser called upon (because of his fluency in both the Romanian and German languages) to infiltrate a German poison gas factory and blow it up.

Sooner than you can say, ‘show me your papers’, Tartu is being dropped by parachute behind enemy lines and with much guile, intelligence and deadly nerve, sets forth to carry out his orders.

21) THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER (1990) A film directed by John McTiernan, starring Sean Connery, Alec Baldwin and Scott Glenn. Based on the book by Tom Clancy.

A film that for reasons hard to define, is always watchable. No matter when or where it’s playing, I’m watching.

I’ve heard from a few other movie mavens that they too feel the same way. There are just certain films that mysteriously weave an immediate spell, and this appears to be one of them.

Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin), some sort of covert studies government researcher is brought in to help figure out whether the Russian submarine Red October is on a mission to destroy the east coast of the United States with nuclear weapons or if its captain (played by Sean Connery) has decided to defect – brand new submarine in tow. Most of the action takes place fathoms deep under the Atlantic in the rather claustrophobic confines of the Russian sub and the American sub (captained by Scott Glenn) sent to stop it.

A fast-paced, high-stakes, intelligent thriller from the good old days of the Cold War.

22) REAR WINDOW (1954) A film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, starring James Stewart, Grace Kelly and Raymond Burr.

Jeff Jeffries (James Stewart) a photographer sidelined with a broken leg spends most of his time convalescing at home and spying (binoculars or telescope, can’t remember which) on his neighbors. His Greenwich Village apartment is perfectly situated with a rear window view of a large courtyard and the several buildings backing on to it.

Jeffries has a beautiful girlfriend (Grace Kelly is her least objectionable role, in my opinion), a wise-cracking secretary (or nurse, I forget) played by Thelma Ritter and a very restless and inquiring mind. He hates being trussed up and spying is a way to relieve his boredom.

After observing the curious actions of man across the way (a platinum haired and rather hulking Raymond Burr), Jeffries becomes convinced that the guy has murdered his wife.

This is a film steeped in tension and a cloying sense of claustrophobia. I’m also not sure, when I’m watching this, that Jeffries ought to be doing what he’s doing – in a way it’s kind of a creepy hobby.

Raymond Burr brings an extra dimension to his part which is all about how he looks and moves.

23) ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN (1976) A film directed by Alan J. Pakula, starring Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman and Jason Robards, Jr. Based on the book by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.

My favorite political thriller. It couldn’t be any more entertaining (or outrageous) if it were fiction, and yet the story is true (though I’m sure some license was taken with the screenplay.) Casting was obviously done with particular care, there’s not a single dud in the bunch.

The story of how two lowly Washington Post reporters helped bring down Richard Nixon, the 37th President of the United States, has entered the American folklore and acquired near-mythic status.

A bungled burglary at the Watergate apartment house in Washington, D.C. is only the beginning.

24) COTTAGE TO LET(1941) A film directed by Anthony Asquith, starring Alastair Sim, John Mills and Leslie Banks.

A newcomer to my list since I only watched it for the first time recently. This is another terrific spy thriller burdened by a supremely lame title.

An RAF pilot (John Mills) is shot down and plucked out of the water by locals. Left to convalesce in a ‘cottage to let’ on the grounds of a large English country house belonging to an inventor (Leslie Banks) currently working on an important bomb-sight formula, the pilot is soon wasting no time in making friends with the local pretty young thing who comes in to nurse him.

There’s lots of humor (primarily supplied by the inventor’s ditzy wife) atmosphere, shadowy lurkings, spies, henchmen and an extremely odd duck (is he good or is he bad?) played by Alastair Sim who made a habit of playing odd ducks.

Terrific film even if the premise is highly unlikely.


25) THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (1962) A film directed by John Frankenheimer, starring Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh and Angela Lansbury who plays Harvey’s mother even though she was only a few years older than him. Based on a book by Richard Condon.

An eerie and disturbing look at brain-washing taken to an extreme. Ben Marco (Sinatra) and Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) are part of an Army unit taken captive by the North Koreans during a botched military operation.

Watch for the tea party scene – indescribably chilling.

Some time later, back home in the United States, neither man suspects (except for recurring bad dreams) what was done to them in captivity or that the residue of brain washing is still alive and kicking in their sub-conscious minds. Shaw, a troubled young man with mommy issues, was/is especially susceptible.

It’s all about a communist plot to assassinate a Presidential candidate, seize power and infiltrate the White House. The film is more of a ‘how-done-it’ than a ‘who-done-it’ but I don’t want to give too much away. I’ll just say that Angela Lansbury steals the show.

26) CAT PEOPLE (1942) A Val Lewton film directed by Jacques Tourneur, starring Simone Simone, Kent Smith and Tom Conway.

A haunting (photographed by Nicholas Musuraca) dream-like, ‘horror’ film that is more psychological thriller than anything else since we never really see the object of horror except in shadow. Cue the ‘swimming pool’ scene which is an unforgettable bit of movie-making magic.

A strange young Serbian woman (Simone Simone) meets a gullible and oh-so-bland architect played by Kent Smith (expert in bland) and falls instantly in love with him – one has to wonder why. (Maybe because he seems so ‘normal’?) But then, for every woman there’s a man and vice versa.

Unfortunately, once they are married, the young woman exhibits a possessive jealousy which turns her young hubby off. Also unfortunately, the young woman believes that under stress, she turns into a vicious cat. No, I mean a ‘real’ cat with claws and sharp teeth.

We know this because she takes to hanging out at the zoo and staring intently at the black panther on display there.

A terrific film which also has Tom Conway playing the slimiest psychiatrist on record.

27) DAY OF THE JACKAL (1973) A film directed by Fred Zinneman, starring Edward Fox, Terence Alexander, and Michel Audair. Based on the book by Frederick Forsyth.

High tension and suspense despite the fact that we know the outcome.

A killer known only as ‘The Jackal’ is hired to assassinate French President Charles de Gaulle. Edward Fox is perfection as the elusive assassin, cold-blooded, blank-eyed and devoid of human emotion.

The film cleverly evolves from the killer’s point of view as well from the view of the French police as they – armed only with the knowledge that The Jackal is on the way – must try and stop him.

Now we all know that Charles de Gaulle was never assassinated, but does that stop us watching this film until the very exciting end? Nope. That, my friends, is the power of great movie-making and story-telling.

28) THE LIST OF ADRIAN MESSENGER (1963) A film directed by John Huston, starring George C. Scott, Jacques Roux and Kirk Douglas. Based on the book by Philip MacDonald.

Despite the annoying mischief making of having top name actors like Tony Curtis, Robert Mitchum, Burt Lancaster, etc, brought in (someone must have lost a bet) to make ‘cameo’ appearances in heavy rubbery disguises, the film isn’t ruined for me. Though I can understand how it might be for some.

I am simply mad about George C. Scott’s character, ex-Intelligence agent, Anthony Gethryn and his charming French cohort, Raoul Le Borg (Philip Roux) ex-French Intelligence. These two actors, working so well together, make the movie for me and I will gladly watch it over and over – especially now since I own the DVD.

Make note of the delightfully prune-faced and very talented Gladys Cooper as she steals the one scene she appears in. While her brow-beaten wimp of a hubby (Marcel Dalio) fuels her impatient dislike, she relates an important connecting event in the unknown killer’s background.

Murder on such a grand scale as to defy belief is at the black heart of the story - I can say no more.

29) LADY IN THE LAKE (I947) A film directed by Robert Montgomery, starring Robert Montgomery and Audrey Totter. Based on the book by Raymond Chandler.

A film with a gimmick – the camera fills in for Philip Marlowe and there’s a voice-over by Robert Montgomery as he tells this rather sordid tale of adultery and murder. In other words, we are Philip Marlowe – I am a camera – get it?

The only time we really see Marlowe’s face is when he looks in a mirror. It’s all very well done and you get used to it after a few minutes.

This is one of my favorite Raymond Chandler books and the film isn’t bad at all. Montgomery makes for a pugnacious Marlowe, different from Humprhey Bogart’s take, but just as good.

Marlowe is hired to find a missing wife, but not by the publisher husband who seems rather complacent about the whole thing, but by the husband’s secretary (Audrey Totter) who has her eye on the boss.

There are crooked cops (Lloyd Nolan is especially good), fistfights, murder and the geekiest gigolo ever, who apparently, buys his clothes at the local ‘Gigolos Are Us’.

Though the lake and the lady in it are never shown, there’s plenty else to keep us intrigued. The film is set at Christmas time too, which makes it a holiday movie if you’re in the mood for murder and chicanery at that particular time of the year. As many of us are. Ha!

30) THE MAN WHO NEVER WAS (1956) A film directed by Ronald Neame, starring Clifton Webb, Gloria Graham and Stephen Boyd. Based on the book by Ewen Montagu.

I’ve yet to meet anyone or talk to anyone online who loves this film (and the recent book Operation Mincemeat by Ben MacIntyre) based on an absolutely true story, as much as I do, so I continue to be its number one champion.

It’s 1943 and the Brits are on the brink of invading Sicily’s coast. However, matters would be helped enormously if the Nazis didn’t know this - if they thought the Brits were going to come ashore on some other coast.

To that end, British Intelligence hatches a plot to use a dead body and false papers to trick the Germans into moving some of their tanks and munitions away from the Sicilian coastline.

Clifton Webb plays the real life Ewen Montagu, the Lt. Cmdr. who brilliantly crafted the plan known as Operation Mincemeat. (He wrote his own book about it after the war from which the film gets its title.) Webb is perfection in this low-key, stiff-upper-lip sort of role as is the entire cast of British stalwarts. The movie was filmed on location and has a sort of newsreel feel to it which suits the story and the crisp, no gimmicks direction.

Among the cast is one American, Gloria Graham who – unbeknown to the character - plays a pivotal (and likely fictional) part in the bizarre plot. She is quite wonderful as a young woman devastated by the death of her RAF boyfriend. There’s also an Irishman, Stephen Boyd (I think this is his first movie.) a chiseled, florid actor who is also very good in the part of a spy for the Nazis.

Everyone does their bit and the result is a tense, sober, enormously intelligent thriller.

31) REBECCA (1940) A film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, starring Lawrence Olivier and Joan Fontaine. Based on the book by Daphne Du Maurier.

All we need to read is:“Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again…” and we’re good to go. This is one of the more famous opening lines of any book ever written drummed into my head at school even before I read the book, when we began studying iambic pentameter.

In the film, Joan Fontaine plays the unnamed heroine. She is naive, withdrawn, shy, a bit on the klutzy side and not a raving beauty. While working as a companion/dogsbody for a wealthy woman vacationing in Monte Carlo, unnamed heroine catches the interest (although in truth, one wonders why) of the handsome, dashing and rich, Max De Winter (Lawrence Olivier).

He is a widower with secrets. (Aren’t they all?)

Soon after their whirlwind courtship and marriage, De Winter brings unnamed heroine back to his stately home, Manderley. And that’s where the trouble begins. You see, there’s this skulking, stone-faced housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson) who has an unnatural attachment to the memory of Rebecca, the first Mrs. De Winter.

I can say no more.

32) AIR FORCE ONE (1997) A film directed by Wolfgang Petersen, starring Harrison Ford, Glenn Close and Gary Oldman.

When hijackers, through brilliantly devious means, take control of Air Force One with the President and his family on board, President Marshall (Harrison Ford) goes into warrior mode. The resourceful Commander in Chief draws on his experience as a soldier to try and thwart murderous hijackers whose aim is to force the release of one of their leaders currently rotting in a Russian prison.

Glenn Close is steady and resolute as the Vice President trying to calm a jittery cabinet and a horde of curious reporters.

Another fast-paced thriller that hardly allows you any breathing time. A dandy popcorn movie.

33) EVIL UNDER THE SUN (1982) A film directed by Guy Hamilton, starring Peter Ustinov, Maggie Smith, James Mason, Roddy McDowall and Diana Rigg. Based on the book by Agatha Christie.

The book is superior, but the film is so smartly directed, outfitted and photographed, that I still enjoyed it. Beginning with the superb opening credits - music by Cole Porter - you suspect almost immediately that you’re in for a champagne fizz of a good time. Except that when the credits end, we’re thrust immediately into a nasty crime scene on the English moors.

But then, just minutes later, we’re on the French Riviera (one of the best scenes in the film, ambience-wise) with Hercule Poirot (Peter Ustinov) who has been hired by an insurance company to find a missing jewel. (This part of the movie alone is worth the price of admission.)

And a few scenes after that, we’re off to the beautiful island of I don’t know where – the film was shot on or near Majorca – but it’s supposed to be someplace once owned by royalty, off the coast of, I think, a Balkan country. The island is small and private and has been turned into an exclusive resort by the resourceful ex-mistress of the King of Tyrania, Daphne Castle (Maggie Smith).

Someone, of course, arrives to be murdered and the rest arrive as suspects and it’s all very British, very sophisticated and very fun to the eye. The gorgeous costumes designed by Anthony Powell have to be seen to be believed and the bouncy Cole Porter score is a dream.

Though Peter Ustinov never was my idea of Hercule Poirot, neither was Albert Finney. Still, Ustinov makes of the part what he can and he is not without a lumbering sort of charm.

34) REMO WILLIAMS: The Adventure Begins (1985) A film directed by Guy Hamilton, starring Fred Ward, Joel Grey and Kate Mulgrew.

This is a film that should have spawned several sequels and made Fred Ward a household name. But for whatever reason, it didn’t. Who can say why one film captures an audience’s imagination and another one, just as good or even better, doesn’t. It’s a mystery.

For me, this is a super-duper thriller with action, humor, charismatic leads in Ward and Grey and a story that incorporates ‘six million dollar man’ medical mumbo-jumbo and spurious martial arts mythology, spying and secret weapons and mixes it all up with just enough imagination and movie know-how to deliver the goods.

Through it all Fred Ward is oh-so-terrific as a cop brought back from the brink of death to join a top secret government organization, under a new identity (and with a few new body parts).  But first he must survive the rigorous training of Chuin, an adorably ancient marital arts master played (with a great deal of joie de vivre) by Joel Grey who practically steals the movie from under the granite countenance of Fred Ward.

Though admittedly the first two thirds (or so) of the movie are better than the last, it’s not enough of a slip to have caused the movie’s lackluster box office.

35) FIVE CAME BACK(1939) A film directed by John Farrow, starring Chester Morris, Lucille Ball, Wendy Barrie, Joseph Calleia, C. Aubrey Smith, John Carradine, Allen Jenkins and Kent Taylor.

A story that has been filmed twice and both times, I’ve enjoyed the results. It’s an engrossing thriller, adventure and love story with a few things to say about honor and self-sacrifice.

A plane with an assortment of passengers, including a wily killer manacled to a police officer, crashes in a very inhospitable jungle somewhere in South America (I think). As the survivors try to adapt to their surroundings, their inner characters are, of course, revealed. The two pilots attempt to make the plane flyable once again and in the meantime, we get to know who we like, who we don’t and take bets on who will survive and who won’t.

Turns out that the little group is under a terrible deadline - off in the distance we can hear the drums of a tribe of head-hunters who are known to inhabit that part of the jungle. Uh-oh.

A terrific movie, in either version. (Surprises me there hasn’t been a third remake.)

36) LONE STAR (1996) A film directed by John Sayles, starring Chris Cooper, Elizabeth Pena and Stephen Mendillo.

The gifted actor Chris Cooper is outstanding as Sam Deeds, a small town Texas sheriff who must investigate the death of his predecessor (Kris Kristofferson) – a volatile man whose disappearance had remained a mystery until a skeleton (very inconveniently) turns up.

As we all know, small towns can harbor big secrets - some deadlier than others - most better left undetected. Sam is about to find that out.

If you haven’t seen this, I suggest you line it up on your queue. Chris Cooper’s performance alone is a definite must-see. But the rest of the cast is almost as good.

37) THE BIRDS (1963) A film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, starring Rod Taylor, Tippi Hedren and Jessica Tandy. Based on a story by Daphne Du Maurier.

For reasons never explained, but probably having something to do with a pissed off Mother Nature fed up and flexing her muscles, flocks of birds suddenly consolidate and begin coordinated attacks on human beings in a small northern California coastal town.

Caught in the inexplicable avian furor is a San Francisco socialite, Melanie Daniels who has her sophisticated eye on Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) who is on his way to visit his mother (Jessica Tandy). They wind up barricaded in a small house.

What follows is a constant barrage of bird attacks which are not only bizarre, but frightening as heck. Even for that time, the special effects still startle.

You will never look at gulls and crows or for that matter, any other bird, in quite the same way again.

38) A SOLDIER’S STORY (1984) A film directed by Norman Jewison, starring Howard E. Rollins, Jr., Adolph Caesar and Art Evans. Based on the play by Charles Fuller.

During WWII, Captain Davenport (Howard E. Rollins, Jr.), a black state-side officer and lawyer, is sent to a Southern army base to help find the killer of an unpopular black Sergeant (Adolph Caesar who is superb). The white townspeople are naturally suspected (the killing took place away from the base), but as Davenport begins to dig, he finds that the killer may be one of the Sgt’s own men.

Davenport’s dogged investigation uncovers seething undercurrents of racial and class hatred within the black Army unit itself.

At the same time, Captain’s stripes on an African American cause much consternation among the white soldiers on the base. They hesitate then do a double-take before saluting – some need to be reminded to salute. This is during WWII, don’t forget, when a black officer is not someone most of these men have never seen or been taught to expect or respect.

This is an intense, tension-filled film aided and abetted by a wonderful cast, including David Alan Grier, David Harris, Robert Townsend, Larry Riley, Patti LaBelle and last, but not least, Denzel Washington in an early role.

The stirring ending gave me goose-bumps.

39) GILDA (1946) A film directed by Charles Vidor, starring Rita Hayworth, Glenn Ford and George Macready.

The setting: Argentina bathed in noir shadows. A sinister man named Ballin (?!) Mundson saves Johnny Farrell (a very sleazy looking Glenn Ford) from a beating and takes him on as his nightclub associate. Why? Well, I think that Ballin Mundson just likes the cut of Johnny’s jib. (And a very nice jib it is, too.)

Oddly enough, Mundson spends a lot of time looking lovingly at his carved walking stick…hmmm. And Johnny spends time gazing not only at the walking stick, but at Mundsen. Hmmm…..! There’s more happening here than meets the eye.

Well, one day this cozy little Eden that Johnny and Ballin have carved out for themselves down Argentina way, is thrown into disarray when the boss comes back from a business trip with a beautiful, young wife, Gilda (Rita Hayworth).

It’s like, ‘look what I got, Johnny.’

Turns out that Johnny and Gilda were once an item, but the relationship didn’t end well. Now the two ex-lovers hate each other’s guts. I mean, they HATE each other with a passion. Uh-oh. You know what they say about thwarted love.

This is a very strange movie primarily because the hatred between Gilda and Johnny is of a very juvenile nature, even though both have been around the block a few times. And George Macready – not an actor I’d have picked to play anyone’s hubby - simply has this bizarre movie aura and speaks in a harsh staccato voice. You cannot imagine in what universe a woman like Gilda would have married him.

So why is this film on my list? Well, it’s all so weirdly enjoyable. Plus Rita gets to look especially beguiling singing “Put the Blame on Mame, Boys” while her black strapless dress clings precariously. She could be and was a very likable screen presence – the sort of beautiful woman other less fortunate women didn’t immediately hate.

40) THE MALTESE FALCON (1941) A film directed by John Huston, starring Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor and Sydney Greenstreet. Based on the book by Dashiell Hammett.

When the uneasy detective partnership of Spade and Archer ends abruptly late one night with the murder of Archer, Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) sets out to find the killer.
The cops suspect Spade primarily because he was bonking Archer’s needy wife. But how involved is Brigid O’Shaughnessy, the very inventive liar who is Spade’s current client?

And what about the odd cast of characters which swirl around Miss O’Shaughnessy? Led by Kasper Gutman, an ominously jaunty fat man, they are not only seedy, but dangerous. The object of their mutual desire? A fabled black bird encrusted with jewels.

Though Mary Astor nearly ruins the film for me (reason why it’s #40 on my list) – she is so totally miscast – I watch this film for Bogart, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Jerome Cowan, Barton MacLane, Lee Patrick, Ward Bond and Elisha Cook, Jr.

41) SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE VOICE OF TERROR (1942) A film directed by John Rawlins, starring Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce and Evelyn Ankers. Based on the two characters created by Arthur Conan Doyle.

I know, I know, many purists reject the idea of bringing Holmes forward to 1942 England to fight the Nazis. (Then how about bringing Holmes forward to current day England? Or turning Holmes and Watson into rock 'em/sock 'em action heroes ala Robert Downey and Jude Law? It was always unavoidable, I suppose - beginning way back then.)

But I must tell you I love the idea of Holmes and Watson going up against the Nazis. It's one of the better films in the series and features a terrific cast of characters and a wonderful, soul-stirring speech in the end by Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes. 

When the British public (and Downing Street) is subjected to nightly doses of propaganda from a dislocated voice on the radio taunting the Brit's inability to stop deadly acts of terror timed to coincide with the voice's jeering - defense ministers turn to Holmes to put a stop to it.

42) ABOVE SUSPICION (1943) A film directed by Richard Thorpe, starring Fred MacMurray, Joan Crawford, Basil Rathbone and Conrad Veidt. Based on the book by Helen MacInnes.

Before England and Germany officially declared war, there was lots of behind the scenes skullduggery. When Oxford professor Richard Myles and his wife Frances (MacMurray and Crawford) go on a European honeymoon, they’re recruited by British Intelligence to stop in Germany and do a little bit of spying. At first, it’s a lark, but then they are threatened by real danger in the form of the Gestapo and Basil Rathbone as a Nazi who knew Richard when both were at Oxford.

The always wonderful Conrad Veidt plays a debonair tourist ‘guide’ who may or may not be a wrong ‘un.

A terrific film with the most unlikely pairing of MacMurray and Crawford that, for some odd reason, works well enough. But I keep my eye on Basil and Conrad, love them both.


43) THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE (1945) A film directed by Robert Siodmak, starring Dorothy McGuire, Ethel Barrymore and George Brent. Based on a novel by Ethel Lina White.

This is the film which features the two blandest leading men in the history of movies, George Brent and Kent Smith. I wrote a piece a while back in which I basically prove that Brent and Smith are the same person. Istill think that.

But putting my theory aside, this film’s creepy/spooky quotient is through the roof. That shadowy staircase alone is worth the price of admission. Think twice before watching this alone in a dark room.

The plot: Helen (Dorothy McGuire) is domestically employed as a drudge in a spooky old house ruled by a cranky old lady played by Ethel Barrymore, who lives there with her two sons. Helen is mute (but attractive) and naturally, everyone wants to take care of her – especially men. But this is a setting ripe for menace. For one thing, there never seems to be any daylight. Everything happens at night. The story is set in 1917, so candles are usually needed.

One other thing: there’s a serial killer loose in the neighborhood targeting handicapped women. Need I say more?

44) MURDER SHE SAID(1961) A film directed by George Pollock, starring Margaret Rutherford. Based on the book, 4:50 FROM PADDINGTON by Agatha Christie.

Okay so she’s not anyone’s idea of Miss Marple (well, except for the people who made the movie), still, Margaret Rutherford is such a wonderfully dotty screen presence that if you pretend it’s not Christie’s Miss Marple, everything works out fine. That’s what I do.

A murder taking place in a passing train, spied from the window of another passing train has the police thinking Miss Marple is loose a few marbles since no body can be found. Hers must be the imaginings of an old spinster with too much imagination. Miss Marple is naturally, indignant.

Soon, as part of her own investigation, Miss Marple has been hired on as a maid of all work (!?) at Rutherford Hall where she promptly comes across the dead body in question, in an old sarcophagus. Go figure.

45) 16 BLOCKS (2006) A film directed by Richard Donner, starring Bruce Willis, Mos Def and David Morse.

NYPD Detective Jack Mosley (Bruce Willis) is a washed up cop nearing retirement. He is handed the deceptively simple job of escorting a witness (fast talking Def Mos) sixteen city blocks to give an important deposition.

But within minutes of accepting the assignment Mosley learns that deadly forces will stop at nothing to keep him from doing just that.

One quibble: Def Mos’ mumblings are very difficult to understand, other than that, an engrossing, little-known and under-appreciated thriller. Willis is excellent as is David Morse playing a sinister cop.

46) CASINO ROYALE (2006) A film directed by Martin Campbell, starring Daniel Craig, Eva Green and Judy Dench. Based on the book by Ian Fleming.

The first film in this long-running series, in which the physically imposing Craig gets to play a very swoon-worthy James Bond. Admittedly, the scene in which Craig rises out of the ocean in a nicely filled swim-suit is worth the price of admission, but let’s not get carried away…..ahem!

The film isn’t just about the hottie-ness of its leading man, CASINO ROYALE also happens to be a helluva well-written and executed thriller. It begins with a heart-thumping opening chase sequence which leaves you breathless and gasping for breath. To my mind, this is the best James Bond movie since GOLDFINGER, but then, I’m not the world’s biggest James Bond fan. But no question about it, Daniel Craig is simply wonderful to watch as is the gorgeous scenery.

The basic storyline pertains to a high stakes poker tournament in Montenegro in which Bond must keep Le Chiffre (all these bad guys gotta’ have monikers), a banker with terrorist clients, from winning. Of course there’s a beautiful, mysterious woman, gorgeous scenery and techy gadgetry. Plus Judy Dench as ‘M’.

Plus, plus Daniel Craig in and out of a tux.

47) BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK (1955) A film directed by John Sturges, starring Spencer Tracy and Robert Ryan.

When one-armed stranger, John J. McCreedy (Spencer Tracy), arrives in a dusty, parched, small western town on a mysterious mission, he is met with hostility and threats.

The unfriendly townspeople are hiding a terrible secret which they will go to any lengths to keep. As McCreedy doggedly goes about his business, the ugly truth slowly comes to light.

A mostly forgotten Spencer Tracy film in which he is perfectly (if somewhat
unexpectedly) cast, playing opposite an equally strong Robert Ryan and a talented cast of  character actors including Walter Brennan, Lee Marvin, Dean Jagger, Anne Francis and Ernest Borgnine.

48) CONTRABAND (1940) aka BLACKOUT. A film directed by Michael Powell, starring Conrad Veidt and Valerie Hobson.

It's early in WWII and England is gearing up for the Germans. To prevent black market munitions, medical supplies etc. from being delivered to the enemy, there is a naval blockade on - something the Brits take very seriously.

When Danish captain Anderson (Conrad Veidt) is detained at anchor while his passengers and ships content are checked and paperwork gone over, he illegally comes ashore on the trail of two of his passengers, a beautiful woman (Valerie Hobson) and her cohort (Esmond Knight), a man named Mr. Pidgeon. In black-out shrouded London, the captain is soon involved in a desperate game with Nazi spies who are after - what else - a code.

The best part of this wonderful spy thriller - for me at least - is how the wily Captain makes use of the ebulliently charming proprietor (the adorable Hay Petrie who plays two parts) and enthusiastic waiters of a Danish restaurant in London to help him save a lady in distress and bring down the bad guys.

A little-known film that I'd never heard of until Sergio at Tipping My Fedora brought it to my attention. I received the film (at my request) for Christmas (last year I think), saw it and loved it.
So much so that I adjusted this list to make room. 

49) DÉJÀ VU (2006) A film directed by Tony Scott, starring Denzel Washington, Paula Patton and Jim Caviezel.

ATF Agent Doug Carlin (Denzel Washington) is part of a large-scale investigation of a terrorist act - a bomb explosion aboard a New Orleans ferry crowded with members of the U.S.S. Nimitz and their families. To that end he comes across a mysterious FBI unit which is using ‘space-folding’ technology to look backwards through a four day window at events happening in the present. It’s implausible mumbo-jumbo, but the film-makers make it all work so that it makes some sort of sense.

Long story, short – Carlin uses the technology (adapted) to travel back in time and try and change history. Though the ending doesn’t really work, this is still an intriguing, occasionally startling thriller with a chilling premise and cerebral possibilites. There are scenes of dark violence, so be-warned. But if I can take it, so can you.


50) SUSPECT (1987) A film directed by Peter Yates, starring Cher, Dennis Quaid, Liam Neeson and John Mahoney.

A judge commits suicide and later his secretary is found murdered. The police arrest Carl Anderson (Liam Neesom in one of his first roles) a deaf mute homeless man. But public defender Kathleen Riley (Cher) – assigned to his case - is not convinced Anderson is guilty.

When a member of the jury (Dennis Quaid) draws Riley into a search for the real killer, a very willing suspension of disbelief is required.

The silly proposition that a lawyer and a juror (part of the same trial) could/would actually work together to find the real killer only seems plausible in movie-land, but it still makes for a pretty suspenseful film with a terrific ending.

46 comments:

  1. Hello Yvette:
    A most comprehensive list and a very good resource for anyone interested in finding a film within this genre.

    You include here many of our own firm favourites, some of which we had forgotten about until reminded now, and there are, of course, one or two titles completely unknown to us.

    A great deal of time and thought has obviously gone into the preparation of this post which will, we are sure, be much appreciated by your readers.

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  2. Thanks Jane and Lance, welcome back! It's great to hear from you again. :)

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  3. I knew it! I knew "Green for Danger" would make your list.

    I haven't read each synopsis in detail yet, but will save for the rainy day the weatherman has forecast for this week. However, your comment that the Hammett novel "The Thin Man" is rather dour and came to life on film is spot on. It's amazing what a difference the casting of Powell and Loy make in defining the characters of Nick and Nora. Three cheers for Woody Van Dyke.

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  4. Yvette,

    Great list and an incredible amount of work putting all this together. You got some long time favorites of mine here:

    The Thin Man
    Laura
    In the Heat of the Night
    Rear Window
    The Maltese Falcon
    Bad Day at Black Rock

    By the way, I agree about Rear Window for I too had some doubts about his voyeurism.

    There are several I disagree about, of course.

    And, there are a number that I want to take a look at for I haven't seen them and in fact hadn't heard of some of them. So, thanks for the reviews. My queueueueue is getting longer and longer.

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  5. Caftan Woman: Of course, it had to. :)

    We agree on The Thin Man film vs. book.

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  6. Fred: It was a labor of love, really. Though I have been working on it for a while.

    I'm interested in where we disagree and what films you hadn't heard of. If you get a moment, let me know. :)

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  7. How can anyone not love Powell and Loy as Nick and Nora. One of the best movies, ever.

    I watched Ministry of Fear because of your past recommendation, and loved it. The Uninvited has been a favorite for years, as well as Dial M For Murder and Cat People.

    I have Lady in the Lake on my DVR right now, again because of you. And I almost watched The Spiral Staircase when it was on the other night but I got sidetracked.

    I still need to see Laura, The Lady Vanishes, Night Train to Munich, Rebecca, and Five Came Back.

    Some of my favorites that didn't make your list are:

    Double Indemnity (1944)
    Sorry, Wrong Number (1948)
    Lifeboat (1944)
    Stage Fright (1950)
    The Unsuspected (1947)
    East Side, West Side (1949)
    Footsteps in the Dark (1941)
    The Ex-Mrs. Bradford (1936)
    Evelyn Prentice (1934)
    Gosford Park (2002)
    L.A. Confidential (1997)
    Possession (2009)
    Murder on the Orient Express (1974)
    And Then There Were None (1945)

    Sorry, didn't mean to list so many, and I'm having to force myself to stop :-)

    I did notice that I really love Barbara Stanwyck and a lot of good movies were made in 1944.

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  8. This is a fantastic list, Yvette! One of my all time favorite mysteries is also The Maltese Falcon, starring Humphrey Bogart.

    I am visitng my grandchildren and helping my daughter and son-in-law in theri new home thsi week. It's still so hot here!

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  9. Ryan, I did say that some of the more popular films would not be on my list, occasionally because I've never seen them OR because having seen them once I had no need to see them again making me think they just didn't mean all that much to me.

    I like some of the films you mention, I just don't love them. :)

    But I did like POSSESSION as awful lot. Just didn't think of it as a thriller or much of a mystery though I suppose it could be....

    I did enjoy FOOTSTEPS IN THE DARK, very much. That would probably have gone on the next fifty if I ever do get up the energy to do fifty more. Gotta' have a hundred I suppose...

    Same for AND THEN THERE WERE NONE, the Louis Hayward version. Second tier list.

    Also MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS.

    I'm not one who loves lots of that grim noir stuff, never have been. Hence the reasoning behind my not listing some of the films you mention, Ryan.

    Gasp. I'm not familiar at all with THE UNSUSPECTED. Looked it up. I've never seen it. Must take a look. Maybe it will make my second list.

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  10. Thanks, Pat! It was a fun list to work on - though time consuming! I love making lists! I think you knew that. :)

    Take it easy in this heat. It's awful. Rocky and I can barely stand being outside.

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  11. Happy to see Diva on your list. I thought I was the only person to know of that film. Also, thanks for reminding me of Fred Ward. I'll have to include him in my Not Very Famous Blog one of these days.

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  12. Remo Williams! Wow. There's a movie I'd neve think you'd like. Based on the series of men's adventure tales. If you want a sequel maybe you ought to read one of the books. You've seen them at book sales all over, I'm sure. There are 145 books "The Destroyer" series by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir! Take your pick.

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  13. Lovely list and so many I need to see again. Especially DIVA.

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  14. Brava Yvette! Obviously a true labour of love. DIVA was the perfect choice to head this really personal list - and that aria from LA WALLY is truly something.

    Thanks, I really enjoyed going through this - and how marvellous see both REMO and EVIL UNDER THE SUN, two films by the underrated Guy Hamilton. I think I would probably substitute a different instalment from the SHERLOCK HOLMES series just because Rathbone's crazy Bohemian haircut drives me nuts in that film.

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  15. Mike: Yeah, Fred Ward. He shoulda' been a contender. :)

    DIVA is my numero uno.

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  16. What's not to like about Remo? Terrific film most people haven't seen.

    Don't know about the books though...I'll have to see. :)

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  17. Patti: Wasn't DIVA the best? LOVE that film. Lost count of how many times I've seen it.

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  18. Yvette,

    Ones I wouldn't include if I made up a list?

    I've already mentioned Rutherford as Miss Marple in a previous comment, so there's no need to go into that.

    Surprisingly, I don't like many of the early Hitchcock films. I've been getting them from Netflix recently and find that I can't go beyond the first ten minutes or so. The dialogue just turns me off.

    "Thirty-nine Steps," though, is an exception.

    I've seen a number of the others on your list and enjoyed them, but I wouldn't put them in my top 50.

    Some I would include on a list of my own, although I don't know if they would fit in with yours:

    Witness for the Prosecution

    Jesse Stone

    Run Lola Run

    No Country for Old Men

    Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

    The Third Man

    M (Peter Lorre is great in this one)

    Casablanca? (others with Bogie, but I don't know whether they would fit in as thrillers--Treasure of Sierra Madre for example)

    The Big Sleep

    Blow Up

    Anatomy of a Murder


    Ones I hadn't heard of but are interested in viewing:

    The List of Adrian Messenger (can't find on Netflix or library)

    A Soldier's Story (now in queue)

    The Spiral Staircase

    The Uninvited

    The 2nd and 3rd Bourne films. I had watched the first but didn't know about the sequels. The library has them, so I put them on reserve.

    Great List--found some I had enjoyed a long time ago and am now thinking of a second time around.

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  19. Brilliant, Yvette! You make me feel guilty about not watching many of the films on your list. At the same time I'm relieved that I have also seen a good number of them.

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  20. No guilt, Prashant! Just films I happened to have seen. There are many more popular ones I haven't seen. So it all balances out. :)

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  21. Well, Fred, JESSE STONE was for television. I left off all television movies because they're going on another list. These are movie-movies.

    I haven't seen TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER SPY yet - but it's on my queue.

    THE BIG SLEEP and CASABLANCA are not real favorites of mine although if they're on I don't object. I just don't make any real point of watching them. Though I do prefer CASABLANCA to THE BIG SLEEP.

    Haven't seen NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN and won't. Not my kind of film at all.

    Loved ANATOMY OF A MURDER and debated putting it on this list but I haven't seen it in many years. I'm going to watch it again at some point and have a feeling it's going on the second list.

    BLOW-UP seems very dated to me.

    Let me know what you think of the Bourne films once you view them. Also I'll be interested to know what you make of A SOLDIER'S STORY. For me, that was a powerhouse of a film.

    To watch ADRIAN MESSENGER, I had to plunk down some cash to buy it from Amazon. Boy am I glad I did. :)

    Occasionally TCM shows it.

    You know I don't think I've EVER watched THE THIRD MAN all the way through. TOO grim. I find myself losing interest.

    Thanks for the conversation, Fred. I love talking movies.

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  22. Sergio: I notice that the two Guy Hamilton films you mention are together one over the other on my list. Coincidence! Maybe not. :)

    EVIL UNDER THE SUN is so NOT a great film, but it's SO enjoyable nonetheless. So much fun.

    I know you had hair issues with SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE VOICE OF TERROR - HA! Didn't bother me.

    Truth be known, most of the Holmes films from that series just haven't aged well. I might have picked SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE SCARLET CLAW - it will go on my second 50 list if I ever get around to working on it.

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  23. Yvette,

    I wasn't sure about whether TV movies were included. _Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy_ is also a TV production.

    Yes, movie talk is fun--I learn some new titles every time.

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  24. Luckily my husband pointed this out to me, I had missed it somehow. Your list is so long and I want to read all of it and all the comments. Your have been working hard. All I will say for now is my husband liked the list, we like the Charlie Chan movies also. The one he would add would be Tell No One (a French movie). And I will have to look into 16 Blocks... Bruce Willis!

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  25. What a great list, Yvonne. I haven't seen all of them - perhaps a third - but I like your eclectic tastes. I'm particularly glad to see a Val Lewton film made your list. His productions were elegant horror/suspense/mystery thrillers; he was smart enough to know that what you DON'T see can be a thousand times more frightening than what you do. Nice to see him remembered!

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  26. Wonderful list! I was surprised at how many I have seen.

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  27. Great list! I will take notes and read every comment.

    And I agree that Tell No One (based on a Harlan Coben book, but in this case I think the movie is better than the book.) This is a French film.

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  28. Fred, I thought you meant the recent TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER SPY film with Gary Oldman and Colin Firth. That's a definite must see soon as I can find the time or the inclination.

    I do vaguely remember the Alec Guinness television series. But only just.

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  29. Tracy K: I think I'm the only one who ever saw 16 BLOCKS. Ha! A very underrated and underappreciated film.
    I hope when you see it that you'll like it as much as I do.

    Okay, TELL NO ONE is on my queue. I'm hearing all sorts of good things about it. Though I did not like the book, I'm going to watch the French version. Thank your hubby. :)

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  30. CATS has always been one of my favorite films, Les. Val Lewton also did, if I'm not mistaken, one of the scariest movies I've ever seen, THE LEOPARD MAN. It's not on my list because I hated the fact that I was so frightened.

    P.S. My name's Yvette, Les. :)

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  31. Peggy Ann: Thanks! I wanted to make sure it was a list of films I'd actually seen and not just heard about.

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  32. Kathy: I'll definitely be watching TELL NO ONE during the next few days. Then I'll report. :)

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  33. YVETTE - arrrrrrggggghhhh. I shouldn't be allowed near a keyboard without an editor. Apologies.

    Oh - and, yes, Val Lewton produced (and Jacques Tourneur directed) "The Leopard Man."

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  34. Yvette, I know and love a great many of your Favorite Mystery and/or Thriller Films, and I could wax rhapsodic about the many films I've seen and enjoyed on your wonderful list! Here's a few quick notes that came to mind, for what they're worth:

    *I always thought LAURA was more about the title character's strange friends and THEIR various images of her, rather than about being about Laura herself.

    * My dear late mom loved Madeleine Carroll in THE 39 STEPS and other films, though I get your begging to differ.

    *THE LADY VANISHES: Loved your phrase "a kibitzing pair of British travelers."

    *Loved your MINISTRY OF FEAR post, as well as your nice comments about our respective MoF reviews! :-)

    *Great response to IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT -- chutzpah, indeed!

    *Frankly, I consider SHADOW OF A DOUBT to be film noir (and a damn fine one)!

    *Loved both THE UNINVITED and the song "Stella by Starlight."

    *Speaking of Ray Milland, MINISTRY OF FEAR and DIAL M FOR MURDER are two of my very favorites among Milland's films! I especially loved your quip about Ray in DIAL...: "The Villain, open-minded to new possibilities...." But Yvette, one thing puzzles me in your review: you mention DIAL M... was in black-and-white, but I've only ever seen it in color; in fact, I was even able to see it in a special 3D showing years ago at NYC's Film Forum. What'd I miss?

    *Your remarks on THE GHOST BREAKERS reminds me yet again that somehow I must get my hot little hands on his movie! :-)

    *THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER and THE FUGITIVE are favorites here at Team Bartilucci HQ. My Mom had especially loved it, having had the hots for young Alec Baldwin! :-)

    *REAR WINDOW is another of my favorite Hitchcock films, with Grace Kelly in one of my favorites among her roles. And who doesn't love that truly practical nurse Thelma Ritter? :-)

    *Vinnie turned me on to the DESTROYER/Remo Williams novels. We love Remo in all his/its forms, from books to movies, even a short-lived TV series (with Roddy McDowell as Chiun). Joel Grey rules, and Fred Ward is no slouch either!

    *We must respectfully agree to disagree about Mary Astor, dear friend; we love her! Admittedly, part of that may be that Ms. Astor always reminds me of my late Auntie Joy, in both her looks and her colorful life! :-)

    Awesome blog post, Yvette! Suddenly I feel like locking myself in our living room and watching a marathon of the great movies you've picked! :-)

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  35. Les: THE LEOPARD MAN gave me nightmares when I was a kid.

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  36. I agree with you about LAURA, Dorian. Good point.

    You know, you are right about DIAL M FOR MURDER being in color. I remember it in black and white, always. There are just some films that live in my memory in b/w even if they were in color. And vice versa. I always remember THE MAN WHO NEVER WAS in black and white too. But I'm pretty sure it was in color.

    Memory is a funny thing. HA! And the older I get, the funnier it gets.

    You HAVE to get your hands on THE GHOSTBREAKERS. It's on Netflix, but only as a DVD so far. I finally broke down and bought it so I can watch it whenever I want. :)

    Oh, Mary Astor, Mary Astor. I loved her in DODSWORTH, but....

    We must agree to disagree. But mainly I think we agree on many films. It would be pretty boring if we agreed on EVERYTHING. :)

    Thanks for commenting and adding to the conversation!

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  37. Fabulous list. I've seen many of them and have some new ones to check out. Thrillers are my favorite genre.

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  38. I add Notorious to the list, one of my favorite films.

    Nothing like Claude Rains saying to his Prussian-general-like-Nazi mother, "Mother, I'm married to an American agent."

    The tension grows to a crescendo.

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  39. Kathy: I would have added NOTORIOUS to my second tier list.

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  40. Yvette, love those London 2012 olympic posters I think of this site as my own mini personal bookshop; I can browse to hearts content
    Dave

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    1. Thanks, Dave. Glad you're enjoying my blog. :)

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  41. Wow! WhaT a beautiful job you've done here! I echo davi above. This is like a personal book shop.I get ideas for future reading, and see the sights. Thanks,

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    1. Thanks, Pavel. I do wish I had more time to spend on my blog. But thanks for the kind words, they are really appreciated. At the very least I hope to make this place interesting. :)

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  42. I am forced to agree with your opinion of the Charlie Chan movies featuring Mantan Moreland. The only scenes of his which I enjoyed were in 'Dark Alibi', where he and an inmate friend had a couple of chats where they would finish what each other was saying, thereby leading to quite a hilarious, hard to follow conversation.
    A classic piece of comedy, quite 'Marx brothers' in a way.
    The rest of his Chan appearances were really quite irritating.

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    1. I never understood the addition of Moreland to the series. But I do love the early Chan movies, in fact, I own several of them. They are great fun. I may check out DARK ALIBIT just to see the scene you've mentioned. :)

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