DETECTIVE-MYSTERY
FILMS



Part 1


Detective-Mystery Films
Part 1 | Part 2 | Examples


Detective-Mystery Films are usually considered a sub-type of crime/gangster films (or film noir), or suspense or thriller films that focus on the unsolved crime (usually the murder or disappearance of one or more of the characters, or a theft), and on the central character - the hard-boiled detective-hero, as he/she meets various adventures and challenges in the cold and methodical pursuit of the criminal or the solution to the crime. The plot often centers on the deductive ability, prowess, confidence, or diligence of the detective as he/she attempts to unravel the crime or situation by piecing together clues and circumstances, seeking evidence, interrogating witnesses, and tracking down a criminal.

See also AFI's 10 Top 10 - The Top 10 Mystery Films and
Filmsite's related Greatest Plot Twists, Spoilers, and Surprise Endings.

Detective-mystery films emphasize the detective or person(s) (an amateur, a plain-clothes policeman, or a PI - Private Investigator) solving the crime through clues and exceptional rational powers. The detective studies the intriguing reasons and events leading to the crime, and eventually determines the identity of the villain (a murderer, a master spy, an arch fiend, an unseen evil, or a malignant psychological force). The central character usually explores the unsolved crime, unmasks the perpetrator, and puts an end to the effects of the villainy.

Suspense is added as the protagonist struggles within the puzzle-like narrative to gather evidence and testimony, to investigate all motives, and to discover the one essential clue or fatal flaw/alibi that betrays the identity of the culprit. The detective (or main protagonist) often succeeds in cleverly trapping the killer or criminal where law-and-order officers and local police officials do not. Intensity, anxiety, and suspense build to an exciting climax, often with the detective (or protagonist) using his fists or gun to solve the crime.

This genre has ranged from early mystery tales, fictional or literary detective stories, to classic Hitchcockian suspense-thrillers to classic private detective films. A related film sub-genre is that of spy films. If detection and the solution to a crime are not central to a 'mystery' film, then it blends into other genre film types, such as horror or suspense-thrillers.

The Earliest Mysteries:

Mysteries had their start in the early days of silent film. The most primitive serials, such as the well-known The Perils of Pauline (1914), possessed a degree of mystery. This film type blossomed as a full film category in the talking films of the 1930s, often borrowing from characters in popular literature. Detective films were widely popular during the 1930s and 1940s in B-series films.

Sherlock Holmes Films:

Sherlock HolmesSherlock Holmes, the world's first private detective, was derived from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's works (his first SH novel was 1887's A Study in Scarlet (1887), followed by three other novels and 56 short stories). The Baker Street sleuth became the fictional character most frequently recurring on the screen. He has appeared in over 200 films since 1900 and been played by well over 70 actors.

Holmes solved mysteries in hundreds of films with "elementary deductions" and with assistance from 221-B Baker Street sidekick assistant Dr. Watson. Their setting in 19th century England was updated in 1942 to the World War II era, with Holmes battling the Nazis. The only actor to have played both Sherlock Holmes and his assistant Dr. Watson was Reginald Owen (see below).

The immortal, prototypical detective first appeared on the film screen in a 30-second, 1900 one-reeler (registered in 1903) from American Mutoscope and Biograph Company, titled Sherlock Holmes Baffled (1900). It was the first recorded detective film on record, made specifically for one-person mutoscope viewing machines in amusement arcades.

Between 1921 and 1923, UK actor Eille Norwood played the Sherlock Holmes character almost 50 times in short two-reelers, and in two feature films (The Hound of the Baskervilles (1921, UK), and The Sign of Four (1923, UK)). He was the most prolific actor ever to portray Sherlock Holmes. Another of the earliest Holmes films was Albert Parker's silent 9-reeler Sherlock Holmes (1922) with John Barrymore.

The first talkie Sherlock Holmes film was The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1929) with Clive Brook in the sleuthing lead role. The character was also popularly portrayed by many actors in the 1930s, including:

  • Raymond Massey (in The Speckled Band (1931, UK), Massey's first talking picture)
  • Robert Rendel (in The Hound of the Baskervilles (1932, UK))
  • Clive Brook (in Sherlock Holmes (1932))
  • Reginald Owen (in A Study in Scarlet (1933))
  • The Hound of the Baskervilles (1937, Germ.) (aka Der Hund von Baskerville), d. Carl Lamac, with Bruno Güttner as Holmes
  • Two Merry Adventurers (1937, Germ.) (aka The Man Who Was Sherlock Holmes) - German actors Hans Albers & Heinz Rühmann pretended to be the famous duo of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson

Arthur Wontner portrayed Holmes in 5 films from 1931-1937:

  • Sherlock Holmes' Fatal Hour (1931, UK) (aka The Sleeping Cardinal), based on Doyle's two stories, The Empty House and The Final Problem
  • Sherlock Holmes and The Missing Rembrandt (1932, UK), based on Doyle's The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton
  • The Sign of Four: Sherlock Holmes' Greatest Case (1932, UK)
  • The Triumph of Sherlock Holmes (1935, UK), an adaptation of Doyle's The Valley of Fear
  • Murder at the Baskervilles (1937, UK) (aka Silver Blaze)

Basil Rathbone's 14 Sherlock Holmes Films (1939-1946):

The Hound of the Baskervilles - 1939Its most familiar, popular figure was the British actor Basil Rathbone with an Inverness cape, deerslayer hat and curved-stem calabash pipe (accompanied by dull-witted, pipe-smoking Nigel Bruce as Watson - who wasn't so clumsy and buffoonish in the original writings), who appeared during the war years in 14 pictures from 1939 to 1946:

  • The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939), 20th Century Fox
  • The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939), 20th Century Fox

    Universal Studios created the next 12 entries:
  • Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror (1942), in which Holmes was linked with the Allied war effort
  • Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (1942), Holmes fought the Nazis, adapted from Doyle's short story The Adventure of the Dancing Men
  • Sherlock Holmes in Washington (1943)
  • Sherlock Holmes Faces Death (1943)
  • The Spider Woman (1944)
  • The Scarlet Claw (1944)
  • The Pearl of Death (1944)
  • The House of Fear (1945)
  • The Woman in Green (1945)
  • Pursuit to Algiers (1945)
  • Terror by Night (1946)
  • Dressed to Kill (1946)

Other Sherlock Holmes Variations Through the 1970s:

  • The Adventure of the Speckled Band (1949) (TV episode of NBC's "Your Show Time"), with Alan Napier as Holmes
  • Sherlock Holmes (1954-1955) (TV series) - a half-hour TV series (of 39 half-hour episodes produced in France with an all-British cast), with Ronald Howard as Sherlock Holmes and Howard Marion-Crawford as Dr. Watson
  • The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959, UK), Hammer Films, d. Terence Fisher, with Peter Cushing as Holmes
  • Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace (1962, Germ.), d. Terence Fisher, with Christopher Lee
  • Sherlock Holmes (1964-1965, and 1968) (BBC-TV series) - the series spanned two seasons in the U.K.
    The first batch was produced in 1964-65 and starred Douglas Wilmer in the title role.
    In the second season, 16 episodes were originally produced, although only five stories remain (The Hound of the Baskervilles, A Study in Scarlet, The Boscombe Valley Mystery, The Sign of Four and The Blue Carbuncle), with Peter Cushing
  • The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970, UK/US), directed by Billy Wilder, in colorful Panavision with Robert Stephens as Holmes, and Christopher Lee as Sherlock's brother Mycroft
  • They Might Be Giants (1971), Universal, with George C. Scott (as Justin, who believed that he was Sherlock Holmes)
  • The Hound of the Baskervilles (1972) (ABC-TV movie), with Stewart Granger as Holmes
  • The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother (1975, US/UK), a comedy with actor/director/writer Gene Wilder (his directorial debut film) as Holmes' younger brother Sigerson Holmes (an alias used by Sherlock); Douglas Wilmer portrayed Sherlock Holmes
  • Sherlock Holmes in New York (1976) (NBC-TV movie), with Roger Moore
  • Silver Blaze (1977, UK/Can.) (25-minute TV movie), with Christopher Plummer as Sherlock Holmes, d. John Davies
  • The Hound of the Baskervilles (1978, UK), d. Paul Morrissey, a comedy spoof with Peter Cook as Holmes

  • Sherlock Holmes also appeared in various TV episodes: in the cartoon series Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, in the animated TV series Batman: The Brave and the Bold, and in the TV drama series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.
  • The TV-movie/pilot Sherlock (2002) starred James D'Arcy as Sherlock and Roger Morlidge as Watson
  • Another modern, updated BBC-TV series composed of three feature-length episodes, titled Sherlock: Season One (2010), found the sleuths (Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman) solving crimes in present-day London

Curious Adaptations of Sherlock Holmes:

  • Mr. Magoo's Sherlock Holmes (1965), an animated short which aired in 1965 (as part of the mid-1960s TV series The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo), with Paul Frees as the voice of Sherlock Holmes
  • A Study in Terror (1965, UK), and Murder by Decree (1979, UK/Can.), in these two mystery-thrillers, Sherlock Holmes (John Neville, Christopher Plummer) and Dr. Watson (Donald Houston, James Mason) were in pursuit of Jack the Ripper
  • The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1976, UK/US), Sherlock Holmes (Nicol Williamson) was treated for cocaine addiction by Dr. Sigmund Freud (Alan Arkin) in Vienna; also with Robert Duvall as Dr. Watson/Narrator
  • Time After Time (1979), in the sci-fi time travel film, H.G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell) claimed to be "Sherlock Holmes"
  • The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1984, UK) (TV show series, 1984-1985), with Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes in 13 episodes (in two seasons)
  • Sherlock Hound (1984-, Jp.), animated TV show from 1984-1985 (26 episodes), a canine version of the Holmes story
  • Young Sherlock Holmes (1985), directed by Barry Levinson, with Nicholas Rowe as the teen version of Sherlock Holmes, with a script by Chris Columbus; noted for ground-breaking special effects - it was the first feature film to have a completely CGI character: the stained-glass window knight
  • Without a Clue (1988, UK), a comedy in which Dr. Watson (Ben Kingsley) claimed that Holmes was only his fictional creation, allowing him to solve crimes incognito - actor Reginald Kincaid (Michael Caine) was hired to impersonate "Holmes"

Most recently, the adventures of Sherlock Holmes have been portrayed in a pair of director Guy Ritchie action films, starring Robert Downey, Jr (as Holmes) and Jude Law (as Dr. Watson); unique in that Holmes was a martial-arts specialist in Wing-Chun Kung Fu:

  • Sherlock Holmes (2009)
  • Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011), a sequel

Also, there were these versions, on TV and the big screen:

  • Sherlock (2010-, UK), the continuing BBC's Emmy-winning TV series about a "new sleuth for the 21st century," with Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock and Martin Freeman as Dr. Watson
  • Elementary (2012-), the continuing CBS-TV series was set in NYC, starring drug-addicted Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) and his recovery sponsor Dr. Joan Watson (Lucy Liu)
  • Mr. Holmes (2015, UK/US), by director Bill Condon (based upon the novel A Slight Trick of the Mind), with Ian McKellen as 93 year-old retired detective Holmes

Foreign Sleuths:

Charlie Chan -

Charlie Chan at the Opera - 1936Short who-dun-its in the 1930s and 40s featured the B-movie, Canton-born, Honolulu-based Oriental sleuth Charlie Chan, derived from Earl Derr Biggers' works, and based on real-life Hawaiian cop Chang Apana (very unlike the movie version). The round-faced, meticulous sleuth was one of the screen's most prolific detectives, with 46 Chan films and one serial from 1926 to 1949. [Charlie Chan was never played on the screen by a Chinese actor.]

Detective Charlie Chan was introduced in Pathe's 10-part serial The House Without a Key (1926) - portrayed by Japanese actor George Kuwa. The second screen appearance was in Universal's and German director Paul Leni's The Chinese Parrot (1927), with Japanese actor Kamiyama Sojin in the lead role (the film was remade as Charlie Chan's Courage (1934)). The first sound Charlie Chan film was Fox's Behind That Curtain (1929), with Korean actor E.L. Park as the sleuth.

Charlie Chan at the Opera - 1936The character was best played by Swedish actor Warner Oland (from 1931-1938 in 16 films), who portrayed Chan as a dapper fellow who was always polite and unassertive but nevertheless was solving the crime using physical evidence and logical deduction. The sly, composed Charlie Chan would eloquently spout Confucius-type proverbs, aphorisms, and wisdom in pidgin English, achieved by dropping definite articles and verbs: ("difficult to catch fly with one finger," "bad alibi like dead fish - can't stand test of time," "Joy in heart more desirable than bullet," "must not too soon come to conclusion," "Perfect case like perfect doughnut - has hole" and "silence is golden, except in police station," for example), always with a courteous, paternalistic, and inquisitive manner.

The series continued, with less noteworthy quality, with American actor Sidney Toler (1938-1947 in 22 appearances), and American film and TV character actor Roland Winters (1947-1949 in 6 films) as the sixth and last screen Chan. Fox was responsible for the Chan films from 1929-1942, followed by Monogram (from 1944-1949). Charlie Chan also appeared on TV in 39 half-hour episodes, The New Adventures of Charlie Chan, during 1957-58:

  • Behind That Curtain (1929), Fox's first film, with E.L. Park as Chan; first sound film in series

    With Warner Oland (1931-1938)
  • Charlie Chan Carries On (1931)
  • The Black Camel (1931)
  • Charlie Chan's Chance (1932) - lost film
  • Charlie Chan's Greatest Case (1933) - lost film
  • Charlie Chan's Courage (1934) - lost film
  • Charlie Chan in London (1934)
  • Charlie Chan in Paris (1935)
  • Charlie Chan in Egypt (1935)
  • Charlie Chan in Shanghai (1935)
  • Charlie Chan's Secret (1936)
  • Charlie Chan at the Circus (1936)
  • Charlie Chan at the Race Track (1936)
  • Charlie Chan at the Opera (1936) - one of the best (in terms of script and direction)
  • Charlie Chan at the Olympics (1937)
  • Charlie Chan on Broadway (1937)
  • Charlie Chan at Monte Carlo (1938)

    With Sidney Toler (1938-1947)
  • Charlie Chan in Honolulu (1938)
  • Charlie Chan in Reno (1939)
  • Charlie Chan at Treasure Island (1939) - possibly the best in the series
  • (Charlie Chan in) City in Darkness (1939)
  • Charlie Chan in Panama (1940)
  • Charlie Chan's Murder Cruise (1940)
  • Charlie Chan at the Wax Museum (1940) - one of the best
  • Murder Over New York (1940)
  • Dead Men Tell (1941)
  • Charlie Chan in Rio (1941)
  • Castle in the Desert (1942) - the final 20th Century Fox film in the series
  • Charlie Chan in the Secret Service (1944) - the first at a new, low-budget studio, Monogram
  • Charlie Chan in the Chinese Cat (1944)
  • (Charlie Chan in) Black Magic (1944)
  • (Charlie Chan in) The Jade Mask (1945)
  • (Charlie Chan in) The Scarlet Clue (1945)
  • (Charlie Chan in) The Shanghai Cobra (1945)
  • (Charlie Chan in) The Red Dragon (1945)
  • (Charlie Chan in) Dark Alibi (1946)
  • (Charlie Chan in) Shadows Over Chinatown (1946)
  • (Charlie Chan in) Dangerous Money (1946)
  • (Charlie Chan in) The Trap (1947)

    With Roland Winters (1947-1949)
  • (Charlie Chan in) The Chinese Ring (1947)
  • (Charlie Chan in) Docks of New Orleans (1948)
  • (Charlie Chan in) Shanghai Chest (1948)
  • (Charlie Chan in) The Golden Eye (1948)
  • (Charlie Chan in) The Feathered Serpent (1948)
  • (Charlie Chan in) The Sky Dragon (1949)

Foreign Sleuths:

Mr. Moto -

Mr. Moto Takes a Vacation - 1939To compete with Charlie Chan, another Far-Eastern sleuth - of Japanese descent, derived from the I.A. Moto character in Pulitzer Prize-winning John P. Marquand's novels (which first appeared as Saturday Evening Post serials), was developed by 20th Century Fox, and named Mr. Moto. Hungarian-born German actor Peter Lorre (in his 7th American film role) starred in the title role as the enigmatic, quiet, self-effacing, unobtrusive, spectacle-wearing and brilliant detective in the eight-film series (produced in less than three years from 1937-1939):

  • Think Fast, Mr. Moto (1937)
  • Thank You, Mr. Moto (1937) - the best in the series
  • Mr. Moto's Gamble (1938)
  • Mr. Moto Takes a Chance (1938)
  • The Mysterious Mr. Moto (1938) - another great one
  • Mr. Moto's Last Warning (1939)
  • Mr. Moto in Danger Island (1939)
  • Mr. Moto Takes a Vacation (1939)

Mr. Moto was resurrected 26 years later, to compete with the popular James Bond action series, with Caucasian actor Henry Silva as the quizzical Moto, in The Return of Mr. Moto (1965).

Mr. Wong -

A fictional Chinese-American detective, named James Lee Wong (simply Mr. Wong) created by Hugh Wiley (for a series of stories in Colliers Magazine in the mid-1930s) was the lead character in a series of six films from Monogram Pictures. In the first five films, Boris Karloff took the lead role. In the sixth (and final) film in the Mr. Wong series, Phantom of Chinatown (1940), Chinese-American actor Keye Luke took the role of the title character. This marked the first time an American film featured an Asian character as a lead Asian detective.

  • Mr. Wong Detective (1938)
  • The Mystery of Mr. Wong (1939)
  • Mr. Wong in Chinatown (1939)
  • The Fatal Hour (1940)
  • Doomed to Die (1940)
  • Phantom of Chinatown (1940)

The Thin Man Series - (Nick and Nora Charles)

The Thin Man - 1934The most popular film detectives of the 1930s were a delightful, high-society sleuthing couple: the inebriated Nick Charles with his wife Nora (and dog Asta). The characters in MGM's The Thin Man (1934) were derived from Dashiell Hammett's 1934 novel of the same title. The sophisticated, wise-cracking, boozing couple (magnificently portrayed by William Powell and Myrna Loy) managed to solve crimes and crack jokes in a long series of screwball-mystery gems. After their first film in 1934, there were five more grade-A sequels from 1936-1947 from MGM, although none were as good as their first effort. The first four films were directed by W.S. Van Dyke:

  • The Thin Man (1934)
  • After the Thin Man (1936)
  • Another Thin Man (1939)
  • Shadow of the Thin Man (1941)
  • The Thin Man Goes Home (1945), d. Richard Thorpe
  • Song of the Thin Man (1947), d. Edward Buzzell

On television, Peter Lawford and Phyllis Kirk starred as the couple in 72 30-minute episodes, beginning in the fall of 1957.

Bulldog Drummond -

Bulldog DrummondAnother literary figure from "Sapper's" (Herman Cyril McNeile) famed detective novels - Captain Hugh "Bulldog" Drummond - became the featured suave, gentleman-spy hero in many films mostly made between the silents through to the late 40s. Drummond battled foreign agents, kidnappers, spies, and other villains during his adventurous exploits. The detective was portrayed by, among others:

  • Ronald Colman in Bulldog Drummond (1929) - Colman's talkie debut
  • Ronald Colman in Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back (1934)
  • Ralph Richardson in The Return of Bulldog Drummond (1934, UK) [Note: He portrayed the villain in Bulldog Jack (1935)]
  • Atholl Fleming in Bulldog Jack (1935, UK) (aka Alias Bulldog Drummond)
  • Ray Milland in Bulldog Drummond Escapes (1937)
  • John Lodge in Bulldog Drummond at Bay (1937)
  • John Howard in Bulldog Drummond's Revenge (1937), Bulldog Drummond Comes Back (1937), Bulldog Drummond's Peril (1938), Bulldog Drummond in Africa (1938), Arrest Bulldog Drummond (1939), Bulldog Drummond's Bride (1939), and Bulldog Drummond's Secret Police (1939)
  • Ron Randell in Bulldog Drummond at Bay (1947) and Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back (1947) - Columbia Pictures' ill-fated attempt to revive the series
  • Tom Conway in The Challenge (1948) and 13 Lead Soldiers (1948)
  • Walter Pidgeon in Calling Bulldog Drummond (1951, UK)

Bulldog Drummond was resurrected for a short period of time in the mid-to-late 1960s as a resourceful British agent, during the flurry of James Bond imitators:

  • Richard Johnson in Deadlier Than the Male (1967, UK)
  • Richard Johnson in Some Girls Do (1969, UK)

Boston Blackie -

Columbia Pictures presented fourteen low-budget installments of another detective series (from 1941 to 1949) titled Boston Blackie, starring square-jawed Chester Morris in the lead role as a former jewel thief/con artist and debonair tough guy who reformed himself and turned detective. The series was based on the 1910 book by Jack Boyle, and the wise-cracking character first appeared in various silent era versions:

  • Boston Blackie's Little Pal (1918), Metro, with Bert Lytell as the safe-cracker
  • Boston Blackie (1923), Fox, starring William Russell
  • The Return of Boston Blackie (1927), Chadwick, with Raymond Glenn (Bob Custer)

The 14 mass-produced Columbia Pictures films in the 1940s, often training grounds for a number of future prominent directors, were:

  • Meet Boston Blackie (1941), d. Robert Florey
  • Confessions of Boston Blackie (1941), d. Edward Dmytryk - one of the best in the series
  • Alias Boston Blackie (1942), d. Lew Landers
  • Boston Blackie Goes Hollywood (1942), d. Michael Gordon
  • After Midnight With Boston Blackie (1943), d. Lew Landers
  • The Chance of a Lifetime (1943), d. William Castle (his debut film)
  • One Mysterious Night (1944), d. Bud Boetticher, Jr.
  • Boston Blackie Booked on Suspicion (1945), d. Arthur Dreifuss
  • Boston Blackie's Rendezvous (1945), d. Arthur Dreifuss
  • A Close Call for Boston Blackie (1946), d. Lew Landers
  • The Phantom Thief (1946), d. D. Ross Lederman
  • Boston Blackie and the Law (1946), d. D. Ross Lederman
  • Trapped by Boston Blackie (1948), d. Seymour Friedman
  • Boston Blackie's Chinese Venture (1949), d. Seymour Friedman

On television, there were 58 half-hour episodes in a 1951 Boston Blackie series, with Kent Taylor as the sleuth.

The Shadow -

A crime-fighting vigilante, The Shadow was based upon the Walter B. Gibson character created in the early 1930s. He made his first appearance on July 31, 1930, as the mysterious narrator of a radio program titled The Detective Story Hour. In 1931 and 1932, Universal Pictures created a series of six film shorts based on the popular Detective Story Hour radio program, narrated by The Shadow.

A pulp series detective magazine from Street & Smith was also dedicated exclusively to The Shadow. The magazine was titled The Shadow - A Detective Magazine, published in April of 1931, and it featured The Shadow in his first literary pulp story, "The Living Shadow." It was created and primarily written by the prolific Walter B. Gibson, who had been hired by the publisher to create a backstory. Author Gibson refashioned the sinister narrator of CBS Radio's The Detective Story Hour into a dark super-hero - a super-sleuth who often battled against super-criminals. Then, in September of 1937, The Shadow radio drama premiered, and the first full-length feature film about The Shadow was released by Grand National Pictures.

His alter-ego was Lamont Cranston, an amateur criminologist and detective, a wealthy crime-fighter who often wore black, a trench coat, and a face-concealing mask. The words that introduced The Shadow in the radio program (and the films) have become immortalized: "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? Only the Shadow knows!"

  • The Shadow Strikes (1937), Grand National Pictures, with Rod La Roque as Lamont Cranston/The Shadow [Based upon the pulp adventure story "The Ghost of the Manor" by Walter Gibson]
  • International Crime (1938), Grand National Pictures, with Rod La Roque as Lamont Cranston/The Shadow

  • The Shadow (1940), a 15-part serial from Columbia Pictures, with Victor Jory as Lamont Cranston/The Shadow, battling the villainous Black Tiger

  • The Shadow Returns (1946), Monogram Pictures, with Kane Richmond as Lamont Cranston/The Shadow
  • Behind the Mask (1946), Monogram Pictures, with Kane Richmond as Lamont Cranston/The Shadow
  • The Missing Lady (1946), Monogram Pictures, with Kane Richmond as Lamont Cranston/The Shadow

  • The Shadow (1954) (TV short, 25-minute pilot episode), with Tom Helmore as Lamont Cranston/The Shadow
  • Invisible Avenger (1958), with Richard Derr as Lamont Cranston/The Shadow [A feature film composed of two segments or episodes of Republic Pictures' TV pilot made in 1957] - re-released as Bourbon Street Shadows (1962), about the investigation of the murder of a New Orleans jazz bandleader.

  • The Shadow (1994), with Alec Baldwin as The Shadow/Lamont Cranston

British Detectives:

The Saint (Simon Templar) -

One of the most popular, long-running mystery film series of the late 1930s through the early 40s featured the Saint, a mysterious, sophisticated, and debonair British detective named Simon Templar. The half-crooked sleuth, a rogue-turned crusader for Scotland Yard, was derived from Leslie Charteris' popular crime novels of the late 20s. Eight films (of the nine films) in the 15-year long series were from RKO, with one entry from Republic in 1943. In the first and last Saint films, Louis Hayward played the role of Simon Templar. The other two actors were George Sanders and Hugh Sinclair:

  • The Saint in New York (1938), RKO, with Louis Hayward, the best in the series
  • The Saint Strikes Back (1939), RKO, with George Sanders
  • The Saint in London (1939), RKO, with George Sanders
  • The Saint's Double Trouble (1940), RKO, with George Sanders
  • The Saint Takes Over (1940), RKO, with George Sanders
  • The Saint in Palm Springs (1941), RKO, with George Sanders
  • The Saint's Vacation (1941), RKO, with Hugh Sinclair
  • The Saint Meets the Tiger (1943), Republic, with Hugh Sinclair
  • The Saint's Girl Friday (1953), RKO, with Louis Hayward

On television in the British-made series of hour-long shows in the mid-1960s, Roger Moore portrayed the worldly traveler.

British Detectives:

The Falcon -

Another hardboiled detective, a suave and sophisticated sleuth named the Falcon, was featured in another RKO series during the 1940s - almost a carbon-copy of RKO's former Saint. The debonair and aristocratic Falcon character was taken from Michael Arlen's detective stories. In six years, there were 13 black and white films in the RKO series. Various actors portrayed the Britisher (named Gay Falcon, Tom Falcon, and Mike Waring) in the 16 Falcon pictures, including the former Saint George Sanders (1941-1942) in the first four, and then Tom Conway (Sander's real-life brother) in the next nine (from 1943-1946). After a two-year break, independent low-budget Film Classics bought the rights to the Falcon, and produced three more entires with John Calvert (1948-49):

  • The Gay Falcon (1941)
  • A Date with the Falcon (1941)
  • The Falcon Takes Over (1942) - with most of its plot borrowed from Raymond Chandler's Farewell, My Lovely, and remade two years later as Murder, My Sweet with Dick Powell
  • The Falcon's Brother (1942) - Sanders and Conway co-starred

  • The Falcon Strikes Back (1943)
  • The Falcon and the Co-Eds (1943)
  • The Falcon in Danger (1943)
  • The Falcon in Hollywood (1944)
  • The Falcon in Mexico (1944)
  • The Falcon Out West (1944)
  • The Falcon in San Francisco (1945)
  • The Falcon's Alibi (1946)
  • The Falcon's Adventure (1946)

  • The Devil's Cargo (1948), Film Classics
  • Appointment with Murder (1948), Film Classics
  • Search for Danger (1949), Film Classics

On TV during 1954-55, the Falcon (Mike Waring) was portrayed by Charles McGraw in 39 30-minute episodes.

Agatha Christie's Adaptations:

The prodigious works of British mystery author Agatha Christie (a total of 72 novels, 160 short stories, and 15 stage plays) provided a great source for a number of classic detective film mysteries.

One was 20th Century Fox's atmospheric And Then There Were None (1945) (aka Ten Little Niggers (UK)) from director Rene Clair. It was often remade (for feature films or TV movies) with Christie's original novel title Ten Little Indians (or Ten Little Niggers):

  • Ten Little Niggers (1949, UK) (TV) - lost film
  • Ten Little Indians (1959) (TV)
  • Agatha Christie's 'Ten Little Indians' (1965, UK) (aka Ten Little Indians)
  • Ten Little Indians (1974, It./W.Germ./Fr./Sp./UK) - the first English language color version
  • Ten Little Indians (1989, UK)

[Christie's book was first published as Ten Little Niggers in the UK in 1939, and then in 1940 as And Then There Were None in the US (the offensive title was changed). It was adapted in 1943 by the author and titled Ten Little Niggers in the UK for its stage opening in 1943. It was retitled Ten Little Indians for its US stage opening in 1944. In further film versions, UK's Seven Arts Films moved the setting to a remote mountain top castle in the Austrian Alps and released the film as Ten Little Indians (1965, UK). Avco-Embassy, Inc., produced a third film version titled Ten Little Indians (1974), with the setting in a remote hotel in the Iranian desert. In its fourth incarnation titled Ten Little Indians (1989, UK), Breton Films moved the locale to an African safari.]

A four-character short story by Christie was made into a London/Broadway stage hit and was filmed by famed director Billy Wilder as Witness for the Prosecution (1957).

Agatha Christie's Master Sleuth:

Hercule Poirot -

And in the 1970s and 80s and afterwards (and even in the 1930s), there were a few screen who-dun-its derived from the works of Agatha Christie with all-star casts, featuring Christie's colorful, insufferable, meticulous and fussy Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot. The films (and stars) included:

  • Alibi (1931, UK), Black Coffee (1931, UK), and Lord Edgware Dies (1934, UK) - with Austin Trevor

  • The Alphabet Murders (1965, UK) (aka The ABC Murders) - with Tony Randall

  • Murder on the Orient Express (1974, UK) - with Albert Finney
  • Death on the Nile (1978, UK) - with Sir Peter Ustinov
  • Evil Under the Sun (1982, UK) - with Peter Ustinov
  • Thirteen at Dinner (1985, UK/US) - TV movie - with Peter Ustinov
  • Dead Man's Folly (1986, UK/US) - TV movie - with Peter Ustinov
  • Murder in Three Acts (1986, UK/US) - TV movie - with Peter Ustinov
  • Murder by the Book (1986, UK/Can.) - TV movie - with Ian Holm
  • Appointment with Death (1988) - with Peter Ustinov
  • Agatha Christie's Poirot (1989-2013) - TV series - with David Suchet
  • Murder on the Orient Express (2001) - TV movie - with Alfred Molina

Agatha Christie's Famous Female Detective:

Miss Marple -

The character of Agatha Christie's Miss Jane Marple, a gray-haired, wily, spinsterish detective, was also portrayed in the movies and on TV over many years, beginning in the 1930s, and prominent in the 1960s (with four films starring Margaret Rutherford) and afterwards. The films (and stars) included:

  • Murder She Said... (1961, UK) - (based on Christie's 4:50 From Paddington) - with Margaret Rutherford
  • Murder at the Gallop (1963, UK) - (based on Christie's After the Funeral) - with Margaret Rutherford
  • Murder Most Foul (1964, UK) - (based on Christie's Mrs. McGinty's Dead) - with Margaret Rutherford
  • Murder Ahoy (1964, UK) - (some plot borrowings from Christie's They Do It With Mirrors) - with Margaret Rutherford
  • The Mirror Crack'd (1980) - with Angela Lansbury
  • A Caribbean Mystery (1983) - TV movie - with Helen Hayes
  • Agatha Christie's Miss Marple: (approx. 1984-1992) - BBC TV Mini-series and Masterpiece Mystery (many titles) and TV movies - with Joan Hickson
  • Murder with Mirrors (1985) - TV movie - with Helen Hayes
  • Agatha Christie's Marple (approx. 2004-2007) - ITV series (12 episodes) - with Geraldine McEwan
  • Agatha Christie's Marple (approx. 2008-2013) - ITV/Acorn series (11 episodes) - with Julia McKenzie

Another of the best of the late 40s murder mysteries from Britain was director Sidney Gilliat's film Green For Danger (1947), featuring Alistair Sim as Scotland Yard Inspector Cockrill.

Other Fictional Crime Fighters:

Philo Vance -

The gentlemanly, artistocratic, independently-wealthy New Yorker, amateur detective Philo Vance was introduced in the works of Willard Huntington Wright (S.S. Van Dine), first in his 1926 novel The Benson Murder Case. Thin Man star William Powell and others portrayed Philo Vance from 1929 to 1947:

  • The Canary Murder Case (1929), (in silent and sound versions) Paramount, William Powell
  • The Greene Murder Case (1929), Paramount, William Powell
  • The Bishop Murder Case (1930), MGM, Basil Rathbone
  • The Benson Murder Case (1930), Paramount, William Powell
  • The Kennel Murder Case (1933), WB, William Powell
  • The Dragon Murder Case (1934), WB, Warren William
  • The Casino Murder Case (1935), MGM, Paul Lukas
  • The Garden Murder Case (1936), MGM, Edmund Lowe
  • The Scarab Murder Case (1936, UK), Paramount/British, Wilfrid Hyde-White (lost film)
  • Night of Mystery (1937), Paramount, Grant Richards (rare or lost film)
  • The Gracie Allen Murder Case (1939), Paramount, Warren William
  • Calling Philo Vance (1940), WB, James Stephenson

  • Philo Vance Returns (1947), PRC (Producers Releasing Corp.), William Wright
  • Philo Vance's Gamble (1947), PRC, Alan Curtis
  • Philo Vance's Secret Mission (1947), PRC, Alan Curtis

Other Fictional Crime Fighters:

The Lone Wolf -

During the silent era, Bert Lytell often played the crime sleuth Michael Lanyard (The Lone Wolf), derived from the novels by Louis Joseph Vance. The Lone Wolf invariably was an international ex-jewel thief who also served on the side of the law after a change of heart.

The Columbia series was capped by nine performances from Warren William (from 1939-1943) as the upper-class retired crook:

  • The Lone Wolf Returns (1935), Columbia, Melvyn Douglas (also made as a silent film in 1926 also by Columbia)
  • The Lone Wolf in Paris (1938), Columbia, Francis Lederer

  • The Lone Wolf Spy Hunt (1939), Columbia, Warren William
  • The Lone Wolf Keeps a Date (1940 or 1941), Columbia, Warren William
  • The Lone Wolf Meets a Lady (1940), Columbia, Warren William
  • The Lone Wolf Strikes (1940), Columbia, Warren William
  • The Lone Wolf Takes a Chance (1941), Columbia, Warren William
  • Secrets of the Lone Wolf (1941), Columbia, Warren William
  • Counter-Espionage (1942) (aka The Lone Wolf in Scotland Yard), Columbia, Warren William
  • One Dangerous Night (1943), Columbia, Warren William
  • Passport to Suez (1943), Columbia, Warren William

  • The Notorious Lone Wolf (1946), Columbia, Gerald Mohr
  • The Lone Wolf in Mexico (1947), Columbia, Gerald Mohr
  • The Lone Wolf in London (1947), Columbia, Gerald Mohr
  • The Lone Wolf and His Lady (1949), Columbia, Ron Randell

On television, Louis Hayward portrayed the Lone Wolf in 1954's 39-part series (of half-hour shows) entitled Streets of Danger.

Other Fictional Crime Fighters or Sleuths:

Hildegarde Withers -

The 40ish, crime-solving, frumpy, spinsterish schoolteacher in NYC, a version of Agatha Christie's Miss Marple, was the fictional creation of Stuart Palmer. His second novel in 1931 with the character was titled The Penguin Pool Murder - also the title of the first feature film. Edna May Oliver, the definitive character, played the gaunt, thin Miss Withers in the first three films from RKO Radio Pictures in the mid-1930s. Her comic foil in all six of the murder mystery film series was Inspector Oscar Piper (James Gleason).

  • Penguin Pool Murder (1932) - RKO, with Edna May Oliver
  • Murder on the Blackboard (1934) - RKO, with Edna May Oliver
  • Murder on a Honeymoon (1935) - RKO, with Edna May Oliver

  • Murder on a Bridle Path (1936) - RKO, with Helen Broderick
  • The Plot Thickens (1936) - RKO, with ZaSu Pitts
  • Forty Naughty Girls (1937) (aka The Riddle of the 40 Naughty Girls) - RKO, with ZaSu Pitts

There was also A Very Missing Person (1972) (CBS-TV movie) starring Eve Arden as Miss Withers.

Ellery Queen -

A smart, scholarly and analytical crime-solver named Ellery Queen was a recurring who-dun-it detective-hero derived from the late 1920s novels of cousins Frederic Dannay and Manfred Bennington Lee (who used "Ellery Queen" as their joint pseudonym). Ellery Queen appeared for the first time in the detective mystery novel The Roman Hat Mystery (1929).

In the mid-30s, Republic was the first studio to release low-budget films about Ellery Queen, a brilliant amateur detective. These were followed by seven films from Columbia Pictures (from 1940-1942), with two actors, Ralph Bellamy and William Gargan in the lead role.

  • The Spanish Cape Mystery (1935), Republic, Donald Cook
  • The Mandarin Mystery (1936), Republic, Eddie Quillan

  • Ellery Queen, Master Detective (1940), Columbia, Ralph Bellamy
  • Ellery Queen's Penthouse Mystery (1941), Columbia, Ralph Bellamy
  • Ellery Queen and the Perfect Crime (1941), Columbia, Ralph Bellamy
  • Ellery Queen and the Murder Ring (1941), Columbia, Ralph Bellamy
  • A Close Call for Ellery Queen (1942), Columbia, William Gargan
  • A Desperate Chance for Ellery Queen (1942), Columbia, William Gargan
  • Enemy Agents Meet Ellery Queen (1942), Columbia, William Gargan

There were other iterations of the character in many TV shows-movies or series, beginning in 1950:

  • The Adventures of Ellery Queen was a live ABC TV show from 1950-1952 with Richard Hart (and then Lee Bowman) as Ellery Queen
  • Hugh Marlowe starred in the 1954-1957 The Adventures of Ellery Queen (TV series)
  • George Nader and Lee Philips starred in the 1958-1959 The Further Adventures of Ellery Queen (TV series)
  • Peter Lawford starred in the TV movie Ellery Queen: Don't Look Behind You (1971) (TV)
  • Following the TV show's cancellation in 1959 and a 16-year delay, Ellery was revived and returned to TV for one-season, with the title shortened to simply Ellery Queen. The made-for-TV pilot film Ellery Queen (1975) (aka Too Many Suspects) preceded Ellery Queen (a 1975-1976 TV series for one season on NBC, with 22 episodes) that starred Jim Hutton as the great fictional detective.



Previous Page Next Page