Mystery film  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Mystery film is a sub-genre of the more general category of crime film. It focuses on the efforts of the Detective, private investigator or amateur sleuth to solve the mysterious circumstances of a crime by means of clues, investigation, and clever deduction.

The successful mystery film adheres to one of two story types, known as Open and Closed. The Closed mystery conceals the identity of the perpetrator until late in the story, adding an element of suspense during the apprehension of the suspect, as the audience is never quite sure who it is. The Open mystery, in contrast, reveals the identity of the perpetrator at the top of the story, showcasing the "perfect crime" which the audience then watches the protagonist unravel, usually at the very end of the story, akin to the unveiling scenes in the Closed style.

Suspense is often maintained as an important plot element. This can be done through the use of the sound track, camera angles, heavy shadows, and surprising plot twists. Alfred Hitchcock used all of these techniques, but would sometimes allow the audience in on a pending threat then draw out the moment for dramatic effect.

Mystery novels have proven to be a good medium for translation into film. The sleuth often forms a strong leading character, and the plots can include elements of drama, suspense, character development, uncertainty and surprise twists. The locales of the mystery tale are often of a mundane variety, requiring little in the way of expensive special effects. Successful mystery writers can produce a series of books based on the same sleuth character, providing rich material for sequels.

Until at least the 1980s, women in mystery films have often served a dual role, providing a relationship with the detective and frequently playing the part of woman-in-peril. The women in these films are often resourceful individuals, being self-reliant, determined and as often duplicitous. They can provide the triggers for the events that follow, or serve as an element of suspense as helpless victims.

Contents

History

Undoubtedly the most famous of the amateur detectives to reach the silver screen was Sherlock Holmes. He first appeared in 1903, and has been portrayed by a multitude of actors. Other famous sleuths include Charlie Chan and Hercule Poirot.

Following World War II, film noir came into style and proved a popular medium for the professional hired detective, or private eye. Humphrey Bogart was particularly notable for playing this role, including Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon.

The 1960s and 1970s saw a resurgence of the Police Detective film, which were styles after the earlier film noir era. Among the notable mystery detective films of this period were In the Heat of the Night (1967), Bullitt (1968), Klute (1971) and Chinatown (1974). The 1970s and 1980s also saw something of the return of the serial films, with the Dirty Harry and Lethal Weapon series. In 1971, The French Connection was an Academy Award-winning mystery film.

In addition to standard mystery films, some movies have intermixed with other genres. The comedic Blake Edwards' Pink Panther series starring Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau mixed comedy with mystery, while the medieval era Brother Cadfael series of television mysteries appeared as a form of historical fiction. The Dick Tracy films had elements of science fiction, while Blade Runner and Outland were primarily science fiction action films.

Movie sleuths

Mystery films have portrayed a number of notable fiction sleuths. Most of these characters first appeared in serialized novels.

Sleuth(s) Author/Creator First film
Lew Archer Ross Macdonald Harper (1966)
Boston Blackie Jack Boyle Boston Blackie's Little Pal (1918)
Torchy Blaine Louis Frederick Nebel Smart Blonde (1937)
Charlie Chan Earl Derr Biggers The House Without a Key (1926)
Nick and Nora Charles Dashiell Hammett The Thin Man (1934)
Hugh Drummond Herman Cyril McNeile Bulldog Drummond (1922)
Mike Hammer Mickey Spillane I, the Jury (1953)
Nancy Drew Carolyn Keene Nancy Drew 2007
Sherlock Holmes Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes (1908)
Michael Lanyard Joseph Louis Vance The Lone Wolf (1917)
Philip Marlowe Raymond Chandler The Big Sleep (1946)
Miss Marple Agatha Christie Murder, She Said (1961)
Mr. Moto John Phillips Marquand Think Fast, Mr. Moto (1937)
Hercule Poirot Agatha Christie Alibi (1931)
Ellery Queen Frederick Dannay
and Manfred B. Lee
The Spanish Cape Mystery (1935)
Easy Rawlins Walter Mosley Devil in a Blue Dress (1995)
Michael Shayne Brett Halliday Michael Shayne, Private Detective (1940)
Sam Spade Dashiell Hammett The Maltese Falcon (1931)
Simon Templar Leslie Charteris The Saint in New York (1938)
Dick Tracy Chester Gould Dick Tracy (1937)
Philo Vance S. S. Van Dine The Canary Murder Case (1929)
Hildegarde Withers Stuart Palmer The Penguin Pool Murder (1932)
Nero Wolfe Rex Stout Meet Nero Wolfe (1936)
James Lee Wong Hugh Wiley Mr. Wong, Detective (1938)

Mystery films

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Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Mystery film" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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