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30 December 2015 @ 09:08 pm
Mystery Marathon: Year of the Whodunit  
I went on a mystery marathon this 2015, pulling out old mystery books which had been made into movies or TV shows. So, in a way I cheated, but I blame it all on The Silkworm, which was my first mystery book in ages and which made me want to read again about the human propensity for murder and mayhem. Here’s the brief run-up:


Every Secret Thing (2014)
This mystery movie is more of a psychological intrigue, and is based on Laura Lippmann’s book of the same name. Two school girls were convicted of killing an African American baby girl, now they have been released. But the same murder happens again – did they or did they not do the second murder as well? Actually, were they guilty of the first murder, in the first place? Everyone’s hiding a secret here, and you don’t know whether you should applaud or berate them for keeping such secrets. Detective Nancy Porter comes across as a mild-mannered and soft-spoken investigator, an unusual characterization for a crime detective. Not sure if its true to the book though. All-in-all, a disturbing but brilliant plot. Rating: 9.5/10

Mystic River (Clint Eastwood 2003)
Based on a book by Dennis Lehane, the movie (starring Sean Penn) begins with a scene that I hope to never see again. A boy is kidnapped and abused as a child because he happens to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. Events snowball thus that people supect him of killing his friend’s daughter in a fit of revenge. The chain of events is dismal and shocking through and through. I watched this one because it came highly recommended by Gillian Flynn, author of Gone Girl. It’s a good mystery for sure, but it will make you feel shredded to pieces. Rating: 9.5/10

Dorothy Sayers Mystery Series (BBC 1970s/ 1987)
I have not read the books. But given Sayers’ name in the field, I knew I had to try out her works in movie format at least. Enter the BBC series of 1970s/ 1987 starring Ian Carmichael/ Edward Petherbridge as Peter Wimsey, and Harriet Walter as Harriet Vale. Oh, what a treat it was. I binge-watched Murder Must Advertise; Strong Poison; Five Red Herrings; Gaudy Night; Have His Carcase; and The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club. The rest have unfortunately not been televised – though I think there’s an older 1940 Busman’s Honeymoon floating around. My favourite plotline was from Murder Must Advertise, although the most charming one was Have His Carcase. Yes, yes, I must get down to reading the books too. Rating: 9/10


The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher (ITV 2011)
So the telefilm was based on a book by Kate Summerscale of the same name, which was based on a true story. A child goes missing and has presumably been killed in a grotesque manner. Everyone in the house is under suspicion, but the one the detective suspects the most is the child’s teenage and moody step-sister. From what I have read, the telefilm changes the book ending, but right till the end, there is hardly any evidence on which the detective can rely upon – except his “suspicions”. There were two further sequels as well, but I never liked this first one enough to try the sequels. I felt the movie never really captured the tense, dangerous tone or the outrage that the crime really deserved – for instance, the BBC show Case Files Histories does the same storyline a much better direction. Rating: 8/10

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (ITV 2000)
By far, the most acclaimed of Christie’s books – and also, my least favorite. I like Five Little Pigs, A Murder is Announced and Curtain far more. Poirot’s wealthy friend calls him to investigate his fiance’s suicide – only to be murdered himself.  Somehow, I have watched this episode thrice over the years, only to forget the plot completely, and rewatch the whole thing. Simply did not like this one. Rating: 7/10

The Postman Always Rings Twice (MGM 1981)
The Postman Always Rings Twice is a 1934 crime novel by James M. Cain. I should have watched the 1946 movie, which I think is the more true-to-book version; instead I saw the 1981 version with Jack Nicholson. I felt this movie was really long-drawn; there were times I had to fast forward and watch. To be fair, yes, there were some truly horrific moments, where I didn’t know whether I wanted the (anti)hero to get away with the crime or not. There is also no postman whatsoever, so there has been a lot of speculation on what the title could mean: the double doorbell rings as as sign of trouble, or as comeuppance, or as the anxiety for a verdict…. The ending, bloody hell, that ending: did he kill her or did he not? Rating: 7/10


Anatomy of a Murder (Otto Preminger 1959)
I am not sure why this is touted as a “mystery” classic in several “100 best mysteries” lists – it’s more a point in law. A military man kills a man whom he suspects his wife had an affair with, and his lawyer helps him get away with it on the grounds of grave provocation. Maybe it was a landmark (and sensational) movie in its heyday, but there is zero mystery and only 100% courtroom drama. It was based on a novel of the same name by Michigan Supreme Court Justice John D. Voelker on a real 1952 murder case. Anyway, James Stewart was the sole highlight of this one, otherwise the movie was a real drag. Rating: 6/10

Presumed Innocent (Sydney Pollack 1990)
This book by Scott Turow is another one of the 100 Best list, and was made into a movie in 1990 with Harrison Ford. As a whodunit, I thought it failed spectacularly. There was a lot of slut-shaming going on, and as usual, the “slut” – the murder victim – was a successful lawyer who liked bondage. Ford is her colleague with whom she had an extramarital affair. Ford gets blamed, and the only interesting twist in the tale was the piece of medical evidence that turns up to rebut the accusation. Rating: 7/10

P.D. James: Death Comes to Pemberley (BBC 2013) & An Unsuitable Job for a Woman (Ecosse Films 1997)
I liked the televised version of PD. James’ Death Comes to Pemberley a lot. On the eve of the annual Lady Anne ball for the Darcy family, festivities come to an abrupt halt by news of a murder in Pemberley Woods – and Wickham is a suspect. I thought it was really well-directed, the gloomy atmosphere, the characterizations from Austen’s books, the sharp editing. Rating: 9/10
On the other hand, An Unsuitable Job for a Woman, with Cordelia Gray as the detective created by P.D. James, simply did not intrigue me. I was so bored by the detective and the plot that I gave up after watching the first hour of the episode. Or did I fast forward it? Can’t remember. Rating: DNF.


Beast in View: The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (Hitchcock 1960s)
This was a 1964 (?) 30-minute dramatization of Margaret Millar’s book of the same title. Hitchcock presents the show with his usual poker-faced humour at the beginning. A psychiatrist is being stalked by her ex-husband and her new husband turns over the case to the police. That twist in the end was so bloody good, you will never know what hit you. Did you think a book could be made up into such a short, sharply directed episode? Well, I never. Rating: 9/10

Nero Wolfe Series by Rex Stout (A&E Network 2001-2002)
I think I read somewhere that this series was dubbed the best mystery series of the decade. To be honest, I cannot see why, especially when Agatha Christie’s books exist. I didn’t like the cast in the TV show (which kept rotating across episodes), and I especially disliked the character of smartypants Archie Goodwin. To be fair, maybe that’s a fault of the show, and not the books, but I just could not bring myself to relate to the characters. Except whenever Wolfe said “Phooey!” to Archie. As a period drama, it is good, but the mystery never hooked me – there were times when I found I had dozed off. Rating: 6/10

Psychometry (Korean Movie 2013)
The show Mawang did a better job of depicting the curious dark science of psychometry than this telefilm. A boy with this gift is shunned by others as a monster, but he still takes a leap of faith and helps a detective find a serial killer who likes to “freeze” his toddler victims. Tried hard, but couldn’t feel the chills. Rating: 6/10


Prime Suspect (ITV 1991-92)
This is a British police procedural television drama series starring Helen Mirren who does a fabulous job as Jane Tennison, one of the first female Detective Chief Inspectors in Greater London's Metropolitan Police Service. Mirren is the no-nonsense inspector who grapples with the sexism inherent in the police system while looking for evidence that could convict the prime suspect in a brutal rape case. There are some tough decisions she has to take as a woman and as an inspector, and that has been portrayed in a realistic way that does not fail to make the spectator sad. It was grim through and through, and her victory towards the end feels a pyrrhic one. It’s a bit dated too, so I could not bring myself to watch the sequels/ other episodes. Rating: 8/10

The Revenants (2012+)
The First Season of the Revenants starts off with a bang. In a small town in France, people who have died are suddenly re-appearing and want their old life back. They are the “returned ones” or the revenants, and no one’s sure of what to make of them – are they a miracle or are they monsters, and what do they want? Very beautifully shot and with an amazing score, this show should be watched by everyone who likes a dose of supernatural mystery and horror. Not based on a book, but another French zombie movie of the same name. I have only seen the First Season, but highly recommend. Rating: 9/10

Ellery Queen’s The Chinese Mandarin Mystery (TCM 1936)
Has anyone tried the Ellery Queen mysteries? From what I know, they have great plots, often of a psychological bent, such as the Cat of Many Tails. There’s also a televised series from NBC of 1975-76 starring Jim Hutton as Detective Ellery Queen, but these may or may not have been based on the actual books by Frederic Dannay. I tried several of the Queen books, but each one failed to hook me. Then I made the mistake of watching the old 1936 version of The Chinese Mandarin Mystery – it was so dated it was funny. I gave up on Queen then and there – but happy to hear any suggestions from Queen fans out there. Rating: 5/10
 
 
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moirajmooremoiraj on December 31st, 2015 08:26 pm (UTC)
Thank you for posting this. I had no idea they'd made movies out of any of Sayers' books aside from Strong Poison. I'll be looking for them now.
lexlingualexlingua on January 2nd, 2016 08:20 am (UTC)
You're welcome. :-) The 1987 series are especially wonderful.
Brigdhwordsofastory on January 13th, 2016 12:40 am (UTC)
Oh, I read "The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher" myself last year, and had no idea it had been filmed! Not that your review makes me particularly want to see it. But perhaps I'll track down the Case Files episode!
lexlingualexlingua on January 13th, 2016 05:50 pm (UTC)
Re
Do try Case Histories please! (Sorry, I mentioned it as Case "Files"). Its a BBC show, one of the top 10 detective shows ever and is based on Kate Atkinson's books, who is a great author.
Brigdhwordsofastory on January 13th, 2016 06:56 pm (UTC)
Re: Re
Thank you, I will!