Thursday, June 19, 2014

TCM doesn't show any mysteries

I was mildly surprised this morning when looking at the TCM to discover that TCM doesn't run mysteries. Well, of course they do, it's just that the schedule doesn't call them mysteries. Tomorrow morning sees a lineup of several well-known mystery movies, but the TCM schedule page lists the genre as "Suspense". Sure, there's some suspense in a mystery movie, but there's certainly a difference between the two genres, as Alfred Hitchock was fond of pointing out. Looking at the top of the weekly schedule page, mystery is skipped among the genres, going from musical to romance.

But that's not really why I'm posting this morning; instead it's to give a brief nod to the movies in TCM's lineup tomorrow, which are generally recognized as some of the great mystery movies of the classic era. First up, at 6:00 AM, is The Thin Man, which is probably the definitive comedy mystery. William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles trade a series of barbed zingers while Nick solves a murder involving a nutty family and drinking like a fish. Well, Nora drinks like a fish too, as seen in the classic exchange in which a hung over Nora asks, "What hit me?" to which Nick responds, "The sixth martini."

The 1941 version of The Maltese Falcon follows at 7:45 AM. This is, of course, the Humphrey Bogart version. I like both this and the Ricardo Cortez version from a decade earlier, although for different reasons. Cortez doesn't really pull off hard-boiled the way Humphrey Bogart does with ease, but the Cortez version has a bunch of nice pre-Code touches. The Bogart version, however, has all the great supporting characters, with Sydney Greenstreet's laughter and Elisha Cook's bug-eyed gunsel Wilmer being my favorites ahead of Peter Lorre.

I thought I had mentioned it earlier on my blog, but I'm not a fan of The Big Sleep, which airs at 9:30 AM tomorrow. I've never gotten why the Humphrey Bogart/Lauren Bacall marriage is considered the gold standard for romance ahead of marriages that stood the test of time (eg. Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward) or those that ended tragically (Clark Gable and Carole Lombard). Bacall's acting generally leaves me cold, and nobody is helped by the script, which is maddeningly complex. Supposedly, even author Raymond Chandler was confused as to who had bumped off one of the characters. And yet, this is one of the movies that constantly gets called an all-time classic.

I think the stylish Laura, on at 11:30 AM, is much better. It's more compact, it makes sense, and for the most part the characters are just so much fun to watch. I bet Clifton Webb had a blast playing his part as the supercilious radio columnist mocking detective Dana Andrews. It's also movies like Laura that show that Vincent Price really could act, something the younger folks who only know him as a horror star might not realize.

Dick Powell showed he could act in Murder, My Sweet, at 1:00 PM. Hitherto known as a musical star, Powell took on the role of detective Philip Marlowe. Sure, Powell like Ricardo Cortez, doesn't do hard-boiled the way Humphrey Bogart does, but Powell has a somewhat dark aloofness that fits the detectives that populate these murder mysteries, and used it to good effect in a string of movies in the second half of his career be they mystery/suspense movies like The Tall Target, or straight-up drama like The Bad and the Beautiful.

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