10 BEST PRIVATE EYE MOVIES
Here, in the order that they came to mind, are ten movies you will love watching. What is a Private Detective movie? Simple, the movie must have a person who is doing private investigative work, that is, is not a police officer. The Private Eyes on the list are as different as shades of blood. The movies are mostly from the 1940s to through the 70s when this genre flourished, often as film noir too. What is film noir? Well, as Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart wrote about pornography - I know it when I see it. When will someone make a great contemporary PI movie to watch?
This is one of the best movies, period. The story of water in Los Angeles is an ongoing drama but Robert Towne made it into a timeless story of lust, greed and redemption. Great performances by Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway and the under-appreciated John Huston make the characters all too human, while Roman Polanski adds a touch of evil. This is a movie about Hollywood with no mention of movies or stars, but almost an homage to the kinds of movies old Hollywood made famous.
2. THE MALTESE FALCON
John Huston adapted and directed this take on the famous Dashiell Hammett book, introducing the world-weary Sam Spade. Yes, spade as in digger. When his partner gets killed, he teams up with an improbable person with the even more improbable name of Brigid O'Shaughnessy (played impeccably by Mary Astor). The supporting cast is a who's who of misfits starting with Sydney Greenstreet who made his movie debut in this flick, Peter Lorre, Gladys George, Barton MacLane, Elisha Cook, Jr. and Ward Bond (not really a misfit here, but rather the 'good' cop, so a misfit in this movie).
3. THE BIG SLEEP
Raymond Chandler created private eye, Philip Marlowe, the gold standard for all future private eyes. Howard Hawks directed Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in what would prove their biggest hit together. The combined talents of William Faulkner,Leigh Brackett and Jules Furthman provided the script - Faulkner was no novice at writing stories about crime as his early novel Sanctuary proved. Bogie is at his best here.
Jane Fonda plays a prostitute/actress in NYC. Donald Sutherland is a small town cop who comes to NYC in search of a missing person whose last known contact was with Fonda. The plot is kind of crazy but the ride is great with Fonda and Southerland burning up the screen with their chemistry. Alan J. Pakula directed from a screenplay by Andy and Dave Lewis.
Stephen Frears directed this 1971 sleeper starring Albert Finney, Billie Whitelaw and Frank Finlay from a screenplay by Neville Smith. Finney is a stand-up comic/MC at a bingo parlor trying to get back the girl he lost (Whitelaw) to his brother (Finlay). His real dream is to be a private eye like his hero Bogie. Along the way, he uncovers a sinister plot involving a fat man and murder. Take my word for it - this is a gem.
Based on Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer, Paul Newman gives one of the best performances of his career as PI Lew Harper (Newman had a series of hits with one-word titled movies beginning with H so..). A gold digger wife (Lauren Bacall, excellent but also connecting us to the beginnings of this genre) is looking for her missing millionaire hubby. The cast is incredible: Arthur Hill, Julie Harris, Shelley Winters, Janet Leigh, Strother Martin, Robert Webber and giving his best performance on screen, Robert Wagner. William Goldman wrote the screenplay with Jack Smight directing. This is a classic, but don't let that stop you.
7. THE LONG GOODBYE
Another Raymond Chandler Philip Marlowe novel turned into movie gold but this time as seen through the lens darkly by Robert Altman with Leigh Brackett doing the adaptation. Elliot Gould plays Marlowe as a savvy but somewhat out of place PI in the world of 1970s LA anything goes culture. Nina van Pallandt provides the romance and Sterling Hayden provides the craziness as Marlowe looks for a friend who has disappeared with a bad guy's dough. The director Mark Rydell hopes in front of the camera and almost steals the movie. This is one to watch a little high to enrich the experience.
Alfred Hitchcock's movie about lost love and redemption is not usually classified as a PI flick, but it is. Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart) has retired from the police force due to an accident while chasing a suspect over San Francisco's rooftops; he discovers that he has acrophobia ( fear of heights). When an old college buddy asks him to follow his wife (Kim Novak) because he thinks she may be possessed, Scottie is reluctant but agrees. What follows is one of the best movies ever made. The haunting score by Bernard Herrmann and the excellent cast including Barbara Bel Geddes make this one to cherish.
9. THE SEVEN PERCENT SOLUTION
Nicholas Meyer had the happy thought that when Sherlock Holmes was getting addicted to cocaine (it's in the original stories), the world's leading expert on cocaine was Sigmund Freud. So what if Holmes came under the care of Freud? The result is a fine book and an great movie with Alan Arkin as Freud, Nicol Williamson as Holmes and Robert Duvall as Watson. Add to this mix Vanessa Redgrave, Joel Grey and Laurence Olivier, and you have a remarkable movie about the world's most famous private detective. Herbert Ross directs.
10. THE THIRD MAN
Another movie usually not classified as a private eye flick, but when Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton) arrives in Vienna to find his friend and benefactor, Harry Lime (Orson Welles) died in a car accident, he decides to look into it. Martins writes western pot boilers, but he takes on the job of PI to prove that Major Calloway (Trevor Howard) is wrong when he accuses Lime of being a drug dealer. Along the way, he meets and falls for Lime's girlfriend, Alida Valli. From the pen of Graham Greene, directed by Carol Reed, this movie will keep you on the edge of your seat until the end and the best chase scene not involving a car on film.