Murder, My Sweet (1944)
Let’s start with the one I’m not a super fan of. Murder, My Sweet (1944) follows the classic formula of a private investigator working a seemingly simple tracking case (a crook’s ex-girlfriend), only to find himself in a deep and dangerous web of lies.
Like others in this list, Edward Dmytryk’s movie falls under the Film Noir genre, and these are really hit or miss for me. Surprisingly (given the actor’s notoriety…) what didn’t click with me here was Dick Powell. I found him rather bland and so the whole film paled for me. Still, Murder My Sweet (1944) is beloved by many and remember when I thought Bogart was boring?? Yeah.
Out of The Past (1947)
If Murder, My Sweet was a Film Noir “miss”, Out of The Past (1947) is a smashing hit one, directed by Jacques Tourneur and starring a power trio of Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer and Kirk Douglas. Jeff (Mitchum) recalls an episode from his past as a private eye, when Whit (Douglas) hired him to find Kathie (Greer), whom he claimed had shot him and escaped with $40,000. Now, Whit hires him again, and all the intrigue resurfaces.
Its beautifully shot by Nicholas Musuraca and with flawless performances from everyone involved, particularly Mitchum and Greer whose onscreen chemistry was off the charts!
The Thin Man (1934)
Let’s take a break from the bleakness of noir films and dive into a 1930s comedy starring William Powell and Myrna Loy, where a couple investigate a murder case, just for fun. Powell plays Nick Charles, a former detective, and Loy plays his wife Nora, in one of those empowering female roles Old Hollywood pulled off every now and then.
It’s witty and a blast to watch – I can’t recommend it enough. The formula was clearly magic as five more Thin Man movies were produced after!
The Big Sleep (1946)
The Big Sleep stars one of Hollywood’s most famous pairings of all time, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, in another prime example of Film Noir. Bogie plays Philip Marlowe, a private detective hired by a wealthy man to protect his youngest daughter.
The case turn out to be far more complex than he first predicted (so complex that to this day I’m not 100% sure what happens in this film), but with the help of the eldest daughter, Vivian (played by Bacall), things get sorted out.
Finally, I couldn’t make a private eye movie without Hitchcock’s masterpiece on obsession, Vertigo. In this 1950s mystery, James Stewart is Scottie, a retired detective asked by a friend to keep an eye on his wife, Madeleine (Kim Novak).
Scottie falls in love with her, but she ends up dying tragically. In the present day, he meets Judy – a woman who looks exactly like Madeleine, and with whom he becomes obsessed.
As with most of Hithcock’s movies, you could analyse the meanings behind every scene for days. It’s also one of the director’s most gorgeous movies, and ends with one of the best plot twists ever!