COFFEE TABLE BOOK TALES: Everson’s Trio of Crime Film Classics

William K. Everson (1929 – 1996) was a film historian, educator and archivist who was one of the guiding lights in preserving films from the silent period through the 1940’s. Born in England, he emigrated to the U.S. in 1950 where he put his experience in film publicity to use for Monogram Pictures, a small, strictly Poverty Row studio. Eventually, Everson went freelance, and his interest in genre films that had been largely cranked out and forgotten was a godsend to movie fans today. He wrote extensively, mostly coffee table books, on westerns, horror movies, and screwball comedies. And in 1972, in honor of my high school graduation, Everson wrote The Detective in Film, a history of the celluloid mystery genre that was right up my alley!!

In the book, Everson covers the silent period, early talkies, all the way up to 1970 and Klute. He talks about gentlemen detectives and P.I.s, exotic sleuths, comical sleuths, the British vs. the Americans. It’s a terrific book, and if it’s terribly opinionated, more often than not Everson’s opinions are correct or, at least, understandable. 

Early in the book, Everson offers a chapter called “Three Classics,” which begins:

Since a great deal of crime and detection is going to be discussed in this book, it might be as well to pause for a moment and consider the standards by which movie mysteries are judged. It would seem that there are three basic and not necessarily interrelated yardsticks: 1) How faithful is the movie to its source material? 2) How successful is it as a mystery, in successfully diverting the audience up the proverbial garden path without cheating in the dénouement? 3) Can it possibly transcend the realm of mystery and detection to become a separate classic in its own right?

To illustrate his point, Everson offers three films that he feels embodies the best of the genre. He goes on to show how all three fulfill the qualities of the first two questions, while he would argue that only one of them transcends its trappings of genre to be considered a fine film in its own right. I won’t argue with Everson on this score, although I have stronger feelings about another of these films than he does. These are not rare films: they can all be purchased on DVD, and they appear with some regularity on TV. In fact, two of them played last week on Turner Classic Movies as part of a month-long celebration of mysteries (Whodunnit Wednesdays should occur year-long, in my opinion!) Nevertheless, I had such a good time re-watching these that I took down the Everson book from my shelves and thought I would share with all of you that sense of discovery I felt as a high school senior who, at the time, had seen none of these but managed to rectify that matter in due course. 

One thing Everson’s book makes clear – and these three films are evidence of it – is that the mystery genre enjoyed far greater popularity during the Golden Age of Hollywood than it does today. In an era when super-heroes were mostly relegated to Saturday afternoon serials, murder mysteries could receive prestige productions or be ground out at the smaller studios for little money. Many of the best detectives on the page found their way into successful film series: Charlie Chan, Ellery Queen, Nero Wolfe, Bulldog Drummond, the Saint, Nick and Nora Charles, Philip Marlowe, Mr. Moto and Mr. Wong, the Shadow and Dick Tracy. The studios loved a good formula; hence, “old dark house” whodunnits were cranked out by the dozens, most of them forgettable but some truly fun. The three films here are better than most – and one of them is a true classic that transcends genre. If you haven’t seen any of them – well, if you haven’t seen the second of these films, I imagine you are a difficult person. As for the first and third film on this list, well . . . what are you waiting for? 

*.  *.  *.  *.  *

Beginning in 1933, which we have previously determined to be one of the best years ever for crime films – heck, for all films, really! – we have The Kennel Murder Case, based on the 6th detective novel by S. S. Van Dine and featuring his obnoxiously aristocratic sleuth, Philo Vance. Crisply directed by the great Michael Curtiz, whose vast body of work includes some of my favorite films (The Adventures of Robin Hood, Casablanca, Mildred Pierce, The Unsuspected), the film provides a complex puzzle and plenty of drama with a becoming economy.

Clocking in at around 75 minutes, we’re only twelve minutes into the film when Archer Coe (Robert Barrat) is discovered sitting dead in an armchair in his bedroom, a bullet through his brain. As the door was locked from the inside, the police initially believe Coe committed suicide, but we know this can’t be true! First, there’s the title of the film. Next, the medical examiner, Dr. Doremus, determines that Coe was actually stabbed to death and then shot. Finally, we have previously been treated to a whirlwind of activity in which Archer Coe has established himself as a perfect murder victim: he has refused to lend his niece Hilda Lake (Mary Astor) $1,000 out of her own trust fund so that she could bet against his Scottie in a big dog show; he is most likely behind the murder of a rival dog owned by Hilda’s beau, Sir Thomas MacDonald (Paul Cavanaugh) – and yes, this could be the murder in the kennel from the title, but it’s not, okay?; he throws over his current paramour, Doris Delafield, (Helen Vinson) out of jealousy and pulls out of a valuable deal to buy some Chinese antiques from Eduardo Grassi (Jack La Rue) because Grassi was seen flirting with Doris; he disappoints his cook Liang (James Lee), who has discovered that Coe plans on selling his art collection, and who gets dismissed by his employer with a racist screed; and he generally miffs, annoys, and frightens his brother Brisbane (Frank Conroy), his secretary Raymond Wrede, (Ralph Morgan), and his butler Gamble (Arthur Hohl). 

The team: Markham (Robert McWade), Heath (Eugene Pallette) and Vance (William Powell)

It’s a colorful rogue’s gallery of suspects, particularly since, as Everson points out, “all of (them) on other occasions had turned out to be the murderer in the final reel.” The real joy here is that the case falls into the hands of Philo Vance, played with his customary wry perfection, by William Powell. This would be Powell’s fourth and final portrayal of Vance on film (although the series would go on with lesser lights), and the next year the actor would strike even brighter gold as Nick Charles in the first of a six-film Thin Man series. (Giving Vance a Scottie named Captain to help solve the case provided an excellent primer for when Powell would play Charles and try to steal the screen from Asta!) Instead of Myrna Loy, Powell/Vance joins forces with District Attorney Markham (Robert McWade) and Sergeant Heath (Eugene Palette). Both these men were no strangers to these roles, and we previously saw McWade in The Phantom of Crestwood as a suspect and Palette in a very Heath-like role in From Headquarters. Both these films were made the same year as Kennel, and if you watch enough old mysteries, it starts to feel like you’re enjoying a repertory company – which, of course, is exactly what the Hollywood studio system created at the time. And let’s face it: in his way, Palette is almost as good a foil for Powell as Loy was!

So is Etienne Girardot, in the first of several appearances as the irascible medical examiner, Dr. Doremus, whose crotchety persona and perpetual hunger is further proof that the classic detective film medical man was once a prime source of humor. Once Doremus proves that this is a case of murder, Vance is quick to come up with a solution, only to have his initial deductions grounded by a second, surprise murder. From there, clues are uncovered and interpreted and suspects are interrogated with a pace far livelier than one may find in earlier Vance films, or even in the novels, which tend to bog down over Vance’s tendency to show off his self-professed intellectual superiority. 

Powell, Mary Astor and Paul Kavanaugh

Vance uses some beautiful models for the brownstone houses around Coe’s property (a perfect homage to the gorgeous maps found in the original editions of the books) to help him solve a complex crime, which is then rendered in a fine set of flashbacks. All in all, The Kennel Murder Case is one of the best examples of the classic 1930’s whodunnit rendered on film. 

*.  *.  *.  *.  *

Everson’s second classic, The Maltese Falcon (1941) couldn’t be a more different animal. It is also clearly Everson’s favorite of the three selected “classics,” for he spends far more time on it than the others. Much of his discussion takes on the lowly status of the film at the time of its release and provides a fascinating look at the changing mores in classic Hollywood. 

Part of Falcon’s contemporaneous bad luck was its timing. If the early 1930’s were a great time for the mystery genre, 1941 was anything but. The industry was consumed by Citizen Kane, which symbolized the meteoric rise and just-as-quick fall of its wunderkind director, Orson Welles. The most lauded film that year was How Green Was My Valley, and the best films included five of the greatest screwball comedies of all time: Sullivan’s Travels, Meet John Doe, The Lady Eve, Ball o’ Fire, and The Devil and Miss Jones. (If anyone needs proof that Jean Arthur and Barbara Stanwyck were two great actresses, look no further than 1941.)

Maybe a few of you are unaware that the ’41 Falcon was the second remake by Warner Brothers of its original 1931 take on the 1930 novel. The first iteration, also called The Maltese Falcon, is actually delightful, with a great cast headed by Ricardo Cortez (The Phantom of Crestwood) and Bebe Daniels, and a very similar script that faithfully adheres to Dashiell Hammett’s cinematic dialogue in the novel. Everson credits the direction of Roy del Ruth and the film’s adherence to the novel’s downbeat ending, despite the fact that this was pre-Code when a happy ending that depended on a beautiful woman getting away with murder would have been no problem! 

The thing is, in 1931 no one was setting out to make a classic, nor did they need to. The first Falcon did good business and, as Everson describes: 

Although it doesn’t have the photographic style or casting advantages of the 1941 version, it was still a remarkably good film – and at times so similar to the later Bogart version that it seems inevitable that John Huston screened it at least once.

Like Welles, Huston was a neophyte, and one wonders if he also screened the first remake, 1936’s Satan Met a Lady. In the novel, detective Sam Spade is described as “satanic” in appearance, but I can’t think of a less satanic figure here than Warren William as Spade. Bette Davis fares better in the Brigid O’Shaughnessy role, but Everson describes her unhappiness with the comical hijinks that permeated this version, and when Davis was unhappy on the set, a film suffered for it. 

If the powers-that-be basically got it write in 1931, ten years later, they pretty much got it perfect. Of course, this sometimes came about despite the machinations of the studio. Their original top choices for Spade and Brigid were George Raft and newcomer Geraldine Fitzgerald. But Raft, thankfully (for us), turned the role down, and Huston, having secured Humphrey Bogart as Spade wanted Mary Astor for the role. Some have quibbled that Astor was, at 35, too old for the part. This is simply not true. Her combination of elegance and sly sexual heat is the perfect combination, and the story goes that Huston kept her in a perpetual state of breathlessness to give the many lies she utters the appearance of truth. 

Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) caught between angel and devil

The private eye whodunnit follows a more linear path than a traditional “closed circle” mystery like The Kennel Murder Case, and yet it evolves into a very twisted line as Sam Spade and his partner Miles Archer take on the case of Ruth Wonderly, who is looking for her sister, who ran off with a man named Floyd Thursby. Within a few minutes of film time, both Archer and Thursby are dead, and we learn that Miss Wonderly is not Miss Wonderly and has no sister. From there, Bogie’s Spade, fighting his attraction to Brigid, fending off the advances of Archer’s widow, and seeking solace from his secretary Effie (Lee Patrick, playing as perfect a companion as Della Street, if only her boss knew it), tries to solve his partner’s murder and protect his client, who needs no protection. Along the way, he comes across as perfectly cast a trio of crooks as one could hope to find: Peter Lorre at his most charming, Sidney Greenstreet in his first screen role, and Elisha Cook, Jr. who I think has been almost dismissed in a part he would play over and over and over again, but who shines here as the gunsel Wilmer, the violent homosexual partner to Greenstreet’s charming but equally dangerous lawyer. 

Bogie, Peter Lorre, Astor and Sidney Greenstreet

Historically speaking, The Maltese Falcon isn’t really a film noir because that movement took official shape after World War II. Still, it’s a major progenitor for the noir movement and, unlike a great many films that one often dismisses as “just another genre movie,” is one you can re-watch over and over again, with increased pleasure every time. Like Casablanca, this is a film that I sometimes watch like comfort food, and I mouth the dialogue along with the characters as if I were lip synching a favorite song.

Spade crosses paths with Wilmer, the gunsel (Elisha Cook, Jr.)

*.  *.  *.  *.  *

I would hazard a guess that within the triumvirate described here, The Maltese Falcon is Everson’s favorite film: he dedicates two thirds of the chapter, both in text and photos, to Falcon alone. Here’s how he introduces the third film;

Almost any film discussed after The Maltese Falcon would unavoidably suffer from an anticlimactic inferiority climax. But, fortunately, our third classic is a quiet, unspectacular film which makes comparisons unnecessary: its principal forte is not in being a dynamic piece of film making, but in being a thoroughly satisfying work that plays scrupulously fairly with its audience.

This opening seriously undersells Green for Danger, which can be compared to Falcon insofar as they are both classified as mysteries, both have murders, and both feature a detective solving those murders. Other than that, the two films are as different from each other in content and tone as night and day. But then, the bigger problem here is that the author who inspired this film with her brilliant novel of the same name is also undersold and underappreciated these days. The fact that she ranks as one of my top three favorite GAD authors makes this fact particularly galling. 

Here’s the thing: fair or not, the film industry has a lot to do with the literal shelf life of an author. If John Brabourne’s royal antecedents hadn’t dazzled Agatha Christie enough to ease her doubts about the moviemakers and allow him to produce 1974’s Murder on the Orient Express, would all the subsequent films and TV series have existed and would we continue to have conversations about her work forty-five years after her death? Conversely, why are Ellery Queen and John Dickson Carr, two Kings of Crime, barely known if at all beyond their coterie of fans? Could it have anything to do with the fact that the film versions of Queen’s novels were mostly Poverty Row and featured some real duds (Ten Days Wonder, anyone?); even the TV show, which was stylish and smart in a Burke’s Law kind of way, couldn’t last more than a season. And Carr fared worse, with a bare scattering of adaptations in existence. 

S. S. Van Dine’s dozen Philo Vance novels were hugely popular in their day and inspired fifteen films. The first four have some stylistic points of interest but move at a glacial pace. Then comes The Kennel Murder Case is arguably the best of the bunch and deserves Everson’s high praise. After this film, however, the quality began to dip dramatically, and the final films of the 40’s remind one of the Poverty Row Charlie Chan films that ended a lucrative franchise. After 1947, the character of Philo Vance would disappear from movie screens and from the hearts and minds of fans of mystery literature and film. 

Dashiell Hammett wrote only five novels in five years, from 1929 to 1934. He was, by far, a better and more important writer than Van Dine, but I would suggest that a great deal of Hammett’s lasting reputation rests on the high quality of the films made from three of his novels: The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man are classics. The former provided an archtype for a thousand P.I. films to follow, and the latter prompted five sequels and inspired every studio in Hollywood to attempt to reproduce that romantic detective magic of Nick and Nora Charles. Then there’s The Glass Key, which some consider Hammett’s best work, and which resulted in two adaptations (in 1935 and 1942), repeating the remake success of Falcon, only for Paramount Pictures instead. 

Christianna Brand was far more prolific in the long form than Hammett and more varied than Van Dine. Under her own name, plus four aliases, she wrote romantic and historical fiction and children’s books. If she is known at all today to the general public, it’s as the creator of Nurse Matilda, who was translated to film as Nanny McPhee. She only wrote ten mystery novels, plus numerous short stories, so why should she be remembered for that?

Alistair Sim as Inspector Cockrill

Because she was fabulous. That’s the long and short of it. Her crime fiction appeared between 1941 and 1955 (and provided a surprise coda with one last whodunnit in 1979), so Brand bridged the transition from the Golden Age of Detection to the Silver with brilliant puzzle mysteries that also included the novelistic qualities embraced by the next generation of writers. She did not write psychological suspense, but her characters leapt off the page. Her dialogue crackled with humor and made us love the people on the page, all so she could shatter them – and us – at the end. 

Green for Danger (1944) was Brand’s third novel, and just as Roger Ackroyd did for Christie, this novel showed how Brand’s talents had blossomed to full flower. It was popular enough to become a “prestige film” for the J. Arthur Rank studios two years later. Everson describes the fate of that film:

“Green for Danger was one of those few films that really seemed to have crashed the American market successfully. It opened with a big commercial splash at New York’s large Winter Garden theater, and collected a state of rave reviews with unanimous enthusiasm for Alastair Sim (who played Inspector Cockrill). A wide variety of alternate ads enabled the film to be sold as a “class” thriller, as a comedy, as a thick ear melodrama, and as a sex thriller. Yet it wasn’t too long before its well-earned reputation had been largely forgotten and, retitled The Mad Killer, it was sent into the grindhouse market on a double bill .

Whether the film faded into obscurity due to poor marketing or to a glut of films on the U.S. and British market, it was critics like Everson who wrote feelingly about the movie’s merits and raised the public’s consciousness about the film. There was only one more attempt to adapt a Brand novel to the screen: her first title, Death in High Heels, was made in 1947 as one of the first features by the new Hammer Studios. It ran a little over fifty minutes in length and was relegated to obscurity soon after. 

The film version of Green for Danger deserves every accolade. Despite cutting out one suspect, it is a mostly faithful rendering of the novel, with a sterling cast headed by Sims, who embodies to perfection the humorous eccentricities of Brand’s sleuth. Sim/Cockrill narrates the film up until his entrance, which allows us to hear some semblance of the excellent narrative prose Brand produced on the page.

We are introduced by Cockrill to the setting (a country teaching hospital at the height of the Blitz) and the main characters: Joseph Higgins, an elderly postman who is caught in a bombing raid, and the hospital team who will operate on him. As Higgins is rescued from the rubble, brought in, cleaned up, and prepped for surgery, director Sidney Gilliat fills us in on the tensions within this medical team: the head doctor who throws off the operating sister for the pretty young nurse, who breaks her engagement with the anesthesiologist, who may have killed a past patient; the nurse who has lost her mother in an earlier raid and can’t stop grieving; the jovial nurse with the voice that causes Higgins to stir in a panic. 

Great angles and lighting give aspects of this classic mystery a noir-like tone.

There’s so much drama between the staff that it would come as a surprise when Higgins is the one who dies, but then Sim has already announced this fact at the very start. A second murder soon follows, and the horror-movie overtones of this killing make it one of the film’s delights. Then Inspector Cockrill finally arrives, and the detection starts, complete with utterly fair clueing and truly rich red herrings. By the time the suspects are gathered together for Cockie’s reveal, you like these people so much that when one of them is exposed as a killer, you can’t help but feel a bit devastated. 

The second murder is imbued with a sense of horror.

That’s how I feel every time I watch Green for Danger: devastation at how sympathetic the motivations of this killer make them, even as their actions spiral into the inexcusable, and devastation how, in spite of one great movie, the name of Christianna Brand is not on the lips of every mystery fan. 

Someone’s gotta do something about that.

22 thoughts on “COFFEE TABLE BOOK TALES: Everson’s Trio of Crime Film Classics

  1. Fabulous article and very pleased to see Kennel get some love.

    I was at the height of my locked room mystery kick, and seeing Kennel be described as one on a streaming platform, I gave it a go. Absolutely loved it, particularly the wonderful demonstration of how the locked room was achieved. I’d just finished reading a Carr that morning (I won’t say which) which employed a technique derivative of the one seen here, and being frustrated at not being able to picture how it was done in spite of the description. So to see it so beautifully elucidated via the magic of cinema only hours later was highly gratifying.

    For the record, I’ve seen the other two. Maltese Falcon I find confusing to the point of being soporific, and I say that as a fan of the hard boiled/film noir genre, while Green for Danger just seemed more of a melodrama than a clinical, cerebral whodunnit. Not my bag at all.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s a sad fact that impossible crime mysteries, which – let’s face it – can all benefit from some visual elucidation, are so rarely set down on film. Perhaps they’re considered too technical to provide the average viewer with much interest??? Bah, humbug! Thank goodness for Jonathan Creek and Death in Paradise, (the latter of which I really have to watch more of!) and other television examples.

      As I read and described above, it appears that GfD had some trouble in terms of how it was classified. I do see the melodramatic aspects running through the beginning – we get at least six close-uo expressions of Nurse Bates’ romantic agony – but I still think it’s got nice clueing all along the way. As for TMF, you’re not the first person who’s opinion I respect who has said this; alas, to know so many smart people who are utterly wrong!!!!!!! 😉

      Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for highlighting that if watch “Kennel” that I can see how the murder was done in that Carr novel you mention. I have always liked that book as the set-up is genius, the mid-book reveal is great and HM in the courtroom was fun. That said, I had to reread the ending three times to try to understand how the culprit accomplished the crime. I am still not sure I understand it as it is at best implausible and at worst impossible that the murderer would have the skill to do that.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The novel we’re trying so very hard not to reference directly is actually a Gideon Fell story, not HM. Though now you come to mention it, I had similar disappointment with the explanation at the end of the one you mean. Another one that would have benefitted immensely from a simple diagram. Say what you will about Van Dine, but at least he believed in illustrating the mechanisms behind his locked rooms, allowing for the possibility that his readers may fail to fully comprehend from his text alone.

        I will add that, in my humble opinion, the methodology of the locked room in Kennel/that Fell novel is superior to the one in that HM story, in as much as being far more practicable. And I would know, having successfully replicated it!


      • Yes, the Carr novel I was referring to was a Fell, not a Merrivale. I think I know which other Merrivale book title you’re referring to— it does have a great mid-book reveal and an HM in courtroom conclusion— but its locked-room mechanics are not very similar to that in The Kennel Murder Case, whereas the similarities to the Fell story and Kennel in that regard are quite close.


  2. The locked room device in The Kennel Murder Case is indeed very much like that in one of the very best Carr novels, the keyhole being replaced ingeniously by… For me, one of the only flaws of that novel is that Carr explains it in a way that makes it sound much more complicated than it really is.

    There were actually several impossible crime movies in the Golden Age of Hollywood. Besides The Kennel Murder Case, there is The Perfect Crime (1928), The Canary Murder Case (1929), Grief Street (1931), The Night Club Lady (1932), Take the Stand (1934), The Dragon Murder Case (1934), The Mandarin Mystery (1936), Miracles for Sale (1936), The Verdict (1946), the many versions of The Mystery of the Yellow Room (mostly French), as well as several like The Westland Case (1937), or Ellery Queen, Master Detective (1940), in which (as in the Judas Window) the crimes are apparently impossible if we accept the innocence of the framed defendant.

    However, except for Kennel, The Verdict (the best locked room film, IMO), and— to a lesser extent— The Night Club Lady, and The Westland Case, I’d say there are very few classics of the genre. Such a shame they’ve never filmed Death of Jezebel.

    As for Green for Danger, both the novel and the film have some wonderful clueing, though perhaps the film doesn’t emphasize that aspect as much. And I think The Maltese Falcon is a great film, but I feel its appeal is so essentially different that I wonder why character-based stories and puzzle-plot stories are considered together (by Everson and others) merely on the shared aspect of involving a detective and a crime. It seems to me the least inessential link, like assuming dinner guests will get along because they share the same initials.

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    • Iverson’s book is called “The Detective in Film”, not “Great Cinema Whodunnits” or “The Distinction between Puzzle Mysteries and Private Eye Movies.” The focus throughout is definitely on the sleuths and not the structure of various types of crime story. There’s a lot on Bulldog Drummond and Boston Blackie, both of whom I believe spent more time smashing crime rings than sifting through clues, and there’s a whole chapter on Asian detectives, but Mr. Moto did more spy-catching and less detection than Messrs. Chan and Wong. In that, er, case, it makes sense for Iverson to include The Maltese Falcon because it’s clearly one of the best “detective” films ever made, but even Iverson acknowledges that TMF has broader appeal than as a “mere” genre film. He also thinks Sim is the highlight of Green for Danger, and I would agree with him that Kennel marks the best incarnation of Philo Vance onscreen.

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      • I agree. As a book on the detective film, it makes sense that these films are put together, and that there is emphasis on the detective. I just don’t fully understand why the presence of a detective figure would be a core appeal. That is, I understand someone living The Maltese Falcon, and I understand someone loving Green for Danger, and I understand someone loving both. But I have trouble understanding someone living both for the same reason that would justify them being considered together. Perhaps it’s because the concept of the detective figure means so little to me personally. For me, it’s a great book that happens to talk about several unrelated genres.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Or, to give a better example, I would expect someone who loves The Thin Man to be more likely to love It Happened One Night—which doesn’t feature a central detective figure— than Green for Danger— which like the Thin Man does— because I consider that character comedy and puzzle plotting, not the presence of a detective figure, are their respective common, core appeals. Conversely, I would expect someone who loves Green for Danger to find more interest in And Then There Were None —which doesn’t feature a central detective figure— than The Thin Man— which like Green for Danger does.

        It’s not quite like expecting the same people to like films merely because they feature characters in turtlenecks, or have scenes taking place at chiropractic offices, but it’s going in that direction for me.


      • But . . . but . . . but I like The Maltese Falcon and Green for Danger equally! Well, actually, I like MF more, but that’s for all the other stuff as well as the mystery. GfD is more up my alley as a mystery, but as a film, MF is the best of the three. I also like It Happened One Night, but I like The Thin Man more . . . and I like My Man Godfrey more than either of them. I like Agatha Christie more than any mystery writer, but the ’45 And Then There Were None is too “twee” for me. I hate what Sarah Phelps thinks she’s doing to AC, but her And Then There Were None got the book more right than the ’45.

        In other words, tastes vary, and some of us have broad enough tastes to embrace the connection between disparate genre films in Iverson’s book!

        You also have wide and varied tastes, Scott; you just like to argue. 😉


      • Brad, you’re missing my point entirely (and I’m suspecting somewhat deliberately).

        Let me try again. I love the film Casablanca, which features a major character named Louis. I also love the film Kind Hearts and Coronets, which also features a major character named Louis. Interest in one doesn’t negate interest in the other. But, because the primary reason I like these films has nothing to do with their common feature (characters named Louis), there’s no reason to believe I’d necessarily be particularly interested in other films merely because they’d feature characters named Louis, or the book Louis in Film, all about films which featured characters named Louis.

        While I’ll freely admit that the detective figure in films is far more integral an element than a character name, I still don’t believe it’s the core feature of appeal for many people (especially perhaps lovers of the whodunit), and while they may love many types of films that HAPPEN to feature detectives, there’s no reason to believe they’d love these films BECAUSE of the presence of detectives. Thus, the grouping together of these films for study based on that element seems somewhat arbitrary.

        So, no, I quite agree that interest in one type of film certainly doesn’t exclude interest in another. At the same time, I don’t feel interest in one would necessitate or even increase the likelihood of interest in another. They’re superficially related, but fundamentally unrelated.


      • Contrary me! I’m still not buying what you say. What I would suggest to YOU is that moviegoers in the 30’s and 40’s went to these films FOR the detectives and not to solve a mystery or in preference for hard-boiled vs. elegant puzzle sleuths. People flocked to the Thin Man movies – which are basically six variations on the exact same plot – for the Powell/Loy chemistry. They liked Powell as a detective, whether he played Philo Vance, Nick Charles, or did a one-off like Star of Midnight. It’s only a guess, but I bet people went to Charlie Chan films for the character as much, if not more, for piecing together the puzzle and solving the case. And I’ll bet a lot of those Chan lovers went to see the Perry Mason films for Mason, no matter who played him, or the Saint for the Saint. They liked these series of mysteries because they liked the character (and sometimes the actor who played him) as much as, if not more than, the plot.

        I do think the detective is an integral enough element to encompass a wide variety of films. Just as Stephen Sondheim’s essence is enough to make me love a widely disparate set of musicals – the glitz of Follies, the schmaltz of A Little Night Music, the whimsicality of Into the Woods. By the way, easily one of my favorites is Sunday in the Park with George, and now you’ve got me wondering if that’s because it includes a character named . . . Louis.

        Liked by 2 people

      • I don’t deny that. Many people did indeed go to these movies to see their favorite actors play their favorite detectives— that demographic who, as Everson puts it— “care little for fidelity to a literary school as long as Basil Rathbone is Sherlock Holmes and William Powell is Philo Vance.” He also notes that filmmakers “assumed that audiences like the formula more than the content.” Quite true.

        But there is a discrepancy here. For, when Everson sets out to “consider the standards by which movie mysteries are judged”— the criteria by which he will arrive at “three classics” of the genre – – he does so with “three basic and not necessarily into related yardsticks” which you noted above:

        1. How faithful is the movie to its source material?
        2. How successful is it as a mystery, in successfully diverting the audience up the proverbial garden path without cheating in the denouement?
        3. Can it possibly transcend the realm of mystery and detection to become a separate classic in its own right?

        But note, nothing there— not a single word— about the charm, charisma, intelligence, depth, endurance, or timelessness of the detective figure. And yet, he notes that in selecting these three classics he is “going to go out on a gigantic limb and select three films which seem to uphold the highest traditions of the movie detective film, particularly in relation to the three questions posed.“ So, for him, what makes the greatest movie detective films is not the detective.

        It’s as if this chapter belongs in another book. And I would suggest it that, in a sense, it does. Because this is a book which, while it discusses Bulldog Drummond Escapes and notably avoids discussion of And Then There Were None (citing its lack of detective figure as a reason), marks as “highest traditions of the movie detective film” criteria that are met by the Christie adaptation but not the Drummond film. That’s the split demographic that I see as the problem; the films discussed in this book nearly all have detectives in them, but only some of them (Chan, Nick and Nora, Drummond) are discussed because of or in light of that aspect. As I said with Louis-connection, the detective is more of a technical requirement here than a thematic bond (as it would with a book on romance in film, or comedy, or, yes, puzzle plots),


    • Regarding the Carr novel we’re alluding to, a simple diagram would have been tremendously helpful, and easy enough to include I’d have thought. Would’ve saved him the struggle of having to convey the idea through words, and the audience of having to grasp it via the same.

      Thank you for the exciting list of GA impossible crime movies, of which only Canary Murder Case am I familiar with (Kennel had made such an impression, I had to check out Powell’s other outings as Vance). I will try to track each one down while also hoping to eventually find an affordable copy of Death of Jezebel, which I’ve consistently heard great things about.


      • Please keep in mind that with the exception of Kennel, The Verdict, The Night Club Lady, and the Westland Case, I wouldn’t recommend any of those films. I was just pointing out that they’re technically impossible crime movies. But there are quite a few whodunit films of the era well worth checking out (Green for Danger, The Phantom of Crestwood, Affairs of a Gentleman, From Headquarters, Crime on the Hill, The Florentine Dagger, Charlie Chan in Paris, The Case of the Curious Bride, The Ninth Guest, etc).

        As for Death of Jezebel, while hard copies are financially prohibitive, I believe there’s a very reasonable ebook available.


      • Oh, and I quite agree about the diagram. It was a relatively simple concept that he somehow managed to make sound more confusing and complex than it was. And a shame, too, because I think it’s just about his best novel, otherwise.


  3. The most astounding thing to me about the film Green for Danger, IMO, is its often overlooked but audacious use of the flashback technique. It’s interesting that Alastair Sim appeared in several films (Green for Danger, An Inspector Calls, Stage Fright, and even in a way, his A Christmas Carol) that force the viewer to consider the nature and meaning of the device. Stage Fright is the one that is most celebrated (or notorious), but Green for Danger is really the most audacious in that regard

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Was just going through my copy of this book the other day in fact. Thete was once a season in London’s National Film Theatre based on it that was great fun. William K’s books always cheer me up, though there are some howlers in there (check what he has to say about PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES). His book on screwball comedies may be my favourite of his.


    • My favorite is on page 30 of this book:

      “ In spirit, if not in poetry or imagination, The Wakefield Case is somewhat akin to the earlier French serials. It is also possibly the silent screen’s answer to The Big Sleep: few mysteries have ever been quite so full of inexplicable characters, red herrings, and plot complications. No little of the prevailing confusion can be traced to the fact that its scenario is written by a woman, based on an original story by a woman, so its total lack of logic must be accepted tolerantly.”


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