Thursday Movie Picks: Amateur Sleuth

ThursdayMoviePicksHappy almost Friday! It’s TMP time! The Thursday Movie Picks blogathon was spearheaded by Wandering Through the Shelves Blog.

The rules are simple simple: Each week there is a topic for you to create a list of three movies. Your picks can either be favourites/best, worst, hidden gems, or if you’re up to it one of each. This Thursday’s theme is… AMATEUR SLEUTH.

This is a fun topic and there are tons to pick from! I always like to mix classic and contemporary movies, so that’s what I’ll do again here.

SPELLBOUND (1945)

Spellbound Poster

A psychiatrist protects the identity of an amnesia patient accused of murder while attempting to recover his memory.

Any chance I can talk about Gregory Peck I’ll jump at it, ha! This is the film I fell for the ridiculously handsome classic actor with a swoon-worthy deep voice, who was only 29 at the time in his fourth feature film. It set off an obsession for the next year, now I owned pretty much ALL of his movies!

Gregory Peck Ingrid Bergman Spellbound

Can’t believe it’s a decade ago since I saw this, I have to rewatch this soon. It’s actually the first time I saw Ingrid Bergman as well, and both of them light up the screen as they fall in love. I like the double mystery of solving Peck’s character’s amnesia issue through psychoanalysis, and figuring out the killer of the real doctor. Classic Hitchcock in terms of direction, camera work, visual style, mood, etc. featuring a brief but memorable the dream sequence by Salvador Dali. I also love Miklós Rózsa‘s astounding score, perhaps my fave of all Hitchcock movies. The final sequence is indelible as well, which has been copied many times over by other filmmakers.


REAR WINDOW (1954)

Rear Window Poster

A wheelchair-bound photographer spies on his neighbors from his apartment window and becomes convinced one of them has committed murder.

I hadn’t planned on picking two Alfred Hitchcock films here, but well, he was the master of mystery noir. This one also features one of my fave classic actors, James Stewart, and another classic beauty Grace Kelly. 

This is definitely one of the best films confined in a single location, and the set design is absolutely astounding. Apparently the set was constructed specially for this movie, on the whole they built about 30 apartments and about half was fully furnished! I also love the costume design by the legendary Edith Head (notably all of Grace Kelly’s gorgeous dresses), I’m shocked she was NOT nominated for an Oscar for her work here.

Rear Window Costume Design

This movie was my January 2015 Blindspot pick, and I loved it! Despite the lighter, playful tone, the film packs a lot of interesting themes about psychology, human nature that are intrinsic in most of Hitchcock’s films.


BATMAN BEGINS (2005)

Batman Begins poster

After training with his mentor, Batman begins his fight to free crime-ridden Gotham City from corruption.

I gotta include one of my favorite comic-book films here. Bruce Wayne aka Batman is an amateur super sleuth and crime fighter. The first of Christopher Nolan‘s The Dark Knight trilogy shows Bruce’s foray as a detective, teaming with up with Gotham City’s police commissioner Gordon. I LOVE the dynamic between Christian Bale and Gary Oldman, two of the best actors working today.

Batman Begins -Batman Commissioner Gordon

Batman didn’t just bring down crime lord Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson) but also exposed the real villain Ra’s al Ghul (Liam Neeson), the radical leader of League of Shadows who wants to destroy Gotham. It wouldn’t be a stretch to think of this film as a noir thriller that happens to have a superhero character in it, and I’m excited that the upcoming THE BATMAN will show the caped crusader in his detective mode than what we’ve seen in other films!

ZODIAC (2007)

zodiac-fincher-movie

In the late 1960s/early 1970s, a San Francisco cartoonist becomes an amateur detective obsessed with tracking down the Zodiac Killer, an unidentified individual who terrorizes Northern California with a killing spree.

I caught this one almost a decade after its release, which apparently didn’t do too well at the box office. It’s surprising given the star-studded cast, but then again this was a year before Robert Downey Jr. became Iron Man and long before Mark Ruffalo became his fellow Avenger as the Hulk. Interesting how the three leads have now become Marvel stars!

Jake Gyllenhaal Robert Downey Jr

At almost 2.5 hours long, this David Fincher murder mystery is more of a slo-burn film but an effective and suspenseful one. There are some lighter moments too between Jake Gyllenhaal and RDJ, as the film focuses on the life of the detectives on top of being a whodunnit type film. The sinister part is that the story is based on real events in the San Francisco Bay area, adapted from Robert Graysmith’s non-fiction book of the same name (Gyllenhall played Graysmith in the film).


So which are YOUR favorite movies about amateur sleuth?

25 thoughts on “Thursday Movie Picks: Amateur Sleuth

    1. Ohhh I think you’d appreciate Spellbound if you like Hitchcock. It’s one of Criterion collection too, so I might actually snatch that one of these days.

        1. Which Hitchcock ones have you seen that you love? I think North by Northwest is excellent. I really should see Notorious and Vertigo soon!

    1. Glad we match on Rear Window, Well since you like Hitchcock style, then I think you’ll enjoy Spellbound. Plus the two leads are amazing.

  1. Nice choices!

    I do not love Spellbound nearly as much as you. It has interesting concepts, and the Dali dreamscape is something else but overall, it never worked as well as many other Hitchcock films for me.

    I’m a fan of Gregory Peck, again not nearly as fervent as you though I will grant you that in his day he was incredibly handsome. I’ve managed to see almost all his films over time, I’m still missing Amazing Grace and Chuck. I cannot say I loved them all, like any great star he has his share of lemons mixed in but by and large his filmography is solid. My personal favorites are The Macomber Affair with Joan Bennett and his rascally performance in How the West Was Won-he and Debbie Reynolds seem such an unlikely match on paper, but they turned out to be very simpatico screen partners.

    Now Rear Window is a completely different situation all together. It’s my second favorite of The Master’s film after Saboteur. Realistically Rear Window is the superior of the two films in pretty much every department, but we love what we love, and I have always had a soft spot for Saboteur. It’s a mix of my adoration of Priscilla Lane, the fact that it was the first Hitchcock film I saw and its exciting Statue of Liberty climax.

    Rear Window looks to be the title of the week, which makes sense since it is probably the apex of the amateur sleuth genre. It’s one of those instances where all the elements come together in exactly the right way. Jimmy, Grace, Wendell Corey and especially Thelma Ritter are on point from frame one. I wish Grace Kelly had been nominated for this much better performance than the same year’s The Country Girl, though the winner should have been Judy Garland in A Star is Born no matter which other performances were nominated. The sting wouldn’t have been as great if Grace had won for this, though it would and always will sting. Her wardrobe is fantastic but fortunately that’s just the surface and she brings out the clever resourcefulness of Lisa, she really was the perfect Hitchcock blonde.

    I’m not as effusive about your other two picks.

    Batman Begins was fine but to be honest I’m no fan of the darkness that has crept into the superhero genre. Give me the good ol’ positivity of the Christopher Reeve version of Superman with his humor and Margot Kidder’s Lois Lane spunkiness any day.

    Zodiac did okay on its initial release, but I think the disturbing subject matter and its extended running time kept the masses away. I was glad I saw it in the theatre, it was taut and very well acted but so grim I’ve never felt the least desire to see it again.

    1. Hey Joel! I haven’t seen all of Hitchcock’s work but out of all I’ve seen, Spellbound is one of the most memorable ones. I think North by Northwest is perhaps a better film overall though.

      Ahah, I tend to get effusive about Mr. Peck, he’s SO dreamy! Glad you have seen The Macomber Affair, I had to search high and low to find a dvd copy and the quality is sooo bad but I love the film. You mentioned Amazing Grace… I must have missed that one so I have to search for it!

      Yeah I have a feeling people would pick Rear Window for amateur sleuth. I mentioned Thelma Ritter as well in my full review, LOVE all her scenes.

      I hear ya about the darkness of Nolan’s Batman films but I think it’s fitting for the noir genre and the inherent character of Bruce Wayne. I enjoy those as well as the bright and positive Superman movie with my first crush Christopher Reeve. Now, they tried to make Superman dark w/ Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel and it just doesn’t work.

      Totally agree about Zodiac. Most of Fincher’s films are too grim for repeat watching for me.

  2. Rear Window was my initial thought as well but I’d used it before so I went on the hunt for others that fit and decided on an iconic girl detective and two films I saw within the last year that fit the theme nicely.

    Nancy Drew: Detective (1938)-A brief Warner Brothers series (this was followed by: Nancy Drew…Reporter, Nancy Drew…Trouble Shooter and Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase-all released in 1939) starring Oscar nominee Bonita Granville as the intrepid and curious young Nancy who sniffs trouble and cannot help investigating. That usually leads her into endless difficulties, but she always manages to solve the mystery in the end!

    Hue and Cry (1947)- “The Blood and Thunder Boys” are a neighborhood group of kids in a partially bombed out section of post-WWII London. They suspect the boss of the village gang is directing his cohorts to their various criminal enterprises by manipulating stories in a popular kid’s paper “The Trump” (an actual kid comic of the time). Determined to stop the crooks they set out to solve the mystery of the leader’s identity and turn him over to the cops! Considered the first of the British Ealing comedies.

    Who Killed Mary What’s ‘Er Name? (1971)-When a local prostitute is slain in a rough, rundown part of town, the police and neighbors react with little more than a shrug. Outraged, retired boxer Mickey Isador (Red Buttons), who knew the woman slightly, decides to try and find the killer. With the aid of his daughter, he pokes around the gritty dilapidated slum looking for answers, nearly getting himself offed in the process. Low-budget film captures the ramshackle decay that had infected many parts of New York City in the late 60’s/early 70’s.

    1. Hi again Joel! As always I love that you always educate me with your classic choices. Somehow I have never seen Nancy Drew though I’m familiar w/ the character. The other two I have never even heard of. I do love British comedies so I should check out Hue and Cry.

  3. Ted Saydalavong

    I love Batman Begins, still wish that Nolan and Bale would come back in do a true adaptation of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns.

    Zodiac was such a great movie and it’s so disappointing that no one went to see it when it came out in theaters. It’s been a long time but I think Fincher was having a really tough time with the studio, they were hoping for something like his big hit Se7en but they got a detective drama type of a film. They couldn’t really market the film as a suspense thriller so they decided to just dump it in March instead of prime release dates like in the summer or awards season. Of course it didn’t help that most of the stars in the film weren’t in the status as they are now. RDJ was still known as the actor who got arrested for using drugs and Gyllenhaal was still not a household name yet.

    1. I thought I read somewhere the Bale would be willing to return as Batman for Nolan? It’d be so cool to see them team up to do The Dark Knight Returns!

      Yeah, crazy how famous most of the Zodiac actors are now, mostly from the Marvel movies too, ahah. It’s too bad the studio just dumped this one in March, I think it’s a really good film and one of Fincher’s best.

    1. Hey Sara, if you love Stewart and Peck, those two Hitchcock are a must-see! I love how both actors can do thrillers and dramas so effortlessly.

  4. Zodiac is excellent but a bit overlong. I feel they could have edited it down a bit but wonderful performances by all. Batman Begins is an excellent choice! I love this series with Christian Bale. So many Hitchcock films could be here and i contemplated doing nothing but Hitchcock. We match with Rear Window which is the winner this week. I love Jimmy Stewart and Thelma Ritter but Kelly was great in this and I wanted her outfits especially the green one with the white halter type…so classy. Oh yes, Gregory Peck made my heart swoon when I first saw him in Roman Holiday. This is a great pick with 2 lovely stars(whom I think got well known with each other off camera). I love the dream sequence which is so artistic. I chose a Peck film as well.

    1. Hi Birgit! I think we could’ve easily picked all of Hitchcock for amateur sleuth, I mean he’s the master for that subgenre.

      Grace Kelly is especially elegant here and yes I want all her dresses too! My fave is the black one w/ the see-thru short sleeve, but of course she has the figure to make ANYTHING looks classy.

      I fell for Peck in Spellbound but he’s definitely swoon-worthy in Roman Holiday. He’s soooo dashing in his 30s-40s but in his older age he remains a very handsome gentleman.

    1. Oh you just rewatched Zodiac? I feel like that film is a bit too dark and somber for a rewatch but I’d rather watch that than Se7en any day!

    1. So. you weren’t spellbound by Ingrid Bergman? 😉 I think it was memorable for me because Peck was soooo gorgeous. Yeah it’d be so cool if Netflix has all of Hitchcock works!

  5. Pingback: The Alliance Lately: Issue No. 27 – The Minnesota Film Critics Alliance

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