We have some amazing who-done-it Mystery movies starring Walter Huston, Barry Fitzgerald, Basil Rathbone, Brian Donlevy, Nigel Bruce, Hillary Brooke, Ian Hunter, Graham Soutton, Anna May Wong, Herbert Marshall, Norah Baring, George Segal, Lawrence Pressman, William Daniels, Ronald Howard and Alan Wheatly. Mystery directors include: Alfred Hitchcock, Amos Kollek, Sheldon Reynolds, James Dearden, David Greene, William Castle, Roy William Neill and Graham Cutts.
Mystery film is a subgenre of the more general category of crime film and at times the thriller genre. It focuses on the efforts of the detective, private investigator or amateur sleuth, who work to solve the mysterious circumstances of a crime by means of clues, investigation, and clever deduction.
The plot often centers on the deductive ability, prowess, confidence, or diligence of the detective as they attempt to unravel the crime or situation by piecing together clues and circumstances, seeking evidence, interrogating witnesses, and tracking down a criminal.
Suspense is often maintained as an important plot element that is executed through the use of the soundtrack, camera angles, heavy shadows, and surprising plot twists. Alfred Hitchcock used all of these techniques, but would sometimes allow the audience in on a pending threat, then draw out the moment for dramatic effect.
This genre has ranged from early mystery tales, fictional or literary detective stories, to classic Hitchcockian suspense thrillers and classic private detective films. Another related film subgenre is spy films, where characters are gernerally top-secret government agents.
Mystery films mainly focus with solving a crime or a puzzle. The mystery generally revolves around a murder, which must then be solved by policemen, private detectives, or amateur sleuths. The viewer is presented with a series of likely suspects, some of whom are “red herrings:” persons with motive to commit the crime but didn’t actually do it, and attempts to solve the puzzle along with the investigator. At times, the viewer is presented with information not available to the main character. The central character usually explores the unsolved crime, unmasks the perpetrator, and puts an end to the effects of the villainy.
The successful mystery film adheres to one of the two story types: Open and Closed. The Closed (or whodunit) mystery conceals the identity of the perpetrator until late in the story, adding an element of suspense during the apprehension of the suspect, as the audience is never quite sure who it is. In contrast, the Open mystery reveals the identity of the perpetrator at the top of the story, showcasing the “perfect crime” which the audience then watches the protagonist unravel, usually at the very end of the story, akin to the unveiling scenes in the Closed style.
Mystery novels have proven to be a good medium for translation into film. The sleuth often forms a strong leading character, and the plots can include elements of drama, suspense, character development, uncertainty and surprise twists. The locales of the mystery tale are often of a mundane variety, requiring little in the way of expensive special effects. Successful mystery writers can produce a series of books based on the same sleuth character, providing rich material for sequels.
Until at least the 1980s, women in mystery films have often served a dual role, providing a relationship with the detective and frequently playing the part of woman-in-peril. The women in these films are often resourceful individuals, being self-reliant, determined and as often duplicitous. They can provide the triggers for the events that follow or serve as an element of suspense as helpless victims.