The earliest cinematic detective is said to be 1900’s Sherlock Holmes Baffled, a minute-long case in which Conan-Doyle’s perrennial is up against a disappearing robber. You can see the short film here, and brief though it is – this is where it all began.
In the one and a fifth centuries since, cinema has seen its fair share of celluloid sleuths. It is an evergreen concept, one which can adapt to many genres. Today sees the release of Adam Brody’s The Kid Detective, a wonderful comedy noir in which a once-celebrated young detective is hired for his first case as an adult by a desperate woman hoping to solve a mystifying crime. Brody is great in the film, and we had the chance to sit down with the actor to talk about the film.
The Kid Detective is Available to Rent on Digital today.
To celebrate the release, Alasdair Bayman has looked back over the many cinematic detectives to have snooped across the silver screen, and to examine what it takes to make a great detective movie.
Detective Movies come in all shapes and sizes, from classic film noir to more modern comedic outings. Whether it is solving a seemingly unsolvable mystery or stopping a serial killer in their tracks, the genre holds an inherent thrilling component that makes for a suspenseful narrative. Within these films, the enigma of a riddle, suspicious characters, or secrets of pasts continually come to fruition to make the Detective Movie fundamentally work for audiences across decades and generations. However, beyond these components, many more elements still remain that make the genre tick.
1. An Enigmatic Lead Character
The unreliable or reliable narrator of a tale is always essential in creating a captivating tale, extended in nurturing the world of a detective. Looking towards a figure such as The Dude in The Big Lebowski, his lackadaisical ability to stumble from situation to situation leads him astray to be constantly immersed deeper into strange scenarios to uncover the truth about a kidnapping.
A great deal of the role is created by the work of Jeff Bridges. The actor fully bathes in the idiocy of the character and his absurd world. It’s a role that has become so synonyms with the actor, the famous brown cardigan is seemingly part of his public persona. The lead role in Coen Brothers’ self-aware detective film is a perfect example of how key an enigmatic lead character drives forward a specific narrative and binds the story together, a crucial part of any detective feature.
Arguably, without The Dude himself, the film would not have endured with audiences so much to this day. A key piece to making a great detective film, the audience must all somehow root for its protagonist.
2. A City Location
From LA to Toyko, cities are inherently obscure places filled with dark alleys and wrong turns. The genre fundamentally understands the dingy aspects of life lived in a condensed space around millions of other people. Chiefly, classic films as Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye to Kurosawa’s Stray Dogs export the viewer to bustling landscapes which hold deeper secrets behind the walls of each building. High apartment towers in Altman’s film yield people from a variety of backgrounds, making Philip Marlowe (Elliot Gould) dazzled by the lies spun by inhibitors of the apartment on his friend’s supposed murder of his girlfriend. Such cities are primarily shot at night time too, which only serves to underline their scale through the bright lights sprawling across the horizon, specifically outside Marlowe’s apartment window. These spaces are not always filled with truth or good intentions and give the detective films their core essence.
3. A Captivating MacGuffin
Regardless of the calibre of detective in a narrative, as explored in two useless private investigators in Shane Black’s amusing The Nice Guys, they must be sprung into action. This can arrive in the form of multiple items; a black suitcase, a missing person, or a stolen piece of jewelry.
In the case of Ryan Gosling’s Holland March in Black’s film, he is hired to find a porn star named Misty Mountains, who seemingly died in a car accident. A catalyst for action or enigma, this pivotal part of the screenplay intrinsically becomes more potent on-screen, merged with the performance of lead characters. Moreso in detective films, its action dictates all characters who search for it, good or back or private investigators to professional police.
The master of suspense himself, Alfred Hitchcock, noted that the MacGuffin always remained ‘’the motivating or primal force behind the narrative’’. No matter how small or big the narrative tool might be to a detective, its allure is greater than the sum of its parts. Arguably the most important piece in assembling a timeless detective film, the MacGuffin is the puppet master to all action….