Last year, Rian Johnson delivered a wonderful who-dun-it in vein of Agatha Christie with grains of Hitchcock along the way. It sparked more interest in these kinds of murder mysteries. Well, here are 10 films you might have missed involving murder, ranging from Giallo to comedies to satires, and a few in between.
1. The Last of Sheila (1974) – Herbert Ross
With a strong cast led by James Coburn and featuring James Mason, Racquel Welch and Ian McShane, Herbert Ross’s fun, puzzling, and genrified piece offers intrigue while never shying away from the fact that it’s a murder mystery.
Coburn plays the husband of the deceased Sheila as he invites those connected to them for a scavenger hunt that, you guessed it, turns all too real. The approach never loses sight of the ‘murder mystery’ so Ross and screenwriters Anthony Perkins and Stephen Sondheim truly go to town on all the cliches, niches, and devices used in these films.
It never lets up for a moment, constantly boiling up new evidence and thrills in the backdrop of the beautiful Mediterranean Sea upon a yacht. For those seeking a fun murder mystery that truly delivers the goods of suspense and wit, look no further than this gem.
2. The Castle of Sand (1974) – Yoshitaro Nomura
A police procedural that comments on the social and humane aspects of 1970s Japan, Yoshitaro Nomura’s film examines police trying to uncover a murder where only a dead body and fragments of a conversation are the inciting evidence.
Despite the brutal subject matter and taking the time to truly understand the detectives at work, the film is stunning shot, crafted, scored, and composed of officials and townsfolk figuring out their own emotions regarding a seemingly pointless murder. As the film unfolds where dozens of characters come into the lives of the two detectives, we understand it’s not just a straight mystery film.
Nomura had a vision of darkness when it came to crafting this procedural, and he allowed for a sun-drenched, neo noir to unfold as a critique of the inner demons and confusion of human beings.
3. Three Cases of Murder (1955) – David Eady, George More O’Ferrall, Wendy Toye, and Orson Welles
Uniquely crafted as three films into one, each exploring different motivations and aspects of murder, all in various tones, truly make this stand out. While Eamonn Andrews introduces and concludes each story, it allows for a timely transition of mood and tone.
The segments revolve around a man who literally escapes his painting from a museum causing havoc; two best friends getting into a bitter rivalry; and a man using dreams as a revenge tool against a lawyer. Sure, each vary and engage in some sort of feverish magical realism with deadly consequences, but somehow they are linked psychologically, almost sharing traits, despite the theme of murder.
With engaging direction and gorgeous black-and-white composition and framing, the film stands as a whole. It certainly should be watched in one sitting as each story bleeds into the other, particularly Alan Badel appearing in all three stories, but the title probably states it best – three cases of murder is what you get and a whole lot more.
4. Evil Under the Sun (1982) – Guy Hamilton
Four years after “Death on the Nile,” Peter Ustinov returns as Hercule Poirot for another mystery in an Agatha Christie adaptation. Guy Hamilton here tells the investigation of how a fake diamond ended up in the wrong hands on an island, and once murder is committed, everyone is a suspect.
A wonderfully staged and acknowledged murder mystery as all the guests and ourselves as the audience recognize the familiar premise but thoroughly enjoy the ride. How can one not? An eccentric detective investigating James Mason, Roddy McDowell, Maggie Smith, Jane Birkin, Colin Blakely and more, off the coast of Spain – what’s not to like?
As the narrative unfolds in typical one-on-one interviews before the final renderings, you simply enjoy this Christie adaptation. Maybe it was released when too many other or similar works have surpassed this form, but give this film a look, it’s definitely worth the time as Poirot did, too.
5. Eyes of Laura Mars (1981) – Irvin Kershner
Right before he went to a galaxy far far away, Irvin Kershner brought the murder mystery Giallo film to New York with a one-of-a-kind thriller starring Faye Dunaway and Tommy Lee Jones. As Dunaway photographs the New York fashion scene with gory details of her photos, it is revealed that she sees the eyes of a killer, sparking a psychological piece of work.
Take any murder scene that occurs in the film, switching between Dunaway’s anxiety and the eyes of the killer, and you’ll realize the style and content go perfectly together. It’s somehow the narrative and gentrified film work to support an already engaging original story. And with the New York scenery of the late 1970s, you can’t look away, despite the content or even the fact that Dunaway’s Mars wants to.
Constantly getting rediscovered or talked about amongst cinephiles, its a film that deserves more attention, for striking a balance of narrative and style for a film. And with a ‘70s post-”Rolling Thunder” Tommy Lee Jones, how can one go wrong?