A Reader Picks the Best Detective Films Ever Made

What is the greatest gumshoe movie ever made? That’s a pretty tough question to be sure. Fortunately, MovieFanFare reader Sal LaRosa can help. He’s come up with the following list of his own personal picks for the best detective flicks. Sal writes:

The best detective movie of all time has to be The Maltese Falcon. Then the Thin Man series.

Classic film noir is D.O.A. with Edmund O’Brien.

Of course, there’s  the entire run of Sherlock Holmes films with Basil Rathbone (the only true Sherlock).

However, there are little know movies that we always tend to overlook because of the above, such as Frank Sinatra‘s The Detective or The Lady Vanishes or The Lodger.

You may disagree with me and that’s OK but these are my favorites. I’m sure I forgot many so feel free to add your own.

Would you like to submit your own article for MovieFanFare? Here’s how you can do so!

  • Sheri

    I agree with all your(good) choices, but would add:
    Chinatown

    • former MN

      The French Connection

  • Alice Lund

    Kirk Douglas was outstanding in the Detective Story.

  • Joe Glaeser

    Frank was really good in “The Detective” but if you’re not looking for serious films try the two Tony Rome movies he made. They’re quite “campy”.
    I’ve always liked the “Harper” films with Paul Newman.

  • Blair Kramer.

    I think “In The Heat Of The Night” is a great detective film, less so about its murder mystery than about its social commentary. I suppose that’s why it won the Oscar for best picture.

  • Thomas Rudnick

    I agree about Maltese Falcon (The first film-noir) and The Thin Man. The Big Sleep and Chinatown are right up there. Also Green For Danger and Murder on The Orient Express. I would not call The lady Vanishes a detective movie. A great film to be sure but like North By Northwest and The 39 Steps (Also great) these are all about amateurs who are caught up in events by accident.

  • JOHN CLEARY

    I always thought the Kennel Murder Case was a
    great 30′s mystery with William Powell as Philo
    Vance. This I believe is the movie that sprung him
    into the Thin Man series with Myrna Loy, what a great team. I highly recommend this movie for William Powell fans or folks who just like a good
    murder mystery.

  • l2ma

    What about all the Charlie Chan flicks.

  • mike jaral

    so many great film noir movies its hard to pick one or even 10 or 20, one of my favorits< and I just forgot the name was with victor mature and richard widmark were he pushes the wheel chair down the stairs. the fim noir movies always have the best detectives. brian donlevy was the detective. where the siewalk ends—I wake up screaming—the one about the train with charles mcgraw and marie wilson. and probably the best was the naked city with barry fitzgerald.

  • Kellie

    The Dark Corner has always been a favorite of mine.

  • John Z

    I think “This gun for hire” with Alan Ladd & Veronica Lake was real good, a tough guy with an attitude. Also Jim Mitchum in “Out of the past” which happens to be on tonight on TCM.

  • Lloyd kay

    I found BODY HEAT to be one of the best, along with CUTTERS WAY.

  • roger lynn

    How about Robert Mitchum as Phillip Marlowe in FAREWELL MY LOVELY,THE BIG SLEEP..awesome and You are correct ,,Mr Rathbone as Sherlock,Mr Sidney Toler in the CHARLIE CHAN FILMS all great…In The Heat Of The Night is got to be the greatest of all detetective films 5 OSCARS,including BEST PICTURE..

  • version

    ou est Clouseau? William Powell gets my nod as a fave. so do Sherlock Holmes in his many guises too, Sam Spade, Phillip Marlow, Piorot, Miss Marple. I was always fond of Inspector Hubbard from Dail M for Murder.

    Now I need to load the DVD.

  • Gary Koca

    So many great detective films. Out of the Past is certainly a good candidate. Also, The Killers, the film debut of Burt Lancaster, where Edmund O’Brien investigates the death of a small time hood, The Swede, played by Lancaster. Also, how about Double Indemnity, where Edward G. Robinson is essentially a detective investigating Barbara Stanwyck’s murder. All great movies.

  • John Stanaway

    Good discussions on detective films. I would only question the application of the term film-noir. It seems that film noir camera techniques were applied loosely even to some Gene Autry B-westerns. Film noir perhaps is best defined by the technique of sharp and harsh contrasting light, and by estreme and revealing close ups. I would think that the element of tragedy known as the fatal flaw applies as well as the Greek tragedy element of inevitable tragic results. Witness the inevitable end of Walter Neff in DOUBLE INDEMNITY, or Thomas Gomez’s character in FORCE OF EVIL, for example. It is hard to separate THE MALTESE FALCON or MUDER, MY SWEET from the strictly hard-boiled detective film because Sam Spade and Phillip Marlowe maintain their own rugged integrity despite corruption all around them, thus escaping true fatal flaws.

  • john walsh

    the Lady in the lake is the best mystery film noir i have ever seen.

  • Clyde Warrington

    My vote goes to Bullitt.
    Kidos too to Laura, Chnatown and that quirky Gene Hackman drama, Night Moves.

  • Curt

    So many to choose from but here’s my list
    Maltese Falcon
    The Big Sleep (Bogart as Philip Marlowe)
    Murder My Sweet (Dick Powell as Marlowe
    Out of the Past (with Robert Mitchum)
    Kiss Me Deadly (Ralph Meeker as Mike Hammer)
    Chinatown
    Night Moves (Directed by Arthur Penn with Gene Hackman
    Angel Heart (combines the detective story with horror and Mickey Rourke has rarely been better)
    LA Confidential

    Mike Jaral, the movie name you’re looking for is Kiss of Death, another great one. And the train movie with Charles McGraw is Narrow Margin. Your entire list is first rate. I Wake Up Screaming, with the great character actor Laird Cregar, who died before he was thirty is truly underrated. V. Mature was in that one too along with Betty Grable, who gave one of her best performances.

  • Tom Smith

    Great question! I continue to look for old chestnuts I may have missed. The Kennel Murder Case is about as far back as I might go. Dick Powell, William Nolan,and all the Marlowes: Bogart, Mitchum, Gould to name three are some of the very best. Bogart’s Sam Spade really does stand out though.

  • Tom Thomson

    If we are talking about Frank Sinatra, how about “The First Deadly Sin”. It’s one of my favorites.

    • Bruce Reber

      Did you know? – Sinatra was originally slated to play DIrty Harry, but he quit and Clint Eastwood got the part.

  • Gerard Linscott

    Maltese Falcon, Murder on the Orient Express, also the not so well known Murder By Decree with Christopher Plummer and James Mason.

  • version

    I’d like to add Day of the Jackel – though some say it plodded along – I found the police work intriguing.

  • Joy

    I agree with most of those you mention….especially love The Lady Vanishes but you missed out on Call M for Murder which is one of the greats if you ask me. I love a movie where we, the watchers, know what’s going on but the detectives have to figure it out themselves.

  • sugarpussoshea

    I ab-so-lute-ly love all William Powell’s “detectives”: Philo Vance, Nick Charles, Mr Bradford (from the x Mrs Bradford), etc. But for the best detective movie, I’ve gotta go with the man who solved his own murder, Edmund O’Brien in D.O.A. An unusual and spell binding mystery all the way.

  • Dennis Karoleski

    You sir, have an excellent list. I would add A Bad Day at Black Rock with Spencer Tracy and the Robert Mitchum version on The Big Sleep.

  • John

    I always liked “Bullitt”

  • fred buschbaum

    So many great ones, but you all missed Sean connery in The Name of the Rose. Any Bogart flick, and the 2 Steve Martin flicks just for neat technique.

  • Richard Dicks

    The Maltese Falcon stands alone for me, followed by the Sherlock Holmes movies. I loved all of the Philip Marlowe movies with everyone from Dick Powell and Mitchem to Sinatra. You know what is coming but it is still great stuff. I loved all the Dick Powell movies but they were more comedies than mysteries.

    D.O.A. is a unique movie. I saw it the first time as a little kid at a drive in movie with my whole family. That is something you can’t really relive. Edmund O’Brien was fantastic in it and what an ending. What an I just wish they made more of this type of movie now. I could even see black and white and like it. It is the blot that makes the difference, not just the action.

  • Joe Gideon

    For a cat-and-mouse game, it’s hard to top “Day of the Jackal”.

  • Alvaro

    The best detective movies, to me, are:
    - Party Girl (1958), with Robert Taylor;
    - This Gun For Hire (1942), with Alan Ladd;
    - The Killers (1946), with Burt Lancaster;
    - Farewell, My Lovely (1975), with Robert Mitchum;
    - The Detective (1968), with Frank Sinatra;
    - The First Deadly Sin (1980), with Frank Sinatra;
    - My Favorite Brunette (1947), with Bob Hope, and splendid cameos of Bing Crosby and Alan Ladd.
    By the way, and the best gangster film ever, to me is:
    - White Heat (1949), with James Cagney.
    Best regards.

  • Tiny Tim

    I’m right there with about 90% of the choices I’ve read. However, I can’t agree that “This Gun for Hire” can be classed as a detective story. It’s one of my favorite thrillers, but there’s no mystery to its straight ahead story. Sure, Robert Preston is a police detective, but he does little more than chase after Ladd, always two steps behind. If you want a Ladd / Lake combo, choose “The Blue Dahlia” or especially “The Glass Key.” In the latter, Ladd is not officially a detective, but he spends the better part of the movie in the role of one, trying to unravel a puzzle while falling victim to all the intrigues and dangers typical of the genre. It’s a classic. Another good non-detective detective story is “Dead Reckoning” with Bogart and Lizabeth Scott. This is one genre that doesn’t lack quality entries.

  • Rick Hirsch

    The “Maltese Falcon” and “The Big Sleep” are Bogie at his best playing Sam Spade and Phillip Marlowe like not one else.

  • Bill C.

    Can’t quibble with your selections – and many of the other films mentioned here.

    I would like to say that although Basil Rathbone was the actor who most physically resembled Sherlock Holmes, the best adaptation of the character was the series produced for television that starred JEREMY BRETT. They may not qualify as they were made for TV, but for my money, that’s the best Sherlock.

    If we’re going to talk about Hitchcock thrillers, I would add VERTIGO and DIAL “M” FOR MURDER, both mysteries if not really detective films.

    On my favorites detective films list would also be:
    THE BIG SLEEP
    THE BLUE DAHLIA
    CHINATOWN
    L.A. CONFIDENTIAL
    LAURA
    MALTESE FALCON
    MURDER, MY SWEET
    OUT OF THE PAST (1947)
    …with a nod to the Charlie Chan series, not great films individually, but an entertaining series for the most part.

    Among non-detective thrillers/mysteries:
    BLUE VELVET
    BODY HEAT
    CHARADE
    DEAD AGAIN
    DOUBLE INDEMNITY
    HOT SPOT
    LADY FROM SHANGHAI
    THE LAST OF SHEILA
    POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (1946)
    THE THIRD MAN
    THIS GUN FOR HIRE
    TOUCH OF EVIL
    THE USUAL SUSPECTS
    WILD THINGS

  • Bill Dunphy

    The first choice for a great detective that pops to mind is “Dial M for Murder”, John Williams steals the movie from his more famous co-stars. I also liked Harrison in The Witness, and don’t forget Bruce in the Diehard series.

  • chris

    it’s rarely on tv but, the detective story with kirk douglas is ONE of my favorite kirk douglas movies. thank goodness i have it on dvd. also, i’ll watch anything with basil rathbone, love those classic actors.

    • Cara

      I watched this several years ago on TCM. Wow! I wasn’t ready for how powerful it was. It’s a real sleeper and an excellent movie. Just don’t go in expecting hearts and flowers because the movie kicks you in the teeth.

  • Gary Vidmar

    CHINATOWN is the best; Nicholson put an end to Bogie’s reign. Penn’s NIGHT MOVES is the most sophisticated. Blake Edwards’ THE PINK PANTHER is arguably the most entertaining of them all.

  • DeMeio

    THE FIRST DETECTIVE THAT CAME TO MIND WAS CHARLES VANEL, THE INSPECTOR IN THE ORIGINAL fRENCH FILM LE DIABOLIQUE. PERFECT
    THINK HARD-BOILED … SEE BOGART, MITCHUM. THINK SUAVE … SEE POWELL. BUT DON’T FORGET THOSE ‘B’ SLEUTHS … ELLERY QUEEN, THE FALCON, BOSTON BLACKIE, MR. MOTO, AND ALL THE REST THAT FOLLOWED CLUES AND always SOLVED THE MYSTERY. A GREAT GENRE!

  • Name Kevin Reilly

    How about “The Seven-Ups”?

  • R. J. Bowen

    I like your choices except for Sherlock Holmes. I liked Basil Rathbone, but the writers made Dr. Watson too silly. He was a doctor not an idiot. To be a good foil, he needed to be more intelligent, as he is in the original stories. I will go with the PBS series. I think they were better.

  • Ed Seeley

    1941′s SHADOW OF THE THIN MAN. Because it contains the only generally available film performance by the immortal STELLA ADLER. She plays a gangster’s moll masquerading as an upscale socialite. Watch how she slips so artfully between two very different characters on camera. Her changes in accent and body language are a demonstration of what Great Acting is all about.

    Stella was a member of the superlative Yiddish Theater family. She’s best known as a Great Teacher of acting. Her students include Marlon Brando and Robert di Niro. A Memorable Gal indeed.

  • Debbie

    I just watched Jeremy Brett for the first time as Sherlock Holmes. My husband and I were rolling on the floor. He is way too gay in his mannerisms to be taken seriously. He fits right up there with Clifton Webb as a Sherlock (who could actually be quite good in an amusing sort of way). Sorry, but IMHO Basil Rathbone is the only Sherlock Holmes. By the way no one has mentioned “Laura” as a nice detective/noir.

  • Mikey

    One of my favorites is Marlowe with James Garner

  • Barbara Atkinson

    This writer is not a fan of the “heavy” movie. Drama, action, all that stuff is too realistic and I watch movies to get away from the depressing aspects of life. So, while perhaps not candidates for the “best” detective films, how about considering watching these “not so heavy” films as a source of amusement? For the William Powell fans, catch “Star of Midnight” (1935), which is his take on a “Thin Man” type angle with Ginger Rogers. Early films with Ginger that are interesting detective-type films include “The Thirteenth Guest” (1932) and “A Shriek In The Night” (1933). Later, she made a noir film, “Black Widow” (1954). Variety is good. Enjoy!

  • Kay

    Interesting to see everyone’s choices. I agree with a lot–my favorites have been mentioned: Out of the Past, The Big Sleep (always liked it better than The Maltese Falcon–just thought it more entertaining and of course love Bogie and Bacall together), Laura, Vertigo.

    Love the Thin Man series, but more for the repartee between Nick and Nora than the plots.

    Surprised no one mentioned one of my favorites, The Big Heat with the great Glenn Ford, who was so underrated as an actor.

  • jwp22

    kodos Bill C. Great list. I am sticking with L.A. Confidential as #1… Maltese Falcon#2 and Chinatown 3rd

  • bill engleson

    So many excellent films have ben mentioned. Last year at a classic cinema night I run on my little Island I showed Quai Des Orfevres, a stunning slice of post war Paris theatrical and criminal life. It was made by Henri-Georges Clouzot who won Best Director for it in 1947 at the Venice International Film Festival. It is an excellent police procedural and so much more. I’d highly recommend it.

  • Tyme Warp

    Great selections. Here are a few more to consider:
    Murder By Death
    The Cheap Detective
    Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid
    The Man With Bogart’s Face
    The List of Adrian Messenger (my personal favorite)

  • jwp22

    ya Tyme warp all great detective comedies!!!!!!!! Murder by death is simply a classic! Also I think you can put Double indemnity in the detective list. Yes they were insurance guys but detecting murder none the less.

  • speedle

    Interesting that for the most part the good detective films were made in the late forties and early fifties. There are exceptions of course, but something seems to be missing from current attempts at the genre. “Chinatown” and “LA Confidential” are notable exceptions.

    Perhaps it is significant that both, although made fairly recently, are set in mid century time periods. Maybe the problem now is that there isn’t much sexy intrigue about detective work done with computer searches and cell phone taps.

  • Spencer Allen

    I fell in love with Myna Loy watching the Thin Man movies. And Powell is so right cast with her.

    I have to disagree about Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes. I think Jeremy Brett (Masterpice Mysteries – PBS) captured the character from the written tales much more accurately.

  • Daniel E. Coates

    The Thin Man series is what got me into collecting and watching old movies. So I would have to rate thewm at number 1. Anything with Humphrey Bogart a close 2. I also rate Murder My Sweet real high on my list.

  • Alfie

    Agree with jwp22. Another excellent detective mystery not mentioned is “Black Widow,” [1987] in which agent Debra Winger befriends a sexy, intelligent Theresa Russell in order to bring her to justice. What an acting duo!

    But this is in color, as is “Silence of the Lambs.” I wonder, do they qualify in this genre?

  • jwp22

    Alfie, I think SILENCE has to go to the horror genre. Good call on Black Widow

  • ed

    dirty harry and all the great ones from the 40′s and 50′s. everybody played marlow good who was the worst to play him

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000472580319 Max Gantt

    The Big Sleep!

  • Ray Magyar

    I always liked SHARKEY’S MACHINE with Burt Reynolds. Great detective movie and he gets the girl in the end !

  • Ron Wood

    I just saw I Walk Alone on TCM last night and had never even heard of it. It was a quite decent film noir with Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas and Elizabeth Scott.

  • Magman

    On the comic side: Ace Ventura, Pet Detective
    On the Academy Award side: In the Heat of the Night
    On the cool side: Bullitt
    On the foreign side: Black Rain
    On the hero side: Witness

  • jim

    My favorite is the Thin Man series.

  • jwp22

    Good calls on Black Rain and Sharkey’s Machine.

  • Rob

    A very entertaining, overlooked,Detective yarn is the British movie..Meet Mr Callaghan,1954.

  • john

    Hello! Has any one ever heard of “LAURA”? The best film noir movie ever made. One person mentions it in passing and that”s it! Do yourselves a favor and watch “LAURA”, you might want to revote.

  • M. L. Wirick

    I’d have to say Laura, Viki and The Naked City were good ones too.

  • Jerry Diekmann

    How about the 1947 film noir detective movie starring Robert Montgomery and Thomas Gomez with the strange title “Ride the Pink Horse”? Imdb shows it with a very high 7.5 rating from 611 users, so the movie is well known and well regarded. However, I have never seen it offered on DVD. If Irv or anyone else knows why this movie has not yet been released, please let me know. Thank you.

  • SONNY LACHNER

    THERE WERE SO MANY GREAT DETECTIVE MOVIES THAT I SAW OVER THE YEARS AS I WAS GROWING UP…I ESPECIALLY ENJOYED THE CHARLIE CHAN SERIES WITH WARNER OLAND AND MY FAVORITE CHARLIE CHAN THAT BEING SIDNEY TOLER…..AND OF COURSE LET US NOT FORGET THE GREAT BASIL RATHBONE AS SHERLOCK HOLMES AND NIGEL BRUCE AS DR.WATSON….BUT GOING BACK TO 1965 I HAD THE GREAT PLEASURE OF MEETING ONE OF THE STARS OF LAURA HE BEING SHELBY CARPENTER????WHO YOU SAY….YES THE CHARACTER KNOWN AS VINCENT PRICE…..HE TALKED WITH ME FOR ALMOST HALF AN HOUR WHEN HE WAS AN ART CRITIC FOR SEARS ROEBUCK IN PHOENIX, ARIZONA….AT THE TIME HE WAS DOING THE EDGAR ALLEN POE MOVIES AND HAD JUST COMPLETED “THE TOMB OF LIGEIA” IN ENGLAND…..WE TALKED ABOUT “LAURA” AND HOW GOOD HE WAS IN IT …..MR. PRICE WAS A GREAT STAR IN EVERYTHING HE DID THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER ONE LIKE HIM…I WAS PROUD TO HAVE MET HIM..-30-

  • Bill C.

    john:

    I put LAURA on my list well up this thread. It was also mentioned by Debbie (who seems to have missed my reference to it) and Kay as well.

    Many of the posters are simply trying to come up with new titles rather than to simply repeat what others have mentioned.

    Debbie:

    I understand what you are saying about Jeremy Brett’s portrayal. However, the question of Holmes’ sexuality has been debated by fans of the stories and has been similarly questioned in Billy Wilder’s vastly underrated PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES and in the recent BBC update SHERLOCK (which is excellent).

    I think why many of us mention the Brett series as the best Holmes is for how closely the series stuck to its source material, its portrayal of Watson (much more accurate than Nigel Bruce’s), and its attention to period detail.

    Not only were most of the Rathbone films set in contemporary times, but frankly the majority were also pretty thin “B” films not based on Doyle’s writings at all.

  • Grace

    Although there was not a “professional” detective in the movie, I loved “The Last of Sheila” for a convoluted murder mystery. I also think “Body Heat” is an excellent movie with a twist and SO HOT. And how about Witness for the Prosecution – another good story with a twist.

    • hypatiab7

      Speaking of the word witness, how about “Witness” where one of the crooks turned
      out to be a cop. Harrison Ford is a police detective who with the help of an Amish boy identifies the crooked cop, then both both have to hide out in Amish country to save themselves. What happens to the crooked cop when he finds them is horrible but well deserved.

  • mirv

    one of my favorites is also one of the most unconventional: Tobert altman’s take on Phillip Marlowe, The Long Goodbye with Elliott Gould.

  • Curt

    Ed, the worst Marlowe was George Montgomery in The Brasher Doubloon. Not Robert Mongtgomery from Lady in the Lake, George Montgomery. George was better suited to a cowboy hat than a fedora.

  • Martin Stumacher

    The list for me would be too long. Topping the list would be The Maltese Falcon. The Charlie Chan series especially Sidney Toler. Bullit with Steve McQueen the cool one. Although the plot seemed abit confusing, McQueen was the best. I liked Laura. Clifton Webb as Lydecker stole the film. Chinatown with Jack Nicholson was the technicolor noire of its era. Great film. As I said before, this genre has too many memorable films to consider a favorite without leaving out something else.

  • John

    I haven’t read the entire list but one that I haven’t seen mentioned: “Where the Sidewalk Ends” starring Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney is pretty good film noir.

  • SAChip

    Bad Day at Black Rock, Dial M For Murder, Chinatown (#1), LA Confidential, the Nick and Nora Charles (and Asta) flicks are always fun.

    What about the Mr. Moto series? More stylish than Charlie Chan, with great performances by Peter Lorre.

    Can anyone think of a Western detective film?

  • jwp22

    Good question Sachip. I cant think of a Western detective film off hand that would be out of the detective genre but set in the old west. Maybe something like Dodge City, but that might be a stretch. By the way, can we put Dial M in the detectives slot or, is that suspense? One of my favorites either way. Call North-side 777 just popped into my head as well. Not #1 thru 10 but, a good one

    • David Alan

      Five Card Stud, with Dean Martin and Robert Mitchum.

  • Salvatore R LaRosa

    Thanks people. I knew I forgot many. I’ll revisit quite a few. Happy detecting. The game is afoot!

  • Salvatore R LaRosa

    By the way, None of you mentioned the film directed by Clint Eastwood, “In the Garden of Good and Evil”. As for a Western detective story how about “Along The Great Divide”, where Douglas solve the murder in the end and saves Walter Brennan from a hanging. My article was not so much to name all the great detective movies but to get you my friends of the movies to think and you did not fail me. Again, my thanks.

  • Ray

    For a western detective Alan Ladd as Whispering
    Smith, a railroad detective. Jean Reno [Leon,
    the Professional did a number of cool French
    detective films. Also, I heartily agree with
    the Charlie Chan and Mr. Moto picks. And how
    about all The Saint and Boston Blackie films

  • Rob

    Western Detective movies Anthony Manns .Tall Target.and Dick Powell and Jane Greer in Sidney Lanfields,,Station West…

  • chad

    1.)The Big Sleep
    2.)Kiss Me Deadly
    3.)Chinatown
    4.)Usual Suspects

  • chad

    5.)Laura
    6.)Ace Ventura and Kindergarten Cop

  • debbie

    I agree with most of the choices but The Maltese Falcon is tops, the Margaret Rutherford Miss Marples are real good too.I also like The Thin Man movies, Myrna Loy and William Powell are truly magnificent. Happy viewing

  • Maxwell Starr

    If I’m feeling in a blue funk ANY of the ‘Thin Man’ mysteries brightens my mood. The Charlie Chan, Mr. Moto and Rathbone Sherlock Holmes mysteries are also great fun. Bogart rules in ‘The Maltese Falcon’ and ‘The Big Sleep’ Alan Ladd rules in ‘The Glass Key’ and ‘The Blue Dahlia’, Robert Mitchum rules in ‘Farewell My Lovely’ (I didn’t care for his version of ‘The Big Sleep’). Dick Powell was terrific in ‘Murder My Sweet’, Ralph Meeker was great in ‘Kiss Me Deadly’, Richard Widmark was fine in ‘Madigan’, as was Paul Newman in ‘Harper’ and James Garner in ‘Marlowe’. ‘Laura’, ‘Bullitt’, ‘Chinatown’(Nicholson’s best film) all superb. There’s a truckload of enjoyable detective thrillers down through the decades and it would take more than this comment section to list them all. Long life to the genre! Police detctives and Private Investigators shine on!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1417928290 Ronald Black

    I liked “Shaft” the original and “the Devil In The Blue Dress”.

  • Lenny

    I never miss the Thin Man movies when they are on TV.

  • Blair Kramer.

    The murder mystery contained within “The Thin Man” is incidental to the comedy. It’s one of the funniest films of its type ever made (I love the scene in which William Powell uses a dart gun to shoot ornaments off a Christmas tree!). I just didn’t much care for any of the sequels.

  • Thomas Nilsen

    HARPER with Paul Newman. BEAUTIFUL p.i.-movie!

  • Michelle Malkin

    There was a B western where a man goes west to find out who killed his brother. He arrives in the town to find that there had been a gold strike but that every shipment has been taken by stagecoach bandits. As soon as Robert Preston showed up as one of the good guys, I knew he was one of the villains. Preston often payed baddies back then. The good guy was, I think, a government agent sent out to investigate the
    stagecoach robberies, but also went to find out
    what had happened to his brother.

    • Cap’nWill

      The film was a famous western starring Alan Ladd as “Whispering Smith” and was a 20th Cen Fox release and Alan Ladd was a Railroad Detective a great film. Will

      • hypatiab7

        Thank you! This message was originally sent to the wrong thread, but that mistake certainly paid off. I guess it could count as a western detective movie, though.

  • Pingback: Movie Marathons | MovieFanFare

  • Mario Brescio

    I was always a huge fan of the Miss Marple films and Margaret Rutherford.
    Murder She Said (1961)
    Murder at the gallop (1963)
    Murder Ahoy (1964)
    Murder Most Foul (1964)

    And for a really fun who-done-it, It’s “Evil Under the Sun” (1982) with
    Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot, Maggie Smith, Roddy McDowell, Sylvia Miles,
    James Mason, and Diana Rigg.

    • Cara

      I have a lot of trouble with Rutherford’s Miss Marple. She’s really over the top and not at all the Miss Marple of Agatha Christie’s books. By the way, Agatha Christie detested Rutherford’s interpretation. The first Miss Marple series produced by the BBC probably comes closest to the character Dame Agatha imagined and earned Christie’s seal of approval. Christie personally selected David Suchet to play Hercule Poirot on the long running BBC series, and she was delighted with the results. He IS Hercule Poirot.

      • Antone

        Amen to Suchet & Hickson being THE Poirot & Marple. As I recall, Hickson played a maid in one of Rutherford’s Marple films.

  • Frank Braio

    I vote for Steve McQueen in Bullit!

  • joseph levin

    Chinatown – Profound, Political, Unforgettable

  • Kevin Albertina

    I have to agree with some of the others, that Chinatown and LA Confidential are among my all-time favorites, especially among modern movies. Film noir from the ’40′s and ’50′s has many great entries as well. There was a little-remembered Sean Connery movie from the early ’70′s called The Offence that I saw in the last couple of years that kind of caught my eye. While a little slow at times and very dark in tone, I thought the psychological duel between Connery and the villain (played by Ian Bannon) in the interrogation room was fascinating, maybe some of the best work Connery has done.

  • Debbie

    I don’t have a favorite, but have many favorites. In no particular order are: Murder, My Sweet, DOA, Sherlock Holmes with Basil Rathbone, Charlie Chan in Egypt (Steppin’ Fetchit steals the show), Bullit, The Big Sleep, The Thin Man. Too many to list. I recently discovered a quirky BBC detective series called Whitechapel where Rupert Penry-Jones has OCD. Amusing.

    • Keyser Soze

      Loved Whitechapel, too! When is the BBC going to release more seasons than 1 on DVD? The Thin Man, Murder, My Sweet, The Big Sleep–you’re right. Too many to list.

  • Gary

    The Big Sleep, Laura,I wake Up Screaming…lots of good ones.

  • jimmcdonl

    I enjoy the genre so much it’s hard for me to pick a favorite. “The Maltese Falcon,” the Bogart-Bacall version of “The Big Sleep,” the Robert Mitchum version of “Farewell My Lovely,” “Chinatown” and “Marlowe” (James Garner in a version of Raymond Chandler’s “The Little Sister” set in the late ’60s) would all be up there. I also enjoy watching “The Thin Man” and I’ll always consider Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce the authentic Holmes & Watson. I’d like to recommend one I haven’t seen in decades called “Foreign Intrigue,” Robert Mitchum as a press agent trying to track down the answers to some nagging questions about his recently departed employer. I don’t know if it’s even available on DVD.

    • david hartzog

      Foreign Intrigue is available on dvd, go to Amazon. Good flick.

      • jimmcdonl

        Thanks!

  • Movie Joe

    Double Indemnity! Even though Edward G. Robinson works for and insurance company, nobody on screen ever dug through a bunch of clues any better.

    • SML

      His insurance-statistic “death by” monologue alone should have gotten him the Academy Award, even if for Best Supporting Actor. I watch that film to the end–no matter at what point I stumble upon it–can’t help myself.

      • Bruce Reber

        Yes, Eddie G. should have gotten a BSA Oscar nod for DI – he was awesome in that movie! Another big time Oscar snub!

        • david hartzog

          Absolutely.

  • lightyr

    Has everyone forgotten William Powell in the Philo Vance movies, such as the Kennel Club Murder Case? I agree with the comments on the Maltese Falcon and Mr. Moto movies.

  • Lisanne

    I really like “Charade” with Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, especially when she keeps thinking she has discovered the “real” him.
    “The Maltese Falcon” and “Laura” are also among my favorites. .Among modern day films, I liked “The Fugitive” with Harrison Ford.
    When I was a child, “Murder By Death” was a film in which my sisters and I knew every single silly quip!

    • Martin

      Have you ever seen Shadow on the Wall with Ann Southern and Zachary Scott?
      How about Chase a Crooked Shadow with Richard Todd and Anne Baxter? –Or–
      The Wrong Man with Henry Fonda and Vera Miles?

  • moonglow

    I’m not a big fan of Herbert Ross, but not even he could ruin the devilishly clever murder mystery written by Anthony Perkins and Steven Sondheim, “The Last of Sheila.” The movie is about a game and, without being obvious about it, the viewer is invited to play along and figure out who did what to whom. Set aboard a luxurious yacht, host James Coburn brings together Hollywood professionals (both real and as characters in the film) headed by James Mason, Richard Benjamin, Raquel Welch, Joan Hackett and Dyan Cannon. The first time I saw it, I played the game and figured out about half of what had happened. I even sat through it a second time to make sure there was no cheating by the camera. There isn’t. And anyone who ever sees it will never forget James Coburn’s “Island Speech.”

    • Mike

      I’m a big fan of” The last of Shelia ” too. Not many people know the film

  • linn

    you forgot ””The Charlie Chan “”””” series>>>>>>>>>>>>..

  • Joyce Wessel

    Definitely Laura, The Thin Man Series, Big Sleep (Bogart-Bacall), Chinatown, Maltese Falcon, and, of course, Sherlock Holmes. I’d like to throw out a slightly different type of detective movie: Shadow of a Doubt, where Theresa Wright is a young woman who suspects her beloved Uncle Charles of being a serial murder and builds the case to prove it–at a substantial risk to herself

    • Lisanne

      I thought about “Shadow Of A Doubt” as well! I guess it falls into the same category as E.G.Robinson’s character in “Double Indemnity”. Another example would be Audrey Hepburn’s character in “Wait Until Dark”.

      • Martin

        How about The Stranger with Orson Welles and Loretta Young?

    • SML

      OMG, how could I have forgotten Laura–one of my all-time favorites with my favorite actor, Dana Andrews. Had a Pinch bottle on a table in my living room as a tribute to the film for years, until my son chucked a football at it while playing & it shattered all over. Yikes!

    • Martin

      Shadow of a Doubt runs close with Narrow Margin.

  • Dave

    DOA is a great noir. But “Night must Fall” with Robert Montgomery, Dame May Whitty and Rosiland Russell, 1937 always keeps me interested.

    • SML

      Yeah, that’s a creepy one especially since RM generally plays such a breezy character, as in Mr. & Mrs. Smith.

  • Ted

    The Case of the Curious Bride starring Warren Williams playing Perry Mason is my all time favorite his back and forth with his coroner friend played by Olin Howland is priceless. The opening scene at Fishermans Wharf in San Francisco is great for anyone familiar with the present day location.

  • SML

    1936′s After The Thin Man is the best one of the 6. Charles McGraw also always holds a special place in my heart, since he’s never on the A-List of surveys such as this one. The Narrow Margin is a film I can watch again & again…also one (whose name escapes me now–someone help!) where he’s a cop trying to buy things for his greedy wife/girlfriend, so he “goes on the take” and becomes a crooked cop. Huge William Powell fan…love The Maltese Falcon (Bogie’s version) & like The Big Sleep (1946) but you need a score card, especially in the first 10 minutes to keep track of all the characters.

    • Martin

      Narrow Margin is very good. It could be the best.

  • John Goodwin

    I’m not sure of this pastime of trying to pick the best of any genre -all of the films mentioned are
    excellent – one great mystery that was a hit when it was released but is all but forgotten today is a British thriller called “Green For Danger” – I remember reading about it and the critics all called it the best detective movie ever made – and I thought to myself , “Aw come on” -I’ve never even heard of it ….they were right “Green For Danger” is terrific -find it!

  • Moviegoer

    The original Narrow Margin, with Charles McGraw, deserves mentioning. It’s worth seeing again and again.

  • david hartzog

    Laura, The Big Sleep, The Maltese Falcon, Murder My Sweet, Marlowe, Chinarown, Tony Rome, Night Moves, The Dark Corner, The List of Adrian Messenger, The Long Goodbye.

  • snowflake22046@yahoo.com

    Shadow Of Doubt

  • BAC

    Add 39 Steps, Charlie Chan, Out of the Past, Angle Face. I could go on and on.

  • Andy

    I would also have to include Orson’s “Touch of Evil” and the classic noir “Laura” by Rathbone and Bruce top my list for shear pace, flow and superior entertainment value.

  • Bill Ward

    Basil Rathbone in the entire Holmes series, The Thin Man, Maltese Falcon and Charlie Chan series.

  • Dominic Gabriel

    You are forgetting that there were some recent films made -
    my vote is L.A. Confidential – by far the best of the best, including THE MALTESE FALCON

  • Cap’nWill

    How’s ’bout Steve McQueen in “Bullitt”. Great chase scene, Jacquiline Bisset, Political intrigue with Robt. Vaughn, Guy Hickock and McQueen stunt driving. Super great and not a parlor detective film. Will

  • Makumba

    Thin Man collection is my favorite followed by Bogart Big Sleep and Maltese Falcon.
    Murder My sweet with Dick Powell is another great one.

  • Geneva P.

    Laura and LA Confidential are my favorites!

  • James Craig Hallman

    Let’s not forget The Big Sleep! Also, The Ex Mrs. Bradford with William Powell.

  • Jim W.

    What about The Verdict with Greenstreet and Lorre? Best locked room mystery ever.

  • Kyle

    By Detective Films are we saying Film Noir, or any movie following a case headed by a detective? If it’s the latter, then The French Connection jumps to the top of my list. In the Heat of the Night is high up there too. Spectacular police dramas. For film noir, I think Chinatown is pretty much perfect in every way. My favorite WhoDunIt? has to be either And Then There Were None or The Thin Man. Honorable Mention to The Hound of the Baskervilles (Basil Rathbone).

  • rapalmi

    Lots of great ones listed here. I love the classics too, like THE MALTESE FALCON and OUT OF THE PAST. But my heart always beats a little faster when encountering a really good revisionist/reflexive take on a genre. So, for me, the best detective film is a toss-up between Penn’s NIGHT MOVES and Aldrich’s KISS ME DEADLY, with Altman’s THE LONG GOODBYE trailing a little bit behind them.

  • hank

    The best detective movie in our opinion is the VAN JOHNSON film “Scene of The Crime.” If you haven’t seen it you have really
    missed something. Van plays an L.A. cop named “Mike.” and he plays it to the hilt. He and Arlene Dahl make a wonderful
    couple, and this is certainly the film that Desilu noticed and selected Van Johnson to play Elliot Ness. The fact that he turned
    the role down does not alter the fact that he should have won an Oscar nomination for his role in “Scene of The Crime.

  • fbusch

    While I agree with most of the choices listed, I think “And Then There Were None” and “Ten Little Indians” are two of the best. Also, while just tv series’, Foyles War, and Poirot with Sushet fit well in quality and plots. Also no one mentioned “Murder On The Orient Express”.

  • billyboy53

    What about “AND THEN THERE WERE NONE”, adapted from Agatha Christie’s “Ten Little Indians”? Maybe it is not a “detective” film in the strictest sense, but it is a smashing mystery with a fabulous cast and an astonishing ending.

  • ivanedelman

    Murder My Sweet with Dick Powell
    Big Sleep with Humphrey Bogart

  • Cara

    The 1949 movie The Bribe with a still gorgeous Robert Taylor and a ravishing young Ava Gardner deserves a mention. Taylor’s a federal agent sent to a Caribbean island to flush out smugglers. Gardner happens to be married to a chief suspect. The film has an excellent supporting cast including Charles Laughton and Vincent Price. The noirish atmospherics, moral dilemmas and plot twists make it worth watching multiple times. It’s also one of Taylor’s most nuanced performances.

    As for Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes. I always liked the series, but when I saw Jeremy Brett in the role, he became THE Sherlock Holmes in my eyes. More faithful to the original stories, and his Watson is a decent, intelligent man rather than a buffoon.

    The 7% Solution is also a good Holmes film and explores Holmes’ cocaine addiction. If you didn’t know Holmes had a cocaine habit, you haven’t read the stories.

    • AManCalledDa-da

      Part of that was used in Steve Martin’s awesome, “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid,” esp. at the end.

    • William Hooper

      Wanna know how Vertigo could and would be better. REad the end of the book. She does not step back fall to her death the Jimmy Steward character throws her off the tower. Much better ending. Oh they would not let Hitchcock make Jimmy a murder. Forgetting completely that he is the criminal Nelson Eddy is searching for in Rose Marie and in After the Thin Man he’s not only the murderer, but he ‘bananas’ to boot.

      Most of you have overlooked a recent detective movie (of a sorts) The Sixth Sense. It’s lulu.

  • Gayle Feyrer

    The Big Sleep. Chinatown. I suppose L.A. Confidential is a cop movie? If not, in my top 5. Also, the wonderfully weird Kiss Me Deadly. A couple of my favs are probably more espionage/thrillers, Marathon Man and 3 Days of the Condor. But Condor does a lot of detective work.
    While I love most everything about The Maltese Falcon, I think Mary Astor is dreadfully miscast and really makes me not want to watch the movie. I understand the lady was pretty hot stuff, but she looks matronly not sexy, and you can tell she’s lying through her teeth in every scene. Really awful! I wish they’d cast Gene Tierny – a woman you’d almost kill to protect who could do cold-blooded liar as well as innocent.
    To the people who actually put Altman’s The Long Goodbye on the list, I won’t rant, but please read the book and discover the masterpiece he destroyed.
    Thanks for the recommendations of some films I’ve never even heard of!

    • KarenG958

      I love the Maltese Falcon too, and agree completely about Mary Astor. She’s not horrible, but Gene Tierny would have been so much better. I’d never thought about it before, but you are so right about that. I’m sure you must have seen Leave Her to Heaven, what a wonderful villain she was in that.

      The Thin Man movies are favorites of mine, and Chinatown, LA Confidential are also great. I wish The Big Sleep was better. Great book, but didn’t translate to screen as well as it could have.

      • Gayle Feyrer

        Hi Karen,
        I think the film of The Big Sleep really gets Chandler’s wit. It’s not as edgy as the book, but for making it more Hollywood and giving it a real romance, I think it’s a fabulous version. I haven’t seen another Chandler I like better. I do wish they’d do a really great, dark Long Goodbye.
        And yes, Tierney was chilling in Leave Her To Heaven. I watched The Blue Ray recently, and the mood is very compelling.

  • Jim

    D.O.A. is loads of fun, but there are literally dozens of better films noir. (See the books of Eddie Muller for details…)

  • Jacobite2

    As “The Third Man” is the best movie ever made, I suppose it has to be the best ‘who-done-it’ as well.

    • Mike

      Certainly in a class of its own. Brilliant in so many ways. I remember the music so well when I was young. They didn’t have movies on TV in those days and I wondered if I would ever know what it was all about. It’s still a thrill to see it now. And I never tire of it.

      • Jacobite2

        Part documentary, part mystery, part Graham Greene, part Orson Welles. I believe it would do more to make someone who knew nothing about it (most people alive today) understand WW II than 50 bang-bang flicks. In passing, it highlights the Western capitulation to Stalin, at the expense of the Middle Europeans who we supposedy fought the war for. For once, Greene’s bottomless cynicism and jaded outlook were perfectly matched to the theme of the war’s futility in replacing the frying-pan with the fire.

  • pocroc

    Are you kidding me? You rate DOA ( a virtual B movie) and S. Holmes over LAURA. You obviously never saw Laura or you wouldn’t have overlooked it. Also, CHINATOWN, a myriad of Philip Marlowe movies with Bogie and Dick Powell. Very poor choices except for Maltese Falcon.

    • Blythe Kearney

      Absolutely.

  • Chester

    No doubt but KISS ME DEADLY ! !

  • Virginia

    Day of the Jackal for me. Maybe more of an espionage film, but I love the detective work in it, as well as the cunning of the Jackal. I also loved Eye of the Needle (Donald Sutherland’s best) and Three Days of the Condor, although I realize these movies were actually done from the perspective of the leading man, and not necessarily the detectives pursuing them.

    There was also a some good detective work by Edward G. Robinson in Double Indemnity, and some amateur sleuthing by James Stewart, Grace Kelley and Thelma Ritter in Rear Window. A somewhat different spin on detective work was done in In the Heat of the Night with Sidney Portier.

    More good detective work by Walter Matthau in The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three, and James Stewart and Doris Day in The Man Who Knew Too Much,

    There are so many plots that depend on good detective work (The Letter, Notorious, Witness for the Prosecution, and of course all of the serials like Poirot, Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie’s series)

    My favorite genre!!

  • Edward Patrick O’Brien

    “Vertigo” or ” rear window” are easily better than any you have listed

  • bsteele2

    Maltese Falcon, without a doubt. Great characters and script. So much fun!

  • YoggerMan

    Chinatown

  • Eddie W

    I liked the camera work in Lady in the Lake, and also liked the Big Clock and the Blue Dahlia. I’d also recommend the Falcon movies and the Hildegard Withers series.

  • John M

    You are right on the money, but I’d have to put “D.O.A” in first place. “The Detective” with Frank Sinatra was definitely an underrated “sleeper” that keeps your attention from start to finish. Also, like “The Lodger”, “Gaslight” was a well done film in this category.

    • Number 10,000 Son

      Humble self beg pardon please; but do not see name of honorable detective Charles Chan on most distinguished list.

  • rickcard

    LA Confidential! I went to theaters to see it 5 times! That is still a record I have never broken. I knew Russell Crowe was destined for stardom after that movie!

  • Van Hazard

    Maltese Falcon has to rank at the top, doesn’t it? Also in the running, though, The Big Sleep despite its flaws (induced by the film code further butchering Chandler’s already confused plot), Laura, Kiss Me Deadly, Murder My Sweet, (superior in every way to Mitchum’s later Farewell My Lovely), and of course, the only ‘modern’ classic in the genre, Chinatown.

    Out of the Past, Touch of Evil, Narrow Margin, etc., are all classic, top-notch noir’s but don’t really have a strong ‘detective’ angle. For this reason, Edmund O’Brien might be a better bet in this category in The Killers than he is in DOA, though both are outstanding.

    Unfortunately, it’s hard to find recent candidates worthy of mention. Entries like Mulholland Falls, Angel Heart, L.A. Confidential and The Black Dahlia, etc. try too hard to capture the genre but invariably put style over substance and leave you sipping a watered-down drink and eating a yesterday’s bag of stale popcorn.

  • IVATE EYE FILM

    Apparently a lot of you people cannot read. A private eye is not a cop or a crook or an innocent bystander. Film Noir does have definite categories which apparently most of you are not aware of. Greatest PRIVATE EYE film of all time is THE MALTESE FALCON!! Only one that even comes close is CHINATOWN. HINT: TO BE A PRIVATE EYE FILM, THE MAIN CHARACTER HAS TO BE A PRIVATE EYE!!!!

    • Antone

      If we use your purist definition, this becomes a boring survey. Most of Sal’s choices would be excluded from your tiny box of acceptable movies. Nick Charles is a manager of his wife’s investments and an amateur sleuth. DOA’s hero is a businessman & victim. The Lady Vanishes lady is a spy. The Lodger is the murderer. I’m not a Sinatra fan, but I think his role was as a cop, not a PI. So obviously Sal did not share your criteria when he posed the question. Miss Marple works pro bono, so she’s out.

      I prefer to think of movies as good or not and let others put them in little boxes made of ticky-tacky.

      • Antone

        PS: The official title of the survey is “A Reader Picks the Best Detective Films Ever Made”. The word “private” is nowhere to be seen, thus a cop is also eligible—though publicly paid. “Professional” doesn’t appear anywhere either, which throws it open to amateur sleuths as well—making anyone trying to solve a crime eligible. Just saying—that’s one literal interpretation.

  • Antone

    Maltese Falcon is the one I return to most often. It has a great script; an interesting McGuffin; a fearsome cast of baddies [Greenstreet, Lorre, Astor] Cook is tiny, but how big do you have to be to pull a trigger? The Thin Man is 2nd because of the Powell/Loy/Asta chemistry and humor. Eight additional standard picks in alphabetical order are: And Then There Were None; Asphalt Jungle; Big Sleep; Chinatown; Killers [Lancaster/Gardner]; Murder, My Sweet; Out of the Past; Rear Window.

    Ten offbeat entries [if you bend the rules enough] are; Double Life w/Ronald Colman [a unique crime & motive---can he be stopped before killing again]; Kind Hearts & Coronets [killer is accused of killing the only person he didn't kill. This film has my favorite triple or quadruple twist ending]; Late Show [Art Carney solves best friend's murder proving 60+ detectives can kick butt if aided by dingbat Lily Tomlin]; Sherlock, Jr [Keaton silently and hilariously solves many imaginary crimes in his mind, but absolves himself of a real robbery charge]; Shot in the Dark [Sellers is at his comedic best and detecting worst trying to prove luscious Elke Sommer innocent in spite of pile of corpses near her]; Sleuth [Olivier & Caine play a cat-and-mouse game of trying to frame each other for a murder]; Stalag 17 [POW Bill Holden becomes sleuth to prove he is not a Nazi collaborator]; Topkapi [international all-star casts carries out a perfect heist--except for that damn sparrow]; Who Framed Roger Rabbit [inventive blend of comedy, animation & film noir]; Wrong Box [John Mills & Ralph Richardson are elderly brothers anxious to kill each other so their heirs can win a tontine--Michael Caine is Mills' heir]

    • Cougar

      I forgot about “Sleuth” (the orginal),that’s worth watching if you’ve never seen it. Some endinf huh?

      • Antone

        Nothing wrong with beginning and middle either.

  • Kokr Spanielesko

    There are only 4 great hardboiled detective films: Chinatown, The Maltese Falcon, Murder, My Sweet and The Big Sleep (Bogart).

  • STEVEF

    Totally agree…Bogey, Greenstreet and Lorre…

  • Trevor Gin

    This Gun for Hire {Ladd and Lake} Rear Window {Kelly and Stewart} Dial M for Murder{Kelly and Milland} Vertigo{Novak and Stewart} Murder My Sweet{Trevor and Powell} are my all-time favorites

  • williamsommerwerck

    I’d better get this out of the way first… How can anyone call Basil Rathbone “the only true Sherlock”? Yes, he was physically almost ideal for the part. But the films aren’t period pieces, and don’t do justice to Doyle’s originals. Jeremy Brett’s interpretation is, and will remain for a long time, the definitive interpretation, quite eclipsing Rathbone’s.

    Now, as for detective films… Don’t we need some definition? Is it any film with detectives or detecting a detective film? I’m inclined to say “no”. As great a film as “The Maltese Falcon” is, it is, for all of Sam Spade’s detective work, a drama about people using each other. The mystery is secondary. This is virtually proved by the author (Dashiell Hammett) not knowing who killed the chauffeur.

    Similarly, “The Thin Man” is a comedy about two drunks in love with each other. I’ve seen it many times, and can’t for the life of me remember who the murderer was.

    If I had to pick, it would be “Chinatown”, because the mystery Jake Gittes unravels is intimately tied to the surrounding drama. And, of course, it’s one of the all-time-great films, regardless of genre.

    • Antone

      The chauffeur was killed in The Big Sleep, not The Maltese Falcon.

      • williamsommerwerck

        Thank you. I checked, but my source was wrong. But it’s the principle of the thing, right?

        • Antone

          RIGHT!!! While I’m here I agree with your Brett over Rathbone choice.

  • nicolas

    Maltese Falcon is for me, along with the film Borat, one of the most overated films of all times. Far better is the The BIg Sleep with Bogart, Murder My Sweet with Powell, and even the Mitchum remake, Farewell My Lovely. Lorre and Greenstreet in Mask Of Dimitrious is a film which I feel does not get the credit it deserves. the Greatest Detective Film of all time, is I think Chinatown.

    • scribe_well

      Really? THE MALTESE FALCON and BORAT in the same sentence?

    • Bruce Reber

      I can think of many movies that are overrated, but don’t include TMF, THE greatest detective movie of all time!!!!

  • classicsforever

    I find myself stopping to watch at least a portion of “The Maltese Falcon” each time it is on TV. Even though I’ve got it on DVD, I can’t resist. This is one of the films that pulls me in and makes me a part of it. Every minute of this movie is enjoyable to me. There’s a bunch of other detective films I like, but “The Maltese Falcon” is my favorite.

  • Capoman

    Farewell My Lovely, the 1975 version. Robert Mitchum plays Marlowe. I watch that one every chance I get. Harper, Paul Newman another great one. Chinatown a Jack Nicholson masterpiece.

  • Greg84

    I like the movie “In the Heat of the Night’ with Sidney Poitier & Rod Steiger. It won the Oscar in 1968. When I first saw it kept me in suspense..

  • awaywrdsn

    I’m a Bogart fan so yeah I can go with the Maltese Falcon . I am also a fan of Mike Hammer the tv show was ok but the books are far better , and yes I agree Basil Rathbone is the all time best at playing Sherlock Holmes & he’s really good at playing bad guys Like in RobinHood. And the Thin man is really funny and Myrna Loy is gorgeous .

    • Bruce Reber

      There were a few movies with Mickey Spillane’s PI Mike Hammer, the best known of which is “Kiss Me Deadly” (1955), starring Ralph Meeker and Cloris Leachman. Stacy Keach played the role in the TV series “Mike Hammer” in the 80′s. I never read any of Spillane’s books though.

  • Bill Heyer

    Humphrey Bogart in “The Maltese Falcon” (Sam Spade) and “The Big Sleep” (Philip Marlowe). Next, Nick & Nora Charles (and Asta!), in “The Thin Man.”

  • Bill Olson

    I agree with all of the choices here. It is difficult to single out just one. However, I wish to add CHINATOWN to the list. It’s a film I never tire of watching. Everything about it is first rate.

  • hemmingway

    “The Stranger” and “Laura” are 2 VERY good detective movies. And who can forget “Double Indemnity” with Edward G. Robinson as the Insurance Company Sleuth? I believe “Laura” was later remade as “Sharky’s Machine” also very good. Though in reality a Western, “The Sons of Katie Elder” involved some detective work in figuring who the guilty party was and how to prove it.

  • badgulliver

    I know Joseph Cotton is really just a friend, but he is also a correspondent, which sort of qualifies him as a detective. I like The Third Man with Orson Welles dancing to that unforgettable tune — and ending up crawling through the gutters like a bad rat!

    • Bruce Reber

      In “The Third Man” Joseph Cotten played Holly Martins, a writer of pulp Westerns-he wasn’t a correspondent. Also, Harry Lime (Orson Welles) never danced at any time in the movie, and he RAN through the sewers.

  • Johnny Sherman

    Peter Lorre would be oh so happy if we mention Mr. Moto, a ranking member of the International Police force.

  • Black & White Critic in Color

    How about Denzel Washington in “The Devil in the Blue Dress” or Michael Douglas in “Basic Instinct”. Consider Wesly Snipes in “Murder at 1600″

    • cougar

      How about Denzel Washington “Inside Man”? Great movie with alot of twist ans turns, with a surprize ending.

  • The Blue Carbuncle

    I am highly suspicious of the opinions of anyone who thinks Basil Rathbone is a better Sherlock Holmes than Jeremy Brett.

    • Cougar

      I wholeheartedly AGREE!!!!1

    • david hartzog

      Having recently watched the two Rathbone/holmes films from 1939, I believe Basil was the best Holmes, miles ahead of anyone else

  • flamale863

    I like all of the films mentioned and maybe the field should have been narrowed down to old and modern films…Chinatown is a detective movie and its consistently ranked as one of the best films of all time…..How about Double Indemnity….I do love the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films and I absolutely hate what has been done to the franchise with the latest versions…The Silence of the Lambs is a detective story to be sure….

  • Marty

    My favorite and I think one of the best of golden age of films is The Maltese Falcon. Just after that is the Sherlock Holmes series. I like many of the Columbia B film series, Boston Blackie, Crime Doctor and The Saint. It isn’t shown often but I love Bullitt.

  • Thick_Like_A_Pickle

    Maybe not a pure detective movie but mystery oriented I like The Third Man. Also Serpico.

    • Thick_Like_A_Pickle

      Oh and also Naked Gun.

  • Daveroo

    for me id have to say my all time favorite “detective/Noir” movie is “The Naked City”,keeps me entertained each time i see it,but i love the thinman series,and the Basil Rathbone Sherlock,never seen Jeremy brett,i love anything Hitchcock,,are they detective?

    • Bruce Reber

      The Hitchcock movies are mystery/suspense/shocker, but quite a few of them have detectives and cops.

  • Bruce Reber

    Undisputedly, without doubt, no question, “The Maltese Falcon” IS THE BEST detective movie ever! Of course I’m referring to the classic 1941 version starring Humphrey Bogart as Dashiell Hammett’s hard-as-nails PI Sam Spade, with that great cast; i.e. Mary Astor, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Elisha Cook, Barton MacLane, Ward Bond, Lee Patrick and Jerome Cowan. Also, if you’re in the mood for a few laughs, check out “The Blackbird”, the 1975 comic remake of TMF, with George Segal playing Mr. Spade. Another great comic take on Hammett’s PI is Peter Falk playing Sam Diamond in the 1976 all-star detective spoof “Murder By Death”.

  • roger lynn

    loved Maltese,but how about my all time fave,,Farewell,My Lovely with the great Robert Mitchum.also sequel The Big Sleep,,and IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT,,Steiger and Poitier were great together..and THE LATE SHOW,with Oscar worthy performances by the great Art Carney,Lilly Tomlin and the truly magnificent Bill Macy,who along with Carney,Tomlin were robbed of Oscar Nominations,,,,a great film noir,,it Farewell are my all time fave detective films…..

  • roger lynn

    I agree about Mr Rathbone being the best Sherlock Holmes but have to give it to the best in his league is the great Christopher Plummer along with the equally brillant James Mason in my 3rd all time fave detective fil,,,MURDER BY DECREE a great film,,

  • Beyond Category

    Long Answer–Out of the Past.

  • Bruce Reber

    Gene Hackman as Popeye Doyle in “The French Connection” – Clint Eastwood as the title character, an Arizona sheriff who goes to NYC to extradite a criminal in “Coogan’s Bluff” and also Eastwood as San Francisco cop “Dirty” Harry Callahan in five movies – Kirk Douglas as a NYC cop on the edge dealing with his marriage and the pressures of his job in “Detective Story” – Frank Sinatra playing a similar kind of NYC cop in “The Detective”, based on a best-selling book – Burt Reynolds and Raquel Welch as Boston undercover cops in the dark comedy “Fuzz” and Reynolds as a NYC PI in one of his most obscure movies “Shamus”.

    • david hartzog

      The Detective is a great film, as is Detective Story. But Shamus was pretty poor, and The French Connection is mainly Hackman. Dirty Harry is just fascism

      • Bruce Reber

        “The French Connection” was based on an actual 1962 NYPD narcotics case, and Hackman won the Best Actor Oscar, but he wasn’t the whole movie. Dirty Harry is in no way fascist – it sounds as if you’re equating him with a Nazi brownshirt, which he definitely is not. He’s a tough, give-em-no-quarter cop who enforces the law. The Nazis exterminating Jews, gypsies and communists and the Ku Klux Klan lynching African-Americans – now that’s REAL fascism! I suppose you’d like to tell Clint Eastwood your opinion of one of his most iconic movie characters?

        • david hartzog

          Dirty Harry does not enforce the law, he breaks them. If we accept this as entertainment, then we have to accept the LAPD beating of Rodney King as ok. Films such as Madigan and Prince of the City, and perhaps Brooklyn’s Finest, do a better job of showing the contradictions inherent in law enforcement. I do not need to tell Clint anything, his recent films show his repudiation of stuff like Dirty Harry. The events in Frencth Connection bear little resemblance to the real case, at least as represented by Robin Moore.

  • david hartzog

    All these you mention are great films. Nice post.

  • Bryan Ruffin

    I thought you made some good choices! I have to include Murder By Death, one of the funniest mysteries I have ever seen! Too funny to be ignored, and one great mystery, of sorts (everyone had a different yet the same culprit and they were all right!!!) .
    Bullit, on the other hand,the single best car chase…..ever! I liked the way they handled the mystery because never really knew just what was really going on till later, and I like that.

  • jan

    I agree – these are all great movies and I never tire of watching them.