The Maltese Falcon (1941) by El Bicho
Dashiell Hammett's 1930 detective novel was the basis for multiple movies, but it's the third one (remember this when people decry all remakes) directed by John Huston that captivates me. It's a compelling tale of double-crosses and broken deals brought to life by the vivid potrayals of the brilliant cast, featuring Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, and Sydney Greenstreet.
In San Francisco, Miss Ruth Wonderly (Astor) enlists the aide of private investigators Sam Spade (Bogart) and Miles Archer (Jerome Cowan) to help retrieve her runaway sister who has taken up with a man named Thursby. His first night on the job, Archer ends up dead and so does Thursby. Spade is implicated because he was having an affair with his partner's wife, but the cops don't have enough on him.
Wonderly resurfaces, now going by the name Brigid O'Shaughnessy, and tells a different story about Thursby being her partner. Spade agrees to work on the murder, and finds himself embroiled in search for a treasured artifact known as The Maltese Falcon, whose persuers include Joel Cairo (Lorre) and Kasper Gutman (Greenstreet), men willing to do anything, pay good money or kill, to get the statuette.
Credited by some as the first film noir, thanks in part to Arthur Edeson's outstanding black and white cinematography, The Maltese Falcon is an intriguing riddle to unravel and for film lovers is "the stuff that dreams are made of."
L.A. Confidential (1997) by Amanda Salazar
Again, a category that I would separate into two proved to be a little bit difficult in deciding the pick. I am a sucker for good crime thrillers and one of my favorites has to be L.A. Confidential, done in an homage to the noir genre.
Set in old Los Angeles when there were no freeways and tabloid news carried important information, the story centers around a shooting at the local Night Owl cafe, which ultimately exposes the deep-rooted corruption in the police department where almost all the cops were dirty and you couldn't really trust anyone because they all had their own motives.
The film has a top-notch cast, including Kim Basinger, Russell Crowe, Guy Pierce and Kevin Spacey, to just name a few. It is beautifully shot and costumed, making Los Angeles look glamorous again. L.A. Confidential is so well craft that even after watching it numerous times I am still just as suspicious, curious, and engaged as the first.
Kiss Me Deadly (1955) by Dusty Somers
When it comes to thrillers, it's the golden age of nasty, brutal, snarling film noir that lends the most rewards for me. Although it came a little late in the game, Robert Aldrich's Kiss Me Deadly is one of the nastiest, featuring a dumb, violent oaf as the protagonist and an explosive ending that seems like it could actually set the screen on fire.
Like many noirs, the particulars of the mystery aren't so important; it's the winding roads that the barely sketched out plot details take us down that really matter. In Kiss Me Deadly, private eye Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker) finds himself the target of a malicious plot after he picks up a frantic female hitchhiker. Not long after they meet, she ends up dead, and the violence is only just getting started.
Pitch black and bordering on surreal at times, Kiss Me Deadly ratchets up the tension to almost unbearable levels. Its thrills are visceral and the film pulls no punches.
The Third Man (1949) by Shawn Bourdo
I'm perplexed as to which way to go with today's choice. Much like the SciFi/Fantasy choice - this combination of two different genres would create different choices if each was separate. If it was solely based on being a "thriller" - I'd go with something recent like Inception or Memento or any of a number of superhero films that kinda fall into the hybrid of "action" and "thriller". If I just thought about "mystery" - movies that hold me enthralled through the single story like Se7en or The Usual Suspects are good examples. A "mystery" isn't just about not knowing something. A good mystery genre film is about the process of discovery. That's why L.A. Confidential works so well - the thrill of each new turn and clue make the movie so exciting. But combining both is very difficult. So many cop-based movies fall singly into one category or another - depending on the type of crime being investigated. An old Sherlock Holmes film may be strictly a mystery to solve and Lethal Weapon is a thriller that drops off into an action film in parts. Thinking back though - one film strikes me as a great balance of both.
The Third Man is the 1949 classic that balances thrilling scenes with a mystery that is intriguing and thought-provoking from the very beginning. It may have been directed by Carol Reed but this is an Orson Welles picture through and through. His relationship with Joseph Cotten makes the two perfect foils. Alida Valli is a perfect femme fatale. But it's everything that happens outside of the mystery that make this film unbelievable. The shots are all out of the Welles playbook for storytelling. Set amongst the post WWII ruins of Vienna - the story already feels like the world is falling apart around the characters. It makes their lives very unstable. Add the killer cinematography of Robert Krasker who punctuates the story with bright lights and then dark shadows. The music is the frosting on the cake - setting a mood that keeps the viewer just distracted enough to wonder if you really know what's going to happen next.
Thriller or mystery, this film exists equally in both categories and it excels at both. You'll love the look of the film and the story will keep you coming back. Watch it twice.