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- Published 7.08.10
I am essentially a thriller addict. This list of my favourite 10 thriller films has been consistent for the past several years. All these films have inspired me and influenced the making of Bomkesh Bakshi. Philip Marlowe from The Big Sleep, for one, had inspired me to write Rudra Sen (Dutt’s detective series for TV). But this wasn’t an easy list to make in the first place. I had to leave out several fascinating films. I haven’t included Claude Chabrol, whose movies I much admire. Also, Woody Allen’s Manhattan Murder Mystery and films like Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro, Manorama Six Feet Under, and several Vijay Anand films...
1) THE BIG SLEEP (1946)
Undoubtedly still my most favourite. The 1946 version by Howard Hawks with Humphrey Bogart. Primarily because the writer Raymond Chandler is still my God and his private eye Philip Marlowe, with a keen eye for women and whiskey, and a keener eye for justice, is still my hero. Chandler writes dialogues like an anguished, brutal angel and I’m in love with his Marlowe. I always wondered why Robert De Niro never got to play a Marlowe. However, the poker-faced Bogey is still the best Marlowe, and the on-screen chemistry between him and Lauren Bacall is dizzyingly hot. Check out the stupendous black-and-white cinematography by Sidney Hickox.
2) THE MALTESE FALCON (1941)
Classic Noir. Once again, the writer Dashiell Hammett also happens to be my favourite. The director and screenwriter John Huston is one of my favourite directors. Humphrey Bogart as detective Sam Spade has churned out his life’s best performance. See it for the haunting score by Adolf Deutsch. And watch out for Bertolt Brecht’s favourite actor Peter Lorre as the mischievous Joel Cairo.
3) CHINATOWN (1974)
Writer Robert Towne is almost Raymond Chandler. The director Roman Polanski, who has haunted my dreams since my teens, is almost at his superlative best. Jack Nicholson’s Marlowe-type detective Jake Gittes is perhaps one of his best creations. And director John Huston himself as the villainous tycoon Noah Cross is spellbinding. Watch it for the atmosphere and the shockingly brilliant climax. The scene where Faye Dunaway confesses to Nicholson that she is both the sister as well as the mother of the girl is simply riveting.
4) INFERNAL AFFAIRS PART 1 (2002)
The Korean classic. Not a conventional detective story but I just had to include it in my list and at no. 4 because it’s one of the best thrillers I have seen. The directors Andrew Lau and Alan Mak have created a modern masterpiece in narrative storytelling that makes Martin Scorsese’s shot-by-shot Hollywood adaptation The Departed look pallid and juvenile. Tony Leung, the most sensuous actor ever born, is simply superb as the undercover police detective Chan Wing Yan. A must-watch for the superb plot, Dion Lam’s chases and action, and Tony Leung’s performance.
5) DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944)
An all-time classic noir by my most favourite director Billy Wilder. Co-written by Wilder and Raymond Chandler, this film is the most sensuous, tragic and moving crime movie I have ever seen. The lanky, edgy Fred MacMurray as the ordinary man Walter Neff seduced into killing, and the short and stout Edward G. Robinson as the insurance detective Barton Keyes is a terrific combination in this cat-and-mouse thriller. Miklos Rozsa’s ominously brilliant score and John Seitz’s expressionistic photography are the highpoints of this rather sultry, sexy, sad thriller. Watch out for an extra’s role by Raymond Chandler himself.
6) SEVEN (1995)
David Fincher’s masterpiece. A detective story that eats into your soul. Sets a new benchmark in noir film-making. The jigsaw-like plotline almost transcends Hitchcock. Morgan Freeman as the ageing, tired copybook police detective William Somerset is at his best. Kevin Spacey as the killer John Doe is spiritually disturbing. The music by Howard Shore will keep you chained to your seats. If not for anything else, see it for cinematographer Darius Khondji’s superlative high contrast, desaturated colours that takes colour cinema to new heights.
7) CHIRIAKHANA (1967)
One of the very few Indian detective thrillers I have adored. Primarily because it is a Bomkesh Bakshi story, my favourite Indian detective. Uttam Kumar, though far too handsome, is at his best. Though the writer Saradindu Bandopadhyay and a large chunk of Satyajit Ray fans were disappointed, for me Chiriakhana is one of Satyajit’s important works because he was able to capture the latent dark, repressed sexuality in the Bengali psyche. For the first time in his filmography, he sheds his puritanism and builds a certain ominous, adult, slightly seedy, claustrophobic world that doesn’t allow any sentimentalism. Despite the very tacky impersonation of a Jap tourist by Uttam Kumar and numerous major alterations in the text, this superbly cast film is one of the best Bengali thrillers ever made. (I have never quite liked the Feluda films.) Now that I myself have made a Bomkesh Bakshi movie, I realise how important it is to capture the dark Saradindu.
8) THE TWO JAKES (1990)
A brilliant sequel to Chinatown written by Robert Towne himself. Jack Nicholson as the cynical, alcoholic detective is even better than in Chinatown. Watch the film for the brilliant direction by Nicholson himself. Fascinating performances by the entire cast, specially by Harvey Keitel as Jake Berman, the client as well as the accidental killer. By the way, I’m a fan of Harvey Keitel and recommend this film for the sizzling combination of Jack and Harvey. Watch out for the absolutely stunning photography by the master Vilmos Zsigmond.
9) I CONFESS (1953)
I have to include a Hitchcock, so chose his best work according to me and not just a detective story. A must-watch for Montgomery Clift’s brilliant Father Logan, a priest torn between his professional ethics and personal safety. A simply brilliant plot that, like Seven, takes a desperately spiritual look at Christianity, morality, God... and leaves you emotionally shattered. Produced and directed by Hitchcock, this is a very different Hitchock. A soulful Hitchcock. Hitchcock’s favourite music director Dimitri Tiomkin with the Gregorian chants is at his supreme.
10) HAMMETT (1982)
I’m including this unique detective thriller in the list since it is a historic jinx. Francis Ford Coppola and his production company American Zoetrope hired Wim Wenders to direct this incredible biopic thriller based on an incident in the life of crime writer Dashiell Hammett. By the time the film was completed, only 30 per cent of Wenders’s material remained. Coppola re-shot the entire film. This led to a huge fight which resulted in Wenders making a film called Reverse Angle documenting his differences with Coppola. One of the actors walked out because of the lengthy production and Peter Boyle took up the part of Jimmy Ryan and Frederic Forrest played Hammett. I somehow love the film because it is the most abstract and intellectually stimulating detective movie I have seen. Just the reverse of the nail-biting Infernal Affairs or violently disturbing Seven or even the brilliant narrative of Hammett’s own The Maltese Falcon, Hammett is surreal and eerie. I never get tired of it.