The Third Man

  • Directors: Carol Reed
  • Producers: Alexander Korda, David O Selznick
  • Writers: Graham Greene
  • Genres: Film-Noir, Mystery, Thriller
  • Actors: Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli, Orson Welles, Trevor Howard

In Austria’s capital city, Vienna, just after the Second World War, when the city is divided into separate zones controlled by the victorious Allied powers – Great Britain, France, the United States, and the Soviet Union – American pulp western author Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) arrives seeking an old friend, Harry Lime (Orson Welles), who has offered him the opportunity to work with him in Vienna.

When he arrives at Lime’s apartment, Martins learns that Lime has been recently killed by a lorry while crossing the street. Shocked, he heads to the cemetery to attend Lime’s funeral, where he meets two British military police officers, Sergeant Paine (Bernard Lee), who is an enormous fan of Martins’ books, and his superior, Major Calloway (Trevor Howard). After the services, Calloway gives Martins a lift to his hotel and advises the American to leave Vienna as he can do nothing more than get himself into trouble.

At the hotel, Martins agrees to speak to the members of the local book club at the request of a British cultural official, Crabbin (Wilfrid Hyde-White). He also arranges a meeting with a friend of Lime’s, Baron Kurtz (Ernst Deutsch). Martins meets the man in the Mozart CafГ© to discuss Lime’s death. Kurtz relates that he and Popescu (Siegfried Breuer), another friend of Lime’s, had picked him up and brought him over to the side of the street, where he had asked them to take care of Martins and Anna (Alida Valli), Lime’s actress girlfriend. Kurtz tells Martins which theatre Anna works in, but advises against investigating.

During the shooting of the film, the final scene was the subject of a dispute between Greene, who wanted the happy ending of the novella, and Selznick and Reed, who stubbornly refused to end the film on what they felt was an artificially happy note. This is one of the few areas where Reed and Selznick did not clash during the production.[citation needed]

Vertigo

  • Directors: Alfred Hitchcock
  • Producers: Alfred Hitchcock
  • Writers: Boileau Narcejac, Alec Coppel, Samuel A Taylor
  • Genres: Drama, Mystery, Romance, Thriller
  • Actors: James Stewart, Kim Novak, Barbara Bel Geddes

San Francisco detective John Ferguson (James Stewart), who is called “Scottie” by his closest friends, develops an extreme fear of heights after a fellow police officer (Fred Graham) falls to his death during a rooftop chase. His fear of heights soon leads to an advanced case of vertigo. He is forced to retire from police work, and is unable even to stand on a stepstool in the apartment of his friend Marjorie “Midge” Wood (Barbara Bel Geddes) without being paralyzed by fear and dizziness.

Scottie is later hired as a private detective by a college acquaintance, Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore), who wants his beautiful wife Madeleine Elster (Kim Novak) followed. Elster is worried that Madeleine appears to have symptoms of a mental illness or spiritual possession. Scottie tails Madeleine, who spends her days visiting the grave and painting of Carlotta Valdes, a woman who killed herself 100 years earlier. Scottie notices that Madeleine is wearing her hair exactly like Carlotta and that she wanders the city in a trancelike, obsessive state.

Scottie becomes strongly attracted to Madeleine. He follows her to Fort Point at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge, where she jumps into San Francisco Bay in what appears to be a suicide attempt. Scottie saves her and brings her to his apartment. On the phone with Gavin, Scottie learns that Carlotta was 26 when she killed herself, Madeleine’s current age.

Judy pleads to Scottie that she does love him, and his anger abates. The two embrace and then, suddenly, a shadowy figure appears at the top of the stairs. Judy, frightened, backs away from the approaching shadow and steps backwards off the tower ledge, plunging to her death. The figure, a nun, whispers, “God, have mercy”, and rings the tower bell as Scottie stares downwards.

Citizen Kane

  • Directors: Orson Welles
  • Producers: Orson Welles
  • Writers: Herman J Mankiewicz, Orson Welles
  • Genres: Drama, Mystery
  • Actors: Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Agnes Moorehead, Dorothy Comingore, Ruth Warrick, Everett Sloane, George Coulouris, Ray Collins

The film opens in a night setting on a vast palatial estate on which the sign “No Trespassing” is posted. Gradually the camera comes to rest in a bedroom on which an elderly man is lying, holding a snow globe. He utters the word “Rosebud” and lets go of the snow globe which drops and smashes on the floor. A nurse enters and covers the man in a way that indicates he has died. The scene fades out.

An abrupt cut leads to a newsreel obituary in which we find out that the estate was Xanadu and the man who owned it and died there was the enormously wealthy media magnate Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles). The newsreel reveals details of his life – how his childhood was spent in poverty, then changed when the “world’s third largest gold mine” was discovered on a property his mother had inherited, how he built up his empire of newspapers, how both his marriages were unsuccessful, his conflicting pronouncements, and how the power he once obtained disappeared.

After its preview, the producer of the newsreel feels that it lacks something and asks a reporter, Jerry Thompson (William Alland), to find out about Kane’s private life and personality, in particular to discover the meaning behind his last word. The reporter interviews the great man’s friends and associates, and Kane’s story unfolds as a series of flashbacks, some of which present the same incidents portrayed in the newsreel, but from different recollections.

Despite Thompson’s interviews, he is unable to solve the mystery and concludes that “Rosebud” will forever remain an enigma. At that point, the camera pans over workers burning some of Kane’s many possessions. One throws an old sled into the furnace – the same sled that Kane was riding as a child the day his mother sent him away. The word “Rosebud” painted on the sled burns as the camera closes in on it in the furnace. There is a shot of a chimney with black smoke coming out. For the viewer this solves the “Rosebud” mystery, the sled is a token of the only time in his life when he was poor; more than this, however, it represents the only time in his life when he was truly happy and wanted for nothing. After this twist ending, the film ends as it began, with the “No Trespassing” sign at the gates of Kane’s estate, Xanadu, an indication that sometimes we can never know the truth behind people.

Memento

  • Directors: Christopher Nolan
  • Producers: Jennifer Todd, Suzanne Todd
  • Writers: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan
  • Genres: Mystery, Thriller
  • Actors: Guy Pearce, Carrie Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano

Note: The story is explained here in its chronological order, rather than the way it unfolds in the film.

Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) wakes up in an anonymous hotel room oblivious to his state. He has a phone conversation with an unknown caller in which he relates the story of Sammy Jankis (Stephen Tobolowsky), a man who suffered from anterograde amnesia, which prevented him from forming new memories. Leonard was previously an insurance fraud investigator assigned to determine if Sammy’s condition could be covered under his insurance policy. If his condition qualified as a physical injury that prevented him from carrying out his job, he and his wife (Harriet Sansom Harris) would be covered.

During his research, Leonard discovered that anterograde amnesia sufferers are still able to condition themselves to perform certain tasks. After Sammy repeatedly failed a conditioning test, Leonard concluded that Sammy’s memory loss was psychological, not physical, and the insurance claim was denied on grounds that Sammy was not covered for mental illnesses. Under the impression he could be cured if this was true, Sammy’s wife came back to the insurance agency, asking Leonard if he believed that Sammy was faking his short-term memory loss. Believing she wanted some kind of answer, Leonard diplomatically restated the insurer’s position: he believed Sammy was physically capable of creating new memories. Sammy’s wife, a diabetic, tried to confirm her belief that Sammy could make new memories by testing him, asking him repeatedly to give her an injection of insulin, every 20 minutes. After several doses, he unknowingly administered an overdose sending his wife into a coma. Sammy was later confined to a mental institution, incapable of remembering her death.

When Natalie learns Dodd is gone, she has a friend trace John G.’s license plate number from Leonard’s tattoo. She gives him a copy of the man’s driver’s license, and Leonard matches the ID to his photo of Teddy, whose real name is John Edward Gammel – “John G.”. Leonard’s plan for himself is complete, even though he’s forgotten that there was any plan at all: he concludes that Teddy is the man who raped and killed his wife. He takes Teddy to the abandoned building where he killed Jimmy Grantz only a few days before and shoots him in the head. Ignorant of the events that led him to this moment, Leonard takes one last picture of the murder scene, a memento of his quest for revenge.

The Usual Suspects

  • Directors: Bryan Singer
  • Producers: Michael McDonnell, Bryan Singer
  • Writers: Christopher McQuarrie
  • Genres: Crime, Mystery, Thriller
  • Actors: Gabriel Byrne, Chazz Palminteri, Kevin Spacey, Stephen Baldwin, Kevin Pollak, Benicio del Toro, Giancarlo Esposito, Pete Postlethwaite, Dan Hedaya, Suzy Amis

On the deck of a ship in San Pedro, California, a figure identified as “Keyser” speaks with an injured man called Keaton (Gabriel Byrne). The two talk briefly, then Keyser appears to shoot Keaton before setting the ship ablaze. The next day, FBI Agent Jack Baer (Giancarlo Esposito) and U.S. Customs special agent Dave Kujan (Chazz Palminteri) arrive in San Pedro separately to investigate what happened on the boat. There appear to be only two survivors: a crippled man named Roger “Verbal” Kint (Kevin Spacey), and a hospitalized Hungarian criminal. Baer interrogates the Hungarian, who claims that Keyser SГ¶ze, a Turkish criminal mastermind with a nearly mythical reputation, was in the harbor “killing many men.” The Hungarian begins to describe SГ¶ze while a translator interprets and a police sketch artist draws a rendering of SГ¶ze’s face. Meanwhile, “Verbal” Kint has testified at length about the incident in exchange for near-total immunity. Police Sergeant Jeffrey Rabin (Dan Hedaya) comments that Verbal must have powerful protection to get such a favourable deal, and that high-ranking officials including “the governor” have made inquiries on Verbal’s behalf. After making his statement to the district attorney and while waiting to post bail on a relatively minor weapons charge, Verbal is placed in Rabin’s cluttered office where Kujan requests to hear the story again, from the beginning. Verbal’s tale starts six weeks earlier:

Verbal meantime walks away from the police station, dropping his feigned cerebral palsy, and gets into a waiting car driven by “Mr. Kobayashi”, pulling away just as Kujan comes outside, searching in vain. The final moment of the film is a repeat of Verbal’s earlier statement about SГ¶ze: “And like that… he’s gone.”