Mystery and Detective Films Analysis

The Silent Film Era

(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Evaluating the mysteries of the silent era is problematic because most films from that period have disappeared, leaving behind few traces beyond their titles. The most famous early mystery is the German director Fritz Lang’s Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler (1922), in which a detective (played by Bernhard Goetzke) is out to stop an archcriminal (Rudolf Klein-Rogge). Other notable titles include Before Midnight (1925), in which a detective (William Russell) goes undercover to expose a crooked operative within his agency; The Handsome Brute (1925), in which a disgraced cop (William Fairbanks) discovers a famous detective (Lee Shumway) is actually a master criminal; The Mystery Club (1926), in which millionaires wager that perfect crimes can be committed; The Thirteenth Hour (1927), in which a detective (Charles Delaney), with the help of his dog, reveals that a noted criminologist (Lionel Barrymore) is a murderer; and London After Midnight (1927), in which Lon Chaney plays a detective looking into a suspicious suicide.

Many other silent mysteries were adapted from well-known literary sources, including The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1914), The Moonstone (1915), Raffles, the Amateur Cracksman (1917), starring John Barrymore, and Seven Keys to Baldpate (1917), with George M. Cohan, who had previously adapted Earl Derr Biggers’s 1913 novel for the stage.