The Best Private Eye Movies You’ve Never Seen

(Welcome to The Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, a series that takes a look at slightly more obscure, under-the-radar, or simply under-appreciated movies. This week sees us dig into the gumshoe game with a look at some private eye flicks worth seeking out.)

A new Sherlock Holmes film opens later this month, and while it’s one played almost exclusively for laughs its core element — a private detective solves a mystery! — remains intact. Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1887 creation is probably the most famous such character, but his (probable) inspiration and “American” private eye type as we know and love it actually arrived three decades earlier from the mind of Edgar Allan Poe. It’s true! His amateur crime-solver has inspired numerous others in the many decades since, and while C. Auguste Dupin has a very limited presence on the big screen others have made the leap and gifted viewers with some truly incredible films ranging from suspense to comedies to dramatic thrillers.

Harper (1966), Klute (1971), Chinatown (1974), Night Moves (1975), and Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) are some of the best there are, and if you’ve yet to see any of them I suggest you make it a priority to fix that sooner rather than later. For now, though, I want to recommend a few that aren’t considered classics and deserve to be a bit more popular.

Keep reading for a look at six very good to great movies about private eyes that you’ve probably never seen.

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Inherent Vice influences

Inherent Vice, the new film from Paul Thomas Anderson, isn’t just an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Thomas Pynchon. It is part of a specific tradition of movies that pry into the gaps between visions of American culture, especially as seen on the streets of Los Angeles locations. Paul Thomas Anderson has talked about one or two specifically as Inherent Vice influences, and beyond those few titles is an expansive set of movies in which characters who are all but lost as mainstream culture and power swirl around them.

These are films that line up with the spirit of Inherent Vice. Sometimes it’s just in the case of one sequence, or one shade of the movie. But put all these films together and you have a weekend worth of movies that will prepare you for the desultory, city-spanning story of Doc Sportello. No spoilers for PTA’s movie are here as we talk about the films that link up with it in this particular cinematic tradition, but when you do see Inherent Vice after seeing these you’ll immediately see how they all fit together.

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