Monday, May 5, 2014

Film Noir

Last year I did a series on early American horror produced by Universal and other Hollywood studios. It struck me that although the horror film had its first major surge in German expressionism, it only became a fully developed genre in the American cinema of the late ‘20s and ‘30s. Most of its tropes and themes were based on an extensive literary background and developed thanks to European filmmakers immigrating to Hollywood. Horror expressed America’s fears of war, death, destruction, and physical deformity in the wake of WWI, as well as a deep-seated fear of foreigners.

Horror’s prominence began to fade away in the early ‘40s, around the time that the U.S. entered WWII. Coincidentally, a new genre emerged, one that would later be dubbed “film noir” (meaning “black film”) by an insightful French critic. In 1946, Nino Frank noticed the similarity between certain types of American crime films and fiction. Taking his lead from the very popular Serie noire novels published by Gallimard in France – all crime fiction from American pulp authors – and the earlier named roman noir (“black novel”), a way to describe the body of similar films produced between 1940 and 1958 was born.

Film noir reflected the fears and anxieties of Americans during and after WWII, including the Cold War, nuclear terror, and the oppression of the House Un-American Activities Committee and Senator McCarthy’s wave of virulent anti-Communism. It represents the lingering effects of the Great Depression, the horrors of WWII and concentration camps, the dark side of the American dream, and the failure of industry, masculinity, the family unit, and authority. The film noir world is plagued with paranoia, corruption, and crime. Heroes are replaced with criminals and anti-heroes, hope is a thing of the past, and erotic love is entwined with death. This is also a place of loneliness, of outsiders and outcasts, of nihilism and despair. The writer Carson McCullers once said, “All men are lonely, but sometimes it seems to me that we Americans are the loneliest of all… Our literature is stamped with a quality of longing and unrest…” Film noir is perhaps the first cinematic equivalent of this sentiment.

There are a number of common tropes within the genre. Male characters are often private detectives, insurance agents, boxers, gangsters, crooked cops, psychopathic killers, and unfortunate loners or everymen wrongly suspected of crimes they did not commit. Female characters, often known as the femme fatale, are conniving, sexual, and predatory, the nightmare aspect of women with newly found freedom and agency. Everyone smokes, ceaselessly. The plots deal with crime – often murder – and its consequences, as well as themes of guilt, doom, fate, and the (impossible) possibility of redemption. While American horror began to explore elements of Freudian psychology, noir takes this further, combining it with the nihilist existentialism of French writers like Sartre and Camus. Roger Ebert described the noir film as, “A movie which at no time misleads you into thinking there is going to be a happy ending.”

The style is another key element and borrows heavily from German expressionism. The lighting schemes favor heavy black shadows and the strong contrast between light and dark indicative of chiaroscuro. The camera favored previously ignored angles, three-quarter profile shots, and other inexpensive, effective ways to inject as much style as possible into low budget productions. Most noir films are set in a variety of urban landscapes: dark alleys, rainy streets, bars, nightclubs, casinos, boxing arenas, factories, trains, etc.

Film noir didn’t emerge from out of nowhere. There were a number of cinematic precursors in the ‘20s and ‘30s. As with horror, some of these were German expressionist films, such as Fritz Lang’s M (1931) and his Dr. Mabuse series (Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler in 1922 and Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse in 1933). Lang emigrated to the U.S. due to the rise of Nazism and went on to make a number of well-regarded noir films. France was another important breeding ground for noir, including realist forerunners like Jean Renoir’s La Chienne (1931, later remade by Lang in the U.S. as Scarlet Street) and his La Bête Humaine (1938), Julien Duviver’s gangster film Pépé le Moko (1937), Marcel Carné’s Hôtel du Nord (1938) and Port of Shadows, and more.

There were also a number of U.S. crime films that helped developed the genre, such as Josef von Sternberg’s Underworld (1927) and Thunderbolt (1929), The Racket (1928) about police corruption, gangsters flicks like Little Caesar (1931), Public Enemy (1931), Scarface (1932), and Angels with Dirty Faces (1938), and others. A number of these were based on stories by crime and mystery writers, such as adaptations of Dashiell Hammett’s novels like The Maltese Falcon (1931) and The Thin Man (1934).

As with horror, noir has a literary background, namely the hardboiled novels and short stories of crime fiction writers like Hammett, James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler, Cornell Woolrich, and others published serially in pulp magazines like Black Mask and Ellery Queen. And though noir is often regarded as a thoroughly American genre, many of its key directors and cinematographers were refugees from Europe, particularly Germany. Most of these directors worked in several genres – often noir and horror, or noir and the Western, like Anthony Mann – and moved back and forth between A- or B-grade films.

Dozens of scholars and critics have written extensively about noir over the last 50 or so years. A key argument has been whether noir is a style or a genre. I don’t see why it can’t be both – the noir films I’ve seen so far share a similar style and plot themes – but the primary purpose of this review series is to see whether or not I can answer that question for myself. And now onto the list, which is loosely organized chronologically and by subject.

Early Noir (1941—1945):
Here’s a look at some of the earliest films noir, beginning with Stranger on the Third Floor, which is generally regarded as the first in a long series along John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon a year later.
Stranger on the Third Floor (Boris Ingster,1940) —A reporter witnesses a murder, though the suspect, a mysterious stranger, insists he is innocent. Peter Lorre costars.
I Wake Up Screaming (H. Bruce Humberstone,1941) — A model is murdered and the police inspector blames the promoter who was recently trying to become her manager.
Crossroads (Jack Conway, 1942) — William Powell, Hedy Lamarr, and Basil Rathbone star in this tale of a diplomat with amnesia who realizes that his previous life may not have been so wholesome.
Murder, My Sweet (Edward Dmytryk, 1944) — Dick Powell stars in this adaptation of a Raymond Chandler novel about private detective Philip Marlowe, on the trail of an ex-con’s former girlfriend.
Detour (Edgar G. Ulmer, 1945) — A pianist hitchhiking across country assumes the identity of a dead gambler, hoping to avoid the police, though his plan begins to backfire when he picks up a vicious young woman.

Billy Wilder:
Though he wasn’t the most prolific noir director, Austrian émigré Billy Wilder created some of the most classic noir films, as well as some of the most beloved American comedies and romances, including Sabrina and Some Like it Hot.
Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder, 1944) — Barbara Stanwyck stars as a married woman who has an affair with an insurance agent and proposes that they kill her husband for the insurance money.
The Lost Weekend (Billy Wilder, 1945) — Not quite a noir film, this bleak portrayal of an alcoholic writer shares many thematic and stylistic elements.
Sunset Boulevard (Billy Wilder, 1950) – William Holden and Gloria Swanson star in this classic film about a struggling screenwriter who gets sucked into the web of an aging actress.
Ace in the Hole (Billy Wilder, 1951) – Kirk Douglas stars as a journalist whose career quickly careens out of control when he publishes a new story.
Witness for the Prosecution (Billy Wilder, 1957) – This adaptation of an Agatha Christie novel concerns a murder trial full of twists and turns.

Humphrey Bogart:
One of the genre’s biggest stars and certainly it’s most recognizable face, Humphrey Bogart got his start early on and powered through for nearly two decades, till the end of the noir cycle.
They Drive By Night (Raoul Walsh, 1940) — Bogie, Ida Lupino, and Anne Sheridan star in this tale of two brothers who work as truck drivers, but suffer from very poor luck.
The Maltese Falcon (John Huston, 1941) — Bogie and Peter Lorre star in this adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s classic novel about private detective, Sam Spade, whose partner is murdered.
High Sierra (Raoul Walsh, 1941) — Bogie stars as a man broken out of prison in order to help with an upcoming robbery. When things go wrong, he has to go into hiding in the mountains.
Conflict (Curtis Bernhardt, 1945) — An unhappily married man plans to murder his wife in order to marry her sister. Bogie, Alexis Smith, and Sidney Greenstreet star.
The Big Sleep (Howard Hawks, 1946) — Bogie and Lauren Bacall star in this Raymond Chandler adaptation about private detective, Phillip Marlowe, who is hired by a rich General with two wayward daughters.
Dead Reckoning (John Cromwell, 1947) — A former soldier investigates the death and disappearance of his friend. Bogie and Lizabeth Scott star.
Dark Passage (Delmer Daves, 1947) — A man escapes from prison after being convicted of murdering his wife. A woman tries to help him clear his name. Bogie and Bacall star.
The Two Mrs. Carrolls (Peter Godfrey, 1947) – A troubled artist falls in love with a woman and wants to make her his wife; unfortunately, he already has one. Barbara Stanwyck costars.
Key Largo (John Huston, 1948) — Bogie, Bacall, and Edward G. Robinson star in this tale of a man who faces off against a gangster running his friend’s hotel.
The Enforcer (Bretaigne Windust, Raoul Walsh,1951) – An ambitious D.A. finally makes a case against a Murder Inc. boss in this courtroom noir. Zero Mostel costars.
The Desperate Hours (William Wyler, 1955) — Three escaped convicts invade a home and terrorize the family living there. Starring Bogie and Fredric March.
The Harder They Fall (Mark Robson, 1956) – A sportswriter is hired by a questionable boxing promoter to market his latest star.
Treasure of the Sierra Madre (John Huston, 1948) – Not quite a film noir, I wanted to include this incredibly dark, near perfect film about gold diggers prospecting in the harsh wilds of Mexico.

All of these films focus on film noir’s sexiest trope – the femme fatale – and many star some of the genre’s most memorable leading ladies.
The Letter (William Wyler, 1940) — Bette Davis stars as a married woman who shoots a man to death and claims it was self-defense, but an incriminating letter may change her fortune.
Mildred Pierce (Michael Curtiz, 1945) — A proud, single mother played by Joan Crawford struggles with her spoiled daughter.
Leave Her to Heaven (John M. Stahl, 1945) — In this rare color noir, Gene Tierney stars as a woman whose obsessive love for her husband begins to ruin both their lives.
Deception (Irving Rapper, 1946) — Bette Davis stars as a woman caught between two men: her fiancé, returned from the war, and a musician who has become obsessed with her.
The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (LewisMilestone, 1946) — Blackmail keeps a woman married to her alcoholic husband. Barbara Stanwyck, Lizabeth Scott, and Kirk Douglas costar.
The Postman Always Rings Twice (Tay Garnett, 1946) — Lana Turner stars as a woman who has an affair and kills her husband, but must live with the consequences.
Gilda (Charles Vidor, 1946) — A casino owner is disturbed when he realizes that his new wife and one of his most loyal men may have a past together. Rita Hayworth and Glenn Ford costar.
Possessed (Curtis Bernhardt, 1947) – Joan Crawford stars as a woman found on the streets of L.A., suffering from mild amnesia and searching for a man named David.
Nora Prentiss (Vincent Sherman, 1947) – A mysterious nightclub singer becomes involved with a doctor who must choose between his mistress and his wife.
Caught (Max Ophuls, 1949) – A woman marries the man of her dreams, only to find out that he is sadistic, abusive, and will not agree to a divorce. James Mason stars.
The Reckless Moment (Max Ophuls, 1949) – James Mason stars in this film about a woman who will protect her family at any cost after she finds the dead body of her daughter’s boyfriend.
Caged (John Cromwell, 1950) – A young widow’s life changes forever when she’s sent to a prison full of hardened criminals. Eleanor Parker and Agnes Moorhead star.
The Hitch-Hiker (Ida Lupino, 1953) – The only noir film directed by a woman -- the great Ida Lupino -- this concerns two men on a cross-country fishing trip who are waylaid by a psychotic hitchhiker.
Dementia (John Parker, 1955) – This film follows a silent, disturbed young woman through one terrifying night in the city.

This Austrian émigré directed a handful of important noir films and regularly pushed the boundaries of Hollywood censorship when he tackled themes like homosexuality, drug use, and rape.
Laura (Otto Preminger, 1944) — A detective becomes obsessed with a dead woman as he tries to figure out whether her fey fiancé or controlling boss is the killer. Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews star. Also famous for its depiction of the homme fatale, an equally deadly, if sexually ambiguous version of the femme fatale.
Fallen Angel (Otto Preminger, 1945) — Dana Andrews stars as a man who marries a rich woman in order to seduce an attractive waitress, but the waitress winds up dead. Is he responsible?
Whirlpool (Otto Preminger, 1949) — Gene Tierney stars as a woman trying to cure her kleptomania. When she finds herself blacked out at the scene of a murder, she must discover what happened.
Where the Sidewalk Ends (Otto Preminger, 1950) — A violent detective is trying to stay on the right side of the law, but finds it increasingly difficult. Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney star.
Angel Face (Otto Preminger, 1952) — Robert Mitchum and Jean Simmons star in this film about an ambulance driver caught in the web of a femme fatale.

Though second to Bogie and Bacall, Alan Ladd and blonde bombshell Veronica Lake starred in a handful of memorable noir films together. They also represent the dark side of Hollywood, as both stars struggled with drug use, alcoholism, and mental illness.
The Glass Key (Stuart Heisler, 1942) — Ladd and Lake star in this Dashiell Hammett adaptation about a crooked politician trying to avoid a partnership with a powerful gambler.
This Gun for Hire (Frank Tuttle, 1942) —Ladd and Lake return in this W.R. Burnett adaptation of a Graham Greene novel about a killer who is double crossed by his employer. Laird Cregar costars.
The Blue Dahlia (George Marshall, 1946) — Written by Raymond Chandler, this film concerns an ex-pilot convicted of murdering his wife. Ladd and Lake star.
Saigon (Leslie Fenton, 1948) – Ladd and Lake’s final film together concerns two pilots, a terminally ill man and his friend, who become involved in a smuggling operation in Saigon after the war.
Chicago Deadline (Lewis Allen, 1949) – Ladd stars with Donna Reed in this film about a reporter who goes through a dead girl’s phone book to find her killer. 

German émigré Fritz Lang is one of the most important, innovative directors of the 20th century. After his move to America during WWII, he focused primarily on noir and crime films.
Man Hunt (Fritz Lang, 1941) -- Lang's first war-themed film is this tense thriller about an aristocratic big game hunter who decides to aim his rifle at Hitler.
Hangmen Also Die! (Fritz Lang, 1943) — German playwright Bertolt Brecht wrote this wartime noir about a man who assassinates a Nazi leader in Czechoslovakia and goes on the run.
Ministry of Fear (Fritz Lang, 1944) — Ray Milland stars in Lang’s second WWII-themed noir about a man who discovers a Nazi plot after he is released from an insane asylum.
The Woman in the Window (Fritz Lang, 1944) — Edward G. Robinson stars in this tale of a professor swept up into a life of crime and blackmail by a seductive femme fatale.
Scarlet Street (Fritz Lang, 1945) — Edward G. Robinson plays a man who befriends a young woman, but her fiancé is convinced he’s rich and they should steal his money.
Cloak and Dagger (Fritz Lang, 1946) -- Lang's final war-themed film is about a group of European resistance fighters struggling against the Nazis in Italy at the end of the war.
Secret Beyond the Door… (Fritz Lang, 1947) — In an isolated mansion, a woman thinks her new husband might be planning to kill her. Joan Bennet and Michael Redgrave star.
House by the River (Fritz Lang, 1950) — A writer murders a woman and his brother helps him hide the body, but then his brother becomes the main suspect.
The Blue Gardenia (Fritz Lang, 1953) — A woman blacks out and can’t remember her night, but thinks she may have killed a man who tried to assault her.
The Big Heat (Fritz Lang, 1953) — Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame star in this story about a cop who decides to take on a crime syndicate.
Human Desire (Fritz Lang, 1954) — Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame return to star in this film about a war vet whose life goes downhill when he has an affair with a coworker’s wife.
While the City Sleeps (Fritz Lang, 1956) — Dana Andrews, Ida Lupino, and George Sanders star as reporters competing with each other to deliver the best story on a serial killer stalking the city.
Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (Fritz Lang, 1956) — A writer purposefully has himself accused of murder to challenge the criminal justice system. Dana Andrews and Joan Fontaine star.

Late ‘40s Noir (1947—1949):
Boomerang (Eliza Kazan, 1947) – Dana Andrews stars as a prosecutor trying to help exonerate an innocent man suspected of murder.
Born to Kill (Robert Wise, 1947) – A woman puts herself in danger when she becomes involved with a murderer. Lawrence Tierney stars.
Kiss of Death (Henry Hathaway, 1947) – An ex-con tries to get a fresh start, but he's forced to work with the D.A.'s office to inform on a danger criminal acquaintance. Victor Mature stars.
Nightmare Alley (Edmund Goulding, 1947) – Tyrone Power stars as a sideshow apprentice with plans to move up in the world, regardless of the cost.
Crossfire (Edward Dmytryk, 1947) – Robert Mitchum and Gloria Grahame star in this film about a man who murdered someone in a group of soldiers.
Out of the Past (Jacques Tourneur, 1947) – Robert Mitchum stars as a private eye trying to escape his past, but he can’t run fast enough away from it.
The Woman on the Beach (Jean Renoir, 1947) – A troubled soldier meets a mysterious woman on the beach and is swept into a violent love triangle.
The Unsuspected (Michael Curtiz, 1947) – Claude Rains stars as a radio host surrounded by murder and suicide. He must figure out what happened to his young niece.
The Red House (Delmer Daves, 1947) – A man and his sister desperately try to keep their adopted teenage daughter away from a sinister house in the woods.
Lured (Douglas Sirk, 1947) – George Sanders and Lucille Ball lead an all-star cast in this film about a serial killer in London sending poems to the police.
Ride the Pink Horse (Robert Montgomery, 1947) – Robert Montgomery stars and directs this noir set in a New Mexico desert town.
Force of Evil (Abraham Polonsky, 1948) – Trying to help his small-time crook brother, a sleazy lawyer becomes a partner in a gambling racket. John Garfield stars.
Sorry, Wrong Number (Anatole Litvak, 1948) – Barbara Stanwyck stars as a woman who believes she overheard a plot to kill her on the telephone. Burt Lancaster costars.
Blood on the Moon (Robert Wise, 1948) – Robert Mitchum stars as a gunslinger who finds himself caught between a corrupt close friend and a family of ranchers.
I Walk Alone (Byron Haskin, 1948) – Burt Lancaster, Lizabeth Scott, and Kirk Douglas star in this film about a man unprepared for the real world when he leaves prison.
Pitfall (Andre de Toth, 1948) – A man’s boring, predictable business and family life is turned upside down by a femme fatale. Lizabeth Scott stars.
Act of Violence (Fred Zinneman, 1948) – An ex-soldier hunts down his former commander, because he betrayed their unit’s plans to escape a Nazi prisoner of war camp during the war.
Kiss the Blood Off My Hands (Norman Foster, 1948) – A former soldier accidentally kills a man and a young woman tries to help him. 
Moonrise (Frank Borzage, 1948) – When Danny accidentally kills a man, he is afraid to inform the police because of his family history; his father was also hanged as a murderer.
White Heat (Raoul Walsh, 1949) – James Cagney stars as a psychotic criminal who breaks out of prison and plans a new heist with his old gang.
The Set-Up (Robert Wise, 1949) – An old boxer is determined to win his latest match, not realizing that his own manager has bet against him…

Anthony Mann:
This Californian actor and director made a handful of well-regarded noir films, as well as Westerns, namely five with James Stewart.
T-Men (Anthony Mann, 1947) – Two U.S. treasury agents seek to expose a ring of counterfeiters.
Raw Deal (Anthony Mann, 1948) – Two women and a double-crossing friend help a man break out of prison. How far will he make it?
He Walked By Night (Alfred L. Werker, AnthonyMann, 1948) – One of the first police procedurals, this film concerns a police hunt for a notorious killer.
Border Incident (Anthony Mann, 1949) – Mexican and American agents cooperate to deal with a gang operating on both sides of the border.

John Farrow:
The Australian-born father of actress Mia Farrow made a name for himself with Around the World in Eighty Days and also directed a handful of excellent noir films, several with Robert Mitchum.
The Big Clock (John Farrow, 1948) – A magazine editor has to go on the run when his boss frames him for murder. Ray Milland and Charles Laughton star.
Night Has a Thousand Eyes (John Farrow, 1948) – This adaptation of Cornell Woolrich’s novel stars Edward G. Robinson as a fake psychic who unnervingly develops real powers.
Alias Nick Beal (John Farrow, 1949) – This noir reimagining of the Faust tale concerns black mail, politics, and the involvement of a sinister man named Nick Beal. Ray Milland stars.
Where Danger Lives (John Farrow, 1950) – A man falls for a disturbed woman and must flee to Mexico with her when her husband is killed. Robert Mitchum stars.
His Kind of Woman (John Farrow, 1951) Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell star in this film about a deported gangster who tries to re-enter the U.S. through Mexico, but a gambler gets in his way.

Robert Siodmak:
Another German expatriate director was Robert Siodmak, who made a number of well-regarded noir films and thrillers during his time in the U.S., including The Spiral Staircase.
Phantom Lady (Robert Siodmak, 1944) — This adaptation of a Cornell Woolrich novel concerns a faithful secretary trying to clear her boss of his wife’s murder.
The Suspect (Robert Siodmak, 1944) – A man kills his wife when she threatens to expose his budding friendship with another woman, despite the fact that it is completely innocent. Will he get away with it?
The Spiral Staircase (RobertSiodmak, 1946) — A mute girl spends the night in a house where she works as a nurse/companion, but a killer lurks in wait for her.
The Killers (Robert Siodmak, 1946) — Burt Lancaster and Eva Gardner costar in this story about an investigator trying to uncover the life of a Swede murdered by hit-men.
The Dark Mirror (Robert Siodmak, 1946) – Olivia de Havilland stars as a woman suspected of murdering her boyfriend. She has an identical twin, but both have an alibi…
Criss Cross (Robert Siodmak, 1949) – Burt Lancaster stars as a truck driver who hires a gang to have his truck robbed as part of an inside heist. Yvonne De Carlo costars.
The File on Thelma Jordan (Robert Siodmak,1950) – Barbara Stanwyck stars as a woman who falls in love with a jewel thief; he convinces her to set out on a life of crime.

Jules Dassin:
American director Jules Dassin made a few films in U.S. before being added to the House Un-American Activities Committee’s black list. After he was banned from Hollywood, he was forced to resume his career in France. I have chosen to include all his noir films regardless of the country they were filmed in.
Brute Force (Jules Dassin, 1947) – Burt Lancaster stars as an inmate in a brutal prison. He and his cell mates plan an elaborate prison break.
The Naked City (Jules Dassin, 1948) – This documentary-style film concerns the murder of a New York model and the subsequent investigation of two homicide detectives.
Thieves’ Highway (Jules Dassin, 1949) – A truck driver seeks revenge on the man who crippled his father.
Night and the City (Jules Dassin, 1950) – This U.K.-based noir concerns a grafter who tries to make it big as a wrestling promoter.

Nicholas Ray:
Ray, who made his career with Rebel Without a Cause, was one of the few influential non-émigré noir directors. He was also married (for a tumultuous and brief period) to noir leading lady Gloria Grahame.
They Live By Night (Nicholas Ray, 1948) – An injured, escaped convict is helped by a woman with whom he develops a complicated relationship. Farley Granger stars.
In A Lonely Place (Nicholas Ray, 1950) — Bogie and Gloria Grahame star in this story of a troubled writer whose girlfriend comes to believe he may be a serial killer.
On Dangerous Ground (Nicholas Ray, 1951) – While investigating a murder, a cop falls for a blind woman, though her brother is his number one suspect. Ida Lupino and Robert Ryan star.
Johnny Guitar (Nicholas Ray, 1954) – Joan Crawford and Sterling Hayden star in this Western-themed noir about a female saloon owner suspected of murder.

Early 1950s Noir (1950—1953):
Gun Crazy (Joseph H. Lewis, 1950) – A couple go on a crime spree when the wife decides she wants a life of luxury. Peggy Cummins and John Dall star.
D.O.A. (Rudolph Maté, 1950) – Edmund O’Brien stars as a poisoned man who only has a few days to find his killer.
The Asphalt Jungle (John Huston, 1950) – Sterling Hayden stars in this classic tale of a heist that brings bad luck for everyone involved.
Detective Story (William Wyler, 1951) Kirk Douglas stars as a stubborn, straight-laced detective whose life is turned upside-down during a case.
The Prowler (Joseph Losey, 1951) – An affair develops between a woman and a police officer when she reports a prowler outside her home, but she is inconveniently already married.
The House on Telegraph Hill (Robert Wise, 1951) – A woman who has survived a concentration camp assumes someone else’s identity to travel to America, but her past begins to catch up with her.
Pickup on South Street (Samuel Fuller, 1953) – A pick-pocket accidentally steals a message meant for a spy. Richard Widmark stars in this famous noir.

The End of Noir (1954—1959):
The Big Combo (Joseph H. Lewis, 1955) – When the evidence surrounding a crime boss dries up, the detective on the case goes after the gangster’s girlfriend instead.
Kiss Me Deadly (Robert Aldrich, 1955) – This adaptation of Mickey Spillane’s novel about private detective Mike Hammer concerns a troubled female hitchhiker. 
The Big Knife (Robert Aldrich, 1955) – Jack Palance stars as an actor who is pressures into crime and a cover up in order to protect his career.
The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton,1955) – An ex-convict learns that his cellmate has hidden a fortune. He terrorizes the man’s wife and children to find out where. Robert Mitchum stars.
Killer’s Kiss (Stanley Kubrick, 1955) – A man waits at the train station for his girlfriend and reveals the past events of his life.
The Killing (Stanley Kubrick, 1956) – Sterling Hayden stars in this documentary-style film about a race track heist gone wrong. 

Orson Welles: 
One of the most important filmmakers in the 20th century, the only reason Orson Welles comes at the end of this list is because his film Touch of Evil marked the official end of classic noir. In many ways, Welles bookends the era: as Touch of Evil ushered out film noir, the unique style and story-telling method of Citizen Kane helped usher it in.
The Stranger (Orson Welles, 1946) — Welles stars as a college professor living in Connecticut, about to be married, though an investigator discovers that he may be an escaped Nazi in hiding.
The Lady from Shanghai (Orson Welles, 1947) — Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth star in this film about murder and intrigue on board a cruise.
Touch of Evil (Orson Welles, 1958) — Charlton Heston, Janet Lee, and Orson Welles star in this noir about murder in a Mexican border town.

Foreign Noir:
To close out the series, I’ve included a few foreign films made during the classic noir period that provide interesting comparison points and contrasts to American noir.
Green for Danger (Sidney Gilliat, 1946) — Scotland Yard investigates the death of a nurse who presided over the failed surgical procedure of a murderer in this British noir.
Brighton Rock (John Boulting, 1947) – In this British noir, a gangster orders the murder of one of his rivals. At first the police believe it to be suicide, but more information turns up.
Odd Man Out (Carol Reed, 1947) – This acclaimed British noir from the great Carol Reed concerns an Irish political leader on the run from the police after a robbery. James Mason stars. 
The Fallen Idol (Carol Reed, 1948) – In this second British noir from Carol Reed, a butler is accused of murdering his wife, though her death was accidental.
The Third Man (Carol Reed, 1949) — Joseph Cotten stars as a pulp novelist investigating the death of an old friend in post-war Vienna. Orson Welles costars in this British noir.
The Small Back Room (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1949) – Acclaimed British/German team Powell and Pressburger directed this British noir about an alcoholic agent who must disarm a series of terrorist traps to save England.
Der Verlorene (Peter Lorre, 1951) – The great Peter Lorre directed, wrote, and starred in this rare German noir about a Nazi scientist who murders his double-crossing fiancée.

Despite the size of this list (approximately 125 films), there are of course films that I didn't get to – you’ll notice, for instance, that Alfred Hitchcock is under-represented, mostly because he deserves a review series of his own. If you’d like to know about other noir titles, there’s a nice IMDB list of almost 600 films going back to the ‘20s.

There are quite a lot of film noir resources floating around both online and in the library. Here are some great places to start: Alain Silver’s Film Noir, Film Noir Reader, and Film Noir Encyclopedia, Woody Haut’s Pulp Culture for some literary and historical background, noir-expert Eddie Muller’s site, primer article, and his book Dark City, Shannon Clute and Richard Edwards’ The Maltese Touch of Evil, and Roger Ebert’s list if you want something brief. It’s also worth visiting Film Noir Foundation, Film Noir Studies, San Francisco’s Noir City, and this lengthy bibliography. There are also some free film noir movies online at Open Culture and a mind-blowing amount of resources stretching back to the ‘70s. I’m also indebted to the excellent Out of the Past noir podcast. It comes highly recommended and is a great scholarly introduction to the world of noir.

Finally, I’m hoping to close out the series in a few months with a trip to Philadelphia’s NoirCon and some feature coverage here on my blog. I hope you watch along with me and enjoy.

1 comment:

  1. Did you consider picking the #1 Bitcoin exchange company: YoBit.

    ReplyDelete