Monday, July 01, 2013

My Ten Favorite Noir Films

Time for the latest installment in my "Ten Favorite" series.  This time, it's all about the dames, the dinguses, the shamuses, the femmes fatale.  Back alleys and broken dreams all the way.

I first encountered film noir when I was in high school.  Our local PBS station showed classic movies on Saturday nights, and I would record them if they sounded interesting, then watch them later.  One week, they showed The Big Sleep (1946).  I'd recently read the book, my first taste of Raymond Chandler's amazing writing.  I found the movie entrancing, this completely new-to-me style of gritty locations, tough characters, unsavory goings-on, and breathtakingly beautiful cinematography.  With just that one movie, I fell in love with a whole film style I hadn't known existed.

In case you're not familiar with it, film noir means "black/dark film" in French, and these movies are generally very dark indeed.  Usually, there's a crime committed and someone trying to right the wrong or solve the case.  Usually, there are tough men and tougher women -- some evil and some good and most in the grey area in between.  Usually, there's a sad ending, though not always -- most of my favorites end relatively happily.  But always, there is darkness.

So anyway, here are my ten favorite noir films.  Six are classic noir from the '40s, three are amazing neo-noir films, and one you could kind of call kiddie-noir, I guess.  As usual, I've provided my own descriptions and comments, and a link to my review if I've done one here before.

1. Laura (1944)

While solving the murder of beautiful Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney), Detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) falls in love with her memory.  One of the most haunting murder mysteries with one of the biggest plot twists.

2. Road to Perdition (2002)

A hitman (Tom Hanks) takes his son (Tyler Hoechlin) on the run, seeking vengeance for the brutal murder of his wife and other son.  Brilliant acting from all involved, including Paul Newman, Jude Law, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and some dude named Daniel Craig.

3. The Maltese Falcon (1941)

PI Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) searches for a missing statue, going up against every archetypical noir character in the process.  Gunsels, damsels in distress, femmes fatale, eccentric criminals -- they're all here, and all terrific.

4. LA Confidential (1997)

Three Hollywood cops (Russell Crowe, Kevin Spacey, and Guy Pearce) wrestle with corruption, vice, murder, and conspiracy.  One of the most intricately plotted movies ever, with all kinds of disparate strands woven together to form a dazzling whole.

5. To Have and Have Not (1944)

Fisherman Harry Morgan (Humphrey Bogart) gets tangled up with a wandering woman (Lauren Bacall) and a bunch of anti-Nazi French patriots during WWII.  Loosely based on characters from the Ernest Hemingway novel by the same title.

6. Brick (2005)

Highschool loner Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) investigates the murder of the girl he may have loved, discovering a teenage underworld in the process.  One of the most creative movies I've ever seen.

7. The Big Sleep (1946)

PI Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) takes a case for a wealthy family with a lot of secrets.  Pairs Bogart again with the love of his real life, Lauren Bacall.

8. Swamp Water (1941)

An innocent bayou dweller (Dana Andrews) gets mixed up with a fugitive (Walter Brennan) and his daughter in the Okefenokee Swamp.  A very sweet movie in many ways.

9. Dick Tracy (1990)

Straight-as-an-arrow police detective Dick Tracy (Warren Beatty) battles mobsters with names like Big Boy Caprice (Al Pacino), 88 Keys (Mandy Patinkin), Breathless Mahoney (Madonna), and Mumbles (Dustin Hoffman).  The best film adaptation of a comic strip I've ever seen.  The funny names and bright colors make it seem like child's play, but it's got a pretty serious storyline.

10. Fallen Angel (1945)

A con man (Dana Andrews) hits town intending to seduce a lonely spinster (Alice Faye) out of her money while carrying on with a waitress (Linda Darnell) on the side.  Nothing goes as he planned.  This is noir, after all.

EDIT:  I feel like I need to post a warning here.  Brick, L.A. Confidential, and Road to Perdition are rated R.  Brick and Road to Perdition are R for violence and strong language.  L.A. Confidential is R for violence, strong language, and sexual content, and it very much earns that R rating.  It looks like Clearplay has filters for all three, and I strongly recommend using one for L.A. Confidential if you decide you want to see it.  But it is not in any way a "family friendly" movie.  The other two would clean up fairly easily.


  1. I have seen Laura, The Maltese Falcon, and The Big Sleep, but none of the others. They all sound intriguing. I'm going to add them to my list of noir films to watch. :) Recently I finished Vicki (1953) and I plan on watching The Wrong Man (1956) directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

    1. I liked The Wrong Man okay, but I've never seen Vicki. Just looked it up, and oooh, Jeanne Crain and Richard Boone? Nifty!

      I should probably have put some Hitchcock on this list, except my favorites of his are not noir. Except Shadow of a Doubt, that kind of is. Parlor noir, maybe?

    2. Oh, um, and L. A. Confidential earns its R rating. Not sure if you care about that, but just so you know.

  2. Olds 40s detective and noir are so underrated, and it was the Big Sleep that got me interested in the genre as well, I love that movie. The Maltese Falcon, is also one of my favorites, although I like the Big Sleep slightly better, mostly for that great banter between Bogie & Bacall. To Have and Have Not is another great pick. Of these I have only seen the three Bogart ones and Dick Tracy a long time ago. I will need to check these out for sure.
    A more unconventional noir favorite of mine is Blade Runner, more sci-fi, but it is still mostly noir.


    1. I don't know if I'd say they're underrated -- maybe underviewed? People who watch them tend to go, "Wow, these are terrific!" But not a lot of people today watch them.

      I think I like the straightforwardness of the plot in Maltese Falcon better than The Big Sleep, but it's a tough call, and I could probably switch those two and still be happy with my list :-)

      I've seen Blade Runner three times, and while I absolutely love Harrison Ford, and I dig sci-fi, something about it doesn't connect with me. The characters don't draw me, I guess.

    2. PS I added a warning to my post about three of these movies and their content, just so everyone's aware of what they contain.

  3. I love film noir! The ones on your list that I love are "Laura" and "Fallen Angel." My faves are "Double Indemnity" and "The Postman Always Rings Twice." Another huge fave is "Human Desire," with Glenn Ford, Broderick Crawford, and Gloria Grahame.

    DKoren mentioned "Swamp Water" to me some time ago. That was the first I had ever heard of it. I hope to catch it one of these days. You can never go wrong with Dana Andrews!

    1. I feel like I should have "Double Indemnity" on here cuz it's just do blasted awesome... but I don't really love it. I respect and admire it, but it's not truly a favorite. Still, if I'd booted "Dick Tracy" off for being not quite noir enough, I'd probably have made DI number 10. Or "The Big Heat," that was amazing too. It's sad that Glenn Ford isn't on this list, cuz he did some terrific noirs... but none I truly love. Though I almost put his "3:10 to Yuma" on here, cuz I can never decide if it's more noir or more western.

      "Swamp Water" is just a strange, crazy cool movie. I'd never imagined that Walter Brennan could be scary before I saw that, but he can be. And no, you really can NEVER go wrong with Dana Andrews! (Well, except in "The Loved One," but he's only got a cameo in that.)

  4. Oh, yeah, "The Big Heat." That is such a great film. That "coffee in the face" scene is about as memorable as "The Public Enemy's" grapefruit in the face scene.

    Another noir I love is Robert Ryan's "Inferno." That's my 2nd favorite Ryan film.

    A couple boxing films I love, "The Set-Up" and "Body and Soul" are classified as noir, though I see them more as drama than noir.

    "3:10 to Yuma" was the first Glenn Ford movie I ever saw. I really like it...alot, and I LOVE the theme song! Anyhow, that was also my first exposure to Van Heflin, and I deemed him to be very milque-toasty. Not sure why, since his character was brave and courageous. I guess it was playing opposite Glenn Ford that did him in. However, on a positive note for Mr. Heflin, I've seen more of his work and have come to really like him...even more than I like Mr. Ford. So, those first impressions aren't always cast in stone!

    I cannot imagine Walter Brennan as scary!

    1. Ha ha ha! Milque-toasty? Van Heflin? That's so funny! I actually didn't care much for him either the first time I saw 3:10 -- I thought he was boring, especially next to Glenn Ford. Now I don't find him boring at all, but I still like Glenn Ford better.

      I haven't seen "Inferno" or "The Set-Up" or "Body and Soul" -- time to add them to my list, especially the latter two, as I enjoy boxing movies.

      The noir section on my movie shelves is between the drama and action sections because most of them combine the two. Some lean more one way or the other, of course.

    I’ll just stick to the classic era of American B/W noir between 1940-60 for this list. And as usual these are in no particular order. Well, that is except for the first mentioned which is my fav. Plus I will actually be listing 11 noir being the sneaky so and so that I am.

    CRISS CROSS 1949 Burt Lancaster, Y. De Carlo, Dan Duryea and Stephen McNally stir the pot in this Robert Siodmak directed stunner. This one features one of the best film noir endings ever. Look real close and you can spot Tony Curtis in an early unbilled bit.

    DOUBLE INDEMNITY -1944 This one fires on all cylinders from the story, the acting, and the direction from Billy Wilder. Stanwyck, MacMurray and E.G. Robinson do not take a false step in this top flight noir.

    SUNSET BOULEVARD 1950 Director Wilder strikes gold a second time in this hum dinger of a noir. Silent stars, Gloria Swanson and Erich Von Stroheim shine with able help from William Holden. If you have not seen this one, you are really missing a winner.

    CRY DANGER 1951 Dick Powell, Rhonda Fleming and William Conrad score in this revenge noir from Oscar winning director, Robert Parrish. This one is even better than Powell’s 1944 noir, MURDER, MY SWEET.

    FEDERAL AGENT AT LARGE 1950 A Republic Pictures low budget effort that hits above its weight class. Dorothy Patrick, Kent Taylor and Roy Barcroft star.

    FLIGHT FROM DESTINY 1941 Warner Brothers sneaks one in with this Thomas Mitchell, Jeff Lynn B-film. Murder for a good cause is still murder.

    THE COUNTERFEITERS 1948 Another low rent production that is better than most A-films. Hugh Beaumont, John Sutton, Lon Chaney and an early bit from Scott Brady are the best known actors here. Beaumont makes an excellent nasty type. Most will recall him as Ward Cleaver on LEAVE IT TO BEAVER.

    THE TIGER WOMAN 1945. This is another low budget gem from Republic Pictures. This one has one on my favorite femme fatale performances with Adela Mara pulling out all the stops. This one is well worth hunting down imo. Do not confuse this one with the Republic serial of the same name from 1944.

    THIS SIDE OF THE LAW 1950. Though made in 1948, Warner Brothers did not release it till 1950. Kent Smith, Robert Douglas and a ravishing Viveca Lindfors headline here. This one has it all, greed, cross and double-cross, twists, turns, a cliff-side mansion and a couple of murders.

    WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS 1950. To my mind, this is the best Dana Andrews noir. Cop kills a man and tries to cover it up. Gene Tierney, Craig Stevens and Gary Merrill headline. Andrew’s and Tierney’s director from LAURA, Otto Preminger, directs.

    ON DANGEROUS GROUND 1951 No noir list could be complete without at least one Robert Ryan film. It was a toss up between THE SET-UP and this one, with ON DANGEROUS GROUND winning at the wire. Ida Lupino Ward Bond support a powerhouse bit by the masterful Ryan. A cop on the edge film that hits hard and never stops.


    1. Gord, you add so much to my to-watch list. Which I enjoy! Of your favorites, I've only seen 3: Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard, and Where the Sidewalk Ends. Of those three, Sidewalk is probably my favorite, and I really should buy a copy and watch it again -- when I went through my major Dana Andrews phase, I only managed to see it once for some reason. My best friend actually named her blog after it.

      Of the other 7, the only ones I already had on my to-watch list were Cry Danger and the Counterfeiters. The others sound awesome!

  6. Film Noir is my favorite genre by a mile. I have over 1200 noir related films in my collection. I have gotten my name into the credits and acknowledgements of several noir reference books supplying writers with some rare titles.


  7. TOP 10 FILM NOIR – UK and French

    For this Top Ten noir list I will just name productions from France and the UK. Noir was not just an American genre, other countries jumped right in during the classic era. There are more than a few nasty, hard hitting, foreign film noir out there for the fan to enjoy. These are my top 10. While the first one listed is my favorite, the rest are in no particular order of liking. I have write-ups on all at IMDB

    Dedee d' Anvers – 1948 This French film noir is set in the Belgium port of Antwerp just after WW2. Future Oscar winner Simone Signoret headlines as a "working girl" who lives and works out of the Big Moon bar on the waterfront. Marcel Dalio, Bernard Biler and Marcel Pagliero lend support. This film just drips with atmosphere, it features fog filled docks, seedy bars, dark lanes with only the odd street lamp here and there for illumination. The performances are all top rate with Signoret and Dalio in particular shining.

    A PRIZE OF ARMS - 1962 Stanley Baker, Tom Bell and Helmut Schimd headline this gritty heist film from the UK. The trio have a plan to hit an Army payroll office for a cool 100,000 pounds. A real tense “perfect plan” goes south film.

    CAGE OF GOLD 1950 This is a quite watch-able noir from the U.K. starring a young, and rather striking looking, Jean Simmons. Also in the cast are James Donald, David Farrar, Bernard Lee, Herbert Lom and Madeleine Lebeau. Simmons has a “spot of bother” when a long lost, and thought dead, hubby shows up. Needless to say Miss Simmons is re-married, so we know where this is leading.

    CALCULATED RISK 1963 A neat little perfect plan gone awry film. It is a brisk, and to the point low-budget bank heist film.

    FOR THEM THAT TRESSPASS 1949 UK Stephen Murray and Richard Todd are in top flight in this wrong man convicted production.

    HANS le MARIN 1949 France Pierre Aumont and his real wife, Maria Montez headline this tale of mad infatuation. A real good bit of noir.

    L’ambitieuse 1959 France Also known as "The Climbers" , "The Dispossessed", "The Restless and the Damned" This Yves Allegret film is set in French Polynesia and stars Edmond O'Brien, Richard Basehart, Andrea Parisy, Nicole Berger and Reg Lye. Plenty of backstabbing, double dealing and murder in this one. Well worth a look.

    WIDE BOY 1952 UK Sydney Tafler headlines this low renter about a minor crook who gets in over his head. This is a good looking film with great camera-work and a tight story.

    THE SHOP ON SLY CORNER 1947 UK Oscar Homolka is great in this one and takes advantage of one of the few times he got a leading role. A man is being blackmailed and decides he must do away with the swine. Does he get away with said deed? This one is a real cracker with a good look and fine story.

    THE YELLOW BALLON 1953 UK This one was the second film directed by future Oscar type, J. Lee Thompson. A young boy witnesses a murder and is threatened by the killer to remain silent. Be quiet or his parents will be killed type thing. This is a nice looking production that uses the ruins of post war London to good effect. Thompson would go on to direct THE GUNS OF NAVARONE and CAPE FEAR, both with Greg Peck.

    Honorable mention – POOL OF LONDON 1951 UK Gritty no nonsense noir with a man getting involved with smugglers. Well worth the hunt.

    PORT OF ESCAPE 1956 UK An excellent low budget gem about two sailors on the run from a murder beef.


    1. TOP 10 NEO-NOIR – For this Top Ten list I will just do Neo Noir, which more or less covers 1965 to the present day. There is no particular order to the films list as I am working from memory here. Some of these will have a blurb on my IMDB pages. I’ll mark those with an (I)

      I will start by stealing one from our host’s list.
      L.A. Confidential – 1997 This one works on many levels, with a great 50’s look, fine acting, top story and excellent direction from Curtis Hanson. Russell Crowe, Guy Peirce, James Cromwell and Kim Basinger with an Oscar winning performance all shine.

      RED ROCK WEST – 1993 While I am not a Nic Cage fan, I must admit he is perfectly cast in this John Dahl directed classic. A down on his luck Cage stops in a small town and is mistaken for a hitman. Everything spirals downward from there. This is a pretty nifty tale, with Lara Flynn Boyle, Dennis Hopper and J.T. Walsh giving ample support.

      HOUSE OF GAMES – 1984 If you are a fan of twists and turns then this one is for you. This psychological thriller was writer and director David Mamet’s directing debut. This one is one long con with Lindsey Crouse and Joe Mantegna headlining. Opinions vary on this one, but I like it.

      RUN LOLA RUN – 1998 Not sure how to describe this 1998 German production. Best to call it a real non-stop thrill ride with a drop or two of noir thrown in. This is a tale of two losers, Franka Potente and Moritz Bleibtreu. Bleibtreu is a low end dealer who is doing a 100,000 Mark cash pick-up for his boss. Of course he loses the cash and is sure that his crazy boss is going to kill him. Most will recall Potente from the first Jason Bourne film. (I)

      6ixtynin9 – 1999 Thailand This one is a bit hard to tag, it is sort of a dark comedy mixed in with plenty of violence and a nice neo noir feel. A young woman who just lost her job is delivered a box of cash in error by some crooks. They return for said cash and the fun starts. This is really worth hunting down in my humble opinion. (I)

      SEE THE MAN RUN -1971 This one is a TV film that should really stand out for noir fans. Robert Culp, Angie Dickinson, Eddie Albert and June Allyson star. An out of work actor, Culp, and his wife, Dickinson, get involved in a kidnapping. What seems like easy cash is of course anything but. (I) This one is normally easy to find on You-Tube. (I)

      THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY -1980 UK Nasty, violent and highly entertaining is how I describe this one. Bob Hoskins and Helen Mirren headline this tale of a brutal gangster who is on the verge a big score. This he hopes will get him out of the life. Needless to say he is dragged back to the depths. Look close and you will see an early non speaking bit by future Bond, Pierce Brosnan.

      THE SILENT PARTNER -1978 Canada This is a very entertaining cat and mouse thriller starring Christopher Plummer, Elliot Gould and Susannah York. Writer, Curtis Hanson, the future director of LA Confidential, whips up a first rate bit of noir here. A robbery gone wrong, murder and various other nasty incidents rear their head in this one. (I)

      Ve stinu aka IN THE SHADOW 2012 Czech Republic An excellent looking production set during 1953 in Stalinist Czechoslovakia. This production just drips with noir atmosphere. A policeman in Czechoslovakia finds himself mixed up with a robbery that seems to have been set up by the government. Does he step away, or does he look into the matter? Great film! (I)

      FRESH 1994 This rather unseen film is a real neo-noir gem. A young pre-teen kid, Sean Nelson lives in a bad area of Brooklyn. He makes a bit of cash making deliveries for the local dealer, Giancarlo Esposito. However things change when Esposito gets Nelson’s sister strung out on drugs. Now he wants to get even. This is really a top rate film.



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