It’s been a long, hot summer, and I’ve been meaning to post a list of some of favorite films in various genres.
And so, allow me present my own Top 10 list of awesome films noir. And keep in mind, these just scratch the surface!
Counting backwards from number 10, here we go:
10. The Killers: From 1946, The Killers features hunky Burt Lancaster in his film debut. It also has William Conrad in his first credited role. The movie was based on a short story of the same name by Ernest Hemingway.
The story goes as follows, according to IMDB.com: Two professional killers invade a small town and kill a gas station attendant, “the Swede,” who’s expecting them. Insurance investigator Reardon pursues the case against the orders of his boss, who considers it trivial. Weaving together threads of the Swede’s life, Reardon uncovers a complex tale of treachery and crime, all linked with gorgeous, mysterious Kitty Collins.
Reardon is, of course, the character played by Steve Martin in Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, a movie that includes scenes from The Killers. But that’s neither here nor there, is it?
9. Mildred Pierce: This one from 1945 was considered kind of a “woman’s film”, but this movie is way more than that. To me, Mildred Pierce represents one woman’s determination to live independently at a time when they were supposed to rely on men. The only thing really holding her back is her bizarre need to satisfy her totally bitchy daughter.
Joan Crawford really shines in this film, as does Eve Arden, in the part of Mildred’s best friend. While watching this movie, I realized that Eve was much more than one of “The Mothers-in-Law”. (For those of you old enough to remember that show!)
8. D.O.A.: This movie is now in the public domain, so you can find it for free anywhere on YouTube. In it, per IMDB: Frank Bigelow, told he’s been poisoned and has only a few days to live, tries to find out who killed him and why.
The part of Pamela is annoyingly played by Paula Gibson, who turns out to be not-so-annoying in the end. Far less annoying than death, I guess.
7. The Postman Always Rings Twice: From 1946, this film is about a drifter who wanders into this diner in the middle of nowhere, where this gorgeous blonde played by Lana Turner lives in unholy (and unlikely) wedlock with THE most boring man ever.
So … of course, the drifter and the blonde femme fatale plot to murder Mr. Boring. Especially after he says, “Hey, let’s sell the diner and move in with my mother in the middle of nowhere in Canada!” Such things never end well, of course.
6. Shadow of a Doubt: From 1943, this Alfred Hitchcock film is his favorite. It’s about how this young woman named Charlie discovers that her namesake, Uncle Charlie, may not be the awesome guy she thought he was. And, believe me, he isn’t.
The movie not only explores the whole duality thing between the two Charlies, but it has an almost David Lynch-like perspective on small town living. Also, it was Hume Cronyn’s film debut.
5. Kiss Me Deadly: In 1955, this film must have been pretty hot stuff. It remains a great film to this day.According to IMDB, a doomed female hitchhiker pulls Mike Hammer into a deadly whirlpool of intrigue, revolving around a mysterious “great whatsit.”
This was Cloris Leachman’s first theatrical film role. It was also filmed in less than 3 weeks. That’s amazing, but back then they cranked out movies such as these like sausages! 🙂
I must confess I’ve never completely understood what’s going on in this movie. But, then, isn’t that just like film noir? All twisty plots and gritty guys with guns.
4. The Maltese Falcon: They had to film Dashiell Hammett’s book three times before they got it right. This version from 1941 is the best! It may help that the movie is virtually, word-for-word, the same as the book. The line, “The stuff that dreams are made of,” was included at Humphrey Bogart’s suggestion. Most of the film was shot in sequence, which is highly unusual. And all that history at the beginning of the film about the Maltese Falcon? Totally made up, of course.
3. Out of the Past: This film from 1947 is a real hum-dinger. Here’s the IMDB description: A private eye escapes his past to run a gas station in a small town, but his past catches up with him. Now he must return to the big city world of danger, corruption, double crosses and duplicitous dames.
This is another one of those films that you have to watch at least twice to figure out what the hell is going on. It has enough plot twists and double crosses to make you do an Exorcist-style head spin. No matter. The movie is a great ride with a suitably depressing ending and an enduring example of great film noir.
2. Sunset Boulevard: From 1950, this is truly one of the greatest film noir movies ever. Directed by Billy Wilder and starring William Holden and Gloria Swanson, this movie is about an unsuccessful screenwriter who basically shacks up with a washed-up silent movie star. He’s supposed to write the script for her “comeback” movie. Well, that ain’t gonna happen.
To make matters even trickier, Holden’s character falls for a young female screenwriter, played by fresh-faced Nancy Olson.
But among the best things about this movie are some of lines!
Norma Desmond: “I *am* big. It’s the *pictures* that got small.”
Norma Desmond: “We didn’t need dialogue. We had faces!”
Joe Gillis: “There’s nothing tragic about being fifty. Not unless you’re trying to be twenty-five.”
Norma Desmond: “All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”
1. The Big Sleep: From 1946, this movie adapted from the Raymond Chandler novel is one of the most convoluted, yet entertaining examples of film noir. Philip Marlowe is hired by a filthy rich man to deal with a blackmail scheme involving his childlike youngest daughter.
This film was made one way, then recut to emphasize the romance between Bogey and Bacall. And in neither version could anyone (including the book’s author) explain who killed the chauffeur.
There you have it. So many great films noir, and I didn’t even manage to include two really awesome ones: Double Indemnity and The Big Combo!
“There’s a speed limit in this state, Mr. Neff.” 🙂
And for your listening pleasure! 🙂