EVEN A BAD NOIR is good, when film noir is your favorite movie genre, as it is mine. So it’s really difficult for me to name nine as “the best,” particularly when some, like The Maltese Falcon, Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice, would be really obvious, unsurprising choices. What follows though are some that I could watch over and over. A few are well-known, a couple maybe not so much. But they’re all great–perfect for a chilly, dark and stormy November night.
The Big Heat (1953) Gloria Grahame and Glenn Ford, with terrific chemistry, and a very evil Lee Marvin. Grahame–Marvin’s abused girlfriend–delivers sympathy for Ford’s plight, and deep regret for her own choices. Ford’s utter despair and silent rage are a great contrast to Marvin’s nearly psychotic character.
Leave Her To Heaven (1945) “Technicolor Noir” and much admired by filmmakers such as Martin Scorsese. The complex and selfish character played by the beautiful Gene Tierney destroys everyone around her to one degree or another. Awe-inspiring cinematography and an unforgettable score by Alfred Newman.
Point Blank (1967) Lee Marvin, left for dead in an Alcatraz prison cell, is back in L.A. He doesn’t want his girl (Angie Dickinson), his life, or revenge. He wants his money. Is he really alive and kicking, or is the entire film a death bed dream? We’ll never know, but who cares? This is a wild ride, in more ways than one.
The Killing (1956) Stanley Kubrick’s riveting heist film, an early masterpiece. One of Sterling Hayden’s best roles, with a clockwork-like plot and intriguing time-shifts.
The Tall Target Dick Powell is a detective in 1861, aboard a train full of sinister characters, one of whom is allegedly the would-be assassin of president-elect Lincoln. Claustrophobic, suspenseful, and unpredictable, it also, because of what we know would eventually happen to the President, has an extra layer of poignancy and foreshadowing.
The Narrow Margin (1952) Like The Tall Target, this terrific film noir, shot over three weeks, is set within the small confines of a train. With great dialog, like Marie Windsor’s assertively snide, “There’s another train… The gravy train!”
They Live By Night (1948) Nicholas Ray’s early, sweet and tragic noir, starring Farley Granger, with a tone that later would be evident in Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause. Granger and Cathy O’Donnell are the tragic lovers who, as the opening credits say, “were never properly introduced to the world we live in.”
Fall Guy (1947) “Was that the sound of heels clicking, or my beating heart?” Fall Guy is a very low-budget noir from Monogram Studios, based on a Cornell Woolrich story. A young man who’d been implicated in a murder, has no recollection of what happened, and must clear his name.
Dark Passage (1947) My list isn’t complete without at least one Bogart picture, and this is the one. On the run from San Quentin, Vince Parry (Bogie) meets up with none other than Lauren Bacall. After some low-rent plastic surgery, Parry is out to prove his innocence against all odds. A great ending scene.
November is the month for noirs. I’ve seen two of the nine: LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN and THEY LIVE BY NIGHT, with the score it cribbed from i KNOW WHERE I’M GOING.
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