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Noirvember is a month long tribute to great film noir. If you are new to watching classic movies, film noir is a cinematic term used primarily to describe stylish Hollywood crime dramas, particularly those that emphasize cynical attitudes and sexual motivations. Hollywood’s classical film noir period is generally regarded as extending from the early 1940s to the late 1950s. Film noir is associated with a low-key, black-and-white visual style that has roots in German Expressionist cinematography. Many of the prototypical stories and much of the attitude of classic noir derive from the hard-boiled school of crime fiction that emerged in the United States during the Great Depression.
We are BIG fans of noir as are a lot of you. Here are the films noir that we believe are the best. If you don’t agree, let us know in the comment section.
The Big Sleep (1946)
Dir: Howard Hawks
Private Detective Philip Marlowe is hired by a rich family. Before the complex case is over, he’s seen murder, blackmail, and what might be love.
Dir: Edgar G. Ulmer
Stars: Tom Neal, Ann Savage, Claudia Drake
Al Roberts, a New York nightclub pianist, hitch-hikes to Hollywood to meet his girlfriend Sue. The gambler he’s riding with, Charles, unexpectedly dies. Afraid the police wouldn’t believe the truth, Al takes the man’s identity. In a gas station, he gives a lift to Vera, a woman that knew Charles and blackmails Al with tragic consequences.
Double Indemnity (1944)
Dir: Billy Wilder
Stars: Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson
Unsuspecting Mr. Dietrichson becomes increasingly accident prone after his icily calculating wife encourages him to sign a double indemnity policy proposed by a smooth-talking insurance agent. Against a backdrop of distinctly California settings, the partners in crime plan the perfect murder to collect the insurance. Perfect until a claims manager gets a familiar feeling of foul play and pursues the matter relentlessly.
Dir: Charles Vidor
Stars: Rita Hayworth, Glenn Ford, George Macready
Just arrived in Argentina, small-time crooked gambler Johnny Farrell is saved from a gunman by sinister Ballin Mundson, who later makes Johnny his right-hand man. But their friendship based on mutual lack of scruples is strained when Mundson returns from a trip with a wife: the supremely desirable Gilda, whom Johnny once knew and learned to hate. The relationship of Johnny and Gilda, a battlefield of warring emotions, becomes even more bizarre after Mundson disappears…
Gun Crazy (1950)
Dir: Joseph H. Lewis
Stars: Peggy Cummins, John Dall, Berry Kroeger
Bart Tare is an ex-Army man who has a lifelong fixation with guns, he meets a kindred spirit in sharpshooter Annie Starr and goes to work at a carnival. After upsetting the carnival owner who lusts after Starr, they both get fired. Soon, on Starr’s behest, they embark on a crime spree for cash. Subjects of a manhunt, they are tracked by police in the hills Tare enjoyed as a boy.
In a Lonely Place (1950)
Dir: Nicholas Ray
Dixon ‘Dix’ Steele, a down-on-his-luck screenwriter needs to adapt a trashy novel. At a night club, the hat-check girl, Mildred Atkinson is engrossed reading it. Too tired to read the novel, he asks Mildred to go home with him, to explain the plot. Later that night, Mildred is murdered and Steele is a prime suspect, his record of violence when angry goes against him.
Dir: Otto Preminger
A detective falls in love with the portrait of the murder victim whose death he is investigating.
The Maltese Falcon (1941)
Dir: John Huston
Spade and Archer is the name of a San Francisco detective agency. That’s for Sam Spade and Miles Archer. The two men are partners, but Sam doesn’t like Miles much. A knockout, who goes by the name of Miss Wanderly, walks into their office; and by that night everything’s changed. Miles is dead. And so is a man named Floyd Thursby. It seems Miss Wanderly is surrounded by dangerous men. There’s Joel Cairo, who uses gardenia-scented calling cards. There’s Kasper Gutman, with his enormous girth and feigned civility. Her only hope of protection comes from Sam, who is suspected by the police of one or the other murder. More murders are yet to come.
Mildred Pierce (1945)
Dir: Michael Curtiz
Stars: Joan Crawford, Jack Carson, Zachary Scott
After her cheating husband leaves her, Mildred Pierce proves she can become independent and successful, but can’t win the approval of her spoiled daughter.
The Night of the Hunter (1955)
Dir: Charles Laughton
In the Deep South, a serial-killing preacher hunts two young children who know the whereabouts of a stash of money.
Out of the Past (1947)
Dir: Jacques Tourneur
Jeff Bailey seems to be a mundane gas station owner in remote Bridgeport, CA. He is dating local girl Ann Miller and lives a quiet life. But Jeff has a secret past, and when a mysterious stranger arrives in town, Jeff is forced to return to the dark world he had tried to escape.
Phantom Lady (1944)
Dir: Robert Siodmak
Stars: Franchot Tone, Ella Raines, Alan Curtis,
A mystery woman is a murder suspect’s only alibi for the night of his wife’s death. Based on a story by noir scribe Cornell Woolrich.
The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)
Dir: Tay Garnett
Stars: Lana Turner, John Garfield, Cecil Kellaway
Nick Smith (Cecil Kellaway), a middle-aged roadside diner owner, hires a drifter, Frank Chambers (John Garfield), to work at his restaurant. Frank quickly begins an affair with Nick’s beautiful young wife, Cora (Lana Turner), and the two conspire to kill Nick and seize his assets. When they succeed, local prosecutor Kyle Sackett (Leon Ames) becomes suspicious, but is unable to build a solid case. However, the couple soon realizes that no misdeed ever goes truly unpunished.
Scarlet Street (1945)
Dir: Fritz Lang
Stars: Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, Dan Duryea,
A man in mid-life crisis befriends a young woman after rescuing her from an attack. She believes he is rich and her boyfriend persuades her to con him out of his fortune.
Strangers on a Train (1951)
Dir: Alfred Hitchcock
A psychotic socialite confronts a pro tennis star with a theory on how two complete strangers can get away with murder…a theory that he plans to implement.
Sunset Blvd. (1950)
Dir: Billy Wilder
Stars: William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stroheim, Nancy Olson
A hack screenwriter writes a screenplay for a former silent-film star who has faded into Hollywood obscurity.
The Third Man (1949)
Dir: Carol Reed
An American pulp writer arrives in post-WWII Vienna only to find that the friend who waited for him is killed under mysterious circumstances. The ensuing mystery entangles him in his friend’s involvement in the black market, with the multinational police, and with his Czech girlfriend.
They Live by Night (1949)
Dir: Nicholas Ray
Stars: Cathy O’Donnell, Farley Granger, Howard Da Silva
Legendary director Nicholas Ray began his career with this lyrical film noir, the first in a series of existential genre films overflowing with sympathy for America’s outcasts and underdogs. When the wide-eyed fugitive Bowie (Farley Granger), having broken out of prison with some bank robbers, meets the innocent Keechie (Cathy O’Donnell), each recognizes something in the other that no one else ever has. The young lovers envision a new, decent life together, but as they flee the cops and contend with Bowie’s fellow outlaws, who aren’t about to let him go straight, they realize there’s nowhere left to run. Ray brought an outsider’s sensibility honed in the theater to this debut, using revolutionary camera techniques and naturalistic performances to craft a profoundly romantic crime drama that paved the way for decades of lovers-on-the-run thrillers to come.
They Won’t Believe Me (1947)
Dir: Irving Pichel
Stars: Robert Young, Susan Hayward, Jane Greer
Philandering California stockbroker Larry Ballentine, on trial for murdering his wife and girlfriend, takes the stand to explain one death as suicide and the other as an accident.
Touch of Evil (1958)
Dir: Orson Welles
Stars: Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Orson Welles
Stark, perverse story of murder, kidnapping, and police corruption in Mexican border town.
Some of these movies will air on TCM in November. You can find the schedule here.
Browse the rest of our noir collection here.