Film Noir A to Z

Film Noir: Film Noir Movies From A to ZGuest blogger Rick 29 writes:

One of the most popular features at the Classic Film and TV Cafe is the site’s “A to Z” list. This month, the Cafe tackles film noir–a daunting task because there so many good ones. For example, for “D”, I could have gone with any of the following: The Dark Corner, Dark City, Detour, The Desperate Hours, or Drive a Crooked Road. So, if I’ve omitted one of your favorites, please leave a comment!

A – The Asphalt Jungle (1944) A sense of doom permeates John Huston’s taut suspense film in which a “perfect caper” goes awry.

B -The Big Heat (19530. A homicide detective (Glenn Ford) takes on a crime syndicate when his wife is murdered. Favorite line is when Gloria Grahame tells the hero: “You’re about as romantic as a pair of handcuffs.”

C – Cornered (1945). Dick Powell tracks post-World War II Nazis to Argentina to avenge the murder of his French Resistance wife. Powell is terrific, Walter Slezak slimy, and the ending brutal.

D – Double Indemnity (1944). Billy Wilder‘s classic noir ensured Barbara Stanwyck‘s admission into the Femme Fatale Hall of Fame (if there was one).

E – Edge of Doom (1950). Following the death of his mother, a mentally unbalanced young man (Farley Granger), with a grudge against the church, murders a priest in this grim noir.

F – Force of Evil (1948). “If you need a broken man to love, break your husband,” says John Garfield’s tough-talking lawyer to Marie Windsor’s femme fatale in this poetic picture. Director Abraham Polonsky was subsequently blacklisted and wouldn’t direct again for over 20 years.

G – Gun Crazy (1950). Peggy Cummins and John Dalllove love guns…and each other. Unfortunately, she loves money, too, and leads them on a lethal crime spree.

H – Human Desire (1954). Gloria Grahame sizzles as a sexpot with an abusive husband who lures Glenn Ford into a torrid affair. Now, if she only get rid of her husband (Broderick Crawford)…. French director Jean Renoir earlier adapted the same Emile Zola novel, The Human Beast, to great effect.

I – In a Lonely Place (1950). Noir favorite Gloria Grahame plays a starlet and Humphrey Bogart a screenwriter suspected of murder in this dark tale set against cynical Hollywood.

J – Johnny O’Clock (1947). A casino provides an interesting backdrop for the typical plot about a basically good guy (Dick Powell) who gets mixed up with murder and crooked cops. With Evelyn Keyes and Lee J. Cobb.

K – Kiss Me Deadly (1955). Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker) pummels bad guys, gets beat up a lot, and looks for the “great whatsit” in Robert Aldrich’s one-of-a-kind cult noir.

L – Laura (1944). Clifton Webb created one of the great characters in American cinema with his portrayal of Waldo Lydecker. Of course, the rest of the film ain’t bad either, with Otto Preminger’s stylish direction, David Raksin’s haunting music, and the stunning Gene Tierney.

M – The Maltese Falcon (1941). John Huston’s classic is “the stuff that dreams are made of.” You knew that as soon as you saw that opening shot of the office windows with the letters reversed, right?

N – Nightmare Alley (1947). Tyrone Power gives perhaps his finest performance as a seedy carnival hustler who hits the big time–briefly–with a mind-reading act.

O – Out of the Past (1947). With its contrasts of bright lights and dark shadows, Out of the Past is a visual feast. It’s also a compelling tale of a man (Robert Mitchum) pulled back into the shadows of his past–no matter how hard he tries to escape them. Perhaps, my favorite film noir.

P – Pickup on South Street (1953). A pickpocket steals a woman’s wallet. What neither of them know is that it contains microfilm with government secrets coveted by her communist spy ex-boyfriend.

Q – Quicksand (1950). A petty crime snowballs into a heap of trouble for garage mechanic Mickey Rooney. It doesn’t help that Peter Lorre is on hand as the shady owner of a penny arcade.

R -Raw Deal (1948). An unexpected love triangle highlights Anthony Mann’s sharp tale of an escaped convict trying to elude the police and a crime boss trying to kill him.

S – Sunset Blvd (1950). Are you ready for your close-up? Of course, you are!Film Noir From The Asphalt Jungle (1944) to The Third Man (1949)

T – The Third Man (1949). There’s this guy named Harry Lime in post-World War II Vienna….

U – Underworld U.S.A. (1961) A youth grows into a vicious criminal so that he avenge his father’s death at the hands of mobsters. A relentless look at corruption by Pickup on South Street director Samuel Fuller.

V – Vicki (1953) Thy is detective Richard Boone so zealous about solving model Jean Peters’ murder? This moody variation of Laura is actually a remake of 1941′s I Wake Up Screaming.

W – The Web (1947). After a memorable supporting turn in Laura, Vincent Price plays a smooth villain in this seldom-shown noir co-starring Edmund O’Brien (who would later star in an even better noir, D.O.A.).

X – The Amazing Mr. X (1948)(well, this one is a bit of a cheat). Also known as The Spiritualist, this “B” film shares similarities with the bigger-budgeted Nightmare Alley. In this one, Turhan Bey plays a con artist who becomes an unwilling accomplice in a murder plot.

Y – You Only Live Once (1937). Fritz Lang’s 1937 classic is considered an early noir, largely due to its bleak outlook in telling the story of an ex-con (Henry Fonda) who seems unable to escape his tragic fate.

Z – The Zither music in The Third Man (1949).

Rick29 is a film reference book author and a regular contributor at the Classic Film & TV Café , on Facebook and Twitter. He’s a big fan of MovieFanFare, too, of course!

  • Joel

    To me, “Double Indemnity” will always be the standard to which I judge any film noir.

    • RVoss

      I second that opinion, Joel!

  • Wayne P.

    Great list and comments so far!  Since its so tough to find a noirish movie with the letter Z in it…how about extending the later noir period to 1969 and including the excellent political thriller suspenser par-excellence “Z”?  There were a few noirs, if I recall correctly, that were made in the early 60′s to finish up the last cycle but they were mostly weak ones, no doubt, and this addition would be a worthy successor to consider ending the alphabet, and decade for that matter, with.

    • Rick

      Speaking of music (e.g., the zither), Z had a great musical score!

  • RON

    I adore FILM NOIR and you list was almost spot on. Maybe some are a stretch because of the letters like “V” and “Q”. But films like Quicksand and Vicki and Johnny O’Clock are pretty poor examples of the best of Film Noir.
    But “C” should have been easier. CORNERED doesn’t compare with CAUGHT or CALL NORTHSIDE 777.
    I think you have nabbed 3 of the greatest film noirs when you selected OUT OF THE PAST, PICK UP ON SOUTH STREET AND RAW DEAL.
    Another great one is THE PROWLER and THEY LIVE BY NIGHT and MOONRISE.
    Oh it isn’t as easy as one might think.

    • Rick

      Always awesome to meet another film of RAW DEAL. Yes, V and Q were a stretch. I love CALL NORTHSIDE 777, but still prefer CORNERED due to Powell’s performance and the raw ending. 

  • 6roberts

    C should have been Chinatown, the best noir in the last fifty years.

    • Grace

      I totally agree! It’s one of my favorite movies, noir or not.

  • Bjodrie

    C Christmas Holiday(1944)

  • Bjodrie

    C Christmas Holiday(1944)

    • OZ ROB

      Watched this for the first time only two nights ago,,Although Durbin rejected director Siodmak`s attempt to deglamorise her, he was successful in portraying her as a dark and imperfect character.The reverse role for Gene Kelly bringing out a sinister persona is a real treat..Durbin followed with another noir the light weight Lady on a Train..1945..

  • OZ ROB

    Angel Face 1953,, Obsessive destructive sexuality, extreme melodramatics
    The Black Book,1949,,Period noir ,Altons photography a standout,.McGraw`s ugliest..
    Criss Cross,1949,,Chance meeting leads to fatal destiny, great cast..
    Desperate,1947,,Sense of hopelessness,strong visual quality on violence..
    The Enforcer,1951,,Will justice triumph ? will it prevail ?…
    Fallen Angel,1946,,Linda Darnell as Stella 
    The Glass Key 1942,,Lake and Ladd ” got it bad for each other “..
    His Kind of Woman,1951,, oppressively dark set almost entirely at night, with some comedy..
    I Wake up Screaming,1942,,Early developing noir style entertaining mystery..
    Johnny Angel,1945,,Tough, expressionism style creates threatening ambience..
    Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye,1950,,Unrelenting film one of the best noir closing dialogues from Payton..
    The Locket,1947,,Flash back within a flashback within a flashback !!
    My Name is Julia Ross,1945,,Joseph Lewis considers this the start of his career..
    The Naked Kiss,1964,,Staying into uncomfortable subject material, Fuller at his best..
    On Dangerous Ground,1952..Ryans gripping performance ” Why do you punks make me do it “..
    Pitfall,1948,,Expose of the facade of middle class dream and suburban life..
    Quai des Orvevres,1947,,French film from Clouzot..
    Roadblock,1951,,Honest Joe { McGraw } spirals out of control, one of his best lead roles..
    Scandal Sheet,1952, Written by S.Fuller,engrossing newspaper saga..
    Too Late For Tears,1949,,Duryea is great as slimy corrupt detective in this atmospheric low budget film..
    Union Station,1950,,average man turned into vile kidnapper,the helplessness inherent in most noirs..
    Vicki,1953,,study of total alienation remake of I wake up Screaming..
    Where the Sidewalk Ends,1950,,A hero of questionable virtues within a society of confused morals.. 

    • Rick

      I’m not sure if I’d count THE NAKED KISS as film noir, but it’s a splendid movie and a great pick for any list.

  • Gemini09

    Difficult job to name one picture for each letter of the alphabet as there are so many excellent films. I might have chosen The Glass Key for G but I also like Gun Crazy. I agree with Oz Robb and would definitely have Criss Cross on my list. I have never seen Johnny O’Clock or Vicki to my knowledge so will be adding them to my must watch list.

  • David

    B- Big Sleep and Blade Runner

  • Louie Martinez

    Personally, under “N”, I would have chosen “Narrow Margin” with Charles McGraw and Marie Windsor.

    • WDPjr

      I agree! Narrow Margin is one of my top-5 noirs for sure.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=713983697 Gordon S. Jackson

    They may not be the best N noirs ever made, but two great ‘buried treasures’ have to be NIGHTFALL from 1957 with Aldo Ray, Anne Bancroft, a reprehensible Brian Keith, James Gregory, Jocyln Brando and directed by Jacques Tourneur plus, circa 1950 the original NIGHT AND THE CITY with Richard Widmark, Gene Tierney, Francis L. Sullivan (the poor man’s Sidney Greenstreet) and the very fine Googie Withers.

    One other thought, under H – HE WALKED BY NIGHT with Richard Basehart, Scott Brady, Whit Bissell, Jack Webb and directed by Alfred Werker.

    All of that said, I love noir and there are just too many from which to choose. Indeed, MURDER MY SWEET with Dick Powell and Claire Trevor (at her Spiderwoman best) is another gem to which I keep returning.

  • ruralroberts

    Asphalt Jungle was a 1950 vintage I believe.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=709558049 Bill Weeden

    To cite several runner-ups in the “D” category and leave out “D.O.A.” is shameful. I can see the choice of “Double Indemnity,” But “D.O.A.” is such a close second that it’s almost a tie.

  • Bruce Reber

    Here are a few suggestions-For B The Big Sleep, The Big Knife, The Blue Dahlia, for C Crime Wave, for D Diabolique, for E Edge Of The City, for N No Way Out, for O Odds Against Tomorrow, for P The Postman Always Rings Twice, Panic In The Streets, for S The Stranger, for T Touch Of Evil, This Gun For Hire, for W Woman On Pier 13, Woman In The Window

    • mike jaral

      Kiss of death. one of the top film noir movies of all time. Richard widmark, victor mature
      old lady pushed down the stairs in a wheel chair.

  • ROBERT TAYLOR

    YOU NEVER HAVE ANYTHING ON ROBERT TAYLOR

  • laustcawz

    “D”–”D.O.A.”

    Bigelow: “I’d like to report a murder.”
    Police Chief: “Sit down. Where was this murder committed?”
    Bigelow: “San Francisco. Last night.”
    Police Chief: “Who was murdered?”
    Bigelow: “I was.”

  • da Roo

    Just a heads up — an awesome new book on the subject was just released (this week, I think). It’s “A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Film Noir” by John Grant. I just got my copy and it’s great — especially interesting are Grant’s opinions of the films he reviews. If you enjoy the genre, you’ll love this book.