10 Must-See Dark Delights of Film Noir

Source: Don Renfroe, News Editor, Albuquerque Tribune, Friday, June 15, 2007

Don Renfore’s all-time top 10 noirs:

Any debate among film noir fans will ultimately include the phrase, “That’s not a film noir!”

The genre’s definition is broad, but almost any aficionado would agree on these 10 must-sees.

For novices, seeing all or most of this list will provide a basic education in the dark, wonderful dread that is film noir. Here they are, in no particular order.

Out Of The Past 1947

Out of the Past (1947). A stellar cast featuring Kirk Douglas, Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer take viewers down a very dark dream of gangster murder and double-dealings. Directed by Jacques Tourneur. The dialogue is poetic; the cinematography is lush.

Detour (1945). Some call this B-picture the beginnings of true American noir. Hitchhiking leads to no good in this cheapie directed by Edgar G. Ulmer. Tom Neal (you’ve never heard of him) is the pawn of a femme fatale played by Ann Savage (and you’ve never heard of her, either). An overwhelming sense of fate and powerlessness permeates the film.

The Killers (1946). Burt Lancaster, in his film debut, plays a boxer who waits in his dingy room to be assassinated by thugs. How he got there is told in flashback. Look for great performances by the ravishing Ava Gardner in one of her early roles.

Kiss Me Deadly (1955). An early adaptation of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer series. Robert Aldrich directs Ralph Meeker as Hammer. Violent, fast-paced and with a wacky plot involving a nuclear device and an atomic dame or two. Watch early in the film for Cloris Lechman in a minor part. And the cars are great.

Double Indemnity (1944). I can’t add much to all that has been written about Billy Wilder’s masterpiece except that, if you haven’t seen it, hop the nearest train and get to a video store. The script is sterling, and so are all the principals: Fred McMurray, Barbara Stanwyck and Edward G. Robinson. My favorite is Stanwyck’s lout of a husband, who deserves what he gets.

Gun Crazy (1949). Bang! Bang! The lady loves to shoot! Peggy Cummins steals the show in this Bonnie and Clyde-ish tale of two bank robbers on the run. In shooting the first heist, director Joseph H. Lewis placed the camera in the back seat of the getaway convertible so that it feels like we’re escaping with them. John Dahl plays a man who worships guns and his girl. From the outset, you know how this one is going to end, but it doesn’t matter.

Brute Force (1947). Nasty prison breakout flick stars Burt Lancaster and a host of first-rate character actors. Hume Cronyn, later of “Cocoon” fame, is the warden, a real jerk you love to hate…

Rififi (1954). One of the first caper movies. This French masterpiece, directed by Jules Dassin, has all the components we’ve come to expect: the selection of the gang, all of whom have special talents; the heist explained for their benefit and ours; and the actual robbery, which in this case takes place in total silence.

Laura (1944). Otto Preminger directs Dana Andrews as a detective trying to uncover the mystery of who killed the woman in the painting. Clifford Webb is excellent as the newspaper columnist/foil…

Touch of Evil (1958). Arguably the best of the lot, this movie had everything going against it before the first scene was shot. A bloated Orson Welles wanted it to be his comeback as a director; Charlton Heston was taking a big chance in the lead (as a Mexican!); the script was full of borderline super-sleaziness. But Welles, who also stars as a corrupt American cop investigating a homicide literally on the border, makes it all work. Fun, nasty, with not a spare frame in the whole picture. Pay attention to the opening scene, one of the longest long shots in movie history.

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