Essential Films Noir

FilmsNoir.Net’s list of the 235 essential films noir. Titles with an asterisk have been reviewed on FilmsNoir.Net – full reviews here and capsule reviews here.

The list is not definitive. There are gaps. Missing are neo-noirs, a few French noirs, and directors such as Hitchcock. There are varied reasons but mostly the gaps are due to my personal preference, or because some films are not fresh enough in my mind and need to be watched again with their candidacy here in mind.

The list is in two parts:

  • The 71 all-time great films noir – rated 5-stars
  • The 164  runners-up – rated 4 or 4.5 stars

5 star Noirs 

*La Nuit du Carrefour 1931 France Aka ‘Night at the Crossroads’. Early Jean Renoir poetics. Magically delicious femme-noir and a brilliant car chase at night. Moody and bizarrre!
*You Only Live Once 1937 US Fritz Lang and Hollywood kick-start poetic realism! Henry Fonda and Sylvia Sidney are the doomed lovers on the run.
*Hotel du Nord 1938 France Poetic realist melodrama of lives at a downtown Paris hotel. As moody as noir with a darkly absurd resolution.
*Port of Shadows 1938 France Aka Le Quai des brumes. Fate a dank existential fog ensnares doomed lovers Jean Gabin and Michèle Morgan after one night of happiness.
*I Wake Up Screaming 1941 US Early crooked cop psycho-noir. Redolent noir motifs, dark shadows, off-kilter framing and expressionist imagery.
*The Maltese Falcon 1941 US Bogart as Sam Spade the quintessential noir protagonist. A loner on the edge of polite society, sorely tempted to transgress but declines and is neither saved nor redeemed.
*Ossessione 1942 Italy Demands and rewards multiple viewings. Visconti has taken a hard-boiled story and imbued it with intelligence, polemic, a humanist outrage, and above all, a deep compassion for the human predicament.
*Journey Into Fear 1943 US Moody Orson Welles’ noir. Exotic locales, sexy dames, weird villains, politics, wisdom, philosophy, and a wry humor.
*The Seventh Victim 1943 US “Despair behind, and death before doth cast”. The terror of an empty existence. Brilliant Lewton gothic melodrama.
*Christmas Holiday 1944 US Director Robert Siodmak smashes genre conventions by unleashing a wild expressionist ambience in a bizarre story of obsession and guilt thathas you appalled yet enthralled. Full of bizarre surprises.
*Double Indemnity 1944 US All the elements of the archetypal film noir  are distilled into a gothic LA tale of greed, sex, and betrayal.
*Laura 1944 US Gene Tierney is an exquisite iridescent angel and Dana Andrews a stolid cop who nails the killer after falling for a dead dame.
*Murder, My Sweet 1944 US (Aka Farewell, my Lovely). The most noir fun you will ever have. Raymond Chandler’s prose crackles with moody noir direction from Edward Dmytryk.
*The Way You Wanted Me 1944 Finland “Sellaisena kuin sinä minut halusit” (original title). A dark frenzied tale of a fallen woman, The Way You Wanted Me careens across roads of melodrama at the speed of light. Hyper-expressionism and a tragedy played out in dark nights of the soul.
*Mildred Pierce 1945 US Joan Crawford in classy melodrama by Michael Curtiz lensed by Ernest Haller. Self-made woman escapes morass of greed.
*The Lost Weekend 1945 US ‘Most men lead lives of quiet desperation. I can’t take quiet desperation.’ Ray Milland against type on a bender.
*Ride the Pink Horse 1946 US Disillusioned WW2 vet arrives in a New Mexico town to blackmail a war racketeer. Imbued with a rare humanity.
*Scarlet Street 1946 US Classic noir from Fritz Lang. Unremitting in its pessimism. A dark mood and pervading doom of devastating intensity.
*The Big Sleep 1946 US Love’s Vengeance Lost. Darker than Dmytryk’s Murder, My Sweet. Bogart is tougher, more driven, and morally suspect.
*The Killers 1946 US Siodmak’s classic noir. Burt Lancaster’s masterful debut performance in a tragedy of a decent man destroyed by fate.
*The Postman Always Rings Twice 1946 US Fate ensures adulterous lovers who murder the woman’s husband, suffer definite and final retribution.
*Body and Soul 1947 US A masterwork. Melodramatic expose of the fight game and a savage indictment of money capitalism. Garfield’s picture.
*Brighton Rock 1947 UK Greatest British noir is dark and chilling. A cinematic tour-de-force: from the direction and cinematography to top cast and editing.
*Nightmare Alley 1947 US Predatory femme-fatale uses greed not sex to trap her prey in a hell of hangmen at the bottom of an empty gin bottle.
*Nora Prentiss 1947 US Doctor is plunged into a dark pool of noir angst in a turbo-charged melodrama of tortured loyalty and thwarted passion.
*Odd Man Out 1947 UK Betrayal, avarice, and spirituality are all given a place in this tale of an IRA heist gone wrong. The poetry is in the dark yet glistening visuals as we follow fugitive James Mason on his path through Ulster at night and in the rain.
*Out of the Past 1947 US Quintessential film noir. Inspired direction, exquisite expressionist cinematography, and legendary Mitchum and Greer.
*The Gangster 1947 US Hell of a b-movie. Very dark noir ‘opera’ brutally critiques the ‘entrepreneurial spirit’. Bravado Dalton Trumbo script.
*The Lady From Shanghai 1947 US Orson Welles’ brilliant jigsaw noir with a femme-fatale to die for and a script so sharp you relish every scene.
*T-Men 1947 US Mann and Alton offer a visionary descent into a noir realm of dark tenements, nightclubs, mobsters, and hellish steam baths.
*Act of Violence 1948 US Long-shot and deep focus climax filmed night-for-night on a railway platform: the stuff noirs are made of.
*Drunken Angel  1948 Japan Aka ‘Yoidore tenshi’. Kurosawa noir. A loser doctor with soul takes on the fetid moral swamp of Yakuza degradation.
*Force of Evil 1948 US Polonsky transcends noir in a tragic allegory on greed and family. Garfield adds signature honesty and gritty complexity .
*Hollow Triumph 1948 US Baroque journey to perdition traversing a noir topography redolent with noir archetypes. Audacious and enthralling.
*Raw Deal 1948 US Sublime noir from Anthony Mann and John Alton. Knockout cast in a strong story stunningly rendered as expressionist art.
*They Live by Night 1948 US Nicholas Ray’s first feature. A tragedy of Shakespearean dimensions which transcends film noir.
*Too Late For Tears 1948 US Preposterous chance event launches wild descent into dark avarice and eroticised violence as relentless as fate.
*Bitter Rice 1949 Italy Aka ‘Riso Amaro’. Classic neo-realist socialist melodrama. Homme-fatale destroys a passionate innocent. A bad girl is redeemed and homme-fatale meets a gruesome noir end in an abattoir.
*Border Incident 1949 US Subversive expressionist noir from Dir Anthony Mann DP John Alton and writer John C Higgin indicts US agribusiness.
*Criss-Cross 1949 US Accomplished noir showcased by Siodmak’s masterful aerial opening shot into parking lot onto a passing car exposing the doomed lovers to thespotlight.
*Stray Dog 1949 Japan Aka ‘Nora inu’. Kurosawa’s ying and yang take on reality informs this 5-star noir: the pursuer could as easily have been the pursued.
*The Reckless Moment 1949 US Max Ophuls takes a blackmail story and infuses it with a complexity and subtlety rarely matched in film noir.
*The Set-Up 1949 US Robert Ryan is great as washed-up boxer in Robert Wise’ sharp expose of the fight game. Brooding and intense noir classic.
*The Third Man 1949 UK Sublime. An engaging cavalcade of characters in a human comedy of love, friendship, and the imperatives of conscience.
*Thieves’ Highway 1949 US Moody Richard Conte hauling fruit to Frisco. Rich socio-realist melodrama from Jules Dassin and A.I. Bezzerides. AAA.
*Une Si Jolie Petite Plage 1949 France Aka ‘Riptide’. Iron in the soul: savage irony, withering subversion, and desolation mark the rain-sodden angst of a young man’s end.
*White Heat 1949 US Fission Noir. Taut electric thriller straps you in an emotional strait-jacket released only in the final explosive frames.
*Breaking Point 1950 US Great John Garfield vehicle with strong social subtext. Much stronger than from the same source To Have and Have Not.
*Caged 1950 US Eleanor Parker leads a great female cast in a dark women’s prison picture with a savage climax and a gutsy downbeat ending.
*D.O.A. 1950 US Gritty on-the-street in-your-face melodrama of innocent act a decent man’s un-doing. Edmund O’Brien is intense. The goons rock!
*In A Lonely Place 1950 US Nick Ray deftly explores effect of isolation, frustration, and anxiety on the creative psyche as noir entrapment.
*Night And the City 1950 US/UK Dassin’s stark existential journey played out in the dark dives of post-war London as a quintessential noir city.
*Sunset Boulevard 1950 US Wilder’s sympathetic story of four decent people each sadly complicit in the inevitable doom that will engulf them.
*The Asphalt Jungle 1950 US Quintessential heist movie transcends melodrama and noir. A police siren wails: “Sounds like a soul in hell.”
*The Sound of Fury 1950 US Great noir! Outdoes Lang’s Fury and brilliantly prefigures Wilder’s Ace in the Hole. Climactic mob scenes mesmerise.
*On Dangerous Ground 1951 US City cop battling inner demons is sent to ‘Siberia’. A film of dark beauty and haunting characterisations.
*The Prowler 1951 US Van Heflin is homme-fatale in Trumbo thriller. Director Losey is unforgiving. Each squalid act is suffocatingly framed.
*Ace in the Hole 1952 US A savage critique of a corrupted and corrupting modern mass media. Billy Wilder’s best movie. Kirk Douglas owns it.
*Clash By Night 1952 US Cheating wife Stanwyck faces the music. Fritz Lang puts sexual license and existential entitlement on trial and wins.
*The Big Heat 1953 US Gloria Grahame as existential hero in Fritz Lang’s brooding socio-realist noir critique.
*Crime Wave 1954 US Andre de Toth noir masterwork set on the streets of LA is so authentic it plays for real with each character deeply drawn.
*Kiss Me Deadly 1955 US Anti-fascist Hollywood Dada. Aldrich’s surreal noir a totally weird yet compelling exploration of urban paranoia.
*Rififi 1955 France Dassin’s classic heist thriller culminating in the terrific final scenes of a car desperately careening through Paris streets.
*The Big Combo 1955 US “I live in a maze… a strange blind backward maze’. Obsessed cop hunts down a psychotic crime boss in the best noir of 50s.
*Sweet Smell of Success 1957 US DP James Wong Howe’s sharpest picture. As bracing as vinegar and cold as ice. Ambition stripped of all pretense.
*Touch of Evil 1958 US Welles’ masterwork is a disconnected emotionally remote study of moral dissipation. Crisp b&w lensing by Russell Metty.
*Odds Against Tomorrow 1959 US A work of art from Rober Wise. New York City and its industrial fringe are quasi-protagonists that harbor the angst and desperation of lifeoutside the mainstream – sordid dreams of the last big heist that will fix everything.
*Underworld USA 1961 US Fast and furious pulp from Sam Fuller. Revenge finds redemption in death up a back alley the genesis of dark vengeance.
*Requiem For A Heavyweight 1962 US Rod Serling’s screenplay is lucid and economical. A washed-up boxer scenario in just under 82 minutes builds a closely realised character study, supported by a cast that delivers soulfully and with a leanness that is rarely matched.
*The Pawnbroker 1964 US The screenplay weaves the past and the present by juxtaposition and is economic when words are needed. Rod Steiger’s portrayal of Nazi death-camp survivor is a tour-de-force and his nominations for an Oscar and other accolades richly deserved.
*A Colt is My Passport 1967 Japan Aka ‘Koruto wa ore no pasupoto’. Hip acid Nikkatsu noir with surreal spaghetti-western score.
*Klute 1971 US Alan J. Pakula’s signature reworking of classic noir motifs in a masterly study of urban paranoia and alienation. Jane Fonda earned an Oscar for her brilliant portrayal of articulate b-girl the target of mystery psychopath.

4/4.5 star Noirs

All movies have a snap review .

*La Chienne 1931 France
*City Streets 1931 US
*Fury 1936 US
*Guele d’Amour (aka Ladykiller) 1937 France
*Pépé le Moko 1937 France
Stolen Death 1938 Finland
La Bête Humaine 1938 France
*Blind Alley 1939 US
Le Jour se Lève 1939 France
*Macao,L’enfer Du Jeu (aka ‘Gambling Hell’) 1939 France
*Stranger on the 3rd Floor 1940 US
*Blues in the Night 1941 US
*High Sierra 1941 US
*The Face Behind the Mask 1941 US
Cross of Love 1942 Finland
*This Gun For Hire 1942 US
*The Fallen Sparrow 1943 US
*The Ghost Ship 1943 US
*Betrayed (aka ‘When Strangers Marry’) 1944 US
*Moontide 1944 US
*Phantom Lady 1944 US
The Mask of Dimitrios 1944 US
*The Woman in the Window 1944 US
*Cornered 1945 US
*Detour 1945 US
*Fallen Angel 1945 US
Leave Her to Heaven 1945 US
*My Name Is Julia Ross 1945 US
*Black Angel 1946 US
*Deadline at Dawn 1946 US
*Deception 1946 US
*Decoy 1946 US
*Gilda 1946 US
*High Wall 1946 US
*Night Editor 1946 US
Panique 1946 France
Suspense 1946 US
*The Blue Dahlia 1946 US
*The Chase 1946 US
*The Dark Corner 1946 US
*The Dark Mirror 1946 US
*The House on 92nd Street 1946 US
*Jigsaw 1946 US
*The Locket 1946 US
*The Strange Love of Martha Ivers 1946 US
*The Stranger 1946 US
*Born to Kill 1947 US
Brute Force 1947 US
*Dark Passage 1947 US
*Dark 1947 US
*Dead Reckoning 1947 US
*Desperate 1947 US
*Kiss of Death 1947 US
*The Devil Thumbs a Ride 1947 US
Odd Man Out 1947 US
*Railroaded 1947 US
*Shoot To Kill 1947 US
*The Long Night 1947 US
*The Unsuspected 1947 US
*The Woman On the Beach 1947 US
*They Made Me a Fugitive 1947 UK
*Secret Beyond the Door 1948 US
*Blood on the Moon 1948 US
*They Won’t Believe Me 1947 US
*Bob le Flambuer 1956 France
*Call Northside 777 1948 US
Cry of the City 1948 US
*I Love Trouble 1948 US
*I Walk Alone 1948 US
*Key Largo 1948 US
*Kiss the Blood Off My Hands 1948 US
*Moonrise 1948 US
*Night Has a Thousand Eyes 1948 US
*Pitfall 1948 US
*Road House 1948 US
*Ruthless 1948 US
Senza pietà (Aka Without Pity) 1948 Italy
*The Amazing Mr. X 1948 US
*The Big Clock 1948 US
*The Iron Curtain 1948 US
*The Naked City 1948 US
*A Woman’s Secret 1949 US
*Alias Nick Beal 1949 US
*Caught 1949 US
*Follow Me Quietly 1949 US
*I Married a Communist 1949 US
*The Big Steal 1949 US
*The Bribe 1949 US
*The Clay Pigeon 1949 US
*The Man Who Cheated Himself 1949 US
*Salón México 1949 Mexico
*The Window 1949 US
*Whirlpool 1949 US
*Armored Car Robbery 1950 US
*Gambling House 1950 US
*Gun Crazy 1950 US
*Manèges 1950 France
*No Man of Her Own 1950 US
*No Way Out 1950 US
*Panic In the Streets 1950 US
*Side Street 1950 US
*Tension 1950 US
*The File On Thelma Jordan 1950 US
*The Killer That Stalked New York 1950 US
*The Second Woman 1950 US
*The Tattooed Stranger 1950 US
*Union Station 1950 US
*Walk Softly, Stranger 1950 US
*Where Danger Lives 1950 US
*Where the Sidewalk Ends 1950 US
*Woman on the Run 1950 US
*Young Man with a Horn 1950 US
*Detective Story 1951 US
*He Ran All the Way 1951 US
His Kind of Woman 1951 US
*I Can Get It for You Wholesale 1951 US
*I was a Communist for the FBI 1951 US
*Roadblock 1951 US
*The Big Night 1951 US
*The Well 1951 US
*Tomorrow Is Another Day 1951 US
*Angel Face 1952 US
Kansas City Confidential 1952 US
*Scandal Sheet 1952 US
*The Narrow Margin 1952 US
*The Sniper 1952 US
*The Thief 1952 US
*99 River Street 1953 US
*Pickup On South Street 1953 US
Split Second 1953 US
*The Blue Gardenia 1953 US
*The Glass Wall 1953 US
*The Hitch-Hiker 1953 US
*Human Desire 1954 US
*Pushover 1954 US
*The Good Die Young 1954 UK
Touchez pas au Grisbi 1954 France
*Witness to Murder 1954 US
*The Burglar 1955 US
*World For Ransom 1955 US
Bob le Flambeur 1956 France
*The Phenix City Story 1955 US
*Patterns 1956 US
People of No Importance (aka ‘Gens san Importance’) 1956 France
*Ubiytsy (‘The Killers’) 1956 USSR
The Wrong Man 1956 US
*The Killing 1956 US
*Voici le temps des assassin (aka ‘Deadlier Than the Male’) 1956 France
While the City Sleeps 1956 US
*Elevator to the Gallows 1958 France
*Endless Desire 1958 Japan
*Tread Softly Stranger 1958 UK
Underworld Beauty (aka ‘Ankokugai no bijo’) 1958 Japan
*The Crimson Kimono 1959 US
*Deux hommes dans Manhattan (aka ‘Two Men in Manhattan’) 1959 France
The Bad Sleep Well (aka ‘Warui yatsu hodo yoku nemuru’) 1960 Japan
Shoot the Piano Player 1960 France
Blast of Silence 1961 US
*Le Doulos 1962 France
*The Trial 1962 France
*High and Low (aka Tengoku to jigok) 1963 Japan
*The Naked Kiss 1964 US
*Memento 2000 US

95 thoughts on “Essential Films Noir”

  1. Great list in some aspects, i got some tips of films i’ve never heard of, but leaving out a iconic title like “Murder By Contract” is a big no.

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  2. Typed in ‘Film Noir List” in Bing and found this site. Wonderful list of movies and enjoy reading the little blurbs for your top 25. Any movies from the last 10 years you believe are essential viewing?

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    1. Hi Ray. My focus is the classic noir period to the early 60s. And there are many gaps here even with that limitation.

      Most recently I have been impressed with television productions with noir inflections: the first season of True Detective, Mr Robot, Wormwood, and The Sinner.

      Like

  3. Not a mention or a comment on Dick Powell and Rhonda Fleming in “Cry Danger” from 1951. Robert Parrish did a fine job directing in some fabulous L.A. locations… my favorite second tier favorite, and William Conrad is notable. Don’t overlook this gem.

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  4. Tony–

    Speaking of William Conrad, have you seen, and do you have an opinion on the film he directed called Brainstorm? I’ve seen it cited as one the of the last noir films.

    Thanks!

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  5. Double Indemnity and Out of the Past are true noirs and, to me, the best of the genre (I haven’t seen them all). Moving Key Largo to the 2nd tier is a mistake although it misses some of the finer noir elements. Chinatown? Anything in color is not film noir!

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  6. What The Scavengers didn’t make it onto list?Cromwell director. Great night time Hong Kong .Carol Ohmart’s spaced out junkie reason enough to include on list.

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  7. Awesome list(s). I agree with 85% of your rankings. I’m particularly thrilled that you seem to revere Act of Violence the way it should be. I’ve come to see it as perhaps the greatest film noir against all criteria – its only competition is The Killers (I’ve seen 650 noirs from the classic era.) Anyway, we all love lists, so without invitation, here are my top 20 noirs in alpha order:

    Act of Violence
    The Big Combo
    Born to Kill
    The Breaking Point
    Criss Cross
    Cry of the City
    Les Diaboliques
    Edge of Doom
    The Killers
    Moonrise
    Night of the Hunter
    Notorious
    Odd Man Out
    Port of Shadows
    The Prowler
    Raw Deal
    Rififi
    The Set-Up
    Sunset Boulevard
    Touchez Pas au Grisbi

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  8. Unbelievably great list. As a somewhat new fan to noir, many here I have not seen and developing a list. Having read the comments it seems you have at one time or another reviewed most of these films. Would be a great add to the value of this list if you linked those reviews with the title to allow more in depth research. Ahhh, but also a lot of work. Maybe this could be something you could hand off to your intern!

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  9. Hi Greg. Thanks for the feedback. You are right. Adding the links is on my to-do list, but finding the time and the inclination is the problem. I will get round to it. Thanks for your patience. Best Tony.

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  10. Hi Tony and everyone! Well after several years off I’ve dived deeply once again into the dark waters of noir. I watched My Name is Julia Ross recently which I can heartily recommend. Also, the new Criterion reissue of Detour is absolutely stunning! The restoration work they did on is truly jaw dropping. I believe with this definitive reissue, Detour can finally truly take its rightful place amongst the giants of the genre. Like a car crash, you just can’t look away from the film. Another recent Criterion release is Panique – terrific film. Over the weekend I decided to embark on a loosely chronological Noir journey, starting with Maltese Falcon and I Wake Up Screaming, both fabulous. Next up: The Glass Key. Cheers!

    Like

    1. Hi Lee. Great to hear from you. Looks like you are really getting back into it with a big splash!

      Seeing you enjoyed PANIQUE I recommend director Duvivier’s UN JOLI PETITE PLAGE – https://filmsnoir.net/film_noir/une-si-jolie-petite-plage-france-1949-iron-in-the-soul.html/ – and the luminous Viviane Romance in Abel Gance’s BLIND VENUS – https://anothercinemablog.blogspot.com/2013/07/blind-venus-1941-venus-aveugle-vive-la.html.

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  11. Thank you Tony, was glad to see the site is still active. I will check out those recommendations as I enjoyed both Duvivier’s direction and Viviane Romance’s performance – she really is luminous and really kept me off balance at first as to who she was playing for a fool and who she was loyal to. I love the old French poetic realism films that were a precursor to noir such as Port of Shadows and Le bete Humaine. Panique being from 1947 is obviously more of a Noir/neorealist kind of film but still pretty damn great.

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  12. Your list is great and I am learning a lot from it! Thank you. I notice there is one Mexican film on the list — Salón México. I like this film, and it is clearly noir influenced, but it is not my favorite Mexican noir. Several films by director Roberto Gavaldón from the 1940s and early 1950s are worth a view. These include La otra (usually translated as The Other One), En la palma de tu mano (usually translated as In the Palm of Your Hand), and La noche avanza (usually translated as Night Falls). I enjoy all of these films, but my favorite is La otra. Another Gavaldón noir from this era is La diosa arrodillada (usually translated as The Kneeling Goddess). This last one is consistently praised, but I do not like it very much, in part, I think, because I have never seen a really good print of it. Again, thanks for your list and reviews and thanks for engaging so many interested noir fans with your comments.

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    1. Thanks Eric for your feedback and the very helpful info on Mexican films noir.

      My listing is not definitive and the reason Salón México is the only Mexican film in the list is that I have not seen any others as yet.

      Btw I recently read about the recent Gavaldón retrospective film series at the Museum of Modern Art, New York in the New York Review.

      Your list and the New York Review article have definitely piqued my interest in seeking out more Mexican films noir.

      The following are links to the the MOMA series program and the NYR article:

      https://www.nybooks.com/daily/2019/04/27/roberto-gavaldon-mexicos-auteur-of-noir/

      https://www.moma.org/calendar/film/5053?locale=en

      Thanks for again for your visit!

      Tony

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  13. I want to personally thank you for including many of the classics of French language Film Noir on your list. To read the other lists out there, you wouldn’t know that Film Noir had been made in any language other than English. In my opinion, Rififi belongs on any Film Noir “must see” list.

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    1. Thanks EK. Yes there definitely needs to be more awareness of the French film noir canon. I agree on Rififi. Also I think a post listing French noirs is in order – it will not be definitive as my exposure is limited. Perhaps you can suggest titles? Tony

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