I was more or less raised on the genre of film noir, having been introduced to it by my older brother when I was very young. The black and white graininess of the films, the stark sets, the clipped, direct conversations, and the often lush music that accompanied them…all of it appealed to me.
The most noted noir actors include Zachery Scott, Humphrey Bogart, Robert Mitchum, Dana Andrews, Richard Widmark and Robert Ryan. Robert Young, often thought of as Jim Anderson of Father Knows Best or as Dr. Marcus Welby, is featured in what is probably his only role as a heavy in the noir film, They Won’t Believe Me.
And let us not forget the women! There were always enough dames on hand to mess up a good man’s life. Though many viewers are familiar with the more popular actresses of the era such as Joan Crawford, Barbara Stanwyk, and Lana Turner, actresses such as Jane Greer, Janis Carter, Ida Lupino (one of cinema’s earliest female directors), and Gloria Grahame heated up many a film with their rouged lips, stiletto heels, and perfume that pretty much wafted off the screen.
I consider there having been two types of noir films: the hardboiled (lots of police sirens, prize-fighters, people who lived on the seedy side of life, and nightclub singers named Ruby) and the more personal stories, ones that often dealt with psychotic women and the men who made them that way. Truthfully, I’m more partial to the latter.
Some of these movies show up on Turner Classic Movies (TCM), some do not and can only be purchased online, viewed at a retro theater, or rented at a video store specializing in old films. (EDDIE BRANDT'S SATURDAY MATINEE is a phenomenal, family owned video store here in L.A. that carries virtually everything).
For those unfamiliar with the genre who would like an introduction to some great films, I’ll share a dozen of my favorites. Some might not be technically considered noir, but are not to be missed films none the less. They are, in no particular order:
1. LAURA (1944) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0037008/ - David Raksin’s haunting theme competes only with the beauty of its star, Gene Tierney.
2. THE TWO MRS. CARROLLS (1947) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0039926/ - A great, ‘had she but known’ story, starring Barbara Stanwyk, Humphrey Bogart and Alexis Smith.
3. THE LOCKET (1946) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0038700/ - Probably has the distinction of having the most flashbacks within flashbacks.
4. THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (1946) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0038854/ - See the original, starring a rugged John Garfield and a sizzling Lana Turner.
5. DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0036775/ - Featuring Fred Macmurray in a role very much unlike the one he played in My Three Sons.
6. MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS (1944) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0037932/ - A hidden, often overlooked, gem starring Nina Foch and Dame May Whitty.
7. THE STRANGE LOVE OF MARTHA IVERS (1946) - Brilliant performances by Barbara Stanwyk, Van Heflin, and Kirk Douglas (who plays a weak politician to perfection).
8. THE BIG CLOCK (1948) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0040160/ - A terrific cat & mouse thriller with Charles Laughton as the cat and Ray Milland as the mouse.
9. MILDRED PIERCE (1945) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0037913/ - Joan Crawford at the top of her game as she plays a mother willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of her ungrateful daughter.
10. THE MALTESE FALCON (1941) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0033870/ - In one of his most memorable performances, Humphrey Bogart stars as Det. Sam Spade in this classic mystery based on the novel by Dashiell Hammett.
11. D.O.A. (1950) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0042369/ - Again, go for the original, starring Edmund O’Brien.
12. NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0048424/ - The only movie ever to be directed by Charles Laughton, very eerie; my all time favorite.
There are many ‘neo-noir’ movies, recent films that have managed to capture that old time feeling; I’ll save that discussion for a future posting. Now is the time to put on an old fedora, pour yourself a double scotch, and curl up with one of the above mentioned films --- an evening well spent.
Have a great weekend and thank you for joining me on this week’s journey along,
RHODES LESS TRAVELED,