My 10 Favorite Noir Films...of the MomentWritten by Ed Gorman
Dave Zeltserman suggested that I list my ten favorite noir films.
My problem is that my choices vary according to my mood. Right now it’s 8:17 on a Thursday night. Here is the list of the moment, the one several million people have been waiting for. By the way, I’m not saying these are the best in any way. They’re the ones that have most recently given me pleasure.
1. OUT OF THE PAST (1947)
97 min. D: Jacques Tourneur. W: Daniel Mainwaring (writing as Geoffrey Homes), based on the novel Build My Gallows High. S: Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, Kirk Douglas.
The genre at its best and even most elegant. The Mexican scenes, the San Francisco scenes. Jane’s beauty immortal. Mitchum perfect; Douglas as bad guy much more convincing than as good guy.
2. NIGHT AND THE CITY (1950)
101 min. D: Jules Dassin. W: Jo Eisinger, based on the novel by Gerald Kersh. S: Richard Widmark, Gene Tierney, Googie Withers.
I guess I’m partial to films that move away from genre. This is almost mainstream. To me, the relationship between the grotesque club owner and his faithless wife and the one between the great Herbert Lom and his wrestler father make the film.
3. THE THIRD MAN (1949)
100 min. D: Carol Reed. W: Graham Greene. A: Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli, Orson Welles, Trevor Howard.
Perfection. Cotten, Howard, and Welles at their peak and the love story ironically like the bad-boy romance plots of today. Sure, my boyfriend watered down the penicillin and killed a lot of little kids, but nobody’s perfect.
4. KISS ME DEADLY (1955)
105 min. D: Robert Aldrich. W: A.I. Bezzerides, based on the novel by Mickey Spillane. A: Ralph Meeker, Albert Dekker, Paul Stewart.
Since I assume I’m going to hell, I’m glad I’ve seen this numerous times, because I’m certain it’s a precursor of what I’ll find there. The opening scenes put you in a choke hold and Robert Aldrich never lets go.
5. CHINATOWN (1974)
131 min. D: Roman Polanski. W: Robert Towne. S: Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston.
I’m tempted to make this number one just because it’s so damned good. But I don’t feel as close to it personally as I do to some others.
6. GUN CRAZY (1950)
87 min. D: Joseph H. Lewis. W: MacKinlay Kantor and Dalton Trumbo, based on the short story by Kantor. S: Peggy Cummins, John Dall, Berry Kroeger.
I buy every minute of this and if you don’t, just turn on the news. Insane people with guns killing people for compulsions they can never quite explain, even to themselves. Scary.
7. IN A LONELY PLACE (1950)
93 min. D: Nicholas Ray. W: Andrew Solt, based on the story by Dorothy B. Hughes. S: Humphrey Bogart, Gloria Grahame.
For me, Bogie’s best; and I might say the same for Gloria Grahame. A troubling, moving take on alcoholism, self-loathing, and despair.
8. ACT OF VIOLENCE (1948)
82 min. D: Fred Zinnemann. W: Robert L. Richards, based on the story by Collier Young. S: Van Heflin, Robert Ryan, Janet Leigh, Mary Astor.
As Robert Ryan’s number-one fan I’m always moved by this picture, because few actors could have invested the sorrow and grief Ryan brings to the role of Joe Parkson. Van Heflin, as the hero war vet Frank R. Enley, is a great surprise; usually he was workmanlike, here as the tortured public figure, he is riveting. And a young Janet Leigh as his wife was never prettier or more appealing.
9. ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW (1959)
96 min. D: Robert Wise. W: Abraham Polonsky (writing as John O. Killens) and Nelson Gidding, based on the novel by William P. McGivern. S: Harry Belafonte, Robert Ryan, Shelley Winters, Ed Begley.
Ryan as Earke Skater, again at his masterful best, as a bigot who naturally loathes the spiffy Johnny Ingram (Harry Belafonte). Shelly Winters (much underappreciated) is just fine as Ryan’s girlfriend, and even Ed Begley (who, at the time I’d associated with scenery chewing in a slew of bad Tennessee Williams pictures) was just right as the aging cop. There’s a grit and grimness to this movie that few hardboiled films have ever touched.
10. SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS (1957)
96 min. D: Alexander Mackendrick. W: Clifford Odets and Ernest Lehman, based on the novella by Lehman. S: Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis, Susan Harrison.
I first saw this when it came out. I was 14. I went back the next day and saw it again. I’ve probably seen it a dozen times by now. It is perfection, every frame. Proof positive you don’t need guns to be hardboiled.
This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Summer Issue #125.