Ten ‘US Film Noirs’ for the upcoming holidays


A suggestion for the upcoming holidays

The Maltese Falcon (1941) / USA / 101 minutes / bw / Warner Bros Dir: John Houston Pro: Hal B. Wallis (executive) Scr: John Houston Story: based on The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett Cine: Arthur Edeson Mus: Adolph Deutsch Cast: Humphrey Bogart (Sam Spade), Mary Astor (Brigid O’Shaughnessy), Gladys George (Iva Archer), Peter Lorre (Joel Cairo), Barton MacLane (Lt. Dundy), Lee Patrick (Effie Perine), Sydney Greenstreet (Kasper Gutman), Ward Bond (Detective Tom Polhaus), Jerome Cowan (Miles Archer), Elisha Cook, Jr. (Wilmer Cook), James Burke (Luke), Murray Alper (Frank Richman), John Hamilton (Bryan) Release Date: 3 October 1941 (USA) Summary Plot: At the Spade and Archer detective agency in San Francisco, Samuel Spade is interviewed by the beautiful Miss Wonderly, who wishes to hire him to find her runaway sister. Sam’s partner, Miles Archer, agrees to be present when Wonderly meets Floyd Thursby, her sister’s seducer, and then follow him to his hotel in hopes of finding the missing girl. Later that night, Sam learns that Miles has been shot. He calls Wonderly and learns that she has checked out of her hotel. Then Thursby is found with four bullet holes in his back and Sam is visited by Lt. Dundy and Detective Tom Polhaus, two policemen, who suspect him of murdering Thursby out of revenge for Miles’s death. The following morning, Wonderly summons Sam to her new address, where she confesses that her real name is Brigid O’Shaughnessy and that the story she related the day before was completely false. Despite his doubts that she has told him the whole truth, Sam accepts her as his client. (Read the full summary at American Film Institute here. IMDb rating: 8.2

Double Indemnity (1944) / USA / 107 minutes / bw / Paramount Pictures Dir: Billy Wilder Pro: Buddy DeSylva and Joseph Sistrom Scr: Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler Story: based on a novel by James M. Cain Cine: John F. Seitz Mus: Miklos Rozsa Cast: Fred MacMurray (Walter Neff), Barbara Stanwyck (Phyllis Dietrichson), Edward G. Robinson (Barton Keyes), Jean Heather (Lola Dietrichson), Tom Powers (Mr. Dietrichson), Byron Barr (Nino Zachette), Porter Hall (Mr. Jackson) Release Date: 6 September 1944 (USA) Summary Plot: On a dark Los Angeles night in July 1938, insurance agent Walter Neff is bleeding from a gunshot wound and slips into his office at the Pacific All Risk Insurance Co. Walter records his murder confession on the Dictaphone, addressing his boss and friend, Barton Keyes, a meticulous and intuitive claims agent. Walter thinks back to May when it all started. (Read the full summary at American Film Institute here. IMDb rating: 8.4

Laura (1944) / USA / 88 minutes / bw / Twentieth Century Fox / Dir: Otto Preminger Pro: Otto Preminger Scr: Jay Dratler, Samuel Hoffenstein, and Betty Reinhardt Story: based on a novel by Vera Caspary Cine: Joseph La Shelle Mus: David Raksin Cast: Gene Tierney (Laura Hunt), Dana Andrews (Mark McPherson), Clifton Webb (Waldo Lydecker), Vincent Price (Shelby Carpenter), Judith Anderson (Ann Treadwell) Release Date: 11 October 1944 (USA) Summary Plot: While investigating the brutal murder of Laura Hunt, New York police lieutenant Mark McPherson calls on erudite columnist Waldo Lydecker, a close friend of the dead woman. Waldo knows of Mark from his heroic battles with gangsters, and Mark points out that Waldo once wrote a story about a murder committed with a shotgun loaded with buckshot–the very way that Laura was killed. Claiming to be intrigued by crime, Waldo asks to accompany Mark on his investigation, and the two men call on Laura’s aunt, the wealthy Ann Treadwell. Mark inquires about Ann’s relationship with Laura’s fiancé, Shelby Carpenter, citing evidence that she has been giving him money. Just then, Shelby, a charming Southerner, arrives and says that he and Laura were to have been married that week, but Waldo insists that when Laura canceled their dinner date on the night of the murder, she had not yet decided whether to go through with the wedding (Read full summary at American Film Institute here) IMDb rating: 8.1

Detour (1945) / USA / 68 minutes / bw / Producers Releasing Corporation, PRC /Dir: Edgar G. Ulmer Pro: Leon Fromkess and Martin Mooney (associate) Scr: Martin Goldsmith Story: based on the 1939 novel Detour: An Extraordinary Tale by Martin Goldsmith Cine: Benjamin H. Kline Mus: Erdody Cast: Tom Neal (Al Roberts), Ann Savage (Vera), Claudia Drake (Sue), Edmund MacDonald (Charles Haskell), Tim Ryan (Diner Proprietor), Esther Howard (Waitress) Release Date: 30 November 1945 (USA) Summary Plot: Al Roberts becomes extremely upset when a customer in the diner where he is having a cup of coffee plays a song that reminds him of his past: In New York, Al, a piano player in a nightclub, is in love with singer Sue Harvey. Al wants to marry Sue, but although she loves him, Sue declares that she intends to seek fame in Hollywood first. Some time later, Al is given a large tip and calls Sue in California. Learning that she is working as a waitress, he impulsively decides to hitchhike west to join her. In Arizona, a man named Charles Haskell offers him a ride to Los Angeles. When Al notices deep scratches on Haskell’s hand, Haskell explains that a woman to whom he had given a ride scratched him after he made a sexual advance. That night, while Al is driving, it starts to rain. Al is unable to rouse the sleeping Haskell and stops to raise the top on the convertible. When Al opens the passenger-side door, Haskell falls out and hits his head. Convinced that he will be blamed for Haskell’s death, Al hides the body and steals his money and identification. (Read full summary at American Film Institute here) IMDb Rating: 7.5

The Killers (1946) / USA / 97 minutes/ bw / Universal Pictures Dir: Robert Siodmak Pro: Mark Hellinger Scr: Anthony Veiller Story: taken from a short story by Ernest Hemingway Cine: Woody Bredell Mus: Miklos Rozsa Cast: Burt Lancaster (Swede), Ava Gardner (Kitty Collins), Edmond O’Brien (Riordan), Albert Dekker (Colfax), Sam Levene (Lubinsky), Jack Lambert (Dum Dum), John Miljan (Jake), Charles McGraw (Al), William Conrad (Max). Release Date: 28 August 1946 (USA) Summary Plot: Two hitmen, Al and Max, drive into Brentwood, New Jersey, in search of Pete “Swede” Lund, and stake out a diner he frequents, questioning, among others, customer Nick Adams about Swede’s whereabouts. After the men leave, Nick races to Swede’s boardinghouse room to warn him and is stunned when Swede seems resigned to his fate. Shortly after Nick’s departure, Al and Max find Swede waiting in his room and shoot him to death. When it is discovered Swede had a small life insurance policy with Atlantic Casual, insurance investigator James Riordan begins investigating his murder. (Read full summary at American Film Institute here) IMDb: 7.9

The Big Sleep (1946) / USA / 116 minutes / bw / Warner Bros Dir: Howard Hawks Pr: Howard Hawks Scr: William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett, and Jules Furthman Story: based on the 1939 novel The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler Cine: Sid Hickox Mus: Max Steiner Cast: Humphrey Bogart (Philip Marlowe), Lauren Bacall (Vivian Sternwood), John Ridgeley (Eddie Mars), Martha Vickers (Carmen Sternwood), Charles Waldron (General Sternwood), Dorothy Malone (Bookstore Proprietress), Peggy Knudsen (Mona Mars), Regis Toomey (Chief Inspector Bernie Ohls), Elisha Cook Jr. (HarryJones) Summary Plot: Los Angeles private detective Philip Marlowe is summoned to the mansion of General Sternwood, a wealthy, aging invalid with two wild young daughters: the predatory, childish Carmen and the divorced Vivian Rutledge. Sternwood explains that Arthur Gwynne Geiger, a rare book dealer, is demanding payment of Carmen’s gambling debts. Sternwood adds that earlier, a man named Joe Brody made a similar request, which was handled by ex-bootlegger Sean Regan, who has since disappeared. Although Marlowe advises Sternwood to pay the money, he agrees to look into the matter for him. After he leaves the general, Vivian asks to speak with him. She assumes that Sternwood hired Marlowe to look into Regan’s disappearance, but Marlowe reveals nothing. At Geiger’s store, Marlowe questions Agnes, the attendant, about rare books, and her confused response convinces him that the store is a cover for some illegal activity. The attractive bookseller across the street confirms his guess, and Marlowe waits at her shop for Geiger to make an appearance. Marlowe follows Geiger to his house, where, after a while, Carmen arrives. Later, Marlowe hears a scream followed by gunshots. Inside the house, Marlowe discovers a drugged Carmen with Geiger’s dead body. Marlowe also finds a hidden camera with no film in it and a book containing the names of Geiger’s blackmail victims. After Marlowe drives Carmen home, he returns to Geiger’s, but in the meantime, the body has been removed. (Read full summary at American Film Institute here) Release Date: 31 August 1946 (USA) IMDb Rating: 8.1

Out of the Past (1947) /USA / 97 minutes /bw / RKO Radio Pictures Dir: Jacques Tourneur Pro: Warren Duff Scr: Geoffrey Homes Story: based on Geoffrey Homes novel Build My Gallows High Cine: Nicholas Musuraca Mus: Roy Webb Cast: Robert Mitchum (Jeff Bailey/Jeff Markham), Jane Greer (Kathie Moffett), Kirk Douglas (Whit Sterling), Rhonda Fleming (Meta Carson), Richard Webb (Jim), Steve Brodie (Fisher), Virginia Huston (Ann), Paul Valentine (Joe), Dickie Moore (The Kid), Ken Niles (Eels) Summary Plot: In the small town of Bridgeport, California, gas station owner Jeff Bailey is tracked down by Joe Stefanos, a former business associate, who tells him that his boss, Whit Sterling, wants to see him the next morning in nearby Lake Tahoe. After he reluctantly agrees to meet with Whit, Jeff reveals to his trusting girl friend, Ann Miller, his recent past: Three years earlier, while working as a private detective in New York, Jeff, whose real name is Markham, and his partner, Jack Fisher, are hired by gambler Whit to find Whit’s girl friend, Kathie Moffat. According to Whit, Kathie shot him and then disappeared with $40,000 of his money. Assured by Whit that Kathie will not be harmed, Jeff locates her in Acapulco and immediately falls in love with her. Deducing Jeff’s mission, Kathie insists that she did not steal Whit’s money but was only trying to flee his romantic tyranny. Jeff and Kathie soon become lovers and are about to leave Acapulco together when Whit and Joe show up at Jeff’s hotel. Jeff tells Whit that he was unable to find Kathie and offers to quit, but the suspicious gambler demands that he continue the search. That night, Jeff and Kathie board a north-bound steamship and begin a happy life together in San Francisco. Eventually, however, Fisher, who was to receive half of the $10,000 that Whit offered for Kathie’s return, tracks the couple to a remote cabin and threatens Jeff. When the two detectives begin to fight, Kathie calmly shoots Fisher dead and leaves Jeff to bury him. (Read full summary at American Film Institute here) Release Date: 13 November 1947 IMDb Rating: 8.1

In a Lonely Place (1950) / USA / 94 minutes / bw / Santana/Columbia Pictures Dir: Nicholas Ray Pro: Robert Lord Scr: Andrew Solt Story: adapted by Edward H. North from the novel by Dorothy B. Hughes Cine: Burnett Guffey Mus: George Antheil Cast: Humphrey Bogart (Dixon Steele), Gloria Grahame (Laurel Gray), Frank Lovejoy (Brub Nicolai), Carl Benton Reid (Capt. Lochner), Art Smith (Mel Lippman), Jeff Donnell (Sylvia Nicolai), Martha Stewart (Mildred Atkinson), Robert Warwick (Charlie Waterman), Jack Reynolds (Henry Kesler) Summary Plot: Screenwriter Dixon Steele is known for his belligerent temper, especially when drinking. This, coupled with his refusal to work on material he dislikes, has kept Dix unemployed for a long time. After meeting his agent, Mel Lippman, at Paul’s Restaurant to discuss a possible project, Dix invites Mildred Atkinson, the hat check girl, to his apartment to tell him the plot of the novel he may be assigned to adapt. Mildred dutifully relates the story, and Dix pays her and sends her off to a taxi stand. Early the next morning, Brub Nicolai, a policeman and Dix’s former army buddy, takes Dix to the police station, where he learns that Mildred has been brutally murdered. (Read full summary at American Film Institute here) Release Date: 17 May 1950 IMDb Rating: 8.0

Kiss Me Deadly (1955) / USA / 106 minutes / bw / Parklane Pictures/United Artists Dir: Robert Aldrich Pro: Robert Aldrich Scr: A. I. Bezzerides Story: based on the novel by Mickey Spillane Cine: Ernest Laszlo Mus: Frank DeVol Cast: Ralph Meeker (Mike Hammer), Albert Dekker (Dr. Soberin), Paul Stewart (Carl Evello), Maxine Cooper (Velda), Gaby Rogers (Gabrielle/Lily Carver), Wesley Addy (Pat), Nick Dennis (Nick), Cloris Leachman (Christina) Summary Plot: One night, private detective Mike Hammer is driving home to Los Angeles when he is stopped by a woman standing in the highway. Although Mike upbraids the woman, he gives her a ride. As they drive, the panicked woman, who is wearing only a trenchcoat, asks Mike to drop her at the nearest bus stop. Before Mike can learn more, they are stopped at a roadblock, and the police reveal that they are looking for a woman who escaped from a nearby sanitarium. After Mike bluffs his way past the officer, the woman, named Christina, admits that she is the escapee, but insists that she was being held prisoner at the sanitarium. When they stop at a gas station, Christina gives the attendant a letter to mail and looks relieved. Mike is intrigued by Christina’s demeanor and her plea to remember her if anything should happen. Just then, a car blocks their way and Mike is knocked unconscious by the occupants. When Mike awakens, he hears Christina scream as she is being tortured, but because he is lying face-down, he cannot identify his captors, although he does notice that one wears a distinctive pair of shoes. (Read full summary at American Film Institute here) Release Date: 18 May 1955 IMDb Rating: 7.7

Touch of Evil (1958) / USA / 112 minutes (restored version) / Universal Pictures Dir: Orson Welles Pro: Albert Zugsmith Scr: Orson Welles Story: from the novel Badge of Evil by Whit Masterson Cine: Russell Metty Mus: Henry Mancini Cast: Charlton Heston (Ramon “Mike” Vargas), Janet Leigh (Susan Vargas), Orson Welles (Hank Quinlan), Joseph Calleia (Pete Menzies), Akim Tamiroff (Uncle Joe Grandi), Marlene Dietrich (Tanya), Mercedes McCambridge (Hoodlum), Zsa Zsa Gabor (Owner of Nightclub), Ray Collins (Adair), Dennis Weaver (Motel Manager) Summary Plot: While passing through the seedy border town of Los Robles, newlyweds Mike and Susan Vargas witness a car bomb explosion in which Rudy Linnekar, a local construction magnate, and his female companion are killed. Suspecting that the bomb was planted on the Mexican side of the border and may be the work of the Grandi narcotics ring, Vargas, the Mexican head of the Pan-American Narcotics Commission, offers his assistance to the Los Robles officials investigating the case. The lead detective, the obese and lumbering Capt. Hank Quinlan, rudely rebuffs Vargas’ offer and makes subtly racist remarks. However, Quinlan’s partner, the loyal Sgt. Pete Menzies, and Adair, a district attorney, apologize for Quinlan’s behavior and invite Vargas to observe their investigation because of his status as a highly placed Mexican government official. In the meantime, a group of young Mexican men working for “Uncle” Joe Grandi, a small-time crime boss with a bad toupee, bring Susan, an American, to Grandi’s headquarters in a sleazy hotel. Grandi warns Susan of dire consequences if her husband continues his prosecution of Grandi’s brother, an imprisoned drug dealer awaiting trial in Mexico, but Susan, unimpressed, insults Grandi by calling him a “lop-sided Little Caesar.” While investigating the case on the Mexican side of the border, Quinlan visits the tawdry brothel run by Tana, a former lover, and the place fills him with nostalgic yearnings. Tana, who at first does not recognize him, looks upon Quinlan with pity and suggests that he “lay off the candy bars” which he has substituted for liquor since going on the wagon several years before. Upon learning of Susan’s encounter with Grandi, Vargas decides that she will be safer stashed in a motel on the American side of town while he continues working on the Linnekar case. (Read full summary at American Film Institute here) Release Date: 21 May 1958 IMDb rating: 8.2

I know I’m missing some other great films such as Gaslight (1944), Murder, My Sweet (1944), Mildred Pierce (1945), Spellbound (1945), Leave Her to Heaven (1945), Notorious (1946), Gilda (1946), The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), The Stranger (1946), The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946), Dark Passage (1947), The Lady from Shanghai (1947), Key Largo (1948), Force of Evil (1948), White Heat (1949), The Asphalt Jungle (1950), Sunset Boulevard (1950), Ace in the Hole (1951), Strangers on a Train (1951), The Big Heat (1953), The Night of the Hunter (1955), The Killing (1956). They can all be included in any list of favourites, not to mention the European films that I’ll leave for another blog entry. Your suggestions are welcome.

3 thoughts on “Ten ‘US Film Noirs’ for the upcoming holidays

  1. A good, solid list. A few others to add to your final paragraph might be The Big Combo, D.O.A., This Gun for Hire, Gun Crazy, Too Late for Tears, Crossfire, possibly even The Blue Dahlia . . . There are so many good ones, really, that I’m sure I’m missing lots of the best!

  2. Thanks very much for your input John. I realised as soon as I posted I was missing This Gun for Hire and The Blue Daliah must admit I had noy think much about the rest of the films in your comment. I’ll take a look at them.

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