There's something about that film noir genre. Does any other genre represent a period of time in American so gone and forgotten like the noir does? Arguably, no. Sure, they weren't 100% authentic recreations of life during the 1930s and 40s, but believe you me, people did dress like that.
During the golden age of Hollywood, film noir and its variants were produced constantly, a dime a dozen you might say. This lead to a supreme collection of top notch masterpieces, a healthy dosing of good but not great titles and plenty of B-level noir stories that have been forgotten over time. Oh, and we can't forget the mucky waters full of failures that exists as well.
The vast amount of films in the genre is why film noir aficionados never pass up a good hard boiled tale of gangsters or two naive lovers dragged into the morality-twisting areas of crime. There is so much in the vault that even beginning to get into the genre can be daunting. Once a interested fan watches a few of the classics (Double Indemnity, Sunset Blvd., The Maltese Falcon, Out of the Past, Touch of Evil etc.) it could be troubling to decide where to go next.
Since the film noir has been one of my favorite genres since I got into film five summers ago, I have seen my fair share of titles. Not enough to call myself a master of the genre, but enough to highly recommend a few excellent titles not always mentioned among the heavyweight titles of the genre.
And thus, in no particular order, here are five film noir with enough most definitely worth checking out.
Kiss of Death
Kiss of Death is the film that features the first role of the great late Richard Widmark. Widmark plays tough and talkative gangster Tommy Udo, who I consider to be one of the most villainous characters, not only in film noir history, but the history of cinema. And this isn't just because of how well and evil Udo was written, but because of how impressive Widmark performs as him. This is certainly one of the most remarkable acting debuts I've ever laid eyes on. Widmark went on to star in many more film noirs before turning to the western genre, among others. Kiss of Death has more value than one simple character. It's intense, dark and visually laden. For a taste of what Tommy Udo and Kiss of Death has to offer, check out the compilation of clips below.
Detour is the classic film noir from Edgar G. Ulmer that doesn't quite get all the attention it so rightfully deserves to receive. This is a haunting film noir that moves at the speed of light thanks to a shorter running time than most other titles (it clocks in at 67 minutes). Regardless, Detour strives to be one of the greatest and it succeeds. Tom Neal plays the classic noir character. A guy so decent that watching him dig himself deeper and deeper into trouble is almost cringe-worthy. These are the characters that separates most noir from the classic crime or gangster films. The moral ambiguity of our hero (or anti-hero) is one of the key components of a film noir, and Detour has lots of it. If you'd like a peek into how Neal's character picks up this film's classic femme fatale played wonderfully by Ann Savage, take a look at the clip attached below.
Blast of Silence
This is not your typical film noir. Some might even disregard it as a noir, but I'd vehemently disagree with that opinion. Blast of Silence was made in 1961 by Allen Baron on a low budget. Baron acted, directed and wrote this film, completely all three of these tasks with the utmost understanding of the genre, achieving what I consider to be one of the greatest films of the genre. I'm sure by now you've put it together in your head that this is the film I have named and themed my blog after. Get ready for some raving. Baron's film is a portrayal of a hitman, back in New York during the Christmas season to complete a task. The film is lead by the rugged voiceover narrative of Lionel Stander, one of the film's most defining film noir qualities. Baron's Frankie Bono character is one of the most brooding and misunderstood to society characters in the genre. Everything from the acting down to the artistic composition is top notch work from Baron. Below is the amazing opening scene from the film which will give you a good idea of the film's mood, Stander's outstanding and memorable narration and Baron's directing eye.
They Live by Night
A film I just discovered last night, They Live by Night tells one of the greatest love stories of the noir genre. It might not be Bonnie & Clyde, but Keechie (Cathy O'Donnell) and Bowie (Farley Granger) give the infamous duo a run for its money. The film begins with text telling the viewer that these two haven't been properly introduced to the world, and it's true and important to the building of the characters. Bowie's father was murdered, his mother left him and he ended up in prison, the place he has just escaped from in the beginning of the film. Keechie is the innocent and naive dame that has never had a fella, until now. The film chronicles their fast-developing relationship and the struggles the two face on the run from the law. The film is directed by Nicholas Ray, one of the smaller names in the business, who never got the credit he deserved. This was his first film he ever directed, with his first shot being from a helicopter. How about that for a piece of trivia?
The Big Combo
What I love most about The Big Combo is its daunting and unrelenting visual style. The film is a claustrophics worst nightmare. Shadows, shadows and more shadows suffocate small, tight locations. Sure, the film has a nice detective/gangster story to it complete with some big genre names such as Cornel Wilde, Richard Conte and Brian Donlevy. All the fixings are here. I'm going to let this low quality video do all the talking for me. You'll get an idea as to why I think this film ranks near the top in terms of stylish film noir.
I do hope these five film noirs I've recommend please your need for morally challenged men in suits. These aren't titles that are secrets to fans, in fact most will have at least heard of them, if not seen them. That said, even the biggest noir fan can find themselves lost in the genre's deep catalog of titles. It ain't hard to miss a winner.