1.a style or genre of cinematographic film marked by a mood of pessimism, fatalism, and menace. The term was originally applied (by a group of French critics) to American thriller or detective films made in the period 1944–54 and to the work of directors such as Orson Welles, Fritz Lang, and Billy Wilder.
Who doesn’t enjoy a film noir every once I a while? I know I do. Very much. But it was not always so. I did not come to really appreciate the methodology, relevance and unique attributes that permeate this amazing and shadowy genre until the late 1980’s.
That was when I started to seek out and purchase classic black and white thrillers on VHS then graduated, eventually, to Laser-discs when I purchased “The Maltese Falcon” from director John Huston. After watching that film my interest and respect for noir was solidified forever. Since then I have watched and re-visited many noir titles from different film directors who all had different but singular visions.
Noir has been know to come in many forms and incarnations, but ultimately, despite the approach, the films consists of some of the same lasting qualifications and they seem to follow some rules and “hard boiled” conventions and characteristics: Femme fatales, isolation, stark angles, the night, crime, deception, light and shadow, mysterious women, stalwart men, fog, private eyes, distortions, evil henchmen and so on and so on. These are all pretty much in your basic noir classic.
I have gathered here some noir films that, over the years, I have come to really love and watch often or whenever I can. Some titles I have not seen in some time but they have left a considerable impression. I hope you enjoy the Top 10 and please let me know which are some of your favorite noir classics! Thanks and on to the list!
Vic’s Top 10: Noir Films
10 – The Big Heat (1953)
Directed by Fritz Lang
Tough cop Dave Bannion takes on a politically powerful crime syndicate.
9 – The Asphalt Jungle (1950)
A major heist goes off as planned, until bad luck and double crosses cause everything to unravel.
8 – Touch of Evil (1958)
A stark, perverse story of murder, kidnapping, and police corruption in a Mexican border town.
7 – They Live by Night (1948)
An escaped convict is injured and is helped by a woman with whom he has an ill-fated relationship.
6 – (Tie) Suspicion (1941) and Notorious (1946)
A woman is asked to spy on a group of Nazi friends in South America. How far will she have to go to ingratiate herself with them?
5 – Double Indemnity (1944)
An insurance rep lets himself be talked into a murder/insurance fraud scheme that arouses an insurance investigator’s suspicions.
4 – The Big Sleep (1946)
Private detective Philip Marlowe is hired by a rich family. Before the complex case is over, he’s seen murder, blackmail, and what might be love.
3 – Chinatown (1974)
A private detective hired to expose an adulterer finds himself caught up in a web of deceit, corruption and murder.
2 – The Maltese Falcon (1941)
A private detective takes on a case that involves him with three eccentric criminals, a gorgeous liar, and their quest for a priceless statuette.
1 – (Tie) The Third Man (1949) and Citizen Kane (1941)
Directed by Carol Reed and Orson Welles
Pulp novelist Holly Martins travels to shadowy, postwar Vienna, only to find himself investigating the mysterious death of an old friend, black-market opportunist Harry Lime. Following the death of a publishing tycoon, news reporters scramble to discover the meaning of his final utterance.
Honorable Mentions –
Blood Simple, The Killing, In a Lonely Place, Out of the Past , The Wrong Man, Strangers on a Train , The Lost Weekend , White Heat , Blade Runner , Odd Man Out / Murder my Sweet, Dark Passage, Vertigo
Let’s not forget: “Sunset Boulevard” from Billy Wilder! (Thanks to Bill from Crash Palace Productions)
Enjoy some selected Noir trailers below!