Category Archives: Noir

The Suspect (1944)

This gaslight noir tells the story of a likable if fairly passive accountant (Philip Marshall, played by Charles Laughton) married to an absolute harridan, who finally snaps and commits murders. Remarried to a charming and age-inappropriate friend (Ella Raines), Marshall seems to be having a stroke of good fortune until an irritatingly persistent Scotland Yard detective begins a campaign of low-grade harassment. When the sinister, wife-beating drunk next door (Henry Daniell, incidentally one of the best Moriartys in the Sherlock Holmes film canon) attempts to blackmail Marshall, the temptation to snuff out a looming threat and an everyday villain proves too appealing to resist. Featuring an oddly procedural reconstruction of the first crime The Suspect is fundamentally noir in its sensibility even if, in the end, the Production Code ensures our sympathies are frustrated.

Impact (1949)

Brian Donlevy stars as Walter Williams, a successful businessman whose faithless wife (Helen Walker) sets him up to be murdered by her sleazebag lover. Bludgeoned unconscious and left for dead, Walter catches a ride in a moving van and discovers that his assailant was killed in an accident immediately afterward. Finding a body burned beyond recognition, the authorities initially conclude that the dead man is Walter, who pauses awhile in a small town in Idaho, working as a mechanic and meeting a local girl (Ella Raines). When his wife is charged with murder he returns to his old life only to experience a sudden reversal. Charles Coburn– whose screen persona is a thousand times more appealing than his real-life political convictions– plays the Irish-American detective on the verge of retirement whose instincts and energy help solve the riddle.

Story of a Love Affair (1950)

In the absence of action or dynamic camerawork a film often depends on dialog to engage its audience. Unfortunately, a combination of tinnitus-inducing sound quality and often near-invisible subtitles render Michaelangelo Antonioni’s adaption of James M. Cain’s seminal hard-boiled novel The Postman Always Rings Twice extremely hard to watch without becoming a bit impatient. If you’re interested in Italian versions of that story it might be best to go with Visconti’s Ossessione.

Four Ways Out (1951)

This exceedingly Italian noir begins with a soccer stadium robbery before following four thieves who’ve scattered to escape the police. Both deterministic and humanistic, Federico Fellini’s (et al) script not only addresses some of the social forces leading to crime– above all, poverty– but guarantees that none of the titular four ways out actually leads to a successful exit. Gina Lollabrigida receives top billing but it’s Cosetta Greco who does most of the heavy lifting as Lina, a resourceful young mother whose husband Luigi is clearly out of his depth.

Drunken Angel (1948)

An alcoholic doctor (Takashi Shimura) treats a young yakuza for tuberculosis only to see him stumble back into his old life. A very rakish Toshiro Mifune plays the doomed Matsungana, whose weakening health makes him vulnerable to his former criminal associates. Abandoned by his glamorous girlfriend, set up by his boss, his death ultimately serves little purpose. Takashi’s Dr. Sanada, the drunken angel of the title, is a curious figure, irascible, unsentimental but not callous, and pretty much disgusted with the yakuza hoods who run the show, calling them a relic of the feudal mentality. There’s a bit of art house in this movie, as with Matsugana’s fever dreams or his epic fight with the reptilian Okada. This is a fantastic early-ish film by Kurosawa.

Rolling Thunder (1977)

Operation Rolling Thunder was an almost four year bombing campaign by the United States that killed hundreds of thousands of people, rendered parts of Vietnam uninhabitable, and scattered unexploded ordinance across the country. It was probably a war crime.

John Flynn’s 1977 neo-noir– scripted by Paul Schrader– presumably takes its title from that long series of events. Its protagonist, Maj. Charles Rane (William Devane) is an Air Force pilot who was a POW for 7 years and has returned home to San Antonio, Texas. He was tortured during his captivity, his wife wants to divorce him so she can remarry one of their old friends, and his son has no idea who he is. The relative equanimity with which he responds to these developments initially seems admirable, but it soon becomes apparent that part of him is missing. As he works to adjust to his new situation he is maimed and his family is killed during a home invasion. It’s pretty clear where things are headed.

There’s so much to recommend this movie, but of particular note is an impressive performance of Linda Haynes who brings a carefully calibrated sense of authenticity to her role as Linda Forchet.

The Naked Kiss (1964)

Constance Towers slaps her way through this strange melange of pulp and sentiment as Kelly, a prostitute on the run who moves to a small town and goes straight. Director Sam Fuller’s tabloid visual style complements an often bizarre story, one that includes a “stable” of “bon bon girls,” a maudlin singalong with “crippled” children, and a dressmaker’s dummy named Charlie. Worth watching if only for the first three minutes. Here’s the whole film:

Panique (1946)

Julien Duvivier’s adaptation of a Georges Simenon novel bears some resemblance to another film released just three years earlier: Clouzot’s Le Corbeau. Both stories involve unjust accusations leading to a violent end. Panique, it seems, was Intended as a commentary on those who collaborated with the occupying German authorities. Michel Simon plays Desire Hire, a wounded eccentric and amateur photographer fascinated by crime and vice. When a woman is killed her murderer sets out to frame Hire, stoking the antipathy of the locals. Palmistry and astrology lend a faint otherworldliness to the scene. Former Moulin Rouge dancer Viviane Romance plays Alice, a woman recently returned from prison, whose boyfriend exploits her affection for his own ends. Strikingly, the rest of the characters prove just as eccentric– though certainly not as noble– as Hire.

Any Number Can Win (1963)

Jean Gabin and the handsomest man in cinema, Alain Delon, star in this heist flick set in Cannes. Aging crook Charles (Gabin) gets out of prison and immediately begins plotting One Last Job. The proposition: robbing a casino with his former cell mate, the much younger and less experienced Francis (Delon). The plan involves Francis establishing himself as a playboy and dating one of the resort’s floorshow dancers in order to gain access to the backstage area. Half the fun is getting there, but the almost sensually suspenseful denouement is a surprise.

El Vampiro Negro (1953)

This Argentine adaptation of M directed by Roman Barreto is a beautiful film. Amalia (Olga Zubarry), a single mother working in a low-rent cabaret, sees the Black Vampire, a serial child-murderer, throwing a body into the sewer. Told by her drug-dealing boss to stay quiet lest people learn of her sleazy profession, it’s ultimately her own daughter who is threatened. Self-consciously Freudian, dipping into the impoverished underworld, and featuring a memorable roller coaster ride involving the killer and one of his intended victims, El Vampiro Negro is a stylish and compelling noir.