Noirvember is finally here, and I honestly couldn’t be any more excited for it! In the years past I haven’t really been able to dive in and honor what’s slowly but surely become my favorite classic film genre, but this time around I’m hoping to change all of that. I figured that a top five or ten list of my favorite noirs would be just the thing to write about in keeping with my promise to provide a steady stream of original content throughout the rest of the year, but I soon realized that just about every noir-loving blog will be compiling that very same type of list over the course of the month. While of course I think that’s a great thing, as everyone has his or her own differing opinions about which noir films reign supreme, I think now would be a great time for me to devote some time to the movies that I still haven’t been able to sit down and watch for one reason or another. Though I’m no Czar of Noir like my favorite Turner Classic Movies host Eddie Muller, I’ve seen my fair share of murder dramas and crime thrillers. These ten films, however, are the ones that have frustrated me the most because they’ve managed to evade my eyes, and are from what I understand some of the best noirs that I still haven’t been able to see. Of course there are plenty more where this came from, but I’m making it my own personal goal to watch as many of these particular features as I can before the month is over.
10. Thieves’ Highway (1949)
I could probably list a million reasons why Thieves’ Highway (1949) has intrigued me ever since I first discovered the film, but most of them honestly have to do with Eddie Muller. Ranked number thirteen on his list of the Top 25 Noir Films, he claims that this was the picture that first got him hooked on noir. From what I can tell it’s no surprise as it seems to comprise of an intriguing chain of events starring none other than Richard Conte, an actor who I’ve adored in everything I’ve seen him in from The Blue Gardenia (1944) to his incredible performance on The Twilight Zone in 1959, and Valentina Cortese, an actress who I’ve been dying to see onscreen. Muller gave the movie special attention in one of the many short features that ran on Turner Classic Movies promoting the premiere of Noir Alley, a special program on the channel that highlights one picture from the genre per week. He talked about one particular steamy scene in which Cortese plays tic-tac-toe across the bare chest of Conte using her long fingernails, a not-so-subtle approach to depicting sex onscreen when the Hayes Code forbade it under normal circumstances. This entrancing pairing immediately piqued my interest, and the film’s plot made it a high priority on my list of need-to-see noirs.
9. Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
As you might remember, I mentioned this past summer that I was enrolled in Turner Classic Movies’ The Master of Suspense: 50 Years of Hitchcock online course. I thoroughly enjoyed it and had a great time learning about the esteemed director, and going into it I promised myself that I would take the time to focus on films of Hitchcock’s that I hadn’t gotten the chance to watch before rather than simply watching the same few over and over again. Shadow of a Doubt (1943) and Notorious (1946) were the two that I instantly put on my watchlist, and coincidentally both were featured in the course as Hitchcock’s main contributions to film noir. Unforunately, I was so engrossed in the curriculum itself that I managed to see Notorious (1946) but not the picture that I had been looking forward to seeing the most, Shadow of a Doubt (1943). This has just been one of those movies that’s slipped through the cracks for me somehow, which is a shame because I’ve been looking forward to seeing Teresa Wright in a film and Joseph Cotten intrigued me immensely after I saw him display his acting chops in Citizen Kane (1941) and Journey Into Fear (1942). I’ve tried my best to stay away from anything that would reveal the ending of the film, but from the bits and pieces of information that I’ve accidentally found, I believe I’m in for some gripping twists and turns.
8. The Night of the Hunter (1955)
This is a movie that I certainly believe has permeated pop culture and cemented itself as a classic in every sense of the word. I saw the iconic shot of Robert Mitchum leaning against a fencepost with the words ‘LOVE’ and ‘HATE’ tattooed on his knuckles long before I had any idea what the film was even about, and when I finally did learn about The Night of the Hunter (1955)‘s captivating storyline I was more than eager to see it. I’ve mentioned earlier in the article that there are just some movies that slip through the cracks, and that’s definitely an understatement when it comes to this film. If I recall correctly I’ve tried to watch this one five or six different times as it’s screened on TCM quite often, but something always gets in the way like a scheduling conflict or even a phone call at the exact wrong time that lasted just a little too long. It’s become really irritating to me at this point, and if there’s any film on this list that I’ll really groan about if I don’t manage to watch it at long last, this one is it. I’m really looking forward to seeing both Robert Mitchum’s acting, which from what I’ve heard is at his diabolical best, and Charles Laughton behind the camera for a change for his only feature film as a director. Even more inviting is the fact that I still haven’t seen a Lillian Gish feature, though I’ve admired her in photographs for as long as I’ve been interested in classic film, so all in all I’m hopeful that this one will be a real treat.
7. The Third Man (1949)
In some circles that I know about, admitting that you have yet to watch The Third Man (1949) is almost as bad as admitting that you haven’t seen Citizen Kane (1941), and sometimes I’ve found that it’s even worse. It’s not astonishing, as the two films were undoubtedly high ranking among Orson Welles’ many crowning achievements, and The Third Man (1949) earned both Welles and the aforementioned Joseph Cotten a great deal of respect in the film noir community after its release. I think it’s about time that I finally cross this one off of my list, and what promises to make this particular viewing even better is that I still haven’t influenced my own opinion beforehand by reading a single thing about the story. I’ve seen a couple of very artistic, Welles-esque shots that seem to solidify the cinematography at least within the confines of noir, but aside from that I’ll be going into this viewing completely blind. Usually I like to learn as much as I can about a film before I actually sit down and watch it (with the exception of the ending, of course), mostly so I don’t end up stuck with a picture that I don’t enjoy, so this is quite a rare feat for me. Wish me luck this month as I finally sit down and give it a try, and let me know what you thought of The Third Man (1949) if you’ve seen it before!
6. The Big Heat (1953)
This is another film that I’ve tried to watch multiple times, though I really would have seen The Big Heat (1953) if it weren’t for the fact that the version I found online was the version with audio commentary for some reason. So many different aspects of this movie interest and appeal to me; for one thing, this is the only movie that I’ve heard of that was based on a newspaper serial. I assume that’s sort of the equivalent of someone making fanfiction into a movie today, or maybe a post on social media. To me it’s pretty rare that something from that medium would be considered so great that there would be a demand for a film, and as a result I have high hopes for the plot. Of course there’s also the stellar cast, with Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame. I’ve been especially enamored by Grahame ever since I watched her alluring performance in another classic noir (and Eddie Muller’s personal favorite), In A Lonely Place (1950). If any film showed me that such a glamorous woman could carry a dramatic picture, that one is it, and I’m incredibly excited to see her try on another noir for size. With two incredible actors and a tagline that eerily states “Somebody’s going to pay… because he forgot to kill me!”, I’m sure that I’ll be on pins and needles until I sit down to watch this film.
5. The Glass Key (1942)
Yes, you’re reading this right: I have not one, but two of the noirs that paired Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake on my list. The reason is simple: Even though I’ve only seen three of her films, I would easily place Veronica Lake on a list of my top ten favorite actresses. Her unattainable beauty and relatable personality make for a unique and riveting combination, and I always adore watching her onscreen. Of course she was best known for her contribution to noir, especially in the three pictures that she made with Alan Ladd: This Gun for Hire (1942), which I’ve already seen and enjoyed, and the two that have made my list, The Glass Key (1942) and The Blue Dahlia (1946), so I’d honestly feel like a phony if I claimed that I was such a huge fan of Veronica’s without watching these films in particular. What’s even more interesting about The Glass Key (1942) is that it’s based on iconic noir author Dashiell Hammett’s favorite of his novels. That’s quite a statement when you realize that he also penned novels like The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man, and once again this really makes me curious about the storyline of the film. Hopefully I enjoy The Glass Key (1942) as much as I loved This Gun for Hire (1942), because I’d be more than happy to rank this among my favorite films starring Veronica Lake.
4. The Blue Dahlia (1946)
Here’s the second of the two films starring Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd that made my list. This one was made long after their other onscreen pairings, during Veronica Lake’s unfortunate decline in Hollywood. While I’ve claimed that I’ve attempted to watch many of the films on this list, The Blue Dahlia (1946) is the one that I’ve actually seen the most of. I’ve tried to watch it a few times, and once again I’ve been interrupted for one reason or another, though with this film it’s always after the first couple of scenes. I could probably recite the beginning interactions between Ladd’s character Johnny Morrison and his unfaithful wife by heart by now, but this month I really hope to finally sit down and watch the story unfold completely. While I don’t have a vast multitude of interests aside from classic film I will admit that true crime is definitely one of them, and if the title of this picture sounded familiar to you, you’re not alone. The title of the infamous unsolved crime “The Black Dahlia” came from this film; some believe that the moniker was given because it was the last movie she watched before she was killed, while others believe that it was because she wore dahlias in her hair. Whatever the reason the name stuck, and while of course it doesn’t directly relate, it does add another layer of intrigue and further motivates me to finally see this classic.
3. Murder, My Sweet (1944)
Murder, My Sweet (1944) is yet another film that Turner Classic Movies initially sparked my interest in, though it wasn’t because the movie in its entirety was shown on the channel. Instead I first heard about it in one of the segments shown in between pictures, a short documentary about noir director Edward Dmytryk. The narrator painted a beautiful picture of the director and his accomplishments, making me more curious about him than any other noir filmmaker that I’ve heard of. One of the facts that intrigued me most was that Dmytryk saw potential in romantic musical actor Dick Powell and decided to cast him in a serious crime drama, taking on the iconic role of Detective Philip Marlowe in Murder, My Sweet (1944). Marlowe was created by Raymond Chandler, a mystery writer that earned his place among Hammett and all of the other great authors of the genre. This character in particular has been portrayed onscreen countless times, most famously in this film by Powell as well as in The Big Sleep (1946) by Humphrey Bogart, and is considered by many to be the ultimate noir character. Not only was Murder, My Sweet (1944) given an immense amount of praise by the documentary, which of course made me eager to see it, but I’ve also noticed it on numerous rankings of the best noirs of all time, sometimes even making its way to the top spot. All of these reasons have led to me longing to finally see Dmytryk and Powell at their best, and I can’t wait to finally add this one to my film collection.
2. Nightmare Alley (1947)
The fact that I still haven’t seen Nightmare Alley (1947) is absolutely baffling to me. If you’re new to my blog you might not know this, but Tyrone Power is my favorite actor of all time. Hence, as you might imagine, I’ve seen the vast majority of his movies, but I still can’t really say why this one hasn’t been my top priority. At this point I’m downright ashamed to admit that I haven’t seen it, because I’ve known for a long time that it was Ty’s personal favorite of all of his films. Made after his service in World War II, Power was a weathered man at this point in his life, far from the youthful and dashing romantic idol type that he was confined to at 20th Century Fox in the late 1930s. Nightmare Alley (1947) was one of the first pictures that really allowed him to stretch the limits of his craft, and he was more than grateful for the opportunity to carry a film using more than just his looks. Even more compelling was that it took the coveted number seven spot on Eddie Muller’s Top 25 Noir Films list that I discussed earlier. According to Muller, Nightmare Alley (1947) is Tyrone Power’s “greatest contribution to the movies”, and if all of that doesn’t provide enough motivation for me to watch it, I honestly don’t know what will. Aside from Ty I believe that the picture as a whole is comprised of a talented group of actors, including Joan Blondell (who I’ve always admired) along with Coleen Gray and Helen Walker, two ingenues at the time who I’ve been eager to see onscreen. To me, Nightmare Alley (1947) is an absolute must this month.
1. Out of the Past (1947)
Of course everyone has their differing opinions on which noir is the best, but from what I’ve seen, there’s more or less a general consensus. I’ve read my fair share of lists discussing the best movies that stemmed from the genre, and from my experience one of these three usually earns the top spot: Double Indemnity (1944), The Maltese Falcon (1941), and surprisingly most often, this film. I haven’t seen it, so I’m really not aware what all the fuss is about yet, but I have the feeling that the incomparable acting style of Robert Mitchum has something to do with it. The cast in general couldn’t be more appealing, with the might of Kirk Douglas and the stunning beauty of both Rhonda Fleming and of course Jane Greer, two of the most gorgeous women I have ever laid eyes on, rounding out the main list of actors. I can truly say that each of the four have been people who I’ve wanted to see onscreen much more than I already do, Jane Greer especially as I’ve only seen her in one film. Once again Out of the Past (1947) makes Muller’s list, this time at number nine, though I wouldn’t exactly call his mini-review very favorable. “Face it, the meandering script is saved by Frank Fenton’s dialogue. But this is how we want noir to look and sound, so it gets cut lots of slack,” he writes, though he mentions that Kirk Douglas is “never better”, and that along with all of the acclaim that’s surrounded the picture for decades is more than good enough for me.