The Maltese Falcon (1941)
100 min – Drama | Film-Noir | Mystery – 18 October 1941 (USA)
IMDb Rating: 8.2/10 from 91,265 users
Reviews: 304 user | 145 critic
Director: John Huston
Writers: John Huston (screenplay), Dashiell Hammett (based upon the novel by)
Stars: Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Gladys George
A private detective (Humphrey Bogart) takes on a case that involves him with three eccentric criminals, a gorgeous liar, and their quest for a priceless statuette.
Bogart, to this point, always played criminals, and was usually killed in the last reel. As such, he was a perfect choice for the morally ambiguous Sam Spade. His character was the first genuine screen anti-hero. Notice his vaguely sociopathic smile just before he knocks out Cairo (played by Peter Lorre). (Clip 3:02)
The Big Sleep (1946)
IMDb Rating: 8.1/10 from 53,354 users
Reviews: 222 user | 119 critic
Director: Howard Hawks
Writers: William Faulkner (screenplay), Leigh Brackett (screenplay), Jules Furthman, based on the novel “The Big Sleep” by Raymond Chandler.
Stars: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, John Ridgely
Private detective Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) is hired by a rich family. Before the complex case is over, he’s seen murder, blackmail, and what might be love.
Notice the genuine chemistry between Bogart and Bacall. Even a good actor can’t fake the way he looks at her. The dialogue, a combination of Chandler’s efficiency and Faulkner’s proficiency, is perfect. (Clip 4:24)
Stranger on the Third Floor (1940)
IMDb Rating: 6.9/10 from 2,113 users
Reviews: 66 user | 33 critic
Director: Boris Ingster
Writer: Frank Partos (story)
Stars: Peter Lorre, John McGuire, Margaret Tallichet
When a reporter (John McGuire) whose testimony sentences a small-time loser to the electric chair for murder is himself fingered in a second murder, he realizes both crimes are a furtive stranger (Peter Lorre).
If you haven’t heard of this movie, check it out. Many critics (and I’m not one, as I point to Little Ceasar in 1931) view this as the movie that launched the film noir movement. If you’re a detective fan, this might be the awesomest clip ever – mystery, deep shadow, first-person dialogue, Lorre. (Clip 3:01)
IMDb Rating: 7.7/10 from 27,742 users
Reviews: 146 user | 94 critic
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Writers: Ben Hecht (screen play), Frances Beeding (suggested by novel: “The House of Dr. Edwardes”), Angus MacPhail (adaptation), John Palmer (novel “The House of Dr. Edwardes”), Hilary St. George (novel “The House of Dr. Edwardes”), May E. Romm (foreword)
Stars: Ingrid Bergman, Gregory Peck, Michael Chekhov
A psychiatrist protects the identity of an amnesia patient (Gregory Peck) accused of murder while attempting to recover his memory.
Not strictly a detective story, but a mystery nonetheless. Admittedly, I’ve gone from loving Hitchcock to hating him, based on revelations regarding his character, but his volume of work speaks for itself. Here’s a bit of the dream sequence. Notice the Dali-like influences. (Clip 3:07)
IMDb Rating: 8.1/10 from 25,554 users
Reviews: 192 user | 107 critic
Director: Otto Preminger
Writers: Vera Caspary (novel), Jay Dratler (screenplay), 3 Jay Dratler, Samuel Hoffenstein, Elizabeth Reinhardt
Stars: Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, Clifton Webb
A police detective (Dana Andrews) falls in love with the woman ( Gene Tierney) whose murder he is investigating.
This is one of my favorites, after all both Bogie movies. The performances by the actors, especially Clifton Webb’s pomposity and the lovely Gene Tierney, who made overbites sexy. Dana Andrews was credible as the lead. (Clip 3:49)
The Big Heat (1953)
IMDb Rating: 8.0/10 from 13,820 users
Reviews: 128 user | 79 critic
Director: Fritz Lang
Writers: Sydney Boehm (screenplay), William P. McGivern (Saturday Evening Post serial)
Stars: Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame, Jocelyn Brando
Tough cop Dave Bannion takes on a politically powerful crime syndicate.
Glenn Ford plays a hard-boiled cop with a soft side. He was one of the few stars capable of credibly playing both. The movie features a young Lee Marvin as your run-of-the-mill psychopath. I don’t know what genius put in the bold white English subtitles. (Clip: 2:05 – warning, this one is disturbing, though not graphic )
Murder, My Sweet (1944)
IMDb Rating: 7.7/10 from 7,236 users
Reviews: 99 user | 52 critic
Director: Edward Dmytryk
Writers: John Paxton (screenplay), Raymond Chandler (novel)
Stars: Dick Powell, Claire Trevor, Anne Shirley
After being hired to find an ex-con’s former girlfriend, Philip Marlowe (Dick Powell) is drawn into a deeply complex web of mystery and deceit.
William Powell plays a credible Philip Marlowe before Bogart made the role his own. It’s notable if only for how different this Marlow is from Bogart’s guy. The clip portrays another dream sequence, of all things, perfect to show the moodiness of film noir. Does Anyone really dream like this?
Kiss Me Deadly (1955)
IMDb Rating: 7.7/10 from 11,813 users
Reviews: 163 user | 99 critic
Director: Robert Aldrich
Writers: Mickey Spillane (novel), A.I. Bezzerides (screenplay)
Stars: Ralph Meeker, Albert Dekker, Paul Stewart
A doomed female hitchhiker pulls Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker) into a deadly whirlpool of intrigue, revolving around a mysterious “great whatsit.”
No Noir list would be complete without Mickey Spillane. Tough men, tough life, tough dialogue. Before the term “noir” was invented, films of this genre were called “melodramas.” It doesn’t get any more melodramatic than the scene below. Don’t watch it if you hate spoilers. This movie’s worth seeing. For those of you who want to see the film, skip to the second video — the trailer. This movie, made during the A-Bomb scares, feels a great deal like horror movies from that era—a bonus.
Look for Cloris Leachman in the film’s opening scene. (Clip , Trailer 2:31)
The Third Man (1949)
IMDb Rating: 8.4/10 from 91,328 users
Reviews: 372 user | 180 critic
Director: Carol Reed
Writers: Graham Greene (by), Graham Greene (screen play), Orson Welles (uncredited), Alexander Korda (story, uncredited), Carol Reed (uncredited)
Stars: Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli
Pulp novelist Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton) travels to shadowy, postwar Vienna, only to find himself investigating the mysterious death of an old friend, black-market opportunist Harry Lime.
I know this film is GREAT because 1) Critics love it, 2) IMDb ranks it highest in the group, and 3) I hated it. The film is chock full of moodiness, cameraness, waitiness, and GetOnWithItAlreadyness, but it’s a classic, and noir connoisseurs should add it to their list. (Besides, I hate everything Orson Welles has been in, so don’t go by me.)
In the clip, Harry Lime is chased through the sewers. Sadly, this was before Orson Welles put on tremendous amounts of weight. That would have been cool. Spoilers here, but so what. (Clip 9:26)
Out of the Past (1947)
IMDb Rating: 8.1/10 from 18,707 users
Reviews: 148 user | 107 critic
Director: Jacques Tourneur
Writers: Daniel Mainwaring (screenplay), Daniel Mainwaring (novel), James M. Cain (uncredited), Frank Fenton (uncredited)
Stars: Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, Kirk Douglas
A private eye (Robert Mitchum, lurk, lurk) escapes his past to run a gas station in a small town, but his past catches up with him. Now he must return to the big city world of danger, corruption, double crosses and duplicitous dames.
This movie’s worth seeing if only because Robert Mitchum narrates. The earmark of film noir ( and book noir for that matter) is cynicism. Up until 1977 when it was replaced by a photo of Jack Nicholson, Mitchum’s photo appeared next to the word “cynicism” in the encyclopedia. True Story. His is a powerful screen presence, the kind you hated taking potty breaks for fear of missing something. Jane Greer stars as one of the greatest femme fatales in moviedom.
In this clip, Mitchum lurks, and threatens you with his shoulder pads, but in a change of pace, doesn’t smoke. See the movie, but go to the bathroom first. Because, ew. (Clip 1:51)
Double Indemnity (1944)
IMDb Rating: 8.4/10 from 76,509 users
Reviews: 274 user | 143 critic
Director: Billy Wilder
Writers: Billy Wilder (screenplay), Raymond Chandler (screenplay), James M. Cain (from the novel by)
Stars: Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson
An insurance rep (Fred MacMurray) lets himself be talked into a murder/insurance fraud scheme that arouses an insurance investigator’s suspicions.
My Three Sons meets The Big Valley. Need I say more for fans of 1960s TV? Well, this movie also has Raymond Chandler dialogue, Billy Wilder pacing, and Edward G. Freaking Robinson. (*Bill adopts Run DMC pose.) I feature two clips here. In the first, E. G. Robinson shows a man the door. You gotta see this one. In the second, MacMurray meets Stanwyck, right in the midst of her femme fatale peak. (Nick! Heath! Mom’s a MILF!) The dialogue is awesome. “I wonder if you wonder.” Freaking brilliant.
(Clips 1:49, 0:59)
Touch of Evil (1958)
IMDb Rating: 8.2/10 from 58,789 users
Reviews: 253 user | 145 critic
Director: Orson Welles
Writers: Orson Welles (screenplay), Whit Masterson (based on the novel “Badge Of Evil” by), Franklin Coen (uncredited), Paul Monash (uncredited)
Stars: Charlton Heston, Orson Welles, Janet Leigh
A stark, perverse story of murder, kidnapping, and police corruption in a Mexican border town.
Yep, another Orson Welles film. Written by Orson Welles. Directed by Orson Welles. Starring … Chalrton Heston? “Get your filthy paws offa me you damned, dirty director.”
You know it’s a Welles film because the novel it’s based on and the writer who wrote the novel it’s based on don’t appear in the credits. Only Welles. In this scene … Welles directs Welles’s actors to perform Welles’s screenplay.
I must admit, I have not seen this film and I will, despite Welles. The opening scene, here, rocks. Welles combines noir moodiness (it looks oddly like my wife filmed it), with Hitchcockeyed suspensefulness. We know something they don’t, but will wish they did. “Somebody’s gonna get it; who’s gonna get it?” (Clip 3:30)