TOP 10 FILM NOIR MOVIES
SUNSET BOULEVARD - An aging silent movie star writes her comeback movie with the help of her much younger lover, a down-and-out writer. Both get more than they bargained for.
THE THIRD MAN - An American writer of throw-away western novels travels to post-WW II Vienna to meet his old pay, Harry Lime, and discovers that Harry is dead, sort of.
DOUBLE INDEMNITY - A wise-cracking insurance salesman falls for a wanna-be widow and concocts a plan to cash in on the accidental death (with a little help) of her husband.
WHITE HEAT - An undercover cop shadows a mad killer and hopes to nab him before the looney bin does.
THE ASPHALT JUNGLE - a big-time caper goes wrong when the criminals are undone by their own demons.
THE MALTESE FALCON - A private eye is hired by a mysterious woman in search of a priceless statue of a precious jewel encrusted falcon, the stuff that dreams are made of.
THE KILLING : A plot to steal loads of money from a racetrack goes terribly wrong when a hen-pecked robber decides to let his cheating wife in on the details.
D.O.A. - An accountant on a vacation finds that he has been murdered and now must find his killer and why he was murdered.
KEY LARGO - A gangster who was deported comes home and finds himself confronted by an old dying man, his daughter and an ex-GI who doesn't know what he fought for but finds out.
THE BIG HEAT - Corruption is deeply embedded in a big city police department and there is little that one honest cop can do, but when he tries and his wife gets killed by the bomb meant for him, he gets help from an unusual source, the killer's moll.
So what makes a movie 'film noir?'
There is a lot of reasonable disagreement about that - and I am not certain that it matters. Film noir is more about a feeling, a style, a way of looking at the world through blue-tinted, cracked glasses. Directors like Billy Wilder have this feeling built into almost every movie he made. Look at The Apartment, a great movie that is both funny and sad. It borders on the noir - if the cheaters who use the apartment weren't so ridiculous and if the woman had been killed by the boss to prevent her from telling his wife, it could easily have turned noir. Or look at Some Like It Hot - all the elements are there, but instead of 'blue-tinted' the movie is bright orange with the gangsters being more inept that the musicians. It is no coincidence that the most successful (artistically) Wilder movies were all black and white.
In looking at film noir flicks, there are a few common elements. Almost all film noir have these elements and the best have them is spades.
There are 5 essential ingredients:
When it was made. From 1940 to 1960 is when film noir movies were made. After that, there are many movies that contain film noir elements but all are a reaction to the original genre. Take Chinatown. It has many film noir elements but it reacts to the genre and is best appreciated by those who know the original genre. For example, the first scene shows Jake, the P.I., meeting with a client whose wife he followed and proved was cheating on him. This is a reaction to Raymond Chandler's P.I. Philip Marlowe who tells us that he doesn't do 'divorce cases.' Jake not only does divorce work, it's his "métier" as he tells us.
Murder. No murder, no noir. Period. Sometimes the murder is at the heart of the story (Double Indemnity) and sometimes it is woven into its fabric, like Harry Lime's murder of those who are treated with his tainted penicillin.
Woman. There is always a woman at the heart of any film noir movie, often more than one. In Double Indemnity, there is Phyllis Dietrichson and her step daughter, Lola. The lady isn't always a femme fatale - take White Heat: there is the luscious, lovely Mrs. Cody Jarrett, but the real lady of the movie is Ma Jarrett who is as tough as her son.
A Big Dream. There are lots of movies about murders and crime and punishment, but a true film noir has more than that - it has a Big Dream at its core. Often, the best film noir movies have many Big Dreams, one for each major character or more than one. In Sunset Boulevard, Norma Desmond wants to recapture the glory of a bygone time when she was the Queen of Hollywood and when every man wanted her. Joe wants to survive in Hollywood.
Deception. It is as simple as 'oh the tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.' In Sunset Boulevard, Joe thinks Norma's script stinks and he won't tell his friends how he is able to afford silver cigarette cases.