Film noir is not an easy genre to pin down, yet it is strangely recognisable. We think of long shadows and smoke dancing, tough guys in fedoras and dames with a history of trouble. Film noir is the mash-up of German Expressionism-influenced direction and American crime writing.
Film noir is downbeat. Noir remains popular, perhaps, because it gives us a chance to walk down those mean streets, take a look at what goes on in the darkness on the edge of town. Maybe it’s the closest we have to Greek tragedy- knowing that fates are against us from the start.
Few genres have been written about as much as noir, maybe because it emerged and went away naturally with no manifesto to guide it. Trying to define film noir by its films is even tougher and in making this list of Top 10 Film Noir I’ve had to be harsh and cut out some great films for lacking that true, doomed sense of noir. Also, I’ve also included films made between 1939 and 1958, my take on the era of noir.
So grab your fedora, grab your trench coat, take a shot of rye for good luck, because the darkness on the edge of town is waiting…
10. The Big Heat (1953)
Dir. Fritz Lang
Cast: Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame, Lee Mavin
Dave Bannion (Glenn Ford) is a cop verses the gangsters. He’s moral and upright and will catch the bad guys by the book. But the gangsters don’t like playing by the rules. After killing people close to Bannion, he sets out to get the murderers- whatever it takes.
This film noir contains one of the most shockingly violent scenes in any film noir, when heavy Lee Marvin flings boiling coffee into his moll (Gloria Grahame)’s face. No knowing its; coming is shocking, you can help but be amazed they got away with this in 1953!
Speaking of Marvin and Grahame, although they’re supporting roles, they both ace them. Lee Marvin went from playing the heavy to playing the tough guy heroe, so it’s nice to see how his career started off.
Fritz Lang is one of the most famous directors of German Expressionism, and once he escaped to America he churned out noirs like this. But it still manages to be a Fritz Lang film in its tough realism and brutal violence.
Key Line: Debby: Well you’re as about as romantic as a pair of handcuffs.
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