The Snake Pit (1948)

The Snake Pit (1948), starring Olivia de Havilland and directed by Anatole Litvak, is a high watermark in the cycle of films from the film noir period, that may be referred to as 'the paranoid woman' picture.

There were many of these films, all bearing the same tropes, and all focused intensely on one female lead, who spends the movie in constant fear, living in a creepy house with a controlling husband, suffering a diagnoses of madness, and facing imaginary rivals and forces that seem to specific to her.

As an example of this form, The Snake Pit reached even further into the darks by controversially showing an institutionalised women, played by Olivia de Havilland, at the hands of a brutal psychiatric system, being given electro-shock therapy as a part of her 'treatment'.

Brutal is an apt enough term to describe what passed for a psychiatric system at the time. Although the methodology is now barbaric and out of date, film noir always did have a fascination with Freud, and with analysis, as new ways of interpreting and expressing social roles, behaviours and problems.

They Live by Night (1948)

They Live by Night is a 1948 an essential stop on the American film noir tour. 

Not just directed by Nicholas Ray, but his directorial debut, and starring Cathy O'Donnell and Farley Granger, is a tale of young love on the run; another film noir staple.

The story is psychologically bound to emergent teenage culture: after an unjust prison sentence, a young innocent gets mixed-up with hardened criminals and a violent escape.

First to note here is how and why the trope of the young lovers on the run was created and developed; because the idea sprang into being on the doorstep of film noir. It is no accident that Nicholas Ray, responsible for many of the finest and most intelligent items in the film noir cycle, went on to direct Rebel Without A Cause.

The similarities between They Live By Night and Rebel Without a Cause are many. The driver in both cases, is young love, certainly doomed love, and the puzzle as to why two such young and innocent people should fail to find the happiness that they believe can be achieved. The happiness in question is something of a myth in itself, and ironically is part created by the cinema itself.

Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939)

Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939) was not just the first but one of the most convincing anti-Nazi films to come out of Hollywood's Golden Age.

Amazingly, it feels like it was made by a country that was already at war.

That's not the case though, and even though it would be another three years before the United States were actually at war with Germany, what is remarkable is that World War 2 had not even started by the time Confessions was made.

It is funnily enough pointed out somewhere around the midpoint, when Edward G. Robinson enters the film. Someone says that it feels like they are at war with Nazi Germany, but Edward G., playing an FBI spy hunter here, corrects this erroneous interpretation of events. 

"No," he says. "It's the other way round. It's as if Germany was at war with America."

The Woman on the Beach (1947)

The Woman on the Beach (1947), by Jean Renoir, and starring Joan Bennett, Robert Ryan and Charles Bickford, is a fascinating character study, as well as an appropriately twisted dream-noir, telling of an abusive love triangle, acted out by the sea.

Robert Ryan plays Lieutenant Burnett of the Mounted Coast Guard, and as the film commences, we are launched straight into his nightmares. 

Although it is not made entirely clear what is going on, it is highly likely what is presented is another film noir rendering of what we now know as PTSD. 

Burnett, we witness, has recurring nightmares involving a maritime tragedy. He sees himself immersed in an eerie landscape surrounded by a shipwreck and walking over skeletons at the bottom of the sea while a ghostly blonde woman beckons him. 

C'est noir par la mer!

As Burnett walks towards this ghostly woman, the tension increases, and when they finally meet, then boom! He awakens into an explosion of emotion.

Strange as this is, the story becomes stranger still when he sets out for his day job, which involves patrolling the coast on his black horse.

There on the coast he encounters Joan Bennett, the eponymous woman on the beach, a melancholic and lonely character collecting wood for her meagre fire. And he immediately becomes attracted.

The Petrified Forest (1936)

The Petrified Forest is a 1936 gem of a proto-noir, starring Bette Davis, Leslie Howard and a first major star turn from this young cat, Humphrey Bogart.

While we style The Petrified Forest as a proto-noir, its real roots are on the stage, and it is in fact a typical-for-its-day stage-to-screen adaptation. Typical in the performances which seem verbose for the silver screen. and its rather static setting.

Even four or five years later, when the forties were unrolling and film noir was a staple style at the cinema house, much more emphasis was being spent on mis-en-scene and a more visual style. Back in the day - - when the day was the 1930s - - there was a temptation to simply film what appear to us today, to be quite long exchanges of dialogue.

The dialogue between Bette Davis and Leslie Howard which takes up a large chunk of the opening acts is only really saved by the ultra-urbane delivery and the sheer fascination both actors inspire. A variety of carefully curated camera angles keep this moving along, along with a well evoked setting, which is a remote gas station in the Arizona wilds.

Johnny Stool Pigeon (1949)

Johnny Stool Pigeon (1949) is a film noir caper which doesn't stretch itself too far in any direction, and still satisfies with its buddy-movie flavour, and location-hopping road movie feel.

Starring Howard Duff, Dan Duryea, Shelley Winters and a young Tony 'Anthony' Curtis, Johnny Stool Pigeon cuts its chops on role reversal, as dyed-in-the-wool copper Howard Duff toughens up to the wrong side of the law, becoming an undercover hood in order to bust a massive drug ring.

Not many films from the 1940s tackle the new-ish science of drug abuse, but Johnny Stool Pigeon does. 

Evidence of product itself and its effects are kept to a minimum, and so most of the caper is spent as Dan Duryea, already a criminal on the inside, helps show conservatively acting and dressing Howard Duff, how it is done on the dark side.

First, you gotta wear a snappy suit, and thirty dollar shoes. But is that enough for Howard Duff to lose his straight-guy copper flavour?

We'll have to see. He's up against amazing rising young star Anthony Curtis; and veteran John McIntire in a villainous suit of rodeo gear.

The Lost Weekend (1945)

The Lost Weekend (1945) by Billy Wilder, and starring Ray Milland as writer Don Birnam, and starring alcohol as itself, perfectly in character as a marvellous and demonic fixe-fatale, is a low-key and visionary tale of alcoholic failure, and as such uniquely emotional and modern, for the 1940s.

The Lost Weekend is also a landmark in film noir and a high station in Hollywood history, being among other things the winner of  a Best Picture Oscar . . . in fact The Best Picture Oscar, in fact, and there may be little more significant when assessing the history of one style, genre or cinema

This Best Picture Oscar was a deserved win for many reasons, and that included morality which always plays a part in this decision, each year, no matter what the style of picture.

It was a deserved win for the modernity and humanity of The Lost Weekend, which is a film that does not dazzle so much as invite the viewer on a slow and focused ride to the bottom. There is no complexity other than in the acting, and even the script does not veer, even when it surprises with its hidden bottles of rye and constant feeling of domestic and internal desperation.

The Lost Weekend is still a film noir however. Even though there is no murder, there is above all else a psychological horror which in cinematic terms could only find its feet in film noir in the 1940s.

Hell on Frisco Bay (1955)

Hell on Frisco Bay (1955) is a satisfying colour flick set in and around the fishing wharf areas of San Francisco Bay. 

The picture opens as ex-cop Steve Rollins, played by Alan Ladd, is paroled and leaves San Quentin Prison in order to search San Francisco for the mobsters who framed him for manslaughter.

It's a pretty exciting opening few scenes, and it doesn't look like the gates of the prison have changed at all in the last seventy years. Of Steve Rollins prison years, we learn little, although they may likely have amounted to their own hell on Frisco Bay. Because of course, cops in stir are not usually that popular.

There at the gate of San Quentin, waiting for him, is his wife and former police partner. As his wife has been unfaithful to him while he was banged up, it appears, Steve Rollins rejects her and opts to take the bus to town. 

In this decision, his partner joins him, leaving the wife alone; the first of many casually handled scenes involving women on Frisco Bay.

Invisible Stripes (1939)

Invisible Stripes is (1939) starring George Raft, Humphrey Bogart, Jane Bryan and William Holden, is one of those great 1930s movies that lays down some of the rails upon which film noir would soon enough run.

If it's a crime film, if it's a prison film, or if it's a heist film, the chances are that in the Golden Age of the silver screen, this movie may be presented with all the tropes, style and wisdom of film noir.

It's often true, but it also ain't necessarily so. Nobody rushes to call the Falcon films, or the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films film noir ... and yet they deal in crime, conspiracy, and often in the shadows and fog.

The prefiguring of film noir is still quite evident in 1930s cinema. To find it, one can trace the morality of the crimes, cops, robbers, murderers and increasingly, the psychopaths and the teenage tearaways.

Film noir prefiguring aside, Invisible Stripes, directed by Lloyd Bacon is a lot of fun, and acts out that fine 1930s theme of the kids on the street battling with the urge to turn to crime. It's in this environment, that director Lloyd Bacon brings home a few new ideas, including that of the teenage tearaway.

And that tearaway, is committing a certain form of crime, against both the combined moral wealth of the family, and society itself.

Terror Street (1953)

Terror Street (1953) is not the tale of terror its title may promise. But it stars Dan Duryea, and is a classic slice of limey noir.

It's crummy, and it's wooden, and it moves the pace of a cement snail at times. Terror Street also falls into the film noir 'Lousy Husband' sub-genre.

Men fail as much as they succeed in film noir, and if you are a lousy husband, you'd better be prepared for the bizarre consequences.

And don't be looking for much terror, film noir fans, as you venture down terror street. That would asking a lot.

There may yet be terror lurking there, but Terror Street is going to make you wait.

Instead, over the first nearly twenty minutes of Terror Street, you will find what seem like hours of solid wood largely coming from Dan Duryea, although this is barely his fault. It is as if Duryea has been asked to perform as solidly woodenly as he can by the directors of the piece; as if there is nothing else for him to do.

So Dan steps up with solid wood for the fans.

And the mis en scene, the action, the script and the psychic landscape of terror street, provides if truth be told, all the terror of a plate of cold Limey porridge.

So what is the point of Terror Street (1953)? How could this slice of Brit noir have come to have been made, and had the manufacturers of this misnamed flick understood anything of the dark noir rumblings which had been piling their way across the Atlantic for nearly fifteen years?

Sorry, Wrong Number (1948)

Good times with the paranoia on full-beam. That's film noir and this is Sorry, Wrong Number (1948), one of the most eminently exemplary portrayals of the 1940s housewife.

The film noir style presented this to perfection and in its highest form in the 1940s.

Paranoia is central to the film noir style. The urban jungle is fraught with dangers, and some are human, and some are technological. 

Some are criminal and others are political, and any old way you look at it, when you're in film noir, you're in the land of doubt, deceit and usually murder to boot.

There'd be no film noir without paranoia, and one of the stand-out examples of this is the 1948 film noir Sorry, Wrong Number, with Barbara Stanwyck, Burt Lancaster ... and tucked away there, along with Ed Begley, is Wendell Corey.

Of all the significant innovations the film noir style introduced to the popular imagination, paranoia may be among the best. First there’s the political paranoia, whether it is down to Nazis or Communists, or later in the cycle, your own government.

Then there’s the paranoia that the veterans feel when exiting the theatres of war in the early to mid 1940s, to return to the cities, with their uncomfortable commingling of middle class values and what appears to be a near constantly rolling crimewave.

There’s organised crime, and there are dark shadowed foggy unclear vague and effectively lit corners and clubs, and there is the greatest swindler of them all ― love. 

And still, there are two further paranoias evoked in 1948’s Sorry, Wrong Number ― the first being a common film noir staple ― the paranoia of a woman trapped in a domestic situation, as brilliantly evidenced in a huge amount of films: Woman in Hiding (1949); The Seventh Veil (1945); Jennifer (1953); and the immortal Secret Beyond the Door (1947).

And then there is the telephone - still causing trouble today.

My Name Is Julia Ross (1945)

One of the best times you can have if you crave a sixty-five minute paranoid woman film noir, is My Name Is Julia Ross (1945), starring Nina Foch.

Should there be madness in your script and the stretching of credibility, and should your script also be offering some subtle social comment, then there will be film noir.

The theme of there being a woman-in-danger  or as the producers might prefer it  to call it exactly what it is in their minds   the paranoid woman  is a firm film noir fave.

Nina Foch is one of many who had a bash at this  note: you can tell she is a paranoid woman, because she is shot in bed. The paranoid woman is always filmed in bed, often clutching the covers. It's one of the more obvious signs of the trope. Bed is where these paranoid women often are!

Nina Foch however keeps the suspense on high throughout. The script never strays from her dilemma, which is just as well, because as with other films in this style, once examined, the set-up will be revealed as preposterous. It's one of the other better genre tropes and why it makes this psychological mayhem the fun time it is.

This is all happening in your marriage! 

The Raging Tide (1951)

The Raging Tide (1951) is a terrific and raging and calming and reflective and stormy crime and adventure movie, that likes to think it's a film noir, but actually spends too much time having too much wholesome fun in the traditional business of fishing to earn some fulsome bleak city noir chops.

Still there is enough here for The Raging Tide to get some slices off those chops. 

Those bleak city noir chops! And it mixes them up with some salty salt-of-the-earth sea-chops. 

Richard Conte and Charles Bickford do in fact get soaked by props men spraying them and tossing buckets of water at them. It is that kinda milieu.

And The Raging Tide starts with a murder, a no-nonsense affair in the dark.

Then the murderer is on the run, through that film noir city, bright lights and shadows, raging through the streets. That's perfect, and exactly what you'd want to see of Richard Conte. On the run, in the city, in the dark. C'est noir . . . even if it does end up at sea.

The Mask of Dimitrios (1945)

The Mask of Dimitrios (1945) beloved of many whom adore the adventurous and thrilling aspect of the silver screen in its lovely golden age, is part mystery, part adventure and a part film noir.

That part which remains film noir, is here within The Mask of Dimitrios, perhaps relegated to the baggage of delight and mystery which is transported within the facial and emotional aspects presented by Peter Lorre. 

Lorre in The Mask of Dimitrios does not however play to any of his strengths, and plays best of all in his duet with Sidney Greenstreet.  Peter Lorre is for once the good guy, the hero no less, the seeker on that often-told quest and his are the bulging eyes through which the audience approaches the mystery.

Like every good slice of film noir, The Mask of Dimitrios is told mostly in flashback. Like many other film noir favourites, the character flashing back is in fact a writer, a mystery writer in this case. 

On hearing about the exploits of the international blackguard Dimitrios, Peter Lorre becomes fascinated and determines to learn as much as he can from as many sources as he can find, and crucially, every one of these sources has been left sadder and wiser after their encounter.

Jean Negulesco who later moved over to 20th Century Fox and made more lighter films than this, did manage to generate of dream of sorts here, in the form of a study in pure evil, in the form of Zachary Scott playing Dimitrios Makropoulos.

Edge of Darkness (1943)

Edge of Darkness (1943) is a Nazi-heavy Norwegian war romp with more dead bodies in its opening few minutes than you could shake any number of Nazi pointing devices at, assuming your Nazi pointing devices were not too busy pointing things out on your incredibly detailed Nazi models of Norwegian villages, strategic or otherwise.

The alternative title for this amazing war effort is Norway In Revolt, which does sum things up in a manner of speaking.

And once viewers have overcome the surprise of the many piles of dead bodies, piled across other dead bodies, piled inside and outside in mounds and heaps which would seem utterly infeasible, had the bodies once supposed to have been alive, there is a fairly exciting, fairly tepid, and at times pleasantly complex film awaiting, promising not just Errol Flynn, but more critically than this, Ann Sheridan.

Yes, you can come for the piles of bodies or the Norwegian models, or the overtly evil and ridiculous Nazis, but it turns out that only Ann Sheridan is worth the wait.

The Sleeping Tiger (1954)

The Sleeping Tiger (1954) is a Brit-teen jazz-crime tearaway movie, with stiff upper lip, hot and sexy jazz in Soho, and failed psychanalysis taking place in the midst of an even harder failing marriage. 

The subject matter is the mood music of the British time; teenage criminality, the hopeless British stabbing at psychoanalysis; the tragedy of marriage and the family, and the failure of men to control the disastrous environments their misogyny created to begin with.

While Dirk Bogarde's character suffers from an inability to control his criminal teenage urges, his psychiatrist can't control his profession, and is a failure as a husband while obviously believing he is doing the right thing. When he is mansplaingly doing the wrong thing, again and again, while being the lamest husband ever.

And the teenage tearaway Dirk Bogarde is marvellous; his character longs to have actual issues but he is in fact a middle class boy, which makes his random bullying and cigarette puffing anger all the more wild; and how he has the hot-hots for his psychiatrist's moody wife!

Kiss the Blood off My Hands (1948)

Two years in a Nazi prison camp and Bill Saunders  ― played by Burt Lancaster ― doesn’t like to be caged up one little bit. 

First it drives him to drink ―  anything  to try and forget. 

Then there's his uncontrolled violence down the pub. 

Finally, a trip to the zoo, can be entirely triggering for him.

Bill Saunders should never have come to London. It's certainly not the world's film noir capital either.

But here he is with Joan Fontaine, in a fascinating, compelling, melodramatic and slightly strange concoction called Kiss the Blood off My Hands

The story of the post-war male is a film noir staple. The rescuing female belongs to a much older tradition ― but even knowing that he’s a killer, doesn’t stop Joan Fontaine from a heart breaking attempt at rescue.

Kiss The Blood Off My Hands (1948) is one of those great film noirs in which the entirely story is told in the title. The hero is a murderer ― he has blood on his hands. The female lead is going to rescue him ― with love ― as symbolised in a kiss.

The aim thereafter is redemption. Can she wash away his sins with her love? And is World War 2 excuse enough for a man when it comes to drunken violence?

Find out the answers in Kiss The Blood Off My Hands.

I Walk Alone (1947)

I Walk Alone (1949) is a bold, fun and fast-moving flick with a truly film noir title.

It's a strong exemplar of the film noir style, even if it isn't held up as the one of the greats.

Frankie gets out of prison and after being triggered by the sight if some shadows at the station which remind him of prison bars, he heads down to Broadway ― it looks the same he says. 

But his pal isn’t so sure. The first early signs of the fast-bending steel of the film noir male, here beautifully and memorably played by Burt Lancaster, is one minute in, when he says angrily, and almost to himself  . . . that it better be the same.

It is not of course, the same. The war, and prison, similarly dealt with and both brutal and emotional in their transformative violence . . . these have changed everything. 

The war and prison have more in common that Burt Lancaster's sympathetic and tragic expression. And if one can be in one for the purposes of entertainment, one can certainly be in the other.

Lady in the Lake (1947)

Adapted from the Raymond Chandler novel of the same name, the 1947 film noir Lady in the Lake was an experiment and a half for star Robert Montgomery, and his directorial debut to boot.

Montgomery was keen to replicate Chandler’s first-person voice over style as he brought the iconic gumshoe, Phillip Marlow back to the screen.

Except for a few instances, Lady in the Lake is presented exclusively from Marlow’s point of view with Montgomery providing the detective’s voice. 

At some points the camera is punched by some tough guy. There are some other amusing tricks, like when Marlow is on the phone, we see the mouthpiece, blurred in the lower frame; and when Marlow holds a lit cigarette, smoke drifts up from below the frame. 

At one point, the hard-working femme fatale leans in for a kiss on the lens.

The Big Night (1951)

Film Noir is full of oddities, largely because everything was coming of age at the same time.

Cinema, culture, youth culture, psychology, post-war capitalism, men, women and children, were all breaking forth from scores of different chrysalises and all at the same time, in film noir.

In The Big Night, we watch the kid George become the man George in the most 1940s noir way imaginable ― he puts on a jacket tie, and finally ― a hat. 

Hey presto ― grown up.

It’s just society’s bad luck that this young man finds a gun shortly after that. Only joking George. George immediately enters the noir city of the 1940s, complete with boppin jazz all night, drunks and of course, the character who leads who leads him astray.

It isn’t long before George is experiencing heavy confrontational scenes in toilets, bumps and bashses, and George continues on his search, never looking quite at all the man.

He's like ‘Kid Noir’ in fact.