Mystery Street (1950)

Mystery Street (1950) is a classic murderous cat and mouse police procedural and sporadically violent film noir thriller.

It's known as one of the first films to be shot on and around location in the Boston and Cape Code area.

In the story by Leonard Spigelgass, a married, upper-class super-bounder James Joshua Harkley, played by Edmon Ryan, shoots dead his pregnant girlfriend Vivian Heldon (Jan Sterling), discards the naked body in the sea and sinks her stolen car in a muddy pond. 

When the car owner Henry Shanway (Marshall Thompson) is arrested, super-smiley police lieutenant Peter Moralas (Ricardo Montalban) and never-smiling Harvard doctor Dr McAdoo (Bruce Bennett) set out to investigate.

Walk Softly, Stranger (1950)

Walk Softly Stranger (1950) is a romantic drama with leanings into the film noir style. Perhaps also it is a film noir tale, with leanings towards the medium of romantic drama.

Either way, these are some quite unbearble tensions to place beside each other. Can love succeed against noir? Can noir defeat love and make a man abandon a loving partner, when offered a hat, cigarette, pistol and a package of money?

The idea in Walk Softly, Stranger may be to combine the two. The film dips into film noir territory in moments then swoops into romantic scenery on balconies, around extravagant Christmas trees and on the verandas of the rich.  The evil of the story is carried entirely by Paul Stewart who finds everything amusing and irritating, has a short temper and can't really follow the plan like the classic film noir weaker-willed heist partner who won't stick to da plan.

Among The Living (1941)

Melodramatic and at times oddly crazed Southern Gothic meets film noir in the effective 69 minute suspense thriller Among The Living (1941).

Among The Living stars Albert Dekker in twin roles as John and Paul Raden, one of whom is a successfully sane and moral social actor, while the other is a dark half, locked away in a basement room of the family home for 25 years, confined to madness, solitude, and a perpetual infancy which sees him often landed in a straitjacket.

The set-up is as follows: twenty years ago, the town's founder discovered that one of his twin sons was insane. He has the doctor fake a death certificate, had an old servant from the house made to care for him, and then moved the other son and himself into the town's best hotel. 

Caught (1949)

Caught (1949) is a film noir melodrama from Max Ophüls starring Barbara Bel Geddes, Robert Ryan and James Mason, laying bare the perils of middle class marriage and the bullying and controlling which waits any eager young bride, keen to live the fantasy life which the magazines of the time were selling.

Caught is a film which appears more vicious the closer we look at it. 

To kick off, we have some young women who are planning to live their lives through catalogues, an excellent introduction to the mating game as America enters the 1950s.

It is stressed over and over again, in fact. Young model Maude, who changes her name to a more charming 'Leonora', played by Barbara Bel Geddes is seen with her friend and flatmate Dorothy (played by Natalie Shafer) constructing the fantasy life she shall lead via the pages of the many magazines and lifestyle publications that occupy their evenings in their rather downbeat and crummy digs.

Castle on The Hudson (1940)

Castle on the Hudson (1940) is an early classic film noir high drama morality-guided prison movie with several differences. 

Hubris-powered hood John Garfield has ambitions to be The King of New York. 

He's young and good-looking, and filled with the kind of confidence that was popularised by the full-on gangsters of the 1930s.

He owns the night clubs and he owns the streets and he's just the sort of hero we have seen emerging over the last decade, out of the pre-Code era and into the fully coded sort of productions as Castle on the Hudson represents.

Working his way up from the streets, the hoods and mobsters of the 1940s were a special kind of gift to the world. American cinema offered more than a taste of evil, but a full on immersion into the lifestyles of the rich and criminally infamous.

Raw Deal (1948)

Raw Deal (1948) is a classic of on the lam noir film-making starring Dennis O'Keefe, Claire Trevor and Marsha Hunt.

Prison convict Joe Sullivan has not only taken the fall for an unspecified crime, but he sports the classic film noir overcoat in this film, and runs desperately from hideout to hideout, trekking down the West Coast of the USA on a collision course with revenge.

Best of all, his run is made with two women at his side, Pat and Ann, dames established from the off as the good and bad side of femininity, both of whom are of course sweet on him, in their separate ways.

Pat is the more traditional gangster's moll, who helps Joe with the breakout, and is as tough as the leather which this film noir is made from; contrasted with Ann, the good gal who is her foil and love rival, and is actually Joe's case-worker, who has against her own will fallen for the convict.

Kiss of Death (1947)

Kiss of Death (1947) is a psychopathic traumatic sttol-pigeon crime procedural film noir, featuring Victor Mature as a troubled ex-con; Brian Donlevy as a firm, fair and forgiving Assistant DA; Richard Widmark as a crazed psychopath; and Collen Gray as a sweet and innocent goody-two-shoes, the type of woman in fact beloved of all film noir scenarios, the guiding angel flying in the fateful face of sexual lust and loose living.

An all-American woman perhaps, certainly offering morality and everything else in line with the cinematic Code of operation.

The semiotic valuations which lead to the promotion of one family ideal, and the extinction of African American life in the process, was a bold attempt by Hollywood to attempt to mythify the American way of life into a set of values that all would adopt.

While similarly in this case being spooked up to high heaven by the emerging figure of the psychopath. And that with one of the greatest psychopath's in film history. Noir is its own set of cultures and ideas, and is roughly speaking, a set of conventions defining perception in limited and predictable ways within just about any picture of American life you might care to inject it into.

The Breaking Point (1950)

The Breaking Point (1950) is a swell of a smart film noir drama that falls sweetly across the boundary between 1040s and 1950s cinema.

The movie stars John Garfield, who plays the otherwise moral captain of a charter boat who becomes financially strapped and is drawn into illegal activities in order to keep up payments on his boat.

Across the varieties of film noir, there are many flavours, and this includes the tragic drama that has elements of film noir, as here in The Breaking Point.

Although not complex, the story is interesting because of the realism brought to the characters, an exchange made in favour of dropping the more familiar and fantastical elements of film noir.

One of the most common themes and juxtapositions in film noir, is made between domestic life and the life of crime, or at least the life 'out there' in the city of danger.

Man Bait (1952)

Man Bait (1952) is an exceptionally literal title for a film that appeared with several different titles  none of which were any cop in the film noir title stakes. 

With every passing year, as film grew in popularity as a method of impregnating global minds with ideas of sexuality, more morality for girls was forged on the screen.

Sexuality was in the air, and film noir tells of its dangers, the dangers of crime and crime's links to sexuality; it tells of of sexuality and sexuality's links to crime; noir tells of sexuality's exposure of male morals to catastrophically attractive female beauty, and everybody's inability to cope with the results.

This is in fact what film noir does best; it destroys the surface currents which pull us a long, dragging hapless males and sexualised females to the bottom of a vortex from where no one will emerge happily married.

The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)

The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) is classic style film noir murder femme fatale courtroom death row take-out diner of doom powered by lust, fatality and fortune, played out to the death as a classic film noir must do.

In terms of film noir street cred, it packs a bagful. Considered too immoral to be filmed for many a year, with its themes of adultery and murder, The Postman Always Rings Twice was hastened into production after the success of the film Double Indemnity (1944), which was also adapted from a novel by James M. Cain.

The real themes of the movie are sexual dynamics however, and the tension between the man as drifter, working his way across the land with no particular goal or ambition, and the woman as the more rooted character, seeking to set up home. This is not just a tension played out in the sexual relationship, but in the society as a whole, with drifters being increasingly considered an anti-social element.

T-Men (1947)

T-Men (1947) is a tough and exciting undercover semi-documentary style film noir directed by Anthony Mann, starring Dennis O'Keefe in his breakthrough film noir role.

This classic film noir from 1947 follows two Treasury Department agents, Dennis O'Brien and Tony Genaro, as they go undercover to break up a counterfeiting ring. The film provides a glimpse into the post-World War II era of the United States and speaks to several aspects of 1940s American society.

One of the main themes of the film is the idea that the American dream is attainable through hard work and honesty. This idea is represented in the characters of O'Brien and Genaro, who are portrayed as hard-working and dedicated agents who are willing to risk their lives to protect their country. The film also portrays a strong sense of patriotism, which was common in the post-World War II era.

Another theme of the film is the idea that crime does not pay, which is a common message in many film noir movies. The counterfeiting ring that O'Brien and Genaro are trying to bust is shown to be ruthless and violent, and the film suggests that their criminal enterprise is ultimately doomed to fail.

Manpower (1941)

Manpower (1941) starring George Raft, Marlene Dietrich and Edward G. Robinson is deserving of an honourable mention on classic film noir, for the habits it portrays and social directions  it takes.

While likely classifiable as a dramatic film with comic elements, Manpower still has something to relate to noir audiences. 

The story is about two friends and their supportive relationship, and essentially portrays the bonds between working men and their women. 

The slapstick jollity of the era is well captured and has certainly, as comedy usually does, aged poorly. Edward G. Robinson's character in hospital is styled as an 'octopus' because of the way his hands grab the nurses. And this is the least of it. 

They Drive By Night (1940)

A box office hit in its day, They Drive By Night (1940), with George Raft, Ida Lupino, Ann Sheridan and Humphrey Bogart is a film noir trucker movie, which opens on the embattled lives of some West Coast fruit hauliers, and closes on murder, madness and corporate corruption ― as obsession and madness destroy femme fatale Ida Lupino’s life.

The rub is that director Raoul Walsh had a flair for subverting genres, and really only made what you might call “Raoul Walsh pictures” whatever the basic  genre ― and this one is about as Raoul Walsh as you can get.

It’s a trucker movie, it’s a comedy, it’s a romance and it’s a thriller. It’s a picture about class relationships and the cutthroat nature of business; and it’s a picture about madness and the little guy rising to the top.

Raoul Walsh ― who also made the following film noir favourites ― High Sierra (1941); Pursued (1947); and White Heat (1949) ― had a feeling feeling for regular people, informal surroundings, and he portrays the hustle and bustle of working life very well.

They Won't Believe Me (1947)

They Won't Believe Me (1947) is a note-perfect melodramatic film noir from the later 1940s.

Within the paranoid marriages of the era, there was according to the classic film noir canon, a good deal of secrecy, murder, and madness. 

Given the amount of times that film noir discusses such marriages, and their eerie contents, one wonders what was happening to men and women in that decade.

It is perhaps as if the women were coming out of the darkness and forging a place for themselves in the future homes and relationships of the 1950s, and beyond. In the 1940s marriages were fearful and secret places, where women remained prisoners in mysterious gilded cages.

Seven Thieves (1960)

Seven Thieves (1960) seems too good a film noir to miss, with Edward G. Robinson, Rod Steiger, Eli Wallach and Joan Collins, all in one tidy package of heist.

Instead, Seven Thieves maybe demonstrates what the style had lost by 1960, and the ways in which production and vision had altered, to knock classic film noir on the head.

With the odour of a caper movie, it's maybe a shame that Seven Thieves is not film in colour. Certainly VistaVision and other widescreen techniques do leave some directors offering large empty spaces on screen, especially in the shots of single individuals.

The Killing (1956)

The Killing (1956) by Stanley Kubrick is like a graduation class for many of the best stars and tropes of the classic film noir style.

As well as a cast including many of the styles favourites, from Sterling Hayden and Elisha Cook Jnr, through Marie Windsor and Jay C. Flippen, to Ted de Corsia and Joe Sawyer, The Killing is a kind of celebration of the style like no other.

It was in fact possible by 1956 to make almost consciously film noir pictures. The themes of robbery, lust and anti-social activity are there, and like some truly epic expressions of the style, there are no good people to talk of in here.

In fact possibly the only good character is the wife of one of the villains, portrayed as unwell and blind, and the reason for this man's turning to crime.

Nora Prentiss (1947)

Nora Prentiss (1947) and starring Ann Sheridan may not make it on to the major league lists of the great film noirs, but it could still teach us more about the style than many other flicks.

As an object lesson in the behaviours of the femme fatale, Nora Prentiss is an elevated example of that great noir trope - the family man falling foul of the femme fatale. 

What we learn is maybe unintentionally revealed. But the classic figure of the femme fatale represents much more than the dangers of sex, or living loose on the rough side of the city. She represents female emancipation and this being Hollywood and the manners of middle America, that can only be a bad thing. 

Kent Smith plays the mild mannered and successful family man who has it all, and is about to find out the hard way, what it means to lose it, by falling for the wrong woman. That in essence is the straightforward moral and the quick plot summary here, but this is film noir, and the waters run deep.

First is the exciting opening of the movie, featuring a strange shrouded character who is being led to trial, and who will neither speak nor reveal their true identity.

Appointment with Danger (1950)

Appointment with Danger (1950) is a modestly fun film noir from the lesser regions of the canon, telling the exciting story of a postal inspector who goes undercover to break a crime gang that is planning a heist.

Beginning with the only clue that he has, a nun as a witness, Alan Ladd (playing postal cop Al Goddard) proves a tenacious force, driving his way from clue to clue until he has tracked down the gang.

When he has finally got the gang in his sights, he then poses as a corrupt postal cop in order to infiltrate the gang and foil the crime. 

Although things go reasonably well, we're invited to take a look at Al's character as agent of authority, which is established early on. Al, it appears, is driven only by one thing, and that is his work. Even his colleagues are bemused in fact by Al's attitude. He foregoes everything, and lives in a kind of existential isolation, with only his work, which even in itself does not appear to be enough for him.

The Man I Love (1947)

The Man I love (1947) is not the most classifiable of film noir productions from the 1940s but it does say plenty about the style and the era.

It's also potentially a rare film noir in that it attempts to close in on the female experience of family life, dating, night life and petty criminality. Gender roles are clear in The Man I Love, as they are in all cinema of the 1940s. But they are still overturned in places.

And if you have found the overturning of social norms in the cinema of the 1940s, you have almost always certainly found film noir, even if your movie doesn't feature paranoia, corruption and the dark criminality and murder more normally associated with the style.

The Man I Love is not an immediately obvious placement in the film noir canon, and yet with its female seeker hero in the form of Ida Lupino, working her way through night clubs on the West Coast, this film has noir chops to spare.

Crime Wave (1954)

Crime Wave (1954) is a punchy procedural film noir with classic Los Angeles location photography, and Sterling Hayden creating the tooth-pick trope.

Further, the tooth-pick may have been a stylised way of suggesting a drug habit, although Sterling Hayden's Detective Lieutenant Sims is an early and incongruous promoter of quitting smoking for one's health.

As well as crime on the streets, there is a crime in the home theme as Crime Wave hits the home invasion theme hard, too. Home invasion in film noir signals in its stylised way the demolition of the full-on dream of Americana, that so infected the States in the 1950s.

Too Late For Tears (1949)

Too Late for Tears (1949) stars Lizabeth Scott and Dan Duryea as first lady and super-sap of classic film noir, in a fantastic and twisted set of murder plots focused on a sack of dough and one of noir's best femme fatale characters.

You'd be pushed to find a more textbook cheaply made classic film noir than Too Late For Tears, starring Lizabeth Scott and Dan Duryea.

Cheap it may be, but Too Late For Tears packs a mighty punch. The flick opens with a simple premise which has been much repeated over the years: a young couple come across some ill-gotten money, and their decision to keep it reverberates hard.

Nobody in any movie at any time hands in the money they find. There would of course be no movie if that happened, no moralising, no murder, no suspense and no desperate sliding into purgatory as the noose tightens, and increasingly hard decisions need to be taken. 

Sweet Smell of Success (1957)

Sweet Smell of Success is a 1957 film noir drama starring Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster as two men working in the sleazier side of the media in New York, a gossip columnist and a press agent.

The film tells the story of powerful and newspaper columnist J.J. Hunsecker, portrayed by Burt Lancaster and based on Walter Winchell, the syndicated American newspaper gossip columnist and radio news commentator.

Playing JJ Hunsecker with a huge amount of control and menace, Burt Lancaster creates a character who uses his connections to ruin his sister's relationship with a man he deems unworthy of her.

The character of JJ, an unrepentant manipulator in a world of unrepentant manipulators, is based on the real life figure of Walter Winchell, who was well known for this kind of activity.

The Desperate Hours (1955)

The Desperate Hours (1955) is a home invasion film noir, by William Wyler, and starring Humphrey Bogart as a criminal on the run, terrorising suburban America from within.

Suburban noir can only mean one thing as far as classic film noir is concerned: home invasion. 

Not that the idea was new for the 1950s. Humphrey Bogart had played out the home invasion trope before, and most successfully, with The Petrified Forest (1936). Bogart is said to have commented that his character in The Desperate Hours was in a manner of speaking, his character in that production (Duke Mantee) grown up. 

The home is still central to film noir, at any stage in its evolution. On one level classic film noir is always discussing the family unit.  The home may sometimes be suggestive for reasons of contrast, as the home contrasts the streets, and everything that happens there, including crime and loose-behaviour of any sort. 

Impact (1949)

Impact (1949) is a film noir classic of confusion, plot twists, identity and love and follows the mishaps and fateful fortunes of industrialist Walter Williams, played by Brian Donlevy.

What makes Impact an impactful film noir as opposed to a plain old drama, is the twisted plot around the successful industrialist's marriage. 

As grouchy as an old bear, his wife sits around at home, the very epitome of the scheming wife, out for what she can get, and of course plotting murder.

A marriage made of monogrammed shirts and pyjamas is helpful for plots like this. Much is made of the bizarre accidentals which lead poor Walter Williams from the heights of success to the lows of small-town isolation, such as the odd device of the domestic assistant Su Lin (played by Anna May Wong) overhearing what she thinks is a threat, when in fact it's a husband larking around with his wife.

The duplicitous wife in Impact (1949) is here writ heavy in the form of Helen Walker, who plays the Irene Williams, the lady behind the plot to kill. Like a good deal of solid noir, Impact is a marriage fantasy, the likes of which 1940s film noir specialised in. 

By this we demonstrate a wife who is so ill-suited that she is planning your murder, and a wannabe love that turns up out of nowhere, already embodying the American dream, and valuing love above cash - a perpetual dilemma. 

The Big Clock (1948)

The Big Clock (1948) a classy and classic film noir race against the clock movie starring Ray Milland, and Charles Laughton, is a fairly unique entry in the canon.

Ray Milland is a reporter in a news corporation, tasked with solving a complex situation of his own making, and mostly set in the ultra-high-modern offices of his employer.

This newspaper office is unlike any other in film noir. The more usual film noir newspaper offices are kinda drab and somewhat realistic, and may look like those featured in Fritz Lang's While The City Sleeps (1956). The publisher's offices in The Big Clock are as uber-modern as any of the period, and the sets throughout are fascinating.

The look is dynamic, and sharp, to match the technology which was booming, burgeoning in fact into the real life media corporations that would begin their march to world domination only a few years late, in the 1950s.

Cat People (1942)

Cat People (1942) by Jacques Tourneur, was the product of writers and producers putting their heads together at a time when horror was in its infancy, and coming up with what they considered to be a new concept. 

This is because even then, they had seen that horror was already focused on a few supernatural and historic themes ― the ghost ― the vampire ― the Frankenstein monster  ― the Mummy ― there Werewolf ― and they'd already seen that there were not too many more in the blockbuster canon; maybe.

Hence the decision to see if the cat could be developed into a truly lasting horror theme. The vision of Cat People is not one of lycanthropy ― although it is similar. And it is not quite one of demonic possession, although again there is plenty in  common.

Hidden Fear (1957)

Hidden Fear (1957) is something of a curiosity at the tail end of the film noir cycle, and that curiosity largely arises from the fact that it is set in Denmark.

The logic behind this is not clear, and some of the film in general suffers from this lack of clarity too.

Some of the more obvious film noir strings are not pulled, and were it not for John Payne in the lead role, bullying and slapping his way around the Danish capital, there may not be much noir left at all to enjoy.

Hidden Fear is a linear thriller, which does its best to make a virtue of its location shooting, but does not manage to raise any particular tension, or find any depth in its stroll through the Danish underworld.

The Big Heat (1953)

The Big Heat is a 1954 film noir by Fritz Lang, starring Gloria Grahame, Glenn Ford and Lee Marvin. 

The many themes of cop life and criminal life are present, but the script of William P. McGivern's 1953 book called for some family life too; which is always a foreign presence in film noir.

Usually, if a Mr and Mrs are sitting down to a home cooked steak, and the baby girl is playing nearby, something may be afoot. The family is the unseen locus of much of film noir.

Here, Mr and Mrs Cop are seen at home perhaps a little too much; and its a signal that bad things are a-coming.

Although there are spoilers all across this website, a special SPOILER ALERT need be issued for Fritz Lang's 1953 noir, The Big Heat.

It isn't so much around the ending or the way things work out, its just that the likely most significant thing which takes this almost lackadaisical Langian noir out of the realms of the mere crime film en passant, is what happens at home, and the tragedy that befalls that home.  

Whirlpool (1949)

Film noir Whirlpool (1950), starring Gene Tierney, Richard Conte and Jose Ferrer, is a masterful summation of some of noir's best tropes around the paranoid woman.

It does however subject the woman to the role of a pawn in a game of power between two competing schools of theories and therapeutic techniques: psychoanalysis and hypnotism.

The film opens with a promising scene in which Gene Tierney, playing the wife of a super-eminent psychoanalysis, is caught stealing a valuable broach from a store. 

Clearly she is able to afford the item she steals, as she lives a massively affluent lifestyle, and so the premise is strong.

However, as we shall see, viewers never get to the bottom of why Gene Tierney's character Ann behaves like this. She is quickly branded a kleptomaniac, and any decent modern film or novel would proceed along the lines of discovering what is at the root of this.

Storm Fear (1955)

On the run and in the snow ― a lethal combination for those caught in the violence of Storm Fear (1955).

As dramatic set-ups and frequently visited tropes go, the home invasion is as stable a staple as one might wish for, and was perfect for film noir.

There are many examples of home invasion film noirs, from Suddenly (1954), in which Frank Sinatra plays an assassin intent on killing the US President; all the way back to the slightly more conventional The Petrified Forest (1936)

Probably the most famous example of this style of story from the classic film noir period is Key Largo (1948) ― and many of these movies contain the same set-up ― gangsters on the run take over a family home or similar residence, thus creating perfect conditions to explore the inevitable culture clash that crime inspired in the bourgeois imagination.

The Blue Gardenia (1953)

The Blue Gardenia (1953), by Fritz Lang, is a cynical take on how the press handles brutal murder cases. 

Richard Conte is the slick as whistle reporter, determined to prove that the press has more might than the police, and is willing to use his position as the city's ace reporter in order to solve the murder.

Proof, if more were needed, that the mainstream home of any social comment in the 1940s and 1950s could be found in film noir. 

Indeed, the power of the press is as significant as the other beneath-the-surface aspects of the story; and this includes the idea of a woman being drunk equating to some kind of sexual consent.

The Blue Gardenia is the first part of what might be sometimes known as Fritz Lang's 'newspaper noir' trilogy, which also includes While The City Sleeps and Beyond a Reasonable Doubt.

The drunkenness of the pretty young woman played by Anne Baxter in The Blue Gardenia is almost as a form of drink-spiking. Raymond Burr, the womanising press artist at the centre of the tale, is quick to fling a few of his favourite hard beverages down her throat; the Polynesian Pearl Diver, it's called.

She drinks one, she drinks two, and the guzzling with gusto turns sour and a murder is committed.

Cry Terror! (1958)

Cry Terror! (1958) is an end-of-film-noir cycle home-invasion paranoia thriller, starring James Mason, Rod Steiger, Inger Stevens and Angie Dickinson.

There is terror to be cried about in the air too, as well as the home, as Cry Terror! is one of the first films to have a good look at airline security. As the American world and all its dreams came together in the 1950s, so the seams of those dreams split, and out oozed film noir.

Everything that remains unspeakable as an aspect of the all-American dream, can be found in film noir.

So as the film noir cycle ends, there are a couple of new appearances on the psychological landscape of the USA. One is the threat of nuclear war, as began its life in the film noir favourites at the end of that decade, for which see Kiss Me Deadly (1955) for more.

Another may be the threat of teenage rebellion, which picked up speed in this decade; as did the threat of terrorism.

Strangers on a Train (1951)

Strangers on a Train is a masterful 1951 adventure in film noir, with all the morbid fun that Alfred Hitchcock perennially mustered. 

The theme of psychopathy was explored more than once by Alfred Hitchcock, and was one of the more interesting developments in the film noir style.

The idea of the psychopath, who may murder for reasons which are extra-normative to the great American dream, is traced through film noir. Psychological shock explanations are often used, and other psychopaths in noir, who were the first batch of psychopaths in cinema, like Robert Walker's character Bruno in Strangers on a Train, are either aberrations, or the product of environments that are sick.

In this case, Robert Walker's psychopathic Bruno appears to be spoiled by his family's money, and his father's determined disapproval.

The story follows two men who meet on a train, one of whom is a psychopath who suggests that they "exchange" murders so that neither will be caught. The film initially received mixed reviews but has since been regarded much more favourably, especially as it showcased many techniques which Alfred Hitchcock had already perfected and would further perfect, as a master cinematic storyteller.

Sunset Boulevard (1950)

The best Golden Age film noir movies such as Sunset Boulevard (1950) rank among the favourites of all movies lovers.

The best examples of the film noir style remain as the greatest examples of cinema as a whole, and the most popular. 

Given that as the Golden Age of Hollywood closed, nobody was specifically aware as such of there being a style or a genre called 'noir', it is surprising how cohesive the style was. Film noir really was a thing, and Sunset Boulevard is a classic example, of classic film noir.

That 'Golden Age' is usually said to be from 1930 until 1945, but it's hard to pin these things down.

Consistent to movie storytelling is time. Time in classical Hollywood is continuous, linear, and uniform, since non-linearity calls attention to the illusory workings of the medium. The only permissible manipulation of time in this format is the flashback, which is a staple of film noir, and comprises the entirety of Sunset Boulevard.

What's fascinating is that we can perhaps ask what it was that the makers of classic film noir era thought they were making? What were the workmanlike film noir cycle movies of the era aimed at; and what were the common reference points that allowed the style to develop?

Blood on the Moon (1948)

Blood on the Moon (1948) is a wild Western with film noir credentials. Those credentials are sounder than may first appear, and are real.

Robert Wise, the director of Blood on the Moon brought the urban, psychological, shadowy, violent and complex aspects of film noir to this movie, making it very likely the greatest admixture of the Western genre with the film noir style.

It begs the question as to what film noir and Western have in common, and it's likely the fact that both of them ultimately deal with morality.

The lead elements of film noir are first and foremost visible. These are a difficult to follow and relatively layered plot of crosses, triple crosses and identities.

These typically complex stories are also played out in the shadows where possible. Blood on the Moon not only opens with an epic and miserable rain storm, and in that storm is the figure of the drifter, stoically on the wander, the forever hired hand, here played by Robert Mitchum.

Decoy (1946)

Decoy (1946) is a low budget, cheaply plotted film noir thriller and shocker, premised on an idea that has elements in common with horror, as it re-animates a dead con in a miraculous escape from death row.

The source of the drama is easily stressed -- it's a box with $400,000 in it, the proceeds of a robbery.

And the leading actor in the villainous and double crossing pursuit of this box, is an energetic and deadly femme fatale performance from Jean Gillie, a British actor in her first American film role.

Actor Jean Gillie had a short, short life and Decoy, for all its ills and budgetary constraints was her penultimate film role.

For a film that doesn't boast much in the way of star performances, or glorious set pieces, Jean Gillie gives a helluva lotta goods in this short and at times brutal film noir.

The Man With The Golden Arm (1955)

The Man with the Golden Arm (1955) is a film noir with  flavours all of its own — whether it be the Saul Bass credits or the theme of heroin addiction — both new elements for 1955 and in their own ways the signs of a new age approaching in cinema.

Frank Sinatra memorably plays the lead in Otto Preminger's adaptation of Nelson Algren's novel, with Kim Novak supplying a sympathetic role beside him, his light indeed in the dark city of film noir, which admittedly is not so very dark here — at least in tone. 

Frank Sinatra plays Frankie Machine, an illegal card dealer and recovering heroin addict who gets out of prison, with a new talent — he's learned the drums. 

On the streets and looking for a jazz band gig, Frankie Machine is inevitably sucked back into the life, encountering all the perils of the familiar noir city — from shady businessmen to vulnerable women, via small-time con men to temptation itself.

Illegal (1955)

Illegal (1955)
is a court-room thriller exposing the tentacles of corporate evil, and the massive protections afforded to the new class of criminal emerging in the boardrooms of America.

Edward G. Robinson plays superstar District Attorney Victor Scott, on fire in the courtroom, a wit and a showman, able it appears to convince any jury of his case.

Illegal opens with a salacious murder which is quickly executed, codified, examined and tried; much to the amusement of anyone who has ever enjoyed the television series, Star Trek; for the hapless hero in this vignette of justice and its flaws, is DeForest Kelley.

That's one reason alone to check in with this rather interesting variation on an increasingly important theme. 

For You I Die (1947)

For You I Die (1947) is a low budget thriller of an innocent con on the run.

Kicking off in a sewer, two characters are thrust out of the void and into their own noir universe. 

Tense, nervous, fighting their way from the lowest and worst of all locales, to attain some kind of freedom and decency.

That’s Noir, living in a sewer for three days, desperate and on the run, trying to get some clothes, trying to get some dough, trying to get to San Francisco.

Two of the lowest of the low in the cheapest of the cheapest of sewers are on the run in the land of the free.

And this is where film noir enjoyed taking us in the 1940s. The enjoyment of life is there in other people, in those whom we love and trust. 

I Wouldn't Be In Your Shoes (1948)

Film noir tropes, jokes, styles, flavours and fashions aplenty are the reward for watching I Wouldn't Be In Your Shoes, a 1948 noir with a heart. 

It's got humour too, and a fairly silly story, but it's delightful how much could be shoe-horned into 71 minutes of silver screen entertainment, at the height of the film noir era.

Two of the best tropes include the wifelet seeker hero, a staple of the early genre; and the falsely accused heel. He's hapless too, and actually quite hatless for noir.

Although the hero of this noir - Tom J Quinn, played by the relatively obscure Don Castle - works with his feet. So hapless and hatless he rides to his fate, a film noir heel nonetheless, with the solid backing of a good woman.

He's a dancer and this is a film noir of shoes, a graspable premise, summed up as: Vaudeville dancer Tom Quinn (Castle) is convicted for murder after his shoe prints are found at the scene of the crime. His wife Ann (Knox) follows the trail of clues to the real killer.

The Fearmakers (1958)

The Fearmakers (1958) tells a wonderfully revealing story of war, of advertising and the obfuscation of the line between corporate and government life.

Despite quality issues and any stand out cast performances, The Fearmakers also sounds an early alert concerning the war on the public that has become a ubiquitous feature of modern living.

Because of course, if it was unseen in the 1950s or 1940s, and if it was criminal, psychological and at odds with the public vision, it was going to be a subject of film noir.

There seems something peculiarly prescient about The Fearmakers, even if it is a part of the obsessive hunting of Communists that took over American public and cultural life in the 1950s. 

The real threat to freedom and civil society were already at work in the 1950s however, and The Fearmakers is a great introduction to the science of public relations, which had already been perfected over several decades and through World War Two, before it began to be used out in the open, in the form of political theatre.

The Burglar (1957)

The Burglar (1957) Dan Duryea
Both Atlantic City and Philadelphia feature beautifully in one of the best-loved late B-film noirs, The Burglar (1957), starring Dan Duryea and Jayne Mansfield.

The Burglar is more than just a cut above average film noir, as well as being that rare cinematic item ― a Dan Duryea leading role.

To begin with there is mood and atmosphere. Everyone working on this picture knew what they were doing by this point, the very end of the film noir show.

Insofar as plot chops, The Burglar is not dissimilar to The Asphalt Jungle, in the way in which the leading guys seem to be led on down and down, into fates more awful, peculiar and hopeless. The direction from Paul Wendko has style aplenty, oblique angles, super-sweaty close-ups and even some shock cutting, which adds huge amounts of class.

And then there is the beginning newsreel passage ― and the amusement arcade ending. I would wonder here if director Paul Wendko is trying to tell us something about his admiration for Orson Welles? These would appear to be samples from Citizen Kane and Lady from Shanghai, respectively.

The Seventh Victim (1943)

Infused with confused lesbian undertones, The Seventh Victim (1943) is a fascinating horror film, which sits as neatly in the film noir style as it does in the canon of early horror thrillers.

It is true to say that of all the common genres of film we know as standard, horror was not a large field in the 1940s. Much of what we now appreciate as horror did however set its roots in film noir. The psychopath is a character straight out of film noir  or at least he made his first major appearances there. 

The dark settings however, with fog, basements, gothic buildings and terrorised women  are similarly found in the 1940s in the film noir style. 

While The Seventh Victim may be a psychological chiller and mystery movie, it does contain horror elements which directly precede many classic tropes, such as the urban coven  for which of course see Rosemary's Baby (1968).

Ride The Pink Horse (1947)

Ride the Pink Horse is a one of a kind film noir, starring and directed by Robert Montgomery, who had got the hang of the medium enough to jam out this hard 1947 thriller.

Ride the Pink Horse is a jam, in its capacity to mix and ferment and develop a few new tropes. Film noir not only comes back from World War Two here, but it goes south towards the border, and finds itself down New Mexico way. 

Revenge, blackmail, innocence, experience and cultures clash, and all with an almost unique new flavour, as Robert Montgomery's ambitious direction pays off.

The walking California Redwood style performance from Robert Montgomery suits the dream-like quality of the environment his character Lucky Gagin enters. Luck is in fact a theme, as it always is with crime, and other games of chance.

As in its best, film noir is a dream, or presents its dilemmas and encounters in as much dream language as can be mustered. The carousel with the pink horse in Ride The Pink Horse is one example of many. 

The Long Night (1947)

In a dingy boarding house in 1947, a shot is fired in one of the upstairs bedrooms.
This is The Long Night, Anatole Litvak’s contribution to the film noir landscape of 1947.

A man tumbles out of the door and slides and slithers down two flights of stairs and is stone-cold dead when he hits the bottom. 

There now follows an hour and a half of flashback and flashbacks-within-flashbacks about a veteran returning from the war, tired and disillusioned, only to find that he girl he loves has lied to him about her relationship with another man, and that man she now cares about is sadistic and pretty much an all-round cad.

Although not one of the best known in the canon, the film noir credentials of The Long Night (1947) are supreme ― sublime to say the least. As well as featuring Vincent Price, warming up to become one of the great pantomime movie villains of the century, this was also Barbara Bel Geddes’ first film roles.

Then there is Henry Fonda ― superb to watch, even though he is not one of the crowned kings of film noir. Still ― he has plenty to offer here, in what we’d like to christen as the ‘sap-in-a-cap’ style of film noir acting.

Let the sap-in-a-cap flashback begin.

Woman on the Run (1950)

Woman on the Run (1950), starring Ann Sheridan and directed by Norman Foster, is a gripping if minor race-against-time film noir, with enough pleasing twists and conceits to keep most admirers of the style happy.

There is excellent location photography of San Francisco, the likes of which is seen in very few features. Woman on the Run entirely makes a virtue of the streets, alleys, spectacles and scenery of San Francisco, with more location shots than anyone could shake a .44 at.

These include concluding scenes at the fairground at Santa Monica, which perhaps disappoint. This is because most of the questions posed by the drama have been resolved by this stage; we know who is who and what is going to happen, and so by the time the scene is set for the conclusion, there isn't much left to conclude.

The promise here at the ending is that the fairground and the rollercoaster ride are going to be a super-exciting finish, but it doesn't quite pan out like that. 

The true excitement of Woman on the Run involves the passing and pursuing around the streets, through various bars, clubs, apartments and diners; and where the mystery of the race against time which keeps things going. 

Scarlet Street (1945)

Scarlet Street is a 1945 film noir, directed by Fritz Lang, and is one of what you may call Lang's dream film noirs.

The dream film noir is a heady and difficult combination, and was almost exclusively the creation of Fritz Lang, who employed psychology and hidden impulse very well in his work, and did so brilliantly in The Ministry of Fear, with its dream Nazis, and most successfully of all in The Woman in the Window. (1944).

The same applies to many of Fritz Lang's films, such as The Secret Beyond the Door (1947).

Fritz Lang was born to this. Lang was born to mix the heady visuals of the new cinema with the relatively recent findings of psychoanalytic theory. All this amounts to in practice, and in film noir, are dark desires, so-called because they are both illicit and unknown.

Often in film noir, a man seeks to escape domesticity, while at the same time in film noir, a woman often feels trapped by it, subjugated by the commercial forces that were fast growing the world about her.

Blues in the Night (1941)

Blues in the Night (1941) is possibly the most fun of all film noir. 

Fun and noir are not the most common of screen-fellows, but this fast-moving wise-cracking funny and feeling love adventure into music, has more packed into its hour and a half than many of its slower contemporaries.

The jazz keeps it hot and the noir keeps it cool. 

It's Blues in the Night, and it's romantic, funny and acted well by a fab forties fraternity of fellow ensemble actors.

For a film noir to pack such class comedy into its dark heart is a thrill, and one of the things that makes Blues in the Night a unique creation; it is a musical noir, and it is also an ensemble and comedy character piece. 

Which of course has poverty, murder, ill-feted romance, theft, an explosive car crash, and big city dreams smashed into pieces in dirty dark rustic roadhouses.

The Dark Past (1948)

The Dark Past (1948) is one of several films noir which opens with the aerial shot of the city, and an earnest voice over describing the existential experience of the urban life, the technological alienation which is suggestive of an architectural emptiness, a nihilism even, akin to crime in its freedom.

As Side Street seems to open with the message that any one of us may be the day's murder victim as much as they may be that murder's suspect.

The Dark Past takes the more traditional Mark Hellinger informed attitude that this is the naked city, and that it's like a jungle sometimes, and this is our framing, the real life city.

William Holden plays mean as hell psychopath and killer Al Walker, a film noir apogee and the defining casting action of a style which elevated to central protagonist the idea of villain as narrative prime mover.

Address Unknown (1944)

Address Unknown (1944) is a straight-up and fresh slice of anti-Nazi noir.

Straighter than most, because the one thing that Address Unknown is not, is a propaganda picture.

What Address Unknown (1944) serves instead is a more realistic and even intimate discussion of anti-Semitic behaviour under the Third Reich.

While still spinning with high velocity paranoia around the evils of Nazis and their totalitarian hatreds.

And Hitler is singled out, as is his anti-Jewish society which is presented in a rarely un-blinkered and un-varnished way.

The real hero of the film is K.T. Stevens, who plays Griselle Eisenstein — otherwise and more helpfully known on the stage as Griselle Stone.

She is the power, and her character is the prime mover in forcing out the massive quantities of paranoia created by the new German state.

It is an immense performance, and for the 1940s, the subject is handled with aplomb, and with film noir artistry.