Out of the Fog (1941)


On the Brooklyn shore, there’s a mess of fog, and in that fog is a deep-seated and sordid corruption, seeping into the failing hearts of the innocent.

Down in this gutter, we find the broke, a bunch of hard working guys that are just trying to scrape together enough bits to secure their next fishing trip to the bay.

Out of The Fog (1941), starring Ida Lupino, is a moody yarn about a racketeer and his gormless marks, which features abundant fog and plenty of dark and moody water lapping sound effects.

Within and around this wafts John Garfield, who steps in an tries his hand at Bogart — or is it Cagney?

Hard to say.

Of course Bogart does Bogart best, and the same is to be said of James Cagney, but there’s a ton of film-flam holding John Garfield back in Out of the Fog, and try as he may, he just can’t see his way out of it.

Rope (1948)


David, Brandon and Philip are meeting for cocktails in a fancy Manhattan apartment. 

But Brandon and Philip strangle David and heave his body into a sturdy wooden chest.

This is the commencement of one of the most unusual of Alfred Hitchcock’s works, Rope (1948)

It was the first Hitchcock movie to feature James Stewart and is certainly the most underrated of the four movies they made together. 

It might not be classed as film noir by everybody ― Hitchcock’s films are sometimes seen as existing as semi-isolated in their own genre. 

And it’s also in colour ― unusual for a film noir.

But even if you argue that this is not film noir and that it never will be, discussions are never that exclusive, and Rope still shines bright light on many of the interesting movie-based fixations of the late 1940s.

Touchez Pas Au Grisbi (1954)


Touchez Pas Au Grisbi (director Jacques Becker, 1954) is a consumate French classic.


If you’re looking for something different, a new angle on the gangster genre, then you are implored to check it out.

Touchez Pas Au Grisbi ("Don't Touch The Loot") has a great story, superior performances, largely from Jean Gabin, but most essentially it plays against a great backdrop of thugs, prostitutes and other underworld characters — here shot in many genuinely seedy settings in and around Montmartre.

A good gangster film always demands this kind of background colour, and Grisbi has it all.  Merd Alors, it’s 60 years old but it is as burning hot as any turd Tarantino might turn out!

I promise you'll love it.

Murder My Sweet (1944)


Humphrey Bogart played Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon in 1941 —  then played Philip Marlowe in The Big Sleep in 1946.

But in between these two, we find Dick Powell playing Marlowe in Murder My Sweet (1944, director Edward Dmytryk) — an adaptation of Farewell My Lovely.

History has been kinder to Humphrey Bogart than it has to Dick Powell.

So while most would argue that  Bogart may have been a definitive Sam Spade, Dick Powell does well to capture the charm and cynicism of Marlowe.

In fact, he’s probably proved better at it than anybody else.

Force of Evil (1948)

Noir is darkness, noir is crime and noir is human folly . . . a force of evil.  


Film noir renders a cinema of weakness, deceit, lust-inspired crime, greed and mid-century urban survival.  

In the film noir city disasters are acted out in bars, cars and street corners, or in cheerless apartments, suggestive of a kind of homelessness.  

The high contrast lighting is central, as is the downward plot spiral which so many noir characters take. 

Force of Evil (1948) has it all . . .

Pitfall (1948)

If Fatal Attraction represents the male pitfall-movie of the 1980s, with Glenn Close presumably playing a role akin to the AIDS virus, then Pitfall (1948 André de Toth) is the 1940s equivalent, with Dick Powell sliding into the equally heinous sin of finding life too boring. 

This is exactly the opening scenario of The Woman in the Window and Scarlet Street, and as in The Woman in the Window, the point is laboured in Pitfall.

With the war done and dusted, in fact, it seemed like a whole bunch of the film noir guys wanted a bit more action.

And there were a bevy of the deadliest women in the world on hand to supply it, steeped in the forbidden social excess and treachery that can only lead to trouble — and of course death.

The Secret Beyond the Door (1947)

The Secret Beyond the Door (Fritz Lang, 1947, with Joan Bennett and Richard Redgrave) was released at the height of the brief boom in what is styled by this website at least, as the ‘paranoid woman film.’

In these momentarily fashionable movies, female sobs glance from wall to wall, doors loom large, keys symbolise everything, and worst of all — your husband wants to KILL YOU.

The psychology is always cod, but to make it even fishier, a psychoanalyst character is usually thrown in.

In The Secret Beyond the Door, one of the lead’s friends pipes up at the half way point and announces: “Paging Dr. Freud!”

Excitement, mystery and nerves on edge — is this what every woman longs for?

New York Confidential (1955)

In the wake of the televised Kefauver hearings of 1950 (Kefauver Hearings at Mob Museum) which revealed the extent of organised crime in the US to a fascinated public, Broderick Crawford stepped up to camera to play a leading member  of a syndicate, in its Manhattan headquarters.  

Part documentary, part gangster thriller, New York Confidential (1955) (director Russell Rouse, and staring Richard Conte, Ann Bancroft and Broderick Crawford) is played to perfection and has a strong cast. 

New York Confidential almost stands alone.

We're much more used to seeing the corporate gangster these days, but in the mid 1950s, at the tail end of film noir, it was a far harder pitch.

Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950)


Where the sidewalk ends, morality falls away, darkness prevails and in the black folds of the night, nobody can see who’s the good guy and who’s the bad guy.

Where the sidewalk ends, you’re on your own, making your own moral choices, with no guidance other than your past, and your own spur of the moment errors — your own dry, cold and helpless anger, your vendettas.

In this devilish and dangerous land, film noir lives and breathes — and Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950) is an epic film noir, one of the greats. It's a film that drives the cynicism home, before kicking it to death in the garage.

Directed by Otto Preminger and starring Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney and Gary Merrill.

Black Angel (1946)

Jean-Luc Godard said that all you need for a movie is a gun and a girl — and bien sur, Monsieur Godard knew his noir.


Certainly, Black Angel (1946) satisfies Godard’s wisdom within one minute.

There’s a lot of noir in that first minute of Black Angel

Darkness, shadows, the down-at-heel, a glamorous girl with a gun, and piece of music that is going to haunt everyone right to their graves.  

Who or what is the Angel, though?

Gun Crazy (1950)

If you’re Gun Crazy, you’re going to shoot your pistols.  

And if you shoot your pistols, then somebody is going to get hurt.  

Quasi-sociological accounts of how kids turn to crime can be deep down dirty good fun, even if they explain nothing. 

Gun Crazy (1950) an outlaw-couple thriller and film noir, has titillation and education in the right balance.  

Tearaway good-kid-at-heart Bart Tare is played by John Dall but it’s Peggy Cummins as Annie Laurie Starr who calls the shots.  

The message is that it’s the broads, not the rods that are the fatal force.

French Film Noir #3

 

Du Rififi Chez Les Hommes (1955)



After he was blacklisted from Hollywood, Jules Dassin made his way to France where he was asked to direct Rififi.

He shot Rififi with a low budget, without a star cast, and with the production staff working for low wages. And the film earned Dassin the award for Best Direcor at the 1955 Cannes Film Festival and is still acclaimed by all in the know as one of the greatest works in French film noir.

An entire quarter of the film's running time is spent on the most memorable and the most silent heist in all of movie history.

Although this robbery only took up 10 pages of the 150 page novel Dassin was directing, Dassin was so disgusted by the novel's racist themes, and not knowing how to shoot the necrophilia, he opted to make a virtue of the long heist scene and made a thing of beauty, as well as cinema history.

Jean Servais as Tony "le Stéphanois" - a gangster who recently returned from serving five years in prison for jewel theft.
The eldest member in on the heist, in Jules Dassin's Du Rififi Chez Les Hommes (1955)


La Grande Illusion (1937)


La Grande Illusion (1937) is a film about class issues, that doesn't take sides. 


It's an intreresting take, and pretty unusual when you think about it. But La Grande Illusion doesn't present nor admit to a bias and sees everybody as sympathetic, including the tragic aristocrats at the heart of the problems.

La Grande Illusion does at the same pretend to a strange vision of trench warfare.  In the first scene Jean Gabin is in his shoddily built mess, which has a well-stocked bar and waiter.  

The very next scene shows the actor Eric Von Stroheim and the Germans in their own similarly shack-like officers' mess, with an even better bar, again with its own proud barkeep.

Maybe that was what it was like.  I don't know, but the German bar certainly seems to have a hell of a lot of liquor as well as a cocktail shaker.

Gangsters in Pyjamas in French Film Noir

It's a little known fact, but if you look carefully through the history of French Film Noir, you do find a certain strain of imagery, based on the gangster figures  ... wearing pyjamas.

Film Noir fake news? 


Or a real happening thing?


It's an odd trope, but not entirely a coincidence, and the reason for it lies somewhere within the grey area which separates the idea of comedy, as it's understood in France, as opposed to America.

The French did manage to take the gangsters home. Americna gangsters as seen in da movies lived and breathed the city streets, and were to be found in bars, boxing halls and arenas, prisons, behind ornate desks and racing along in cars. Sometimes they were hold up in hideouts, or running through the alleys and tunnels of the underworld.

Film Noir Comedy

Noir isn't a genre, at least it wasn't in the 1940s and 1950s. 

 

No studio exec had to hear a pitch that began with the lines: 

 

"This is a film noir about ..."


Film noir is more of a style, or a mood. And it refers to the fact that certain films of the 40s or 50s started exhibiting these strange styles and tones.

These movies made a virtue of the losers, the femmes fatales, and of unhappy endings. There were lost men, strong women, sharp lighting and themes of jealousy, passion and fate playing a hard hand. Psychopaths were common, as were conmen and the alienation created by the city,.

These remain the markers of noir, and they cut through every genre.

But those two words. Comedy and noir. They don't automatically segue.

The Reckless Moment (1949)

Many of the elements most common to film noir are absent from The Reckless Moment and so much so that one must squint hard into the screen in order to find any film noir aspects at all.

What we primarily find in The Reckless Moment is a variation on the so-called woman's picture of the day, in which a mother in a suburban setting finds the respectability and polite autonomy of her family threatened — you'll think immediately of Mildred Pierce.

But there are plenty of films in which women are forcibly ejected from their marital, suburban comforts, and obliged to hit the streets in serach of dangerous truths.

Max Ophüls (here billed as Max Opuls) was known for making films which take a female point of view, or films that had a female protagonist.

The Reckless Moment is certainly one of these, and it looks at the idea of resepctability head-on, basically stating in Joan Bennet's character that the way to be respectable is not to associate with people of a lower class, who are unrespectable.

Joan Bennet's own reckless moment comes when she disposes of the body of her daughter's lover, when he is accidentally killed.  This is a desperate attempt to avoid scandal, and it is the point at which the paranoia begins to ramp up, the moment when the tension pumps, and when shame blooms into criminality.

As we can see in Pitfall, and other examples as simple as Phantom Lady, the paranoid woman in the bud of suburbia is a common film noir subject ...

Act of Violence (1949)

A former prisoner of war, Frank Enley (Van Heflin) is hailed as a hero in his California town.

However, Frank actually aided his Nazi captors, and he closely guards this secret!

Frank's shameful past comes back to visit him when fellow survivor Joe Parkson (Robert Ryan) emerges, intent on making the turncoat pay for his betrayal. 

As Joe closes in on Frank, the traitor goes into hiding, abandoning his wife, Edith (Janet Leigh), who has no clue about her husband's wartime transgressions. When Frank begins to truly fear his nemesis, played by the relentlessly limping Robert Ryan, he begins to speak of him as if he were speaking of the stalking figure of death itself. 

And his paranoia is total:

"You don't know what made him the way he is - I do!"

The Chase (1946)

The opening shot of The Chase (1946) is straight out of a mad god's dictionary of crazy Americana - a burger being flipped, watched by a hungry ex-military man.

This is Chuck Scott, hapless heel about town and nervous pill-popper, a guy scarred into insecurity and down on his luck as a result of World War 2.

And The Chase is not quite what you suspect. It's firmly film noir because of the psychology and the dream like quality of much of the story. 

Watch out for spoilers from this point on, because the dreamlike results of PTSD, which is what is being suggested in this film, make for a mad and paranoid set of circumstances.

At the centre of this dream too, is a version of the femme fatale, here cast as Michèle Morgan. She is a nervous and paranoid wife, another film noir favourite character type. And although she is not bad, she is still the pit that the hapless hero and weakened male of the lead, is going to fall within.

Detour (1945)

Detour (1945) is high noir, low budget and endlessly fascinating.  


Like many of Edgar G. Ulmer’s films it was shot in 6 days.

"Just visualise it," said Ulmer, "eighty set-ups a day."  It’s hard to visualise, but it sure is heroic.  

Normally, this approach would produce a clunky and directionless mess, but occasionally as here, it can still produce a gem. 

It's what they used to call a 'poverty row quicky', for the high-speed and low-expense of its production ... and there is something about this format that really lets the subversive implications of film noir rise to the surface.

French Film Noir #2


Le Corbeau (1943)


Le Corbeau (1943), in English known as The Raven is set in a paranoid French village called St. Robin, and is malicious and twisted fun.

A series of poison-pen letters, all signed "The Raven"– has activated the villagers' most wicked and weakened sides into spying, whispering and finger-pointing.

Worse, when Le Corbeau was released in Nazi occupied France in 1943 , and done so by a German production company, it wasn't welcomed that warmly. Its unflattering portrait of the French bourgeoisie, in fact, was considered by many as being virtually treasonous.

At first sight, the movie which depicts the malign minds lurking in the French provinces, seems like a simple whodunit. But the true colours of this French film noir, are black, black and black again. Misanthropy is the ultimate flavour here.