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The Top 10 Film Noir Classics

Shining some light on one of the most mysterious and iconic of movie genres.

by
Don Sucher

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July 7, 2014 - 8:00 am
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If you’d asked the director of any of these Top 10 Film Noir Classics just how he’d personally define “film noir” he’d most likely have responded “film wha?” But way before these films were noticed and dissected by “arty” types and given a French name (“Film Noir” French for “black film”), we the people loved them. These were dark and shadowy Saturday afternoon movies. Films filled with hard boiled cops, tough-talking private eyes, cruel and evil “bad guys” and dangerous women – oh yes, especially dangerous women. And that’s exactly what we loved about them.

Studios turned them out by the score – many pure dreck – largely just to fill theater seats on dreary afternoons. Back then they were called “melodramas,” “mysteries” or even just plain old “B movies.” But among the many there were more than a few that proved to be much more than “cheap thrillers,” films that have stood the test of time. Truly great films filled with memorable characters, scripts that bordered on brilliant, and dark, visually compelling, stories one can watch over and over again even after one knows how the underlying mystery has been solved.

So, call them whatever you wish. Here’s our list of the Top 10 Film Noir Classics…

10. The Big Sleep (1946)

How could one not include a film that has one of the most cynical private eyes ever to stand before a camera? We’re talking about Humphrey Bogart as Phillip Marlowe. Add to this a femme fatale so sultry (actress Lauren Bacall playing playgirl Vivian Rutledge) that during the film’s shooting she won over, not only that hardened detective’s heart, but actor Humphrey Bogart’s as well.

Thoroughly entertaining, witty, and with several dark mysteries waiting to be revealed, The Big Sleep has a place on any list of essential film noir.

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All Comments   (24)
All Comments   (24)
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Gaslight.
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
I always thought Chinatown was a great one, but as long as it has "Maltese Falcon" on there I can't argue with that list!
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
Robert Ryan in The Set-Up [boxing Noir], in The Woman On Pier 13 [Anti-Communist Noir], in Act Of Violence [revenge Noir].

And, of course, Bob Mitchum [too many to list here, but no list is complete, as others have mentioned, without Out Of The Past - 'Build my gallows high, baby.']
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
Their are so many great Film Noirs but a couple of my favorites were left out; Out of the Past, This Gun for Hire, T-Men, Dead Line at Dawn, Dark Corner, and a film I have seen over 30 times Raw Deal.
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
Top ten film noir without "Out of the Past? Say its not so.
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
My thought too! I think it moves into the place vacated by The Thin Man.
13 weeks ago
13 weeks ago Link To Comment
I'm actually quite partial to "Mulholland Falls". Nick Nolte is a throwback to the great film noir actors, the story is decent, and a young Jennifer Connelly is enough eye candy in one sitting to give you visual diabetes. Nolte gets the role precisely correct, with great support from Chaz Palminteri and Bruce Dern.
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
Quick thoughts, no point:

First of all, I'd always figured a certain degree of moral ambiguity and cynicism should be part of a film noir. So maybe not The Thin Man. Maltese Falcon's a good example. And Kiss Me Deadly. If we talk color films, Chinatown, Body Heat, and The Long Good Friday come to mind. Maybe Memento. Maybe Drive. (There are other things like Mulholland Falls and L.A. Confidential, but I found them unsatisfying because they seemed to be picking up where earlier color noir had efforts had left off.)

Liked M but that seems to belong more in the gritty German expressionism box next to Lang's Blue Angel and the Mabuse movies. See also early Hitchcock. They share similarities with films noir because they inspired films noir. Or so it seems to me. (Thought experiment: Is Psycho a flim noir?)
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
correction: Lang didn't do Blue Angel. So shoot me...
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
And BTW, welcome to this great debate: Is/Isn't Casablanca ?
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
I've though about that. Love the film!

Two things, in my view, prevent Casablanca from being viewed a FN. The first is Rick's cynicism strikes me as to being too much a reaction to his own pain and loss. It is more a surface pose for self-protection than an actual darkness of the soul. The second is that his lady -- really, all the women in film -- are just too good!

Now if a follow up was made based on Renault... Well then maybe. ;-)
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
I agree that Casablanca isn't really a noir. But consider: Although Rick tends to do good, his eventual goals are unstated and his methods are unscrupulous; one could make the same observation about Bogart's character in Maltese Falcon. Both characters are in a position to bend the system to get the girl, but both let the girl go at the last minute. But then, and here's where I think it splits on the noir, Rick lets the girl go because it will be best for her; Sam Spade, because it will be worse. (Now that I think about it, when Rick lets the young couple win at gambling, it tips the plot's hand on what he'll eventually do about his own girl problem.)
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
Wasn't it Renault who observed about Rick "I always knew you were a sentimentalist"? And Maj. Strasser "The other side would have paid you far better."

All of this is great film writing IMO -The slow but steady revelation of a person's character, but not so blatantly that their final choice seems destined or obvious.

Yup, gotta love Casablanca! :)
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
Wow! Many of these I know, but other not! Keep those suggestions coming! :)
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
I can't fault any of the author's choices, but I would like to add one of my own--the best "modern" film noir--Miller's Crossing. Yes, it was shot in color instead of black and white, but it has all the classic elements. Morally dubious characters throughout, witty patter, tough dames, memorable bad guys and a protagonist without a heart.
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
Agreed. A great movie.
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
Great choice. I need to watch that one again.
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
Always put one in the brain!
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
Sorry, but in my book, any list of top 10 Film Noir's that doesn't have "Out of the Past" ain't worth much. I don't think Kathie or Whit are going to be too happy about this, chump, so watch your back, if you know what I mean.
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
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