Noir Nook: Noir Good Guys

Noir Nook: Noir Good Guys

From the corrupt cop who covers up a murder to the gullible everyman who’s talked into a crime by a pair of lying lips, film noir is practically bursting at the seams with bad guys. But the gents in these gems aren’t all bad! This month’s Noir Nook takes a look at a quartet of hommes noirs who, while admittedly flawed, certainly wear the white hat and not the black.

Warren Quimby (Richard Basehart) in Tension (1949)

Audrey Totter and Richard Basehart in Tension (1949)
Audrey Totter and Richard Basehart in Tension (1949)

Warren is a bespectacled, mild-mannered pharmacist, with an undying love for his absolutely horrid wife Claire (Audrey Totter). No matter how much contempt drips from Claire’s lips, or how many times she tips out at night to go “to the movies,” Warren remains the faithful, devoted spouse. Until Claire leaves him for another man, that is, and then Warren concocts an elaborate plot in an effort to kill the guy. But don’t get me wrong – Warren’s innate goodness shines through, and he can’t carry out the deadly deed. At worst, Warren doesn’t think logically; as a result of his scheme – which, incidentally, involved his assuming a fake identity – he finds himself caught up in circumstances beyond his control. But at heart, he’s a good guy.

…..

Guy Haines (Farley Granger) in Strangers on a Train (1950)

Farley Granger in Strangers on a Train (1950)
Farley Granger in Strangers on a Train (1950)

Tennis star Guy Haines is stuck in a marriage to a shrewish harpy, Miriam (Laura Elliott). He wants out, but she’s digging in her heels – and to make matters worse, she tells him she’s pregnant. (Not with his child, but pregnant nonetheless.) Who could blame Guy if he wanted to see her gone? So when Guy encounters Bruno (Robert Walker), a charming, if slightly batty, fellow train passenger who proposes that he’ll kill Miriam if Guy will kill Bruno’s father – well, what’s a tennis star to do? Actually, Guy has no intention of killing anybody – even after Bruno actually does murder Miriam. In fact, Guy’s only crime is that he’s having an affair with a gorgeous senator’s daughter (Ruth Roman). That aside, he’s a good guy.

…..

Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum) in Out of the Past (1947)

Robert Mitchum in Out of the Past (1947)
Robert Mitchum in Out of the Past (1947)

A former private dick turned service station owner, Jeff Bailey (or Markham, if you prefer) knows first-hand what it’s like to have his past catch up with him. After he’s hired to find the girlfriend of refined gangster Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas) – who shot him and lifted forty grand before going on the lam – Jeff winds up falling in love for the dame, Kathie (Jane Greer). But it’s not his fault – he couldn’t help himself. And if he lied to Whit about having found her, well, we can’t really blame him. After all, he does finally wake up, smell the coffee, and see Kathie for the lying, stealing murderess that she is underneath all that sensual gorgeousness. That’s because Jeff was really a good guy.

…..

Nick Blake (John Garfield) in Nobody Lives Forever (1946)

Geraldine Fitzgerald and John Garfield in Nobody Lives Forever (1946)
Geraldine Fitzgerald and John Garfield in Nobody Lives Forever (1946)

On the surface, it appears that Nick Blake isn’t such a stellar fella. He’s a notorious gambler who returns from the war and teams up with an old friend and a local hood, Doc Hanson (George Coulouris) to swindle a fortune out of a rich widow (Geraldine Fitzgerald). But the real Nick emerges when he falls head over heels for the widow, tries to back out of the plot by paying off the hood and then risks life and limb to save her when she’s kidnapped. If that’s not a good guy, then I just don’t know what is.

What noir good guys can you think of? Let me know . . . maybe they’ll get the star treatment in a future post!

– Karen Burroughs Hannsberry for Classic Movie Hub

You can read all of Karen’s Noir Nook articles here.

Karen Burroughs Hannsberry is the author of the Shadows and Satin blog, which focuses on movies and performers from the film noir and pre-Code eras, and the editor-in-chief of The Dark Pages, a bimonthly newsletter devoted to all things film noir. Karen is also the author of two books on film noir – Femme Noir: The Bad Girls of Film and Bad Boys: The Actors of Film Noir. You can follow Karen on Twitter at @TheDarkPages.
If you’re interested in learning more about Karen’s books, you can read more about them on amazon here:

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One Response to Noir Nook: Noir Good Guys

  1. Would you classify tough guy cop Jim Wilson (On Dangerous Ground) as a good guy? He’s driven to the edge and could have gone either way in the long run.

    How about Gagin (Ride the Pink Horse)? He’s single-minded, and deservedly so, but that doesn’t keep him from a soft-hearted sidetrack.

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