Noir Nook: Noirs I Watch Over and Over
I was talking to a co-worker the other day, and she remarked that she didn’t understand how people can read the same books or watch the same movies and television shows over and over again. I was astonished – I don’t re-read books as much as I used to, but I have a rotation of much-loved TV shows that I watch daily (Good Times, The Brady Bunch, Girlfriends, News Radio, Wings, and The New Adventures of Old Christine among them). And as for movies – sometimes it seems like the only movies I watch are the ones I’ve seen before.
For this month’s Noir Nook, I’ve compiled my top 5 films noir that I can (and do!) watch over and over again. In reviewing my list, I noticed one common thread – each of them has at least one juicy, memorable female character. And I’m not surprised. There’s just something about those noir dames.
So here’s my list – and for a bonus, I’ve included some favorite quotes and some tidbits of trivia thrown in for good measure. Enjoy!
Double Indemnity (1944)
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times – Double Indemnity is my all-time, hands-down, without-question favorite noir. It offers a simple story – an insurance salesman (Fred MacMurray) falls hard for the sexy wife (Barbara Stanwyck) of an oil company executive and together, they plot and carry out said oilman’s murder – and, of course, there’s the insurance payout of the film’s title, just to make things good and juicy.
Favorite quote: “I think you’re swell – so long as I’m not your husband.” – Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray)
Trivia tidbit: Neither of the film’s stars – Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray – initially was very keen on accepting the roles they played. Stanwyck said she was “a little afraid” to portray an “out-and-out killer.” And MacMurray, who had strategically fostered a good guy screen image up to that point, was similarly reticent, but he later said it was “the best picture I ever made.”
Mildred Pierce (1945)
I think I’ve probably seen Mildred Pierce more often than any other noir. It’s the tale of a stay-at-home-mom turned single working mother turned successful businesswoman whose blind love for her self-absorbed daughter ultimately leads down the path to murder. And I cannot get enough of it. The picture, of course, belongs to Joan Crawford in the title role (for which she deservedly earned an Academy Award), but she’s more than ably backed up by such luminaries as Eve Arden as her best pal, Zachary Scott as her shady second husband, and Jack Carson, as her first husband’s ex-business partner and one of the most opportunistic gents you’d ever care to meet. I have it on VHS and DVD, and I still get excited when it comes on TV.
Favorite quote: “Personally, Veda’s convinced me that alligators have the right idea. They eat their young.” – Ida Corwin (Eve Arden)
Trivia tidbit: The beach house used in several scenes was owned by the film’s director, Michael Curtiz. It was built in Malibu in 1929 but collapsed into the ocean in 1983 after a week of heavy storms.
The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)
My fondness for The Postman Always Rings Twice started when I was a little girl — I can remember feeling so mature when I realized that I understood the meaning of the title. The film stars Lana Turner as one of my favorite noir dames, Cora Smith, who teams with her lover, Frank Smith (John Garfield), to knock off her husband. It’s got so much to recommend it – from Turner’s all-white wardrobe to George Bassman’s oh-so-dramatic musical score. It just never gets old.
Favorite quote: “Stealing a man’s wife, that’s nothing, but stealing a man’s car – that’s larceny!” – Frank Chambers (John Garfield)
Trivia tidbit: Lana Turner wasn’t impressed with the 1981 remake of the film, which starred Jessica Lange and Jack Nicholson. “They are such fools to play around with something that’s still a classic,” she said. “I’m a little heartsick. Jack Nicholson just isn’t John Garfield. The chemistry we had just crackled. Every facet [was] so perfect.”
Sunset Boulevard (1950)
The last time I saw Sunset Boulevard was at the TCM Film Festival in April – and it was just as mesmerizing as it was at my first viewing more than 30 years ago. I don’t care how many times I see this tale of an aging film star and her web of delusion that ensnares a young screenwriter, I’m always left breathless at the end. It’s simply riveting from start to finish.
Favorite quote: “Audiences don’t know somebody sits down and writes a picture; they think the actors make it up as they go along.” – Joe Gillis (William Holden)
Trivia tidbit: Sunset Boulevard was the 17th and final screenplay collaboration between Billy Wilder and co-writer Charles Brackett. After an especially nasty argument over a sequence in the film, they vowed to never work together again.
It’s low-budget with a running time of 68 and a cast of performers you probably never heard of before this film. But Detour is AWESOME, and every time I see it, I can hardly believe my eyes and ears. It’s the story of an ill-fated piano player who gets way more than he bargained for when he decides to hitchhike across the country to join his girlfriend in L.A. Starring Tom Neal (whose real-life story is even more doomed than his character’s!) and Ann Savage, who spits out her lines like they taste bad, Detour keeps me on the edge of my seat with every viewing.
Favorite quote: “Money. You know what that is, the stuff you never have enough of. Little green things with George Washington’s picture that men slave for, commit crimes for, die for. It’s the stuff that has caused more trouble in the world than anything else we ever invented, simply because there’s too little of it.” – Al Roberts (Tom Neal)
Trivia tidbit: The budget PRC gave director Edgar G. Ulmer for this film was so small that the 1941 Lincoln Continental V-12 convertible driven by Charles Haskell was actually Ulmer’s personal car.
That’s my top 5 noirs that I watch over and over. How about you? What noirs can’t you get enough of?
– Karen Burroughs Hannsberry for Classic Movie Hub
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.
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