Noir Nook: The At-Home Film Noir Festival
In April of this year, I attended the TCM Film Festival, which was the first time in two years that the fest was an in-person event. It was a sheer delight to be back in Hollywood for my eighth in-person festival – there’s nothing like viewing classic films on the big screen, seeing old friends and meeting new ones, and subsisting off of Raisinets, popcorn, croissants, and Icees while you dash from theater to theater and line to line.
While basking in the afterglow of the TCM event the other day, I got the idea of creating an at-home film noir festival that would allow me to put my feet up, take restroom breaks at will, and enjoy healthy meals all day (with popcorn and Raisinets mixed in, of course)! In planning the movies, I was careful to include films that are first-rate, but not necessarily the most popular ones, like Out of the Past, Laura, and Double Indemnity. And in order to allow for maximum participation from all you readers out there in the dark, I made sure that I only included films that are accessible at no cost via YouTube. If you watch them all, back-to-back, starting around 9 o’clock in the morning, you’ll be able to see them in one day.
So if you’re going through withdrawal from the TCM festival, or you’ve never been to the TCM festival, or if you’ve never even heard of the TCM festival and just love your noir, I hope you’ll block out a day on your calendar, gather your snacks, and treat yourself to the following features from the first Noir Nook At-Home Film Noir Festival!
Too Late for Tears (1949) – 100 minutes
Lizabeth Scott stars as Jane Palmer, who yearns to keep up with the Joneses and gets her chance when a satchel full of cash is literally dropped into her lap while she and her husband are returning home one evening. Only problem is that her husband wants to turn the money over to the authorities, and Jane will do practically anything to keep it. It’s a quandary. Others in the cast include Arthur Kennedy as Jane’s hubby, Dan Duryea as the rightful recipient of the dough, and Don DeFore as a stranger who throws quite the sizable monkey wrench into Jane’s plans.
The Killing (1956) – 85 minutes
One of my all-time best-loved noirs, believed to have been an influence on several of Quentin Tarantino’s movies, The Killing unites a group of disparate dudes to pull off a daring and inventive heist at a racetrack. Unfortunately, the old saying about the best laid plans of mice and men proves to be all too prophetic here. Sterling Hayden plays Johnny Clay, the mastermind of the group – others involved in the robbery include Elisha Cook, Jr., as George Peatty, a mousy racetrack cashier’ Marie Windsor as his gold-digging wife, Sherry; and Vince Edwards as Sherry’s lover, who plays a bigger role in the heist’s aftermath than anyone would have anticipated.
New York Confidential (1955) – 88 minutes
On any given day, I could easily identify Richard Conte as my favorite classic film noir actor – I can’t put my finger on it, but there’s just something about him. And that something is on full display in New York Confidential, where he plays Nick Magellan (I even love the name!), a cool and capable hit man who becomes the bodyguard and right hand of New York syndicate boss Charlie Lupo (Broderick Crawford). Nick is a fascinating and multifaceted character whose life is impacted by those in Charlie’s circle, including Charlie’s attractive but troubled daughter (Anne Bancroft) and Charlie’s mistress (Marilyn Maxwell), who has eyes (who can blame her?) for Nick.
Sudden Fear (1952) – 110 minutes
What would a film noir festival be without my girl Joan Crawford? I first saw Sudden Fear on the big screen, and let me tell you, I was literally on the edge of my seat. Crawford is playwright and heiress Myra Hudson, who marries actor Lester Blaine (Jack Palance) after a whirlwind romance. Myra is blissfully happy, but what she doesn’t know is that Lester (1) married her for her money and (2) is carrying on with his ex-lover Irene Neves (Gloria Grahame). She also doesn’t know that Lester and Irene are plotting to kill her – but when she finds out… well, let’s just say she’s not a happy camper.
The Great Flamarion (1945) – 78 minutes
Erich Von Stroheim has the title role of a stern, hard-hearted vaudeville sharpshooter who performs with his assistants Connie Wallace (Mary Beth Hughes) and her alcoholic husband, Al (Dan Duryea). Unhappy with her marriage and eager to step up to a higher financial status, Connie uses every trick in the book to bulldoze her way through Flamarion’s stony carapace until he falls for her. And if you know your noir, you’ll know that Connie’s next step is to convince Flamarion to get rid of Al. Three guesses as to whether she succeeds – and the first two don’t count.
Murder by Contract (1958) – 81 minutes
Released near the end of the classic film noir era, this film is rapidly climbing the charts of my film noir favorites. It’s so different from most noirs, but it’s undeniably gritty and absolutely riveting – and has moments of humor as well. The story centers on a hit man named Claude (Vince Edwards), whose latest job requires him to travel to Los Angeles to kill a heavily guarded woman who is slated to testify in a high-profile trial. The only problem for the efficient and cold-blooded killer is that he didn’t know that his target was a woman, and he doesn’t, as a rule, accept contracts on women: they’re too “unpredictable.” The cast includes Herschel Bernardi, a popular fixture on TV shows of the 1970s and 1980s, as one of the men who hires Claude for the job, but another character may just be the unique guitar score that is threaded throughout the film.
Odd Man Out (1947) – 76 minutes
This is one of those films that I’d heard about for years, and then kicked myself for taking so long to see it. Set in Belfast, it stars James Mason as Johnny McQueen, the leader of an Irish separatist group who is injured during a botched robbery attempt and spends the remainder of the film on the lam from the law. While police comb the city looking for him, he’s also being sought by Kathleen Sullivan (Kathleen Ryan), the woman who loves him. Also in the cast is Robert Newton, who you might recognize from Oliver Twist (1948), Kiss the Blood Off My Hands (1948), and Treasure Island (1950).
Detour (1945) – 68 minutes
I’m wrapping up the day with a low-budget gem – you may have seen Detour already, but you can’t see it too many times, if you ask me. It ticks so many film noir boxes – voiceover narration, flashback, shadowy scenes, rainswept nights, and a femme fatale who’s one of the nastiest dames you’re ever likely to encounter. The story centers on Al Roberts (Tom Neal), who makes his living playing piano in a New York dive bar and embarks on a cross-country hitchhiking quest to join his singer girlfriend in Los Angeles. Unfortunately for Al, he hitches a ride with a guy who winds up dead, assumes the dead guy’s identity, and then picks up a hitchhiker of his own (Ann Savage), who just happens to know that Al isn’t who he says he is. Clocking in at just a little over an hour, Detour packs a shadowy punch filled with non-stop action and some of the greatest lines in all of noir. It’s the perfect film to end your noir fest!
Enjoy! And please let me know if you participate in the festival – or what movies you’d choose for your own at-home noir fest!
– 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.
If you’re interested in learning more about Karen’s books, you can read more about them on amazon here: