Noir Nook: Supportive Fellas of Film Noir

Noir Nook: Supportive Fellas of Film Noir

A couple of years ago at the Noir Nook, I remedied my penchant for focusing on the distaff side of noir by shining the spotlight on some of my favorite noir actors. Now that 2023 is upon us, I thought it was about time to show a little more love to the gents; this time, I’m not looking at the main characters, but a couple of fellas in support of the main, who deserve just as much attention.

Chickamaw Mobley (Howard da Silva) in They Live By Night (1948)

Howard Da Silva, Jay C. Flippen, Farley Granger, and William Phipps in They Live by Night (1948)
Howard Da Silva, Jay C. Flippen, Farley Granger, and William Phipps in They Live by Night (1948)

One of my (many) favorite noirs, and one of the few that has made me tear up at the end, They Live By Night stars Farley Granger as Arthur “Bowie” Bowers, who escapes from prison with two other inmates and falls in love with Keechie Mobley (Cathy O’Donnell), the niece of one of his fellow escapees. Like many a noir, this one involves a scheme for “one last job” – and like the best laid plans of mice and men, things don’t turn out as intended.

Howard da Silva plays one of the escaped men, Chickamaw Mobley, who we see in the first scene driving the getaway car, which has been commandeered from the hapless farmer sitting beside him. When the car blows a tire and Chickamaw drives off the road into a nearby field, we get our first glimpse of this guy’s personality. The owner of the car makes one simple remark (“I knew that tire had to go”) and Chickamaw (who, incidentally, is blind in one eye) is off to the races. He tells the man he talks too much, snatches him from the car, and is prepared to shotgun him on the spot – if he hadn’t been stopped by the third convict comrade, T-Dub (Jay C. Flippen), the car owner would surely have met his maker that day. As it is, Chickamaw shoves the man to the ground and wallops him into unconsciousness.

Chickamaw is a mass of contradictions. He appears, at times, to be easy-going and amused by the goings-on around him, but he’s scary, too, and quick to fly off the handle. He’s cold-blooded, as we see with the farmer, and later in the film when a cop tries to detain him after a car accident, but he’s hypersensitive about references to his blind eye. He stresses that the three former inmates have to “look and act like other people,” but he hankers for fame and he’s chafed because the local newspaper “didn’t print a very big piece” about their prison break. Of the three men, it’s Chickamaw who’s the most menacing – the one that you’d least want to be left alone in a room with. But one thing’s sure – you won’t soon forget him.

Marty Waterman (Elisha Cook, Jr.) in Born to Kill (1947)

Elisha Cook, Jr. and Esther Howard in Born to Kill (1947)
Elisha Cook, Jr. and Esther Howard in Born to Kill (1947)

Born to Kill is yet another personal favorite. In it, Lawrence Tierney is the aptly named Sam Wild, who commits a double murder in the first 10 minutes of the film, jumps into an affair with Helen Trent (Claire Trevor), the (engaged) woman who finds the bodies – and then attempts to leap into a higher social stratum by marrying Helen’s wealthy foster sister, Georgia (Audrey Long). Meanwhile, his crimes are on the verge of exposure because Mrs. Kraft (Esther Howard), a friend of one of Sam’s victims, is determined to find the man responsible.

Elisha Cook’s Marty is Sam’s bosom buddy and lifelong pal. We don’t know exactly what kind of relationship they have, or how long they’ve had it, but we do know that they were roommates in Reno, and that Marty looks after Sam like a mother bear to her favorite cub. When Sam flees to San Francisco, Marty’s not far behind. When Sam marries Georgia, Marty’s the best man. When Marty learns about the ongoing relationship between Sam and his sister-in-law, he has a few choice words of warning for Helen. And when Mrs. Kraft comes to town and hires a private eye… well, Marty has something to say about that, too.

Marty is the kind of friend we all wish we had. He doesn’t encourage Sam’s misdeeds, but he’s not judgmental, either. He’s supportive and understanding, soothing and empathetic. When Sam tells him about the murders, Marty doesn’t scold, but he does offer his friend some practical advice: “Honest, Sam, you go nuts about nothin’. Nothin’ at all. You gotta watch that,” Marty warns. “You can’t just go around killin’ people whenever the notion strikes you. It’s not feasible.” No matter what Sam does, he can count on Marty to have his back – and not only have his back, but to do whatever he has to do to secure Sam’s safety. It’s Marty’s tough luck that Sam doesn’t realize just how good a friend he has.

Stay tuned for future Noir Nooks, where I’ll explore more first-rate supporting gents. Meanwhile, you can catch both They Live By Night and Born to Kill for free on YouTube and check out these characters for yourself!

You won’t be sorry.

– 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:

This entry was posted in Noir Nook, Posts by Karen Burroughs Hannsberry and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Noir Nook: Supportive Fellas of Film Noir

  1. Great choices, and I love the dialogue selections—they bring those characters vividly before me. Looking forward to more!

  2. Cristiane C Young says:

    Two of my favorite noirs. Maybe you can do a Noir Nook about the great Esther Howard?

  3. Bud C says:

    Your articles are always enjoyable! Thank you

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.