Noir Nook: Top 10 Favorite Bad Boys – Part 1

Noir Nook: Top 10 Favorite Bad Boys – Part 1

The days are getting longer, the flowers are starting to bud… and it’s a great time for a list! (No, there’s no real connection, but still – what a great time for a list, am I right?)

This month’s Noir Nook takes a look at some of my favorite bad boys. The fatal femmes are no strangers to the spotlight, so I thought it was time to give the nods to the fatal fellas (if you will). Let me know if some of the dudes you love to hate made the list!


Tommy Udo (Richard Widmark): Kiss of Death (1947)

Richard Widmark and Mildred Dunnock in Kiss of Death (1947)
Richard Widmark and Mildred Dunnock in Kiss of Death (1947)

When small-time thief Nick Bianco (Victor Mature) is nabbed after a botched robbery, he refuses to drop a dime on his buddies and goes to prison, leaving his wife and two small girls behind. But he doesn’t hesitate to rate on his pals after his wife commits suicide and his daughters wind up in an orphanage. Bianco is later released on the condition that he continue to work with authorities as a “stool pigeon” – but after remarrying and settling down with his new family, he finds that they’re in jeopardy when they’re targeted by one of guys Bianco fingered: Tommy Udo.

Udo is an undeniable psychopath; this is the guy who famously ties an invalid to her wheelchair and sends her careening down a flight of stairs, delivering his trademark maniacal giggle as he prepares to end her life. There’s not a single scene featuring this character that doesn’t make you more than a little uncomfortable – and grateful that you’re not the one sitting across from him.

Favorite quote:You know what I do to squealers? I let ‘em have it in the belly. So they can roll around for a long time, thinkin’ it over.

– Richard Widmark as Tommy Udo


Mr. Brown (Richard Conte): The Big Combo (1955)

Richard Conte and Cornel Wilde in The Big Combo (1955)
Richard Conte and Cornel Wilde in The Big Combo (1955)

Police detective Leonard Diamond (Cornel Wilde) is obsessed with nabbing local kingpin, Mr. Brown, who he suspects of murder. Diamond is not only obsessed with bringing Brown to justice, but he also has eyes for Brown’s girlfriend, Susan Lowell (Wilde’s then-wife Jean Wallace). Brown seems untouchable, but as the authorities close in, he proves that nobody is expendable in his resolve to remain free.

Brown is cooler than the other side of the pillow – and heartless as a stone. He treats his right-hand man (Brian Donlevy) with contempt and his henchmen (Earl Holliman and Lee Van Cleef) as disposable tools. His only soft spot seems to be Susan, but don’t let this fool you. For Mr. Brown, Susan is merely a trophy – something he owns and is determined to keep.

Favorite quote:Joe, tell the man I’m gonna break him so fast, he won’t have time to change his pants. Tell him the next time I see him, he’ll be in the lobby of the hotel, crying like a baby and asking for a ten dollar loan. Tell him that. And tell him I don’t break my word.

– Richard Conte as Mr. Brown


Sam Wild (Lawrence Tierney): Born to Kill (1947)

Lawrence Tierney in Born to Kill (1947)
Lawrence Tierney in Born to Kill (1947)

The aptly named Sam Wild commits a double murder in Reno after finding his sometime girlfriend (Isabel Jewell) on a date with another fella, then hightails it to San Francisco (on the advice of his wise and loyal BFF, played by Elisha Cook, Jr.). On the way, he meets and falls for newly divorced Helen Trent (Claire Trevor). What he doesn’t know is that Helen discovered the bodies. And what he’s soon to find out is that Helen doesn’t care that he’s the murderer. But she will.

This Sam Wild is one scary, but fascinating, dude. He’s the kind of guy who doesn’t shy away from homicide, but he’s also an ambitious social climber who marries Helen’s wealthy foster sister (Audrey Long), then insists on taking over the family newspaper business. This is a guy who wants to BE somebody.

Favorite quote:We’ll not only be rolling in dough, but marrying into this crowd’ll fix it so as I can… spit in anybody’s eye.

– Lawrence Tierney as Sam Wild


Lester Blaine (Jack Palance): Sudden Fear (1952)

Joan Crawford and Jack Palance in Sudden Fear (1952)
Joan Crawford and Jack Palance in Sudden Fear (1952)

Following an unusual meet-cute (that’s really not so cute), and a whirlwind romance, playwright and heiress Myra Hudson (Joan Crawford) marries actor Lester Blaine and settles down with her new hubby for a life filled with love and luxury. She didn’t reckon on a little monkey wrench in the form of Lester’s former lover, Irene Neves (Gloria Grahame). And when Lester and Irene get their heads together, it spells murder for lovestruck Myra.

I find Blaine to be a particularly unlikable character, who’s as transparent as a pane of glass. His charm and seeming devotion to Myra can’t be denied, but I can’t say I was exactly shocked to learn that his wife’s primary allure was her bank account. Nor was I surprised when he proved that he’d do anything (and I mean ANYTHING) to keep his hands on it.

Favorite quote:I’ve got to think fast. Got to think of a nice, foolproof little accident.

– Jack Palance as Lester Blaine


Emmet Myers (William Talman): The Hitchhiker (1953)

Frank Lovejoy, William Talman and Edmund O'Brien in The Hitchhiker (1953)
Frank Lovejoy, William Talman and Edmund O’Brien in The Hitchhiker (1953)

Two buddies, Roy Collins and Gilbert Bowen (Edmund O’Brien and Frank Lovejoy), off on a weekend fishing trip, get more than they bargain for when they pick up a hitchhiker along the side of the road. It turns out that their passenger is one Emmet Myers, who has recently escaped from prison, is in the midst of a killing spree, and has no qualms about adding Collins and Bowen to his roster.

Myers is the kind of killer who leaves you with a sense of utter defeat; he’s equipped with a frightening countenance and an attitude which makes it clear that your life means less to him than a stray pebble on the highway. But worst of all, he has a peculiar affliction that allows him to literally sleep with one eye open. What chance do you have?

Favorite quote:Nobody ever gave me anything. So I don’t owe nobody. My folks were tough. When I was born, they took one look at this puss of mine and told me to get lost. Well, I didn’t need ‘em. I didn’t need any of ‘em. Got what I wanted my own way.

– William Talman as Emmet Myers


Next month’s Noir Nook will feature the second half of my Top 10 Bad Boys. Hope you’ll join me!

– 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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