Noir Nook: Top 10 Favorite Bad Boys – Part 2

Noir Nook: Top 10 Favorite Bad Boys – Part 2

Last month, here at the Noir Nook, I served up the first half of my top 10 bad boys of noir. I’m finishing up the list this month with another spate of dastardly dudes. Watch yourself – they’re up to no good!


Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas): Out of the Past (1947)

Kirk Douglas Out of the Past
Kirk Douglas in Out of the Past (1947)

This feature centers on private dick Jeff Markham (Robert Mitchum) turned filling station owner Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum), whose past catches up with him in the form of a gorgeously nefarious femme, Kathie Moffat (Jane Greer), and a ruthless gang boss, Whit Sterling. Out of the Past boasts one of those labyrinthine noir plots that you’d rather disregard than figure out, but in a nutshell, Whit hired Jeff to find his girl, Kathie, who’d stolen forty grand and took it on the lam, leaving Whit with a bullet in his side as a parting gift. Jeff finds Kathie, but instead of returning her to Whit, he falls for her and the two enjoy an idyllic sojourn – until they don’t.

In Whit Sterling, we have one of noir’s scariest characters – he’s smart but ruthless, refined but lethal, genial, with an affable façade that masks a monster. Whit isn’t in many scenes, but he dominates each one with a frightening air – you never know what he’s liable to do or say, or what duplicitous intentions are bubbling behind his pleasant and uber-calm comportment.

Favorite quote: “You’re gonna take the rap and play along. You’re gonna make every exact move I tell you. If you don’t, I’ll kill you. And I’ll promise you one thing: it won’t be quick. I’ll break you first. You won’t be able to answer a telephone or open a door without thinking, ‘This is it.’ And when it comes, it still won’t be quick. And it won’t be pretty. You can take your choice.”

— Kirk Douglas as Whit Sterling


Slim Dundee (Dan Duryea): Criss Cross (1949)

Dan Duryea Criss Cross
Dan Duryea in Criss Cross (1949)

Criss Cross – one of my very favorite noirs, incidentally – tells the story of Steve Thompson (Burt Lancaster), who returns to his hometown after a lengthy absence only to find himself getting mixed up with his irresistible and combustible ex-wife Anna (Yvonne DeCarlo) – and local gangster Slim Dundee. In an extended flashback, we see how Steve and Anna reconnected (despite Steve’s attempts to convince himself that he wasn’t interested); how, without warning, Anna married Slim; and how Anna and Steve schemed to reunite, double cross Slim, and wind up with a big payday in the bargain.

Slim is a hothead. Suspicious. Jealous. Mean. Abusive. Merciless. And you can’t take your eyes off of him – because he’s also cooler than the other side of the pillow. Take my favorite scene, when Slim returns home early from a trip and catches Anna and Steve together (with Steve in his undershirt, yet!). Silently declining the offer of a beer from one of his underlings, he greets Anna, then calmly offers: “You know, uh, it don’t look right,” he comments. “You can’t exactly say it looks right, now, can you?” But beneath that composed exterior, Slim is like a caged tiger, just waiting to pounce.

Favorite quote: “Is that polite? Is it hospitable? Tell me, Stevie, what kind of a job is this you need crooks?”

— Dan Duryea as Slim Dundee


Cody Jarrett (James Cagney): White Heat (1949)

James Cagney White Heat
James Cagney in White Heat (1949)

White Heat gives us a straightforward story – government agent Hank Fallon (Edmond O’Brien) goes undercover to infiltrate a gang headed by Cody Jarrett (James Cagney. Also along for the ride are Big Ed Somers (Steve Cochran), Cody’s right-hand man (until he stabs him in the back), and Cody’s gorgeously duplicitous girlfriend (Virginia Mayo).

An undeniable psychopath, Cody isn’t your everyday, garden-variety mobster: he suffers from debilitating migraines and an unnatural attachment to his mother (Margaret Wycherly). Ruthless, fearless, and utterly remorseless, Cody ultimately fails to get away with his crimes, but his comeuppance is particularly explosive, if you know what I mean.

Favorite quote: “Did I ask you for any advice? Look Pardo, I’ve been watchin’ you. And up to now you haven’t done anything I can put my finger on. And maybe that’s what bothers me. But I don’t know you. What I don’t know, I don’t trust. To me you’re just a face and a number and let’s keep it that way for now. When I want your help, I’ll ask for it.”

— James Cagney as Cody Jarrett


Walt Radak (Raymond Burr): Desperate (1947)

Raymond Burr Desperate
Raymond Burr in Desperate (1947)

This film stars Steve Brodie as Steve Randall, a newlywed truck driver whose wife, Anne (Audrey Long) is expecting the couple’s first child. All is sweetness and light in the Randall household until Steve is contacted by an old school chum, Walt Radak, who offers him a lucrative job hauling freight. When Steve learns that the freight consists of stolen goods, he tries to alert the authorities, but a gun battle results in a dead policeman, the arrest of Walt’s kid brother for the murder, and Steve and Anne on the run from both police and a vindictive Walt Radak.

Walt Radak was a hood with a one-track mind. Once he decided that Steve Randall was responsible for the arrest, conviction, and ultimate execution of his brother, he had Steve in his sights like a deer during hunting season. And he tracked him across the country with vengeful glee. Steve didn’t have a chance.

Favorite quote: “I’m sorry I can’t give you a choice of food, Steve, but it won’t make much difference. You’re not going to live long enough to get any nourishment out of it.”

— Raymond Burr as Walt Radak


Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson): Key Largo (1948)

Edward G. Robinson Key Largo
Edward G. Robinson in Key Largo (1948)

A gang of criminals takes over a hotel in Florida’s Key Largo, led by exiled gangster Johnny Rocco, who has plans to conduct a transaction involving counterfeit cash with some of his former crime cronies. Held captive by Rocco’s gang in the midst of a hurricane are the hotel’s feisty, wheelchair-bound owner James Temple (Lionel Barrymore), his daughter-in-law Nora (Lauren Bacall), Frank McCloud (Humphrey Bogart), a war hero who’d served alongside Nora’s late husband and is in town visiting the Temples, and Rocco’s former moll, Gaye Dawn (Claire Trevor), who’s now a rather pitiable alcoholic.

Rocco possesses a multifaceted personality. He’s capable of tossing off a humorous quip, but he’s clearly afraid of the powerful storm raging outside the hotel. He’s mean-spirited, as he demonstrates by forcing Gaye to warble a tune in exchange for a drink, then refusing to keep his part of the bargain. He’s wily, as we see when he rattles off a smooth lie to the local sheriff seeking the killer of his deputy. And he’s overflowing with arrogance and egotism: “Thousands of guys got guns,” he says, “but there’s only one Johnny Rocco!”

Favorite quote: “After living in the USA for more than thirty-five years they called me an undesirable alien. Me. Johnny Rocco. Like I was a dirty Red or something!”

— Edward G. Robinson as Johnny Rocco


That’s the end of my Top 10 list of Noir’s Bad Boys. Who would you add to this corrupt crew?

– 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.

One Response to Noir Nook: Top 10 Favorite Bad Boys – Part 2

  1. Steven C Smith says:

    “Colder than the other side of the pillow.” Great writing, great choices!

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.