Noir Nook: Top 10 Noirs I Adore

Noir Nook: Top 10 Noirs I Adore

I love a good list. And some of my favorite lists have to do with film noir. 

I’m always fascinated by the favorite noirs of other fans of this era – they vary so widely. But, then again, my own favorites vary as well, depending on the day. Some of my lists of top noirs will contain those famous features like Double Indemnity (1944) and Out of the Past (1947). Others will focus on more obscure features – Somewhere in the Night (1946) and The Crooked Way (1949) come to mind. And then there are those that, for whatever reason, I simply adore. Some of these may be lesser-known (and even lesser-quality), and they may not appear on every (or any?) top 10 noir list that you’ll come across, but if you check ’em out, you’re guaranteed a noirish good time!

…..

Born to Kill (1947)

Claire Trevor, Audrey Long, and Lawrence Tierney in Born to Kill (1947)
Claire Trevor, Audrey Long, and Lawrence Tierney in Born to Kill (1947)

What’s it about?:

A man and a woman (Lawrence Tierney and Claire Trevor) are drawn together by their mutually depraved sensibilities.

What do I love most?:

There are many noirs with memorable lines, but for my money, Born to Kill has some of the best. In one scene, after finding out that Sam Wild (Tierney) has committed a double murder, his best pal Marty (Elisha Cook Jr.) tells him, “You can’t just go around killing people whenever the notion strikes you. It’s not feasible.” And another great line comes later in the film, courtesy of private detective Albert Arnett (Walter Slezak): “As you grow older, you’ll discover that life is very much like coffee. The aroma is always better than the actuality.”

…..

The Locket (1946)

What’s it about?

Laraine Day stars as a sociopathic kleptomaniac with deep-seated issues dating back to a single incident from her childhood.

What do I love most?:

You may know Laraine Day best from her nice-girl roles like the nurse in the Dr. Kildare series, or in such films as Journey for Margaret (1942), Mr. Lucky (1943), or My Dear Secretary (1948), but she shows us a completely different side in The Locket. When we first meet her as Nancy Fuller, she appears to be a pleasant, well-adjusted, perfectly conventional soon-to-be-bride. As the movie’s minutes tick by, though, we learn that she’s not only a thief and a liar, but a murderer, to boot.

…..

Too Late for Tears (1949)

What’s it about?:

A housewife’s (Lizabeth Scott) desire to keep up with the Joneses leads to murder.

What do I love most?:

Scott’s character in Too Late for Tears isn’t simply greedy or up to no good. She possesses an innate intelligence that allows her to stay one step ahead of every situation she encounters; you can’t help but admire her smarts. It’s for this reason that she very nearly gets away with her crimes.

…..

Decoy (1946)

What’s it about?:

A femme fatale of the highest order (Jean Gillie) masters the art of the double- and triple-cross in an effort to be the sole owner of a cache of cash.

What do I love most?:

There never was a fatal femme like Jean Gillie’s Margot Shelby. Beautiful, avaricious, shrewd, and deadly, she would stop at absolutely nothing, and betray absolutely anybody, in order to achieve her means. Even on her deathbed, she refuses to give up or give in.

…..

Wicked Woman (1953)

Richard Egan and Beverly Michaels in Wicked Woman (1953)
Richard Egan and Beverly Michaels in Wicked Woman (1953)

What’s it about?:

A sexy female drifter (Beverly Michaels) sashays into a small town and causes havoc in the lives of an alcoholic bar owner, her hunky husband, and a whiny but wily boardinghouse resident.

What do I love most?:

I’ve never seen the star of this film in any other movie, but I don’t need to. As the wicked woman of the title, she is, quite simply, everything. Michaels may not be the greatest actress in the world, but there’s no denying that she steals every scene she’s in. You can’t take your eyes off of her.                   

…..

The Damned Don’t Cry! (1950)

What’s it about?:

After a family tragedy, the life of a wife and mother (Joan Crawford) transforms from dissatisfied rags to dangerous riches.

What do I love most?:

In Damned, Crawford once again gives us an unforgettable female character. Ethel Whitehead starts out as a browbeaten stay-at-home mom, but her son’s untimely death inspires her metamorphosis into a strong and fearless woman. Every step she takes leads her into a better situation, with greater risks but far more superior returns – until, of course, her luck runs out.

…..

Shield for Murder (1954)

What’s it about?:

Edmond O’Brien is a cynical cop whose desires for a wife, children, and a traditional home life drive him to murder.  

What do I love most?:

I love this one for all of the stuff that’s going on. Crooked, murderous cop. His devoted partner. The budding relationship between the crooked cop’s girlfriend and his devoted partner. The crazy shootout scene at a public swimming pool. The witness to the cop’s murder. The fate of the witness to the cop’s murder. The out-of-nowhere pistol-whipping in a restaurant. And the perfect noir ending.

…..

The Great Flamarion (1947)

What’s it about?:

A love triangle turns deadly in a vaudeville circuit act, between a sharpshooter (Erich von Stroheim), an assistant in his act (Dan Duryea), and the assistant’s duplicitous wife (Mary Beth Hughes).

What do I love most?:

Mary Beth Hughes has to have one of the sweetest faces and most unthreatening auras in Hollywood; before this film, I’d only seen her in I Accuse My Parents, where she played the unwitting girlfriend of a low-level hood. It’s a pleasant shock to see that her innocent countenance in this film masks a sociopathic and rather nasty personality that uses and discards men in the blink of an eye.

…..

Nora Prentiss (1947)

What’s it about?:

A bored husband and father falls for a nightclub singer (Ann Sheridan) and will go to any lengths to have her.

What do I love most?:

The plot of Nora Prentiss, the manner in which it unfurls, and the way it ends, is one of noir’s most unique. You won’t find any cynical detectives, no flashbacks, or even a true femme fatale, but what you will find is yourself riveted by the proceedings.

…..

Desperate (1947)

Douglas Fowley & Raymond Burr in Desperate (1947)
Douglas Fowley & Raymond Burr in Desperate (1947)

What’s it about?:

Steve Brodie and Audrey Long play a newlywed couple expecting their first child, who find themselves on the run from the police and a vengeful mob leader (Raymond Burr).

What do I love most?:

If you only know Raymond Burr as TV’s Perry Mason or Ironside, you’re in for a revelation. His Walt Radak is a callous, vengeful gangster with a sadistic streak that you won’t soon forget.

What are some of the noirs that you adore? And why?

…..

– 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.

4 Responses to Noir Nook: Top 10 Noirs I Adore

  1. Jay M says:

    Nice list! I’m always happy to see BORN TO KILL on someone’s list. Also, THE DAMNED DON’T CRY

  2. Gloria Elizabeth says:

    I’ve loved DETOUR since I saw it on a grainy bad VHS print years ago. Tom Neal as Al Roberts is the ultimate sap who can’t get a break and yet creates his own bad luck every step of the way. Ann Savage (Fantastic name!) as Vera (Truth?) is an avenging fury. I find this movie heartbreaking and beautiful. As Al says when he first meets Vera, “I got the impression of beauty, not the beauty of a movie actress, mind you, or the beauty you dream about with your wife, but a natural beauty, a beauty that’s almost homely, because it’s so real”. And so is this story.

  3. Carl-Edward says:

    I never tire of watching: ‘The Damned Don’t Cry’ (in fact, I watched it yet again a few nights ago). ‘Born To Kill’ is excellent – and each time I watch it, I marvel at how a woman so bent on money and security, could throw those things away because of a sexual attraction.
    Here is a list of eight compelling noirs which I very much like:-

    ‘Dear Murderer’ (1947), with Eric Portman and Greta Gynt.

    ‘Take My Life’ (1947), with Hugh Williams and Greta Gynt.

    ‘The Blind Goddess’ (1948), with Michael Denison, Hugh Williams, Eric Portman, and Claire Bloom (this was Claire Bloom’s first film).

    ‘I Met A Murderer’ (1939), with James Mason and Pamela Mason (billed as Pamela Kellino).

    ‘Crack-Up (1946), with Pat O’Brian, Claire Trevor, and Herbert Marshall.

    ‘Backfire’ (1950), with Edmond O’Brian, Gordon MacRae, Virginia Mayo, and Viveca Lindfors.

    ‘Five Steps To Danger’ (1956), with Sterling Hayden and Ruth Roman.

    ‘Cast A Dark Shadow’ (1955), with Dirk Bogarde and Margaret Lockwood.

    These are all exceptional, intelligently written, and beautifully acted. I am sure you will enjoy them.

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.