My exposure to film noir truly coincides with my growing love affair with cinema. The post-war film movement still stands as one of my favourites after first discovering its existence while I was in middle school. As I watched more of these films, my love affair with classic cinema grew, as did my thirst to know more.
Sweet Smell of Success (1957)
I stumbled onto this movie purely by accident. I’ve spoken about it before, having watched this movie purely because of it’s appearance on Martin Milner’s filmography. Sweet Smell of Success comes from the legendary British director Alexander Mackendrick and follows the seedy goings on in the New York nightclub scene. Lancaster, Curtis and the rest of the cast (including Milner!) are at their best in this stellar example of film noir.
Kiss of Death (1947)
It is actually this movie which first drew me to film noir. I had a lengthy Richard Widmark phase during middle school, and Kiss of Death marks the actor’s feature film debut. Widmark’s imprint on the film is indelible in his crafting of villain Tommy Udo. His glee at shoving a wheelchair bound woman down the stairs sets the tone for the character and doesn’t let up. Udo is iconic, and Widmark found himself typecast as the heavy for a number of years after playing the part.
Phantom Lady (1944)
This film is a new entry on the list for me. I watched this movie for the first time mere weeks ago and it immediately leapfrogged its way onto my list. The film is a unique one in its treatment of gender. The narrative follows Carol (Ella Raines) as she struggles to clear the name of her boss and likely lover (Alan Curtis). While women exist in this movement, it is almost always as either a love interest or the femme fatale. To have one serving as the primary point of identification (even for a little while) feels like a particularly progressive move.
It should come as no surprise to continuing readers as well that my particular affinity for actor Franchot Tone also brings this movie up a level in my book. The actor brings an interesting and against type performance in the 1944 film.
Gilda is another film which holds a special place in my heart. I first watched the movie in film school, specifically during a Women in Film class. This was one of the opening weeks in the class, and as I watched the action play out on-stage, I found myself falling in love with so much about this movie. In fact, it actually served as the inspiration to dive into the area which has been my passion to research. After watching Gilda, I started work on an honours thesis which looked at Glenn Ford’s work through the lens of post WWII gender studies. I’m still fascinated with this movie, and hope to look into it more as my career continues.
Last but not least comes another classic (and essential) entry on this list. I first watched Laura fairly early in my film studies career. It was some combination of Dana Andrews and Vincent Price which first drew me to the movie. The performances are so strong in this movie from Cliffton Webb and Vincent Price’s iconic takes, to the always solid (and under-appreciated) Dana Andrews, and (last but not least) Gene Tierney. Laura is a fun and fascinating example of film noir… if you haven’t see this essential, make sure you add it to your list.