Rediscovering Film Noir: A Guide to the Classics Genre

If you consider movies a high level of entertainment and spend a lot of time in this venue, it is certain that you have seen a lot of movies from the 1930s through the 1950s called film noir. If you haven’t, then you are yet to reach the pinnacle of your movie enjoyment, and you are missing out on a part of Hollywood history that is unique and will never disappear.

The Timeless World of Film Noir

These movies, most filmed in dreary black and white, have solidified a permanent place in the history of cinema and will always exist as an era of filmmaking brilliance. They have a history of their own, and though many low-budget ones had cheap sets and shadows, either intentional or unintentional, there is a love affair between these movies and the public that continues today.

There is nothing like a day of nothing more important than watching several of these old murder dramas. I like the right settings and even the right weather to intensify the mood of this experience, and this includes an overcast day, dark and cloudy outside, and even a drizzle of rain to make the setting perfect. You can then snuggle up on the couch or prop some pillows behind your head while watching under the cover from your bedroom and enjoy the brilliance that is film noir.

If you watch enough film noir movies, some of the plots may seem the same, and certainly, they are, but it does not affect the enjoyment or entertainment so thrilling that with a lot of these films, you will be spellbound by every moment.

I’ve had a lot of great days enjoying these films and intend to have many more in the future. You just can’t beat the fun and excitement of a film noir day, and watching one, especially for me, certainly would never do. I like to watch at least five when I plan this adventure, and making the selections is really a very important part of overall day planning. I like to choose a variety that will test all the emotions and film noir certainly delivers.

Every human emotion and the fatal weaknesses we all possess are exposed in these great films.

The thing that makes film noir great is that it touches on reality, and we can relate to the flaws that the characters exhibit. We can understand the intense fear, jealousy, hate, and other emotions they relate to in our own hearts and minds, and this makes us a part of their lives as the story unfolds. No wonder that many of these films are considered classics and exist on almost any list of the top 100 films ever made. Some of the actors are legends of all time, and some of their roles in these films live in one’s mind forever.

Let’s look at the generally considered top ten in this film category.

Top Ten Film-Noir Movies

Delving into the world of film noir reveals a treasure trove of cinematic brilliance, and there’s no better way to start than with the top ten classics of this genre. These movies are not just films; they are timeless pieces of art that continue to captivate audiences with their dark themes, complex characters, and intriguing plots.

  1. Sunset Boulevard (1950): At the pinnacle of film noir is “Sunset Boulevard,” featuring William Holden. This gripping drama tells the tale of an aging starlet, played magnificently by Gloria Swanson, and a young man who becomes entangled in her troubled life. Nancy Olson also shines in a significant role, adding depth to this tragic story of fame and illusion.
  2. M (1931): “M” stands out as a remarkable German noir, complete with English subtitles. This film, led by the extraordinary Peter Lorre, delves into the mind of a child murderer. Its enduring quality and Lorre’s haunting performance make “M” a must-have in any film noir collection.
  3. The Third Man (1949): Next on the list is “The Third Man,” a story of intrigue and mystery set against a post-war backdrop. Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles deliver stellar performances in this tale of a job offer gone awry, leading to a web of secrets and lies.
  4. Double Indemnity (1944): “Double Indemnity” features Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck in a plot filled with deceit and murder. This film is a classic example of the noir genre, where a seemingly simple plan spirals out of control, showcasing the best of suspense and drama.
  5. The Maltese Falcon (1941): Starring the legendary Humphrey Bogart, “The Maltese Falcon” is a cornerstone of the film noir genre. Its complex plot and memorable characters set a high standard for mystery and thriller films.
  6. The Big Sleep (1946): Also featuring Humphrey Bogart, alongside Lauren Bacall, “The Big Sleep” is known for its intricate plot and sharp dialogue. This film further cemented Bogart’s status as a noir icon.
  7. Notorious (1946): In “Notorious,” directed by the legendary Alfred Hitchcock, Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman take us on a suspenseful journey filled with romance and danger. Supported by Claude Rains, this film remains a favorite for its masterful storytelling and Hitchcock’s signature touch.
  8. Strangers on a Train (1951): Another Hitchcock masterpiece, “Strangers on a Train,” stars Farley Granger in a riveting crime drama that explores the dark side of human nature and the consequences of chance encounters.
  9. The Big Carnival (1951): “The Big Carnival,” starring Kirk Douglas, delves into the media circus and human greed, making it a standout film in the noir genre for its critical look at societal issues.
  10. Touch of Evil (1958): Rounding off the list is “Touch of Evil,” with Charlton Heston. This film is a masterclass in noir filmmaking, blending suspense, drama, and a deep exploration of character, making it a fitting conclusion to this top ten list.

This group is, by most film experts, considered the top ten in the noir group. From these ten, there are hundreds of films that are almost as good though lesser known, and one could watch hundreds of noirs before he actually found any that would be considered bad movies.

Phantom Lady 1944 with Ella Raines and Franchot Tone, They Live By Night 1948 with Farley Granger and Kathy O’Donnell, and The Devil Thumbs a Ride with Lawrence Tierney as a hitchhiking psychopath are brilliant.

White Heat (1949)

White Heat 1949, with James Cagney as a mother-complexed psychopath, is another you shouldn’t miss. The scene where he is in jail and goes berserk is absolutely classic.

Then there is Kiss the Blood off My Hands with Burt Lancaster, a lesser-known film well worth watching.

These five noir films would make for a great day of viewing. As a matter of fact, these are my five selections for my next noir marathon. I’m certainly ready to enjoy it, so what am I waiting for? I’m waiting for the next dark, cloudy, overcast day to set the mood right. Soon it will happen, and I can hardly wait, as I venture once again into the fascinating world of film noir.

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