The 10 Best British Film Noir of the 1940s

Step into the shadowy world of post-war Britain with our exploration of the best British film noir of the 1940s. This era, marked by uncertainty and rebuilding, gave rise to some of the most captivating and stylistically influential films in cinema history. In this article, we delve into the dark corners of this fascinating cinematic period, uncovering the masterpieces that not only defined a genre but also mirrored the societal changes of a country recovering from war.

Starting in the late thirties, Hollywood began making crime dramas, which became known as film noir. The era generally regarded as beginning in 1940 and running through the late fifties actually saw its beginning in films as early as the late thirties. During this era, many film noir classics were made in Hollywood.

We enjoy classic films today when we can find a copy of them available, and sometimes that is difficult. There are so many film noirs still not available on DVD, although you can see these films regularly on stations like TCM both in the USA and Great Britain; until about the last two or three decades, British film noirs went generally unseen on US television.

Fans familiar with film noir know that during the years that Hollywood was turning out film noir classics, Great Britain film studios were doing the same. During the 1940s, although war was at their doorstep, studios still managed to make many films. A lot of these films were film noirs, and this was the beginning of a great decade of film noir classics from the movie studios of Great Britain.

Next, we will look at the top ten film noir British movies of the 1940s.

10. The October Man (1947)

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0039676/
The October Man (1947)

We start out in the top ten with a great film starring John Mills, The October Man 1947. John Mills is one of the greatest actors in the history of cinema. He made well over a hundred films, and that does not include TV shows and appearances. He raised two daughters who also became actresses, and he lived to the ripe old age of 97. In 1947, John Mills was already an established actor, and his performance as Jim Ackland in October Man just added more to his resume. Ackland, a man who receives a head injury in a bus crash, becomes the chief suspect in a murder investigation when a girl that he has just met is found dead, and he seems to be the last one to see her alive. Due to the head injury, he can’t remember where he was and has no alibi as to when or how she was killed. The October Man is a great classic noir film, and all film noir fans should make a note to see it.

9. The Up Turned Glass (1947)

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0039947/

Number nine on our list is The Up Turned Glass 1947. The film stars brilliant British actor James Mason and real-life wife of the time Pamela Mason, who also co-wrote the movie. Mason stars as Michael Joyce, a prominent surgeon now teaching, who is relating to his class a story of a murder he thinks he witnessed. The woman murdered was married, and Michael was having an affair with her when she fell out a window and was killed. The death is ruled an accident, but Michael thinks she was murdered and sets out on his own to find the killer. He also planned to take his own revenge on the murderer when found and not involve the police. The question is, did he really follow up on this plan. The Up Turned Glass is a great film noir, and hopefully, all noir fans will be able to locate this one and enjoy this classic.

8. Hatter’s Castle (1942)

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0033692/

Hatter’s Castle is a 1942 film that stars Robert Newton, Debra Kerr, and James Mason. Newton stars as James Brodie, a very successful Hatter but a violent character to his wife and family. The story revolves around many characters and many subplots, all of which relate to James Brodie, whose selfishness and cruelty eventually destroy his family, his business, and his life. This is a harsh film, and some gentler souls may not like the movie. The movie certainly tells the story of a man who cares little for anyone but himself, and in the end, this is the reason for his own demise.

7. The Seventh Veil (1945)

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0038924/

The Seventh Veil is a 1945 film starring, guess who, James Mason, Ann Todd, and great British actor Herbert Lom. One summer night, Francesca Cunningham, a once world-famed pianist, escapes from her hospital room and tries to commit suicide by jumping off a local bridge. She is rescued and taken back to the hospital and undergoes psychological treatment by Dr. Larsen. Larsen (Herbert Lom) desperately wants to know the events and persons who drove her to this state and help her. He puts Francesca under hypnosis to talk about her past – a past with a controlling guardian, Nicholas (James Mason), who is her second cousin and a crippled musician, and also a control freak jealous of her talent. A surprise ending adds to the drama of the film.

6. Good-Time Girl (1948)

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0042515/

Good-Time Girl 1948 is a great movie starring Jean Kent, Dennis Price, and Herbert Lom. This is the story of a young girl, Gwen Rawlings (Jean Kent), who gets involved with criminals. One day, while driving drunk, she hits and kills a policeman. Terrified, she runs away with two GIs who also are on the run from the law. Together, they start their own crime spree as the law closes in. Good-Time Girl is a story of a good girl who revolves to a point where there is no return. A great movie that everyone should see.

5. Gaslight (1940)

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0031359/

Gaslight 1940 is a movie that was remade in 1944 starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer. This movie, IMO is equal to that version, and both films are fantastic. This film stars Anton Walbrook, an excellent actor of the 1940s and 1950s who made several great films. He stars as Paul Mallen, a man who hides his past and the evil murderer that he is. If you have seen the 1944 film but not this one, you certainly need to take a look. This is a fantastic film that will certainly keep you on edge.

4. The Fallen Idol (1948)

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0040338/
The Fallen Idol (1948)

The Fallen Idol 1948 is the number four film on our list of top ten British film noirs. The film stars the great British actor Ralph Richardson. The story is about a butler working in a foreign embassy in London who falls under suspicion when his wife accidentally falls to her death, the only witness being an impressionable young boy. The boy idolizes Bains (Ralph Richardson) and attempts to help him when the police investigate, but his words only get Baines deeper in trouble. This is classic film noir, and one all film noir fans should locate and watch.

3. Odd Man Out (1947)

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0039677/

Odd Man Out 1947 is another film starring James Mason and directed by super director Carol Reed. The movie also stars Robert Newton and Kathleen Ryan. Mason stars as Johnny McQueen, a man who is involved in an illegal organization, which he tries to maintain by committing an ill-advised robbery to replenish the organization with much-needed funds. McQueen is wounded during the robbery and cannot make it back to the hideout. He tries to hide in the back alleys of the city while he recovers from his injuries. Immediately, a large-scale man-hunt is launched, and the city is tightly covered by the chief of police. He has every intent on capturing Johnny and the other members of the gang. Another outstanding acting performance from James Mason in this film is highly recommended.

2. Brighton Rock (1947)

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0039220/

Brighton Rock is a classic film from 1947. Richard Attenborough gives a great performance as Pinky Browne, a small-time hoodlum whose gang runs a protection racket for the local race track. Pinkie orders the murder of a rival, Fred Hale, and the police determine it to be a suicide. Ida Arnold (Hermione Baddeley), who was with Fred just before he died, isn’t convinced and sets out to find the truth. She comes across naive waitress Rose (Carol Marsh), who can prove that Fred was murdered. In an attempt to keep Rose quiet, Pinkie marries her, and all seems well. Suddenly, with another gang trying to take over his business and his gang doubting his ability, Pinkie becomes a very desperate and violent person. This movie is as great a film noir as it has ever been made and is number two on our list of top ten British film noirs.

1. The Third Man (1949)

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0041959/
The Third Man (1949)

The Third Man 1949 is another great film and one of the best film noirs ever. Carol Reed, the outstanding director, lines up an all-star cast of Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, and Trevor Howard to produce this outstanding cinema classic. The story begins with out-of-work pulp fiction novelist Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) arriving in post-war Vienna, which has been divided into sectors by the victorious allies. This has led to a shortage of supplies and a flourishing black market. Holly arrives at the invitation of an ex-school friend, Harry Lime (Orson Welles), who has offered him a job. Holly discovers upon arrival that Lime had recently died in a very peculiar traffic accident. He talks to Lime’s friends and associates and discovers that some of the stories about the accident are inconsistent, and he sets out to determine what really happened to Harry Lime. Great acting and a great story make this film one of the best film noirs of all time, a must-see.

Each and every movie on this list of Best British Film Noir of the 1940s shows the ability of British Lion Films, London Film Productions, Gainsborough Pictures, and Ealing Studios to produce classic film noirs and other classic films comparable to Hollywood studios. I hope every noir fan and movie fan, in general, will get the opportunity to see these movies, as well as the hundreds of other great British classics produced throughout the years. 

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