A Film Noir Introspective

“Bogart can be tough without a gun. Also, he has a sense of humor that contains that grating undertone of contempt.”
—Raymond Chandler 6

There’s probably no other actor who evokes film noir like Humphrey Bogart 19. From The Maltese Falcon to To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep and In a Lonely Place, the actor’s career is stacked with iconic noir films of the 40s and 50s (in addition to an already extensive resume of the gangster films which led up to noir, such as The Petrified Forest and High Sierra).

Married to Lauren Bacall, friends with John Huston, and a heavy smoker and drinker, Bogart is the quintessential actor of the period; his name immediately brings to mind black and white sets, stark lighting, deep shadows, and cynical gumshoes with clever repartee and names like Philip Marlow and Sam Spade. Any list of noir films would be remiss not paying homage to the actor.

That said, here’s a brief film noir list of some personal favorites.

“I’ll tell you right out, I am a man who likes talking to a man who likes to talk.”
—The Maltese Falcon, 1941

The Maltese Falcon (1941, 101 mins)

“We didn’t exactly believe your story, Miss O’Shaughnessy; we believed your two hundred dollars…I mean, you paid us more than if you’d been telling us the truth, and enough more to make it all right.”

Directed and scripted by John Huston (in his directorial debut), based on Dashiell Hammett’s 1930 novel, this is considered by many as the first major film noir and it’s a doozy. It features classic Humphrey Bogart (as PI Sam Spade), Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, and Sydney Greenstreet (in his film debut).

There’s a pretty crazy story about the actual statuette from the film. 1

“What is it?”
“The, uh, stuff that dreams are made of.”

Casablanca (1942, 102 mins)

“Where were you last night?”
“That’s so long ago, I don’t remember.”
“Will I see you tonight?”
“I never make plans that far ahead.”

Directed by Michael Curtiz, with a cast that includes Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains, Sydney Greenstreet, and Peter Lorre, there’s not much that needs to be added about this timeless classic. 2

Laura (1944, 88 mins)

“Have you ever been in love?”
“A doll in Washington Heights once got a fox fur out of me.”

Produced and directed by Otto Preminger, it stars Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews and Clifton Webb along with Vincent Price and Judith Anderson, with a screenplay by Jay Dratler, Samuel Hoffenstein and Betty Reinhardt, based on the 1943 novel Laura by Vera Caspary.

Double Indemnity (1944, 110 mins)

“Mr. Neff, why don’t you drop by tomorrow evening around 8:30? He’ll be in then.”
“My husband. You were anxious to talk to him, weren’t you?”
“Yes, I was. But I’m sort of getting over the idea, if you know what I mean.”
“There’s a speed limit in this state, Mr. Neff. Forty-five miles an hour.”
“How fast was I going, officer?”
“I’d say around ninety.”

Arguably the most iconic entry in the film noir canon, it is stacked with talent from the era; co-written by director Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler, based on James M. Cain’s 1943 novella, it stars Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, and Edward G. Robinson. There are nods to this film all over the place (e.g. the woman in the blonde wig in Wong Kar-wai’s Chungking Express, 1994).

Murder, My Sweet (1944, 95 mins)

“I hadn’t supposed there were enough murders these days to make detecting very attractive to a young man.”
“I stir up trouble on the side.”

Directed by Edward Dmytryk and starring Dick Powell, Claire Trevor and Anne Shirley, it’s based on Raymond Chandler’s 1940 novel Farewell, My Lovely, and was the first film to feature Chandler’s detective, Philip Marlowe. 3

Mildred Pierce (1945, 111 mins)

“Money—that’s what you live for, isn’t it? You’d do anything for money, wouldn’t you? Even blackmail. I’ve never denied you anything—anything money could buy I’ve given you. But that wasn’t enough, was it?”

Directed by Michael Curtiz, starring Joan Crawford, it’s based on a novel by James M. Cain.

Detour (1945, 69 mins)

“That’s life. Whichever way you turn, Fate sticks out a foot to trip you.”

Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer and starring Tom Neal and Ann Savage, the film was adapted by Martin Goldsmith and Martin Mooney (uncredited) from Goldsmith’s 1939 novel. Released by The Criterion Collection in 2019 11, the film is also in the public domain and available online.

The Big Sleep (1946, ~116 mins 4)

“How do you like your brandy, sir?”
“In a glass.”

Directed by Howard Hawks, the first film version of the 1939 novel by Raymond Chandler stars Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett and Jules Furthman co-wrote the screenplay. Not just a classic noir, but an all time classic film, it’s one of five films Bogart and Bacall made together: To Have and Have Not (1944), The Big Sleep (1946), Dark Passage (1947), Key Largo (1948) and cameo roles in Two Guys from Milwaukee (1946) being the other four.

Gilda (1946, 110 mins)

“Pardon me, but your husband is showing.”

Directed by Charles Vidor and starring Rita Hayworth in her signature role as the ultimate femme fatale; it features lush cinematography by Rudolph Maté and the iconic film noir song “Put the Blame on Mame”.

The Blue Dahlia (1946, 100 mins)

“Half the cops in L.A. are looking for you.”
“Only half?”

Based on Raymond Chandler’s first original screenplay 12, directed by the prolific George Marshall, the film marks the third (not incl. cameos), and final, pairing of stars Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake, and is widely considered a noir classic.

The Killers (1946, 103 mins)

“I’ll tell ya what’s gonna happen. We’re gonna kill the Swede. You know big Swede that works over at that filling station?”
“You mean Pete Lunn?”
“If that’s what he calls himself. Comes in every night at six o’clock, don’t he?”
“Yes, if he comes.”
“We know all about that.”
“What are ya gonna kill him for? What did Pete Lunn ever do to you?”
“He never had a chance to do anything to us. He never even seen us.”

Directed by Robert Siodmak, based in part on the 1927 short story by Ernest Hemingway (an uncredited John Huston worked on the screenplay), it stars Burt Lancaster in his film debut, Ava Gardner, Edmond O’Brien and Sam Levene.

Classic noir, remastered by Criterion 7 and viewable here.

“It is a good picture and the only good picture ever made of a story of mine.”
—Ernest Hemingway

The Lady from Shanghai (1947, 88 mins) 5

“I asked you if you drink.”
“Whatever’s set in front of me. Doesn’t have to be wholesome, as long as it’s strong.”

Directed and starring Orson Welles, it is based on the novel If I Die Before I Wake by Sherwood King. Also check out Welles’ Touch of Evil (1958).

Dark Passage (1947, 106 mins)

“Don’t you get lonely up here by yourself?”
“I was born lonely, I guess.”

Based on the novel of the same name by David Goodis, it is the third film Bogart and Bacall would star in together. In an unusual move, the film begins entirely from the subjective viewpoint of Bogart’s character—off the top of my head only Lady In the Lake (1947), featuring, as many films on this list do, the detective Philip Marlowe, comes to mind as another film utilizing this cinematic device.

Out of the Past (1947, 97 mins) 16

“I never saw her in the daytime. We seemed to live by night. What was left of the day went away like a pack of cigarettes you smoked. I didn’t know where she lived. I never followed her. All I ever had to go on was a place and time to see her again. I don’t know what we were waiting for. Maybe we thought the world would end. Maybe we thought it was a dream and we’d wake up with a hangover in Niagara Falls.”

Directed by Jacques Tourneur and starring Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, and Kirk Douglas. The film was adapted by Daniel Mainwaring (using the pseudonym Geoffrey Homes) from his novel Build My Gallows High (also written as Homes), with uncredited revisions by Frank Fenton and James M. Cain 17 and is a personal favorite up there with Double Indemnity and The Big Sleep.

The Naked City (1948, 96 mins)

“There are eight million stories in the Naked City; this has been one of them.”

Directed by Jules Dassin, based on a story by Malvin Wald, the film, much of which was shot on the streets of NYC in a documentary style, includes landmarks such as the Williamsburg Bridge, the Whitehall Building, and an apartment building on West 83rd Street in Manhattan. It’s available on The Criterion Collection 10 or in lower quality on youtube.

D.O.A. (1949, 84 mins)

“I wanna report a murder.”
“Sit down. Where was this murder committed?”
“San Francisco, last night.”
“Who was murdered?”
“I was.”

Starring Edmond O’Brien and Pamela Britton, it features some of the most memorable dialogue in all of cinema, noted above. Apparently due to a filing error with the copyright the film is in public domain; which is unfortunate on one hand as it seems to only be available in lackluster quality, but on the other hand you can check it out on youtube here or a “video quality upgrade” here.

The Asphalt Jungle (1950, 112 mins)

“One way or another, we all work for our vice.”

Directed by John Huston, based on the 1949 novel of the same name by W. R. Burnett, the film features Sterling Hayden and Marilyn Monroe in her breakout role. Available on The Criterion Collection. 9

In a Lonely Place (1950, 94 mins)

“Well, I grant you, the jokes could’ve been better, but I don’t see why the rest should worry you — that is, unless you plan to arrest me on lack of emotion.”

Directed by Nicholas Ray, starring Humphrey Bogart (as Dixon Steele) and Gloria Grahame, from a script by Andrew P. Solt from Edmund North’s adaptation of Dorothy B. Hughes’ 1947 novel, this is a classic noir recently released on Criterion Collection 8, which feels like a film winding down the classic noir period.

Pickup on South Street (1953, 80 mins)

“Listen, Mister. When I come in here tonight, you seen an old clock runnin’ down. I’m tired. I’m through. Happens to everybody sometime. It’ll happen to you too, someday. With me it’s a little bit of everything. Backaches and headaches. I can’t sleep nights. It’s so hard to get up in the morning, and get dressed and walk the streets. Climb the stairs.”

Directed by Samuel Fuller, the film stars Richard Widmark, Jean Peters—Fuller apparently had turned down Marilyn Monroe, Shelley Winters, and Ava Gardner, who looked too glamorous, for Peters’ role 13—and Thelma Ritter. Available on The Criterion Collection 14 and online.

Rear Window (1954, 112 mins)

“That’s no ordinary look. That’s the kind of a look a man gives when he’s afraid somebody might be watching him.”

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, written by John Michael Hayes (based on Cornell Woolrich’s 1942 short story “It Had to Be Murder”), the film stars James Stewart and Grace Kelly. This is arguable for a film noir list, but I’ll hazard including it—while not as casually cynical as most of the films on this list, life in the city is a cornerstone of the film (Jefferies spends most of the movie spying on his neighbors), some deep shadows feature throughout, and detectives, suspicion, as well as a question of murder feature in the plot. There’s even a thunderstorm—rain featuring in numerous noir films. I’ll admit Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) is probably the stronger candidate for a film noir list, but I’ve recently seen Vertigo and I felt like rewatching this one instead.

Kiss Me Deadly (1955, 106 mins)

“First, you find a little thread, the little thread leads you to a string, and the string leads you to a rope, and from the rope you hang by the neck. What kind of a girl was she, this friend of yours, Christina?”

“Lie still. Why torment yourself? Who would you see? Someone you do not know, a stranger. What is it we are seeking? Diamonds, rubies, gold? Perhaps narcotics? How civilized this earth used to be.”

Directed by Robert Aldrich, based on the Mickey Spillane crime novel, this late period film—which, along with Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil (1958) could be considered the nightcaps of the classic noir period—stars Ralph Meeker as brutal gumshoe Mike Hammer.

This late in the film noir game, after over a decade in the underworld, the once wise-cracking Sam Spade has become the nihilistic Mike Hammer of the Atomic Age, virtually indistinguishable from the villain, vicious and opportunistic. Gone are the days when the protagonist lived by a code; he’ll as casually beat information out of someone as bribe or outsmart them. The world has become savage and unknowable, shrouded in paranoia and cynicism, with the impending threat of death lurking behind every pool party and athletic club and chance hitchhiker.

The film, deservedly, got the Criterion treatment a while back, but I belive both the DVD & Blu-Ray are out of print now. The restored version does seem to be viewable online however (at least for now).

The Killing (1956, 85 mins)

“You’d be killing a horse—that’s not first degree murder, in fact it’s not murder at all, in fact I don’t know what it is.”

Directed by Stanley Kubrick and produced by James B. Harris 18, it was written by Kubrick and Jim Thompson, based on the novel Clean Break by Lionel White. The drama stars Sterling Hayden, Coleen Gray, and Vince Edwards.

The Long Goodbye (1973, 112 mins)

“We had to bring ice from the hotel.”
“For drinks?”
“For the body.”

Based on Raymond Chandler’s 1953 novel, with a screenplay by Leigh Brackett (who cowrote the screenplay for Chandler’s The Big Sleep in 1946), and directed by Robert Altman, the film stars Elliott Gould as Philip Marlowe, features Sterling Hayden, and contains an early uncredited appearance by Arnold Schwarzenegger. The story was updated from Chandler’s 40s/50s to 1970s Hollywood and is one of the best entries in the neo-noir canon.

Chinatown (1974, 131 mins)

“Tell me, Mr. Gittes, does this often happen to you?”
“What’s that?”
“Well, I’m judging only on the basis of one afternoon and an evening, but, uh, if this is how you go about your work, I’d say you’d be lucky to, uh, get through a whole day.”

Directed by Roman Polanski from a screenplay by Robert Towne, starring stars Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway, 15 this is another top of the list neo-noirs. Jack Nicholson also directed a decent follow-up, The Two Jakes (1990), starring himself, Harvey Keitel, and Madeleine Stowe.

Farewell, My Lovely (1975, 112 mins)

“This past spring was the first that I felt tired and realized I was growing old. Maybe it was the rotten weather we’d had in L.A. Maybe the rotten cases I’d had. Mostly chasing a few missing husbands and then chasing their wives once I found them, in order to get paid. Or maybe it was just the plain fact that I am tired and growing old.”

Based on Raymond Chandler’s 1940 novel Farewell, My Lovely, previously adapted for film as Murder, My Sweet in 1944, this neo-noir film features Robert Mitchum as private detective Philip Marlowe.

“Nobody cares but me.”
“Well that’s you, Marlowe. You’ll never learn, you’re a born loser.”
“Yeah, I even lost my cat.”
—The Long Goodbye, 1973

Thirsty for more? Make it a double.

Online viewing for a rainy day with a bottle of soda and a fifth of whiskey.

The Breaking Point (1950, 97 mins)
Directed by Michael Curtiz, starring John Garfield and Patricia Neal, this is the second film adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not. The earlier 1944 film starred Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall 20.

The Mob (1951, 87 mins)
Starring Broderick Crawford, featuring Charles Bronson in one of his first (uncredited) film appearances.

Pushover (1954, 88 mins)
Fred MacMurray and a smoldering Kim Novak, in her first credited role, star in this noir directed by Richard Quine; unusually adapted from two novels: The Night Watch by Thomas Walsh and Rafferty by William S. Ballinger. Bookended by some great TCM insights.

The Naked Street (1955, 84 mins)
Featuring Farley Granger, Anthony Quinn, and Anne Bancroft.

See Also

Play It Again, Sam (1972, 85 mins)

Blade Runner (1982, ~117 mins)

Blood Simple (1984, 96 mins)

The Usual Suspects (1995, 108 mins)

L.A. Confidential (1997, 138 mins)

The Big Lebowski (1998, 117 mins)

Blade Runner 2049 (2017, ~164 mins)

“I’m sorry, but nothing seems funny to me tonight. It all blows up in your face sometimes.”
“What does?”
“Whatever you’re doing, wherever you’re going.”
—The Blue Dahlia, 1946


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