FILM NOIR


Part 2


Film Noir
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Examples


Noirs with Raymond Chandler's 'Philip Marlowe':

Over the years from 1939 to 1958, Raymond Chandler wrote seven full-length Philip Marlowe novels about the popular, hard-drinking detective-gumshoe. Six of them were adapted into films (several more than once), and many different actors have portrayed the hard-drinking PI, including Dick Powell, George Montgomery, Robert Montgomery, Elliott Gould, Robert Mitchum (twice), James Garner, and Humphrey Bogart. [Note: Also, James Caan portrayed Philip Marlowe in the HBO film Poodle Springs (1998), based on Chandler's unfinished novel Poodle Springs - completed after his death by Robert B. Parker and published in 1989.

Title of Chandler Novel
Date of Novel
Title and Date of Film
Actor Who Played Marlowe
Notes
(1) The Big Sleep
1939
The Big Sleep (1946)
Humphrey Bogart
(1) The Big Sleep
1939
The Big Sleep (1978)
Robert Mitchum
Mitchum's 2nd portrayal of Marlowe
(2) Farewell, My Lovely
1940
Murder, My Sweet (1944)
Dick Powell
(3) Farewell, My Lovely
1940
Farewell, My Lovely (1975)
Robert Mitchum
(3) The High Window
1942
Time to Kill (1942)
Lloyd Nolan
Marlowe was renamed Michael Shayne
(3) The High Window
1942
The Brashear Doubloon (1947) (aka The High Window)
George Montgomery
(4) The Lady in the Lake
1943
Lady in the Lake (1947)
Robert Montgomery (also directed film)
Shot From the Point of View of Marlowe
(5) The Little Sister
1949
Marlowe (1969)
James Garner
 
(6) The Long Goodbye
1953
The Long Goodbye (1973)
Elliott Gould
(7) Playback
1958
none
The only Chandler novel never filmed
  • director Irving Reis' The Falcon Takes Over (1942) was based on Chandler's book, Farewell, My Lovely, and was the third installment in the Falcon series of four films; it was the first of three film versions of Chandler's Farewell, My Lovely; it was based on novelist Michael Arlen's 1940 fictional crime short story Gay Falcon, with the gentleman sleuth protagonist (portrayed by actor George Sanders) named Gay Stanhope Falcon (later renamed Gay Lawrence) rather than Philip Marlowe
  • singer Dick Powell starred as the down-and-out PI in Edward Dmytryk's twisting story of intrigue Murder, My Sweet (1944) (aka Farewell, My Lovely, Chandler's 1940 book title) searching for ex-con Moose Malloy's (Mike Mazurki) missing lover Velma/Helen Grayle (Claire Trevor) in wartime Los Angeles; the film was especially noted for its expressionistic lighting
  • The Big Sleep - 1946Humphrey Bogart, teamed with real-life wife Lauren Bacall, played the role of private detective Philip Marlowe in the confusing, classic Howard Hawks who-dun-it The Big Sleep (1946) involving blackmail, pornography, and murder in Los Angeles - it was based on Chandler's 1939 novel and adapted for the screen by co-writers William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett and Jules Furthman
  • director/star Robert Montgomery was Philip Marlowe in Lady in the Lake (1947) - experimentally filmed from the protagonist's first-person point of view
  • Marlowe (1969), based on the Chandler novel The Little Sister; with James Garner in the role of Philip Marlowe
  • Elliott Gould portrayed the detective in Robert Altman's spoof The Long Goodbye (1973) (based upon Chandler's 1953 novel) set in modern-day Los Angeles, in which the lone, unconventional sleuth investigated the murder of a friend's wife
  • Robert Mitchum was in the role in director Dick Richards' Farewell, My Lovely (1975) - a remake of Murder, My Sweet (1944) and The Falcon Takes Over (1942); the film was set in Los Angeles with Charlotte Rampling as the seductive Helen Grayle/Velma and Jack O'Halloran as Moose Malloy
  • Robert Mitchum again starred as Marlowe in The Big Sleep (1978) - a remake of Howard Hawks' 1946 film, with Candy Clark and Sarah Miles as the two Sternwood daughters, and Oliver Reed as corrupt gangster Eddie Mars

Romance Film Noirs with Great Femme Fatales:

Twisted, shocking melodramatic film noirs featuring deadly femme fatales on a path of romance and self-destruction (romance noirs) with the men in their lives included the following examples:

  • Double Indemnity - 1944Fritz Lang's second American film You Only Live Once (1937) with a framed-for-murder, doomed ex-convict Henry Fonda in flight to the border with loser wife Sylvia Sidney and child
  • William Wyler's The Letter (1940) featured Bette Davis as a murdering wife whose professed innocence was compromised by a damning letter
  • Billy Wilder's (and Raymond Chandler's) adaptation of James M. Cain's novel Double Indemnity (1944) included a persuasive, sinister brassy blonde (Barbara Stanwyck) who convinced a smart-talking insurance agent/lover (Fred MacMurray) to murder her unsuspecting husband so they could share 'double indemnity' insurance proceeds; also with Edward G. Robinson as a shrewd insurance investigator
  • Fritz Lang's tense The Woman in the Window (1944) told about a law-abiding college professor (Edward G. Robinson) who became embroiled in a crime when he unintentionally committed a murder and suddenly found himself on the run from blackmail with a beautiful, strange model (Joan Bennett)
  • Michael Curtiz' melodramatic, mother-daughter noir classic Mildred Pierce (1945) featured Best Actress-winning Joan Crawford as a suspected murderess who covered up for her beloved but venomous femme fatale daughter (Ann Blyth)
  • Detour - 1945the psychological, melodramatic noir Leave Her to Heaven (1945), one of the first noirs shot in color, highlighted a menacing, father-fixated, unstable femme fatale (Gene Tierney) who would stop at nothing (the drowning murder of her husband's younger paraplegic brother in a lake, and a deliberate miscarriage to kill her unborn child when she deliberately fell down stairs) to possessively hold onto the man she loved
  • Edgar G. Ulmer's gritty, cheaply-made ("Poverty Row"), fatalistic, cultish crime film Detour (1945) was about the bleak twists of fate; in a flashback story cynically narrated, a world-weary, identity-stealing hitchhiker (Tom Neal) was haplessly involved in an ambiguous death during his thumbing trek to Los Angeles, and later became involved with a nasty hitchhiker - the film's blackmailing, vindictive femme fatale con Vera (Ann Savage) whom he accidentally strangled with a telephone cord through a closed door; [the film was remade as Detour (1992) and starred the son of the original ill-fated protagonist, Tom Neal, Jr.]
  • Tay Garnett's stylish and moody The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), from James M. Cain's novel, starred "sweater girl" Lana Turner as the libidinous, restless platinum blonde wife Cora Smith - who was stuck in a roadside diner and loveless marriage and convinced her illicit lover Frank Chambers (John Garfield) to murder her good-hearted husband Nick (Cecil Kellaway)
  • in Lewis Milestone's The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946), Barbara Stanwyck's murderous past might be revealed by her alcoholic, unrespected attorney husband Kirk Douglas
  • Rita Hayworth was featured in a sultry performance as the black glove-stripping Gilda (1946) to the tune of "Put the Blame on Mame" in Charles Vidor's classic film noir of a love triangle - the 'love goddess' portrayed the sexy, hedonistic red-headed wife of South American casino owner Ballin Mundson (George Macready) who became involved with her husband's abusive croupier (Glenn Ford) - her ex-beau. She became notorious for her much-quoted line: "If I'd been a ranch, they would have named me the Bar Nothing"
  • Robert Siodmak's adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's 1927 short story of a twisting double-cross, The Killers (1946), featured Burt Lancaster (in his film debut as the doomed ex-boxer Ole "the Swede" Andersen) and the stunning Ava Gardner as the manipulative vixen Kitty Collins (who was quoted as saying: "I'm poison, Swede, to myself and everybody around me"); it was noted for its exceptional beginning in which the Swede was assassinated by two professional killers - and accepted his death stoically. [This film was remade by director Don Siegel as the violent crime noir thriller The Killers (1964) with Lee Marvin, Ronald Reagan (in his last feature role), and Angie Dickinson]
  • The Killers - 1946in director John Cromwell's Dead Reckoning (1947), an on-the-run WWII veteran's alluring Southern girlfriend (Lizabeth Scott) threatened military buddy Humphrey Bogart
  • director Jacques Tourneur's quintessential, slick film noir Out of the Past (1947) (aka Build My Gallows High) of underworld intrigue was filled with complex flashbacks; it featured Robert Mitchum as the doomed, double-crossed ex-private eye Jeff Markham with a sordid past who fell for the icy femme fatale Kathie Moffat (Jane Greer) he was trailing for ruthless gangster Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas); Markham knew the dangers of falling in love with her ("You're like a leaf that the wind blows from one gutter to another"); [remade as Against All Odds (1984) with an older Jane Greer as her original character's mother]
  • Nicholas Ray's doomed lover film They Live By Night (1949) starred Farley Granger and Cathy O'Donnell as fugitive, misfit criminals on the run [remade as Thieves Like Us (1974)]
  • Joseph H. Lewis' tabloid romantic/crime B-movie melodrama Gun Crazy (1949) (aka Deadly Is the Female) - was another amour fou 'Bonnie and Clyde' tale with two disturbed and doomed protagonists/lovers on a crime spree - gun-loving Bart (John Dall) and blonde carnival sharpshooter (Peggy Cummins); noted for one unbroken take filmed in the getaway car during a bank robbery scene
  • Billy Wilder's classic black comedy and film noirish drama Sunset Boulevard (1950) was a "behind the scenes" look at Hollywood and the price of fame, greed, narcissism, and ambition; down-on-his-luck B-movie hack screenwriter Joe Gillis (William Holden) spoke (in flashback with voice-over narraton) beyond the grave as a dead man floating face-down in a swimming pool in Beverly Hills, about his six-month struggle to produce screenplays to meet the demands of the industry and satisfy the thirsty illusions of immortality and comeback of aging, waspish, megalomaniacal silent film queen (and femme fatale) Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) in her decaying Sunset Boulevard mansion
  • Otto Preminger's Angel Face (1953) starred Jean Simmons as a psychotic 'angel of death' who talked chauffeur Robert Mitchum into a murder scheme
  • Henry Hathaway's Techni-colored noir Niagara (1953) provided the perfect star vehicle for curvy sexpot Marilyn Monroe as Rose Loomis, a sinfully-wayward, unhappily married woman (to unstable, WWII veteran George (Joseph Cotten)), in its tale of murder and sexual jealousy; one of its taglines proclaimed: "A raging torrent of emotion that even nature can't control!"

Documentary-Style Noirs:

There are numerous, pseudo documentary-style film noirs ("docu-noirs"), often set in dark, rain-swept, crime-ridden urban areas, made in a realistic, semi-documentary fashion and often filmed in actual locations of real-life events:

  • Henry Hathaway's docu-drama The House on 92nd Street (1945) about Nazi spies scheming to learn the atom bomb formula, was based on actual FBI cases
  • Henry Hathaway also directed the film noirish Kiss of Death (1947), was derived from Stoolpigeon - a story by Eleazar Lipsky (with a screenplay by Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer); Victor Mature starred as paroled robber Nick Bianco opposite chilling, sadistic gangster Tommy Udo (Richard Widmark in his stunning screen debut, noted for the scene in which he giggled hysterically while pushing a wheelchair-bound old woman down a flight of stairs)
  • Call Northside 777 - 1948Call Northside 777 (1948) starred James Stewart as a Chicago reporter who uncovered a police coverup that sent a wrongly-convicted, innocent slum boy to jail for killing a cop eleven years earlier
  • Crane Wilbur's crime drama Canon City (1948) - a re-enactment of a 1947 prison escape in Colorado
  • director Jules Dassin's great crime drama The Naked City (1948) featured Barry Fitzgerald as a New York City cop investigating a murder over six days, and climaxed with a suspenseful chase and shootout on the Williamsburg Bridge
  • Anthony Mann's documentary style crime noir T-Men (1948) told about two undercover US Treasury men (Dennis O'Keefe and Alfred Ryder) who infiltrated a deadly counterfeiting gang; in one memorable scene, one of the T-Men was executed while his partner watched
  • the little-seen Abandoned (1949), from director Joseph Newman, about a late 1940s LA newspaper reporter (Dennis O'Keefe) pursuing a missing girl, along with her sister (Gale Storm known for the TV series My Little Margie), into the sordid black-market baby adoption racket, while encountering a corrupt private investigator (Raymond Burr)
  • Alfred L. Werker's (and uncredited Anthony Mann) police procedural film noir He Walked By Night (1949) was the story of the capture of psychopathic killer Erwin "Machine-Gun" Walker; the film inspired actor Jack Webb to create Dragnet - first a radio show and then a TV cop show
  • also, Joseph Newman's moralistic urban crime drama 711 Ocean Drive (1950) told about the rise and fall of an organized crime kingpin (Edmond O'Brien as a telephone company repairman turned bad); the film capitalized on various book-making scandals at the time sensationalized and exposed in the newspapers; with on-location settings of L.A., Palm Springs and Nevada, particularly at Hoover Dam
  • Billy Wilder's The Big Carnival (1951) (aka Ace in the Hole), an insightful expose of the media, starred Kirk Douglas as a cynical and immoral newsman named Charles Tatum who exploited a 'human interest' story to the public by orchestrating a media frenzy around a man trapped in a Pueblo cliff dwelling tunnel collapse
  • Alfred Hitchcock's noirish, true-life story thriller The Wrong Man (1956) with Henry Fonda as a New York musician framed and wrongly-accused of committing armed robbery - and undergoing a nightmarish ordeal, including the mental breakdown of his wife (Vera Miles)

Prison Noirs:

Noirs have sometimes been set in prisons or jails:

  • in Mervyn LeRoy's I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang (1932), an innocent WWI veteran (Paul Muni) was wrongly imprisoned as a chain gang convict, and after two escapes faced life as a hunted fugitive; also the earlier RKO release by Rowland Brown, Hell's Highway (1932) - with a similar bleak view of a Southern chain-gang prison
  • Fritz Lang's message film Fury (1936) - his first American film - with Spencer Tracy as a falsely accused kidnapper who was threatened and nearly-lynched by a mob in a small Midwestern town
  • Jules Dassin's dark prison drama Brute Force (1947) - more harsh than noirish about the oppressive Westgate prison (headed by ruthless and sadistic chief guard Captain Munsey (Hume Cronyn)) with Burt Lancaster as an inmate seeking to escape to be with his critically-ill girlfriend

Menaced-Women Noirs:

In menaced-women noirs, the tables are turned and women are menaced by the men in their lives (often their husbands), as in these examples:

  • Sorry, Wrong Number - 1948in George Cukor's Gaslight (1944), Ingrid Bergman was driven to near insanity by her menacing, mentally-cruel husband Charles Boyer
  • in Otto Preminger's hard-edged noir romance Laura (1944), a police detective (Dana Andrews) investigated socialite Laura's (Gene Tierney) murder until she reappeared - and was threatened a second time; the film contained troubling necrophiliac themes and sexual obsession by the hard-boiled detective for the dead woman; with a great supporting cast including Vincent Price, Clifton Webb, and Judith Anderson; Oscar winner for Best B/W Cinematography
  • in Anatole Litvak's unnerving and tense Sorry, Wrong Number (1948), bed-ridden hypochondriac/heiress Barbara Stanwyck overheard a phone call plot that her weak husband Burt Lancaster planned to kill her
  • in Nicholas Ray's In A Lonely Place (1950), Humphrey Bogart portrayed a burned-out, troubled, hot-tempered, and near-psychotic Hollywood screenwriter and murder suspect while having an affair with neighboring, alibi-providing, aspiring blonde starlet Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame) - their sexual attractiveness to each other was soon torn apart by jealousy, fear, and suspicion



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