Monday, April 26, 2010

Film Noir Wrap Up

I don’t know how to approach this wrap-up without sounding cheesy and parroting what I said in summation of the annual countdown last November, but all of the same praise still applies. None of this stuff would be any fun for me if I simply wrote the posts, put them up, and then never heard anything back. The fun for me comes in seeing how other people react to a film, discussing placement, analyzing films if necessary, and then learning about other films for me to seek out. All of that took place over the course of this countdown. For those that were along for the entire ride – I don’t want to single folks out for fear of leaving deserving visitors off, but you know who you are - I give major thanks. It has made the entire project rewarding and worthwhile for me. I can’t thank everyone enough.

As I said going into it, the list is going to be far from definitive. I have seen A LOT of film noir, but I also have not seen many films that likely deserved a shot at placement in the countdown. Initially, I thought this might mean that I shouldn’t be undertaking a task of this scope. But I do have to give credit to a lot of the folks who encouraged me to go through with it – I remember Samuel Wilson and Ed Howard in particular essentially saying, “use your own definition of noir and just do the countdown” (paraphrasing of course!). So I did and I am glad that I listened to such advice.

Still, a Top 100 may look impressive, but it really only scratches the surface. The other thing to point out is that I personally learned much throughout the exercise as well. As has been pointed out to me quite clearly, there are a number of films that likely should be on such a list. Some of the omissions are entirely my own decision. A few recognized classics I have never really cared for (Crossfire, The Naked City, This Gun For Hire, Fallen Angel to name a few). There are other films that I have not seen, but probably should have before making a Top 100 (While the City Sleeps, His Kind of Woman, Odds Against Tomorrow, The File on Thelma Jordon, a lot of Brit Noir). And then there are others that I have had difficulty tracking down copies of, badly want to see, but just haven’t had the opportunity yet (City That Never Sleeps, They Won’t Believe Me, Tomorrow Is Another Day). Whether it was money, time, or effort I’ve just never had the chance to watch them. I’ve been told by someone recently that this basically invalidates the entire effort, and if people feel this way, then so be it. I make no claims to be an authority – I’m just a film buff who loves noir and wanted to get started on a countdown. It actually keeps me excited to know that there are still a number of highly-respected noirs out there that I can look forward to.

Others I consciously left off. Trying to define what is and is not film noir is tricky and I probably wasn’t always one hundred percent consistent. For instance, I included a Melville in Le Doulos, but decided not to include Bob le Flambeur. For whatever reason, I’ve always looked toward Bob le Flambeur as more of a straight heist film – similar to how many people interpret Rififi, which I added to the list. I don’t really know how to explain situations like this then to go back to my “Potter Stewart theory” of defining what I think is a film noir. Deciding which films fit into certain labels or categories was light years harder than doing something like a yearly countdown, so rather than getting bogged down in this morass, I felt it was best just to make a decision and stick with it. Once I got going, I tried not to second guess myself. Is a film like Bob le Flambeur a noir? Possibly. But the flip-flopping that could potentially take place in trying to decide whether to include it (and other films for that matter) in the countdown would have brought everything to a standstill. The same goes for Charles Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter. Many people consider this one of the greatest noirs ever made. It certainly has many characteristics of a noir, particularly with the expressionistic lighting. But to me, it has always played more like a gothic story that has the look of a film noir. There are a countless number of films that have some element of noir – Citizen Kane, A Place in the Sun, Johnny Guitar and a number of noirish westerns – so the list could have been extended infinitely.

The one conscious decision I did make was to leave Alfred Hitchcock out of the countdown. It’s nothing against Hitch – as anybody who follows my blog knows, he is probably my all-time favorite director. It was another situation where deciding what qualifies and what doesn’t gets very dicey. Many people consider Notorious a film noir, but it has never seemed one to me. What about Vertigo? Shadow of a Doubt? Strangers on a Train? The Wrong Man? Cases can be made for each of them, although Strangers on a Train and The Wrong Man are probably the only ones that I would feel completely confident including in such a countdown.

Basically, this is a longwinded explanation of how genre-based countdowns are inevitably going to be tricky. I haven’t seen everything, and of what I have seen, my definition of which ones qualify as film noir is bound to differ from someone else’s. So with that in mind, I would love for everyone to post their own personal lists of their favorite/best noirs. Top 10s, 20s, 100s, whatever... I would just love to see other lists from everyone else!


I also thought it would be interesting to see the directors that had multiple appearances in the countdown. This list features a lot of the usual suspects, but some other less-celebrated directors also are highlighted:

-Fritz Lang - 5 films (#20-Scarlet Street; #22-The Big Heat; #66-Clash by Night; #97-The Blue Gardenia; #100-The Woman in the Window)
-Jules Dassin - 4 films (#9-Rififi; #23-Brute Force; #29-Night and the City; #84-Thieves’ Highway)
-Henry Hathaway - 4 films (#32-Kiss of Death; #72-The Dark Corner; #82-Niagara; #95-Call Northside 777)
-Robert Siodmak - 4 films (#4-Criss Cross; #5-The Killers; #19-Cry of the City; #98-Phantom Lady)
-Norman Foster - 3 films (#53-Woman on the Run; #58-Kiss the Blood Off My Hands; #85-Journey Into Fear)
-Samuel Fuller - 3 films (#44-Underworld U.S.A.; #55-Pickup on South Street; #96-House of Bamboo)
-John Huston - 3 films (#10-The Asphalt Jungle; #15-The Maltese Falcon; #73-Key Largo)
-Anthony Mann - 3 films (#37-T-Men; #39-Raw Deal; #68-Side Street)
-Nicholas Ray - 3 films (#6-In a Lonely Place; #69-They Live By Night; #78-On Dangerous Ground)
-Orson Welles - 3 films (#18-Touch of Evil; #51-The Lady from Shanghai; #92-The Stranger)
-Billy Wilder - 3 films (#7-Double Indemnity; #8-Sunset Boulevard; #42-Ace in the Hole)
-Andre de Toth - 2 films (#13-Pitfall; #40-Crime Wave)
-Byron Haskin - 2 films (#31-Too Late for Tears; #65-I Walk Alone)
-Phil Karlson - 2 films (#47-99 River Street; #59-Kansas City Confidential)
-Joseph H. Lewis - 2 films (#27-The Big Combo; #48-Gun Crazy)
-Anatole Litvak - 2 films (#75-Out of the Fog; #81-Sorry, Wrong Number)
-Joseph L. Mankiewicz - 2 films (#43-House of Strangers; #61-Somewhere in the Night)
-Rudolph Maté - 2 films (#50-D.O.A.; #77-Union Station)
-Jean Negulesco - 2 films (#46-Nobody Lives Forever; #81-Road House)
-Otto Preminger - 2 films (#30-Laura; #35-Where the Sidewalk Ends)
-Richard Quine - 2 films (#49-Pushover; #56-Drive a Crooked Road)
-Raoul Walsh - 2 films (#36-White Heat; #74-High Sierra)
-Robert Wise - 2 films (#24-The Set-Up; #71-Born to Kill)

Although Fritz Lang put the most films in the countdown, what was solidified in my own mind after completing the list is that Robert Siodmak and Jules Dassin are, in my opinion, the two greatest directors of film noir. In terms of personal taste, I already knew this to be the case with Siodmak. Re-watching many of the classics reminded how great Dassin was as well. It’s also nice to see directors like Henry Hatahway and Norman Foster, who aren’t normally talked about as much, place multiple films in the list.

So chat away about anything regarding the Top 100 and also please submit your own personal lists!

Where to next? I have no clue… at least a little bit of a break from extensive lists or countdowns.


  1. A magnificent effort. I've read some great film books on film noir, but I'd happily point a newcomer to this countdown for a definitive guide to noir by a passionate, knowledgeable expert. What a pleasure. Thanks. I promise to keep coming back to re-read your essays.

  2. 1. In A Lonely Place
    2. Night And The City
    3. Touch Of Evil
    4. Out Of The Past
    5. Sunset Boulevard
    6. The Night Of The Hunter
    7. The Killers
    8. The Third Man
    9. The Killing
    10. Sweet Smell Of Success
    11. The Asphalt Jungle
    12. Force Of Evil
    13. Double Indemnity
    14. The Big Sleep
    15. Scarlet Street
    16. Nightmare Alley
    17. Kiss Me Deadly
    18. Murder My Sweet
    19. Laura
    20. The Maltese Falcon
    21. Ace In The Hole
    22. The Lady From Shanghai
    23. On Dangerous Ground
    24. The Big Heat
    25. The Postman Always Rings Twice
    26. Raw Deal
    27. They Live By Night
    28. Gun Crazy
    29. Criss Cross
    30. The Big Combo
    31. Act Of Violence
    32. Gilda
    33. Body And Soul
    34. Brute Force
    35. Crime Wave
    36. The Wrong Man
    37. He Walked By Night
    38. Panic In The Streets
    39. Pickup On South Street
    40. Born To Kill
    41. Thieves Highway
    42. Where The Sidewalk Ends
    43. Kiss Of Death
    44. The Woman In The Window
    45. White Heat
    46, The Set Up
    47. Key Largo
    48. The Narrow Margin
    49. Mildred Pierce
    50. I Walk Alone................M.Roca

  3. Dave, a great finish to what must have been a daunting task--a very lucid roundup post that anticipated and answered lots of questions. Thanks for asking for your readers' own lists, something I really wanted to do but hesitated to so as not to co-opt your topic. Here goes (in roughly chronological order, using a fairly narrow definition of noir, and also sticking to your time period of pre-early 60s):

    Pepe le moko
    Le Jour se leve
    The Maltese Falcon
    Double Indemnity
    The Killers
    The Big Sleep
    Out of the Past
    White Heat
    The Third Man
    The Asphalt Jungle
    Strangers on a Train
    Pickup on South Street
    Touchez pas au grisbi
    Bob le flambeur
    Kiss Me Deadly
    The Killing
    Touch of Evil
    Shoot the Piano Player

  4. Thanks for your big effort. Now I have this big list with great movies from whom to choose. :)
    I only want to mention that Robert Siodmak and Billy Wilder has two films in top 10 and this is significant by me.

  5. Thank you for your countdown, Dave. It's amazing and will definitely serve me as a checklist, because there are still about 15 films there that I haven't seen.

    I am not going to make a list of my own, as I've never been much into list-making. I mean, I can't even say who my favorite actor is! I love so many of them. But regarding noirs, I love to discover those that would probably not make into anybody's TOP 100 -- not crappy, still pretty solid, just less known, less popular or less good than the recognized classic ones.

    I think the reason why so many movies you list above didn't make it to the TOP-100 is that there's still a debate among fans on what noir actually is: a genre or a style. For me it's more like a style, so I consider many films to be noirs that you don't, like M, Vertigo, High Noon, Ox-Bow Incident, The Night of the Hunter, etc. And you're absolutely right, Citizen Kane positively has noirish elements.

    In Russia, there is a very popular serialized TV movie called "17 Moments of Spring" ("17 Mgnoveniy Vesny") -- about a Soviet agent inside the Nazi Germany top intelligence department. It was shot, I believe, in the 1970's, black and white. And, consciously or not, it was shot in the definitive noir style (shadows, lighting, atmosphere of fate and doom). Recently (last year, I think), it was colorized and shown on TV during the V-Day festivities. I didn't see the color version (I don't like even the BW one), but people say the movie lost in style very much, and prefer to buy DVD's with the original BW version.

  6. Great job on this list, Dave. I'm definitely going to be referencing this list for more great noirs to see for some time to come!

  7. Dave, my #1 would have been The Night Of The Hunter by a sizable margin if I considered it a noir, but like you I'm not sure it should be. As a film it's too complex. I'm somewhat surprised you don't like Fallen Angel, one I see as a cousin to Laura and Where The Sidewalk Ends. I also love Preminger's Angel Face, and was wondering if you've seen it (I know it divides people but it'd probably be in my top 10 noirs). I was also wondering if you've seen Nightfall and Woman On The Beach, two others that would rank high for me.

  8. I don't worry too much about what fits in genre, but once in a while I have to say "What?" Once I saw One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest in comedy.

    I think it's a great list, and I'm sorry I came into it so late.

  9. A great countdown! If it means anything to you, know that you got me interested in film noir more than anybody before. I watched six film noir during your countdown, it's not a lot, but studies take a large portion of my free time and if it wasn't for your reviews and the discussions that followed, I might have not seen a single one.

  10. Once again, my heartiest congrats Dave for the successful completion of this wonderful project.

    Just when one though the world couldn't get any worse, you came with your countdown of noirs and reaffirmed faith in humanity... Okay, that was cynical, but isn't that the point ;)

    Well, here's my top 15:

    1. Sunset Blvd
    2. The Killers
    3. Casablanca (yes, I consider it a noir)
    4. In A Lonely Place
    5. The Asphalt Jungle
    6. Out of the Past
    7. Night & the City
    8. Touch of Evil
    9. Double Indemnity
    10. Laura
    11. The Killing
    12. Ace in the Hole
    13. The Third Man
    14. Kiss Me Deadly
    15. Where the Sidewalk Ends

    And here are my 5 favourite neo-noirs (for the simple reason that they were made after the classic noir era):

    1. Shoot the Piano Player
    2. Breathless
    3. Kapurush (The Coward)
    4. Chinatown
    5. White

    So long for now. You certainly deserve a few days rest. But when you return, you better decide on your next countdown :)

  11. This was surely one of the most accomplished feats we've seen on the net, and one can only fathom the amount of time, and blood,sweat and tears that went into the compilation and the penning of these wonderful essays day in and day out. I've tip my cap to you many times, and now that you have crossed the finish line, i can tell you that for over three months you've held me in suspense, and each and every morning I woke up and did three things before leaving for school: shower, shave and check out Dave's new placement! In this sense there's a nostalgia associated with this routine, that has sadly reached its conclusion, but like others here I know after a rest you will tackle some other project, that needn't of course be this ambitious. We want you to maintain your sanity and health first and foremost. I tinkered with a prospective noir list over the past few days, and came up with avery rough and inconclusive list, which is 25, and NOT listed in any order of preference:

    Night and the City
    On Dangerous Ground
    Out of the Past
    The Third Man
    Le Circle Rouge
    Double Indemnity
    In A Lonely Place
    Ace in the Hole
    Sunset Boulevard
    The Big Heat
    Bob le Flambeur
    Night of the Hunter
    Criss Cross
    The Killing
    The Maltese Falcon
    The Set-Up
    The Big Sleep
    Nightmare Alley
    Force of Evil
    They Live by Night
    Touchez Pas Au Grisbi
    The Reckless Moment
    The Killers

  12. Great responses, everyone! Love seeing everybody list their favorite noirs as well, using whatever definition they like. Interesting to see that, even approaching things from a slightly different angle, there are some films that rise to the type regardless of definition.

    Rich - Thanks for the kind words! I appreciate the praise and hopefully some of these will get folks to dive into noir.

    M.Roca - Great list, I think I only see three films in your top 50 that weren't in my own list - two because I chose not to (Night of the Hunter and The Wrong Man) and only one (Panic in the Streets) that I'm just not personally a fan of.

    R.D. - I really went back and forth on whether or not to include Pepe le Moko and Le Jour se Leve. Particularly with Le Jour, because I adore that film. If it was included, it probably would have been in the Top 20. I like Pepe le Moko a lot as well, if slightly less than the Carne. The one film I have struggled with, but plan on watching again in the future, is Shoot the Piano Player. Really, I have struggled with most Truffaut that I have tried for whatever reason.

    Nostromo - I agree with you, two movies each for Siodmak and Wilder is incredibly impressive! Thanks for the compliments!

    Quirky Character - This is a great point. I'm not completely sure where I fall in the genre vs. style debate, as arguments for both sides have merit. I guess I ultimately think that a noir for me has to contain some of the traditional "genre elements" or noir along with at least some of the stylistic touches. But it's still a fine line trying to separate many movies.

    Ed - If this gets folks to watch any of the movies I went over then it will have been worth it. Some of them may not be well received by those that don't already have an interest in noir, but I enjoy all of them to some degree.

    Doniphon - I actually have never been a big fan of Angel Face. I went into both Angel Face and Fallen Angel expecting to like it based on my love of Laura and Where the Sidewalk Ends, but for whatever reason neither ever really hit for me. Woman on the Beach I have not seen but obviously need to. Nightfall I now own and have watched (and like it), but my copy of it arrived just after the countdown had already begun and I didn't want to have to weed out a film already slotted into the list in order to make room for it. Again, oversights that are my fault but still don't ruin everything I don't think.

    Retro Hound - No worries, you can check out all of the entries at any point! Glad you did join us though before the countdown ended.

    ThatQuebecGuy - Great to hear! Definitely check out as many of them as you can, as the more you watch the more you will be sucked into noir!

    Shubhajit - I like your list. Even though I don't include something like Casablanca, I completely understand that it does have noirish elements. Thanks again for following the whole way!

    Sam - A wonderful list here as well... I love seeing The Reckless Moment pop up on somebody else's list! Big thanks to you Sam for your tireless encouragement and participation in this countdown (and the annual one as well)... regulars like yourself, Samuel, John, Judy, Shubhajit and others that have been around since the early days of the blog have always kept things interesting and entertaining.

  13. Congrats Dave, this was a magnificent trip. My top 10 are in order of preference . The remaining 15 are alphabetical. I have only listed U.S. films.

    1-Double Indemnity- Wilder
    2-Out of the Past- Tourner
    3-Sunset Boulevard- Wilder
    4-Night and the City- Dassin (a little liberty here since this can be considered Brit Noir by an American Director)
    5-Scarlet Street- Lang
    6-Ace in the Hole- Wilder
    7-The Killers (1946)- Siodmak
    8-In a Lonely Place- Ray
    9-The Maltese Falcon- Huston
    10-Asphalt Jungle,The- Huston

    ....and 15 more

    Big Combo,The- Lewis
    Big Heat,The- Lang
    Big Sleep,The- Hawks
    Criss Cross- Siodmak
    Detour- Ulmer
    Force of Evil- Polonsky
    Gun Crazy- Lewis
    Killing,The- Kubrick
    Night of the Hunter- Laughton
    On Dangerous Ground- Ray
    Setup,The- Wise
    They Live By Night- Ray
    Touch of Evil- Welles
    Where the Sidewalk Ends-Preminger
    White Heat- Walsh

  14. Dave, here's my shot:

    Odds Against Tomorrow (see it!)
    The Third Man
    Kiss Me Deadly
    The Killers
    The Asphalt Jungle
    Touch of Evil
    The Killing
    Le Deuxieme Souffle (Melville)
    The Big Heat

    While the City Sleeps is also a must-see for you, Dave, while His Kind of Woman deserves some kind of honorable mention as easily the best comedy noir ever made.

  15. Must just add my congratulations on completing this great countdown, Dave. I haven't seen enough noirs to post a list, but will definitely be checking out many of those you have highlighted in the future. I'm awed by your in-depth knowledge of this genre, and of film in general.

  16. Noir is an area that I'm sadly lacking in viewing (hence why I could never really comment throughout this countdown)...and yet thanks to this awesome countdown I've already submerged myself into a handful of these wonderful films. Most recently, I was absolutely blown away by Ulmer's Detour, and have also greatly enjoyed Criss Cross, Out of the Past, and Scarlet Street. I am now officially hooked, and like others have said, I'll be referencing this list over and over for great noir gems.

    This was truly some staggering blogging Dave, just incredible work. Your dedication to this genre is inspiring!

  17. Well done, well done...

    Anyway I quickly made up my own list, but didn't give it that much thought, really. I just wrote down all the noirs I could think of I've seen and ordered them into something I can live with.

    For me it would be more something like this:

    1. Sunset Blvd.
    2. Double Indemnity
    3. Touch Of Evil
    4. The Night Of The Hunter
    5. Kiss Me Deadly
    6. The Big Heat
    7. Kansas City Confidential
    8. The Third Man
    9. Detour
    10. Sweet Smell Of Success
    11. The Big Combo
    12. Du Rififi Chez Les Hommes
    13. In A Lonely Place
    14. The Maltese Falcon
    15. Stray Dog
    16. Criss Cross
    17. Raw Deal
    18. Les Diaboliques
    19. Out Of The Past
    20. The Glass Key
    21. Stranger On The Third Floor
    22. The Asphalt Jungle
    23. Force Of Evil
    24. T-Men
    25. Caught
    26. The Killing
    27. Gilda
    28. The Stranger
    29. Railroaded!
    30. The Naked City
    31. The Woman In The Window
    32. The Lady From Shanghai
    33. Ace In The Hole
    34. Crime Wave
    35. Secret Beyond The Door
    36. Gaslight
    37. Journey Into Fear
    38. Mildred Pierce
    39. Pickup On South Street
    40. The Locket

    ... and as for 'not really noirs because of whatever reason':

    1. Chinatown
    2. Vertigo
    3. M
    4. L.A. Confidential
    5. Blue Velvet
    6. Blade Runner
    7. The Long Goodbye
    8. The Conversation
    9. Angel Heart
    10. Sin City

    Keep up the blog, Dave, it's really great and I enjoy reading it whenever I swing by! Already recommended it to some fellow cinephiles.

    cheers, David

  18. All of these above nominations would appear in my list of all time favourites,so what I have decided to do is to have a series of films which could be considered to be "neo -noir".

    All are worthy of your serious consideration, so in no particular order :-

    The Manchurian Candidate
    Point Blank
    The Parallax View
    Angel Heart
    Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
    The Last Seduction
    King Of New York
    London To Brighton
    Arlington Road
    Blood Simple
    Minority Report
    Hickey And Boggs
    L.A Confidential
    Cotton Comes To Harlem
    Devil In A Blue Dress
    Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia
    The Naked Kiss
    No Country For Old Men

    The overriding theme is one of utter bleakness.

    "Happy-ever-afterwards" doesn't appear to be
    evident in any of this selection. Just like any of the classic film noir.....