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.