Best Film-Noir Films (1)

  Double Indemnity


Double Indemnity is easily one of the best films ever made, both in the film-noir genre and in general as a complete masterpiece. Not only does the film have stunning cinematography, lighting, acting, and the undisputed champion of film-noir directing, Billy Wilder, but the way in which the story is told is genius. The plot, it goes without saying, is a deep and interesting storyline, which is bound to keep an audience hooked from the outset. The plot follows the story of an experienced and well-respected salesman, Walter Neff, who meets the extremely seductive wife of one of his clients, Phyllis Dietrichson, who proposes to kill her husband for the proceeds of an insurance policy, in which Walter devises a scheme to gain twice the amount under the double indemnity clause. However, like all classic dramas, this does not go smoothly as planned, as Walter’s best friend, Barton Keyes, suspects them of their illegal doings. The performance by Barbara Stanwyck is undoubtedly one of the most remembered, as her ‘femme fatale’ provides the film with twists and turns throughout. The film deals with great depth in terms of lust, betrayal and undeniable greed. An undeniable, undisputed classic by one of the greatest directors of the 20th century, the Billy Wilder.


Directed by seven-time Oscar winner Billy Wilder, a cinematic legend (to say the least), this film was one of the first ‘noir’ films that I had the divine pleasure to lay my eyes on, and it did not disappoint. Herein we have stunning performances from the magnetic William Holden, as a hack screenwriter, and the charismatic Gloria Swanson, as the dwindled silent-film star, as well as the unforgettable supporting role of Erich Von Stroheim.

Its intricate plot of an obscure screenwriter, Joe Gillis, who is taken under the wing of Norma Desmond, a faded silent-movie star, who believes he can make her script a masterpiece, ends up in a spiral of events of murder, love and total anarchy.

The film was beautifully set up, with the iconic swimming pool scene at both the start and the end. This impressive idea of starting the film at its resolution was one of the first of its kind, and has set the paving stone for many, many films we see today. A true classic that was worth every Oscar it was nominated for — and won.

8 1/2 3. 8 1/2 (1963).

On first viewing, this film will seem a little bizarre (to say the least), and more than likely you will not understand the film on first viewing. After doing a little reading on the film, this is completely normal; it takes many viewings to fully comprehend the depth in which the film seeks to go.

It follows the story of a director who struggles to find a new idea for his upcoming film, which leads him to delving into a battle with his own conscience, in which he recalls major events in his life through a series of dreams and fantasies.

Federico Fellini, furthermore, completely epitomised the ‘film noir’ genre, and with some serious style; in doing so he gained wide recognition and founded the idea of ‘Felliniesque’ cinema. For any avid cinema watchers, 8 ½ is a must-see.

½ is an exhilarating, confusing, unique, fascinating, and inspired journey into a director’s consciousness, and a great opportunity to observe the master of Italian neorealism — Federico Fellini — at his very best. It stands out as one of my all-time favourites, for pushing cinematic boundaries. A timeless classic!

Strangers on a Train 4. STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (1951).

It goes without saying that Alfred Hitchcock needs no introduction as one of the greatest directors of all time, and this film further proves that point under the genre of a film-noir thriller. Inspired by Patricia Highsmith’s novel Strangers On A Train, Hitchcock proved to have an avid fascination with a lot of her work, this being evident with the elements of murder, mishaps and intensity in most of his films.

The storyline seems innocent enough, when Guy Haines (Farley Granger) bumps into Anthony (Robert Walker), but they share an eccentric secret: they both have somebody they want out of their lives — a wife and a father. This leads them to a series of crazy ideas, blackmailing, guilt and an undeniably iconic finale.

Strangers On A Train offers not only an intense thriller, surrounding the two strangers having a dark secret which they both have in common, but also a somewhat black comedy, with a few bizarre and intricate laughs along the way. A must-see for any Hitchcock fanatics, a hidden gem in Hitchcock’s widely established filmography.

M (Fritz Lang) 5. M (1931).

German Director Fritz Lang offers another timeless, classic thriller under the title of the widely innovative and profound ‘M’. Like all classic films, we see mesmerising performances by the lead actors, in this case by the actor Peter Lorre, a strange-looking actor (to say the least). In saying this, Peter Lorre’s character is one of many ‘strange’ things about the film, and it is this obscure strangeness about the film that makes it such a beautiful piece of cinema. It follows the story of a number of young children being killed in the city of Berlin; as well as traumatising the police force, who send out an intense manhunt for this child serial-killer, other criminals and murderers assist to seek out this sinister murderer. A film that will undoubtedly stay with you throughout your life, and one that will definitely have you hooked from start to finish — well it did me anyway. A film that displayed parallelisms and corruption, in pre-war German society, with a powerful finale to match.

 The Maltese Falcon 6. THE MALTESE FALCON (1941).

It is widely considered a ‘cornerstone’ of film noir, with its sparing use of symbolic shadows, intricate dialogue and impressive character developments throughout the film — not to mention an outstanding cast to match, with the likes of Humphrey Bogart, Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre. The plot, however, is far from simple, which made it difficult for director John Huston, who also wrote the screenplay, to select key scenes from the novel by Dashiell Hammett, as his script was practically written for him. The plot follows a private detective, Sam Spade, who is seeking out the murderer of his partner, which ultimately leads him to getting mixed up with a group of three outlandish criminals and a woman, who speaks far from the truth. The film spirals into catastrophic events, filled with murder and the desire for the statuette of the Maltese Falcon. A must-see for any film-noir or Humphrey Bogart fan, as this is simply one of his greatest achievements — up there with Casablanca.

The Third Man 7. THE THIRD MAN (1949).

A classic example of film noir, down to the tee, as it combines an intense soundtrack, amazing visuals, and innovative dialogue, in which many critics have considered it well above its time and to be better fitted as a noir film of the 60s/70s. When watching this for the first time, there is no doubt that you will pick up on its above-impressive cinematography, sharing standards with Citizen Kane.

It follows the story of a pulp fiction novelist, Holly Martins (played by Joseph Cotton), who returns to a post-war Vienna to greet his old friend, Harry Lime (played by Orson Welles), only to find out that he has been killed in a freak accident. However, on listening to different variations of the disappearance of his associate, the pieces do not fit together, and he takes it upon his own hands to seek out the truth.

For any die-hard film-noir fans, any of Carol Reed’s films are well worth a watch, as in this classic, he brings the ‘urban nightmare’ world of America into a less recognised setting, in which he provides the foundations for one of the greatest films of the late 40s.

La Strada 8. LA STRADA (1954).

La Strada is the film that completely established Federico Fellini as one of the greatest Italian directors of his generation, undoubtedly on par with the likes of the “spaghetti western” director Sergio Leone. This film, like all perfect film noir, has so much more to offer than the plot, the beautiful photography, the mesmerising musical score, and the beautifully elegant setting. The plot follows the sad story of a waif, Gelsomina, who is sold to a travelling entertainer, Zampano, for a mere 10,000 lire. Unfortunately, Gelsomina endures psychical and emotional pain under his supervision, with romance, betrayal and deceit throughout the film. All of this makes for a beautiful film that ultimately displays humanity’s finer aspects, and questions them, with a truly moving plot and with a stunning performance by Anthony Quinn as the baneful Zampano.

 Notorious 9. NOTORIOUS (1946).

 A year after the Second World War, came the genius thriller by Alfred Hitchcock, a film never considered his greatest, when put alongside his more acclaimed horror/thrillers such as Psycho, The Birds, Rear Window, and Vertigo, but personally I believe it is one of his more perfect films. The perfection comes in the precise dialogue, the beautiful cinematography and the flawless performances from Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman. It follows the story of a woman, Alicia Huberman, whose father is convicted for treason against the U.S and ultimately commits suicide in prison. This leads to her taking to drink and men, in which she is confronted by a government agent, T.R. Devlin, to spy on her father’s Nazi friends operating in Rio de Janeiro. However, the story only deepens, as a romance develops between the two.  It goes without saying that this is a stand-out masterpiece by Hitchcock, and highly underrated, with a stunning, symbolic and penetrating script. It also goes without saying that the cast alone should be a reason to give this gem a watch.

Odd Man Out 10. ODD MAN OUT (1947).

Like The Third Man, also Carol Reed’s, the film is placed in a lesser-known environment, Northern Ireland, which was concerned with the political and social unrest. The film follows Johnny McQueen, an Irish Nationalist, who leads a clandestine Irish organisation, and for his organisation to continue, he plans to stage a hold-up, which will guarantee funds. However, the hold-up does not go to plan, and the police stage a manhunt to find him.

Throughout the years, Odd Man Out has been considered one of the greatest films in its genre, and is spoken with high regard by many directors, including Roman Polanski, in which he found inspiration. A must-see for any fans of Carol Reed’s The Third Man. A classic neorealism film, which dealt with aspects of the social and political unrest, with terrific acting by James Mason and his bravura performance, along with his beautiful counterparts Kathleen Ryan and Cyril Cusack. A film that is often overlooked as a classic, but, nevertheless, is considered a gem of film-noir cinema.

Written by Alessandro Salemme

5 thoughts on “Best Film-Noir Films (1)

  1. What is film noir? Are they films about hard boiled detectives and seductive femme fatales? Are they about troubled heroes with soiled pasts that keep catching up with them? Are they all about black and white chiaroscuro lighting, dark offices with light shining in through the blinds, and cigarette smoke that takes on a life of its own? Maybe.

  2. Secondly, from Wikipedia : “Although praised when released in 1945, the film when released on DVD in 2005 received mostly mixed reviews. Christopher Null writes, “today it comes across as a bit goody-goody, pandering to the FBI, pedantic, and not noirish at all.”” I think I’ve addressed most of these points already, but it’s the last one that gets me. Essentially he seems to be moaning that “they didn’t make a good enough film noir!” Might be because no one ever knew they were making a film noir, eh? How can you expect something to conform to a set of rules that were only defined after the fact? Hathaway and co didn’t fail at making a noir, they just made a film that doesn’t fit the later-defined template as well as the films used to define said template. I know, four words from some other online critic hardly merit a whole paragraph, but it does bug me when people write daft things like that.

  3. While it is hard to draw a line between some of the noir films of the early 1960s such as Blast of Silence (1961) and Cape Fear (1962) and the noirs of the late 1950s, new trends emerged in the post-classic era. The Manchurian Candidate (1962), directed by John Frankenheimer , Shock Corridor (1962), directed by Samuel Fuller , and Brainstorm (1965), directed by experienced noir character actor William Conrad , all treat the theme of mental dispossession within stylistic and tonal frameworks derived from classic film noir. The Manchurian Candidate examined the situation of American prisoners of war (POWs) during the Korean War . These incidents that occurred during the war as well as post-war incidents that ensued, functioned as an inspiration for a whole other “sub-genre of Cold War Noir”.

  4. Dark Passage (1947) is a Warner Bros. film noir directed by Delmer Daves and starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall .

  5. Glad to see Double Indemnity, The Third Man and The Maltese Falcon – my three favourite film noirs. Regarding what film noir means, I see it more a loose collective of films than a solid genre. There are consistencies in style, character and theme, sure, but these have become a little more difficult to pick out as noir as a concept has evolved.

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