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Name Your Favorite Film Noir Characters...And Why


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I think we've covered this and even listed our favorites elsewhere in the past, but I thought an update and thread dedicated to it might be fun.

 

Can you list your favorite female and male characters in all of film noir, as well as providing a brief (or not so brief, as you wish) explanation for your choices? It might be interesting to see if a certain "type" turns up more often in most lists, as well as to learn what different people are attracted to in these denizens of Dark City.

 

If you can list at least five favorites of each (that's two lists, one male & one female), in order of preference, that would be great. If you REALLY want to dig deep, you could also name your five favorite supporting characters in film noir.

 

I'm looking forward to your responses.

 

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> {quote:title=CineMaven wrote:}{quote}

> :D :-) :D:):D

>

 

Now while that is five, I'm having trouble placing names with the faces... :D:P

 

> P.S. If you need help in seeing a list of film noir, please check this out:

>

> http://www.filmsite.org/filmnoir.html

 

Excellent, thanks for the reference. The Shoot PIctures has a list of 250 noirs, as well.

 

http://www.listsofbests.com/list/19587

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Wow! This is a fascinating topic. Without giving it a lot of thought, you can't beat the man called Spade. His unpredictability, his willingness to play both ends against the middle. He's cold and calculating, and he's good at it. I like Elisha Cook's high-strung loser in THE KILLING. The man has had enough! My heart goes out to Dix in ASPHALT JUNGLE. All that poor guy wants is to go home. And good old Keyes! Him and that little man in his stomach!

 

It's a little to harder to come up with the ladies. Cathy in OUT OF THE PAST is dangerous. But she doesn't intrigue me all that much. Likewise, Brigid O'Shaugnessy. These dames have no heart. I'll take the fragile Cathy O'Donnell character in THEY LIVE BY NIGHT. Somebody with something to lose besides money. And let's go back to ASPHALT JUNGLE. Dix's loyal girlfriend gets to me. She gives a lot of herself; wanting only what's best for her man. And I like the main character in NARROW MARGIN, simply because...well, why spoil it? Somebody might need to see for themselves!

 

In a surprise move, I'm a fan of Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer books. Paul Newman's Harper is not the perfect incarnation. But Newman was a fine actor. The movies have great stories. My fondness for the source forces this choice.

 

Whew! For somebody who didn't have much to say...

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Great choices there redriver. I think it'd be hard for me not to go with Spade, too. He's the ultimate cool character in noir. As for the ladies, I'd be mighty tempted to go with Kitty Collins in the original version of The Killers, but there may be others I might think of in a while.

 

I liked Harper just fine, but of course I think it'd probably have made for a more interesting movie if it had been done in the 40s or 50s.

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Hi Red!

 

I know I asked for characters, not performers, but I'm curious whether you

meant Humphrey Bogart's "Sam Spade", or one of the others, RR?

 

Elisha Cook's "George Peatty" in THE KILLING

Sterling Hayden's "Dix" in THE ASPHALT JUNGLE

Edward G. Robinson's "Keyes" in DOUBLE INDEMNITY

Paul Newman's "Harper"

 

That last one was a surprise, RR. I only saw the Harper movies once, a while back either on AMC or maybe TCM aired them. I think they were airing Newman's "H" movies.

 

Jane Greer's "Cathy" in OUT OF THE PAST

Mary Astor's (?) "Brigid O'Shaunessy" in THE MALTESE FALCON

Cathy O'Donnell's "Catherine Mobely" in THEY LIVE BY NIGHT

Jean Hagen's "Doll" in THE ASPHALT JUNGLE

Marie Windsor's "Frankie" in THE NARROW MARGIN

 

That's an interesting mix of tough and soft hearted. You seem to have a liking for the softer hearted. What about Claire Trevor in RAW DEAL? I thought she was a nice mix of both.

 

Thank you for sharing your choices. If you have any more you can think of, please bring them by. :)

 

Edited by: MissGoddess on Oct 26, 2009 10:52 AM because I meant "Raw Deal", not "Railroaded".

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HA!!! Good one, Ms. G. :D

 

LADIES FIRST:

 

I like them hard. I like them soft. Cruel, vicious, double-dealing, double-crossing, heart-stopping, heart-breaking Loreleis whose vulnerability and sensuous beauty sends men to their doom, or if the guy is lucky...to the gas chamber. You would kill for her. Or she can pull th trigger herself. If she asks you for a light, run for your life...or pray you have matches.

 

Five, huh?

 

That will be tough. Being brief will be an even tougher challenge. For me to omit my favorites feels like a betrayal. But here goes, my five favorite fabulous femme fatales of film noir.

 

Have mercy on my soul:

 

1.

 

2.

 

3.

 

4.

 

5.

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Not my favorite character, but my favorite cynic, Waldo Lydecker from Laura.

Acidulous, supercilious, well-dressed, intellectually overdeveloped, physically

underdeveloped, an Oscar Wilde epigone with an eye for murder, and just too

rude, what's to like about Waldo? But he is a distinctive character. There are

many noir wise crackers, but none with the regal hauteur of Mr. Lydecker. Rather.

 

Putting aside dramatic talent or acting ability, for sheer eroticism, there is no one

to match Jean Peters, displaying that old time "animal magnetism" as the pickpocketress

in Pickup on South Street. You go, girl.

 

Dishonorable Mention, Dirty Old Man: The Sam Jaffe character in The Asphalt Jungle.

Stay away from the jukebox, old man.

 

Double Lock The Paints and Canvas Award: Christopher Cross, "artist" from Scarlet Street.

 

007 Award: Zachetti, Nino Zachetti.

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> {quote:title=sineast wrote:}{quote}

> Not my favorite character, but my favorite cynic, Waldo Lydecker from Laura. Acidulous, supercilious, well-dressed, intellectually overdeveloped, physically underdeveloped, an Oscar Wilde epigone with an eye for murder, and just too rude, what's to like about Waldo? But he is a distinctive character. There are many noir wise crackers, but none with the regal hauteur of Mr. Lydecker. Rather.

 

Oh, that's a good choice, too. I hadn't even thought about him until you brought him up...

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No doubt Mr. L would be highly offended if he was forgotten, and even more so if he was

lumped in with the usual sort of noir type, who he would probably consider beneath his

notice due to their grubby, low class, common ways. Old Waldo deserves a seat at the

noir table, as long as it could fit over his bathtub.

 

The Little Anklet That Could: You know who.

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Favorite Film Noir Supporting Characters

 

10. Mrs. Kraft (Esther Howard in Born to Kill) -- I'm a big fan of Esther and this is one of her best characters. Mrs. Kraft adds so much flavor to the film.

 

9. Helen (Gloria Grahame in Odds Against Tomorrow) -- "Just this once." Looking for love and understanding... in all the wrong places.

 

8. George Grisby (Glenn Anders in The Lady from Shanghai) -- Tarrrrrrget practice. You're not going to find many side characters as memorable as this one.

 

7. Sherry Peatty (Marie Windsor in The Killing) -- Can a woman actually screw up a man's plans? :D

 

6 George Peatty (Elisha Cook, Jr. in The Killing) -- You gotta love film noir doormats. They can be dangerous.

 

5. Helen Nosseross (Googie Withers in Night and the City) -- The female version of Harry Fabian. She's fascinating.

 

4. Moe Williams (Thelma Ritter in Pickup on South Street) -- A tough, tough life looking for a peaceful place to rest.

 

3. Mrs. Smerrling (Elsa Lanchester in Mystery Street) -- One of the most colorful characters in all of film noir.

 

2. Ginny (Gloria Grahame in Crossfire) -- The longing to leave a lousy, lonely life for one of love. She is her. She's a sweetheart.

 

1. Johnny Prince (Dan Duryea in Scarlet Street) -- Film noir's innocent man.

 

Favorite Male Film Noir Characters

 

10. Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden in The Killing) -- Man thinks he has everything planned out only to see it all crash down upon him. Love the confidence and competence of Clay. If only he were surrounded by the same.

 

9. Stoker Thompson (Robert Ryan in The Set-Up) -- Man chases dream while time chases him. You can learn a lot about man with Stoker. Love his integrity, pride, and love of his wife. He's a fighter.

 

8. Eric Stanton (Dana Andrews in Fallen Angel) -- Man chases woman for the wrong reasons while woman chases man for the right reasons. Love the shallowness of Eric and then his willingness to bare.

 

7. Dixon Steele (Humphrey Bogart in In a Lonely Place) -- Man finally finds love only to lose it through his own actions and the words of others. Bogie is asked to play some extreme emotions and he does so magnificently. I feel for Dix. He deserved better.

 

6. Jim Wilson (Robert Ryan in On Dangerous Ground) -- Man has his eyes opened by woman. The feeling of being needed and valued alleviates the anger and self-hate in Jim. Love that transformation.

 

5. Earl Pfeiffer (Robert Ryan in Clash by Night) -- Man attempts to project strength only to reveal great weakness. Love the rotten, childish nature of Earl. He's a mesmerizing wreck of a man.

 

4. Harry Fabian (Richard Widmark in Night and the City) -- Man tries to make something of himself only to be crushed by bigger, more powerful forces. Love the emotional roller-coaster that is Harry.

 

3. Reverend Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum in The Night of the Hunter) -- Man as a monster. I'm captivated by Harry's pure evil.

 

2. Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum in Out of the Past) -- Man cannot escape his past. Love Jeff's sacrifice for Ann. Love his cool. Love his strength, love his weakness.

 

1. Skip McCoy (Richard Widmark in Pickup on South Street) -- Man does what he believes to be right, and he does so because of woman. In a "genre" of many rebels, I consider Skip to be film noir's greatest rebel. My kind of guy.

 

Honorable mention: Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles in Touch of Evil), J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster in Sweet Smell of Success), Raven (Alan Ladd in This Gun for Hire), Ed Cornell (Laird Cregar in I Wake Up Screaming), Joe Sullivan (Dennis O'Keefe in Raw Deal).

 

Favorite Female Film Noir Characters

 

10. Peggy (Joan Bennett in The Woman on the Beach) -- A trampy gal who is haunted by her guilty demons. She's bewitching.

 

9. Connie Wallace (Mary Beth Hughes in The Great Flamarion) -- Is there any man she won't use? When I think of femme fatale, I think of Connie.

 

8. Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins in Gun Crazy) -- What man will do to get... Rob a bank? Sure! Love those hats!

 

7. Elsa Bannister (Rita Hayworth in The Lady from Shanghai) -- I'm mesmerized by Elsa on a boat. You gotta love those gals who know how to use a man's instinct to protect... to harm himself.

 

6. Diane Tremayne (Jean Simmons in Angel Face) -- What man can resist the naughty twinkle in a woman's eyes?

 

5. Kathie Moffat (Jane Greer in Out of the Past) -- You prayed, Kathie? :D Some women just know to hook a man... forever.

 

4. "Geechie" Mobley (Cathy O'Donnell in They Live by Night) -- The sweetest of the sweets in film noir. She's soft loving.

 

3. Margot Shelby (Jean Gillie in Decoy) -- Why is it that I believe she represents woman at her materialistic worst? She's a blast!

 

2. Stella (Linda Darnell in Fallen Angel) -- I just want to hang out at Pop's. I don't need to be with her, I just want to see her. But that's where the trouble begins, doesn't it?

 

1. "Kitty" March (Joan Bennett in Scarlet Street) -- Is there a more fun girl in film noir than "Lazy Legs"? :D I do nothing but smile whenever she is on the screen. Pure entertainment.

 

Honorable mention: Debby Marsh (Gloria Grahame in The Big Heat), Helen Grayle (Claire Trevor in Murder, My Sweet), Pat Cameron (Claire Trevor in Raw Deal), Nell Forbes (Marilyn Monroe in Don't Bother to Knock), Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame in In a Lonely Place).

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Why do I do this? I'll start with the women. Considering what I haven't yet seen and what I can't clearly remember, here is my top five. I don't have any trouble remembering them. I'm going to watch *Night and the City* now. I will list the guys tomorrow.

 

The gals:

 

5.) Ann Savage as Vera in *DETOUR*

 

How far did ya say you were goin'?

 

Scary as hell. Every guy's nightmare. There is no other performance quite like it.

 

4.) Susan Hayward as June Goth in *DEADLINE AT DAWN*

 

If you hear a peculiar noise, it's my skin creeping

 

Sometimes a down and out sailor meets the right girl. Tough but tender.

 

3.) Lizabeth Scott as Jane Palmer in *TOO LATE FOR TEARS*

 

Chances like this are never offered twice. This is it!

 

Determined and tough and surprisingly adept at turning the tables on a guy.

 

2.) Barbara Stanwyck as Phyllis Dietrichson in *DOUBLE INDEMNITY*

 

I only wanted him dead

 

When opportunity knocks...Honeysuckle, iced tea, and murder.

 

1.) Jane Greer as Kathie Moffat in *OUT OF THE PAST*

 

Don't you believe me?

 

My head is still spinning! Run Jeff!

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_Five Favorite Female Lead Characters_

 

5. Kelly: Constance Towers in *The Naked Kiss* -- Redeemer of Souls, including her own.

 

4. Paula Craig: Janis Carter in *Framed* -- Not the Redeemer of Souls.

 

3. Kitty March: Joan Bennett in *Scarlet Street* -- Meeoow!!!

 

2. Julia Ross: Nina Foch in *My Name Is Julia Ross* -- Another strong woman who isn't evil (or, necessarily, pure).

 

1. Annie Laurie Starr: Peggy Cummins in *Gun Crazy* -- This girl is Trouble and that begins with "T", which rhymes with "G" which stands for Gun and Gorgeous. Bart, I've been kicked around all my life, and from now on, I'm gonna start kicking back.

 

_Five Favorite Male Lead Characters_

 

5. Al Roberts: Tom Neal in *Detour* -- Our friendly guide on our detour through the American Nightmare.

 

4. Clarence Hilliard: Timothy Carey in *The World's Greatest Sinner* -- From insurance salesman to political depravity to the seeker of redemption. Was this intended as a documentary?

 

3. Jim Wilson: Robert Ryan in *On Dangerous Ground* -- Personal journeys are starting to look like the common thread, aren't they?

 

2. Johnny Clay: Sterling Hayden in *The Killing* -- Eh, what's the difference?

 

1. Hank Quinlan: Orson Welles in *Touch of Evil* -- Pure Evil can be so predictable and boring. All one needs is just a touch of Evil.

 

_Five Favorite Supporting Characters_

 

5. Chester: Neville Brand in *D.O.A.* -- Don't get cute. I'm just itchin' to work you over.

 

4. Johnny Haslett: Timothy Carey in *Crime Wave* -- Yeah, this is the guy you want to watch your female hostage. Uh-huh. Right.

 

3. Moe Williams: Thelma Ritter in *Pickup on South Street* -- Let the teardrops fall.

 

2. Lou Terpe: Timothy Carey in *Finger Man* -- Being a sadistic mob enforcer (imagine that) may be The Great One's most fully developed supporting role.

 

1. Nikki Arcane: Timothy Carey in *The Killing* -- They shoot horses, don't they?

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> {quote:title=sineast wrote:}{quote}

> Yeah baby, unless there's a fork in the road.

 

Let us hope it doesn't come to that. ;)

 

I'm usually really bad at making long lists, though luckily we are never really faced with a shortage of them.

 

Having said that, there's a couple of really knock-out performances that I don't believe anyone has mentioned: Arlene Dahl in Wicked as They Come (1956) and the great Signe Hasso in Strange Triangle (1946). Watch either one of those movies, and I promise you, you will not forget those femmes fatale.

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Wow, excellent! Excellent! Thanks to all who responded with their lists! I'll try to reply by the end of the day. How exciting!

 

T-Mave - I can't see your top five femmes...are you waiting or are they ghosts? :D

 

You don't have to limit yourself to five, I just thought we'd make that the minimum, the start.

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Hi there Ms. G. I'm glad to see our trusty stalwarts like redriver, Molo, ChiO and of course, Frankie G. responded to your siren's call so quickly. They're like moths to a flame when it comes to noir. I hope to have my list before the end of the day. You know how a Maven rolls...gotta be precise.....

gotta write it right.

 

Stay on course G. Wade...wade...wade.

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Well how do you like that? Mad Hat and Shiftless Grimes don't have a single Gloria Grahame character amongst their female lead selections (I'm not counting the "honorable mentions"). Hmmm...has the love cooled, boys?

 

I'm not sure if I'm as ruthless at separating performer from character. So it will be interesting to see how many Gary Cooper characters I can put on my list. :)

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ChiO---my first impression from your list is I've got to see THE NAKED KISS. I thought I had, but I definitely don't remember Connie Towers in ANY noir I"ve ever seen. I mix up all those "naked", "kiss", "sleep" and "city" titles. :D

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Since I am a newbie to noir, my list will not cover a lot of films. Sorry for the length, it just kept growing, like *The Blob*:

 

_*Favorite Male:*_

 

Holly Martins - (Joseph Cotten, *The Third Man* ) - the greatest dupe in the history of film. Poor Holly. He is a fool, but I love that fool. Perfect. Perfect.

 

Bruno Anthony - (Robert Walker, *Strangers on a Train* ) Bruno is such a boy. There are layers of madness here that Walker plumbs easily.

 

Harry Lime - (Orson Welles, *The Third Man* ) Psychopathically humorous, but when cornered, just like everyone else.

 

Hans Becker - (Peter Lorre, *M (1931)* ) Incredible.

 

Stoker Thompson - (Robert Ryan, *The Set Up* ) - Vulnerable to a fault, a dreamer, he sees life the way it is, but still wants that one chance of a lifetime.

 

Mark MacPherson - (Dana Andrews, *Laura* ) He's just so damn sexy, yet vulnerable.

 

Uncle Charlie - (Joseph Cotten, *Shadow of a Doubt* ) - I can't even speak of how great he is. Evil incarnate, crazy as a loon, sexy, and you feel just a tad sorry for him.

 

Chris Cross - (Edward G. Robinson, *Scarlet Street* ) He could play anything, couldn't he?

 

Prof. Charles Rankin - (Orson Welles, *The Stranger* ) - just plain creepy.

 

Stan Carlisle - (Tyrone Power, *Nightmare Alley* ) - Hubris, hubris.

 

Philip Raven - (Alan Ladd, *This Gun For Hire* ) the saddest performance by Alan Ladd, ever.

 

Barton Keyes - (Edward G. Robinson, *Double Indemnity* ) He really is the key - the warm center, just as Gish is the warm center of Night of the Hunter. You want this guy on your side.

 

Howard Neff - (Fred MacMurray, *Double Indemnity* ) because Fred doesn't get enough credit.

 

Wally Fay - (Jack Carson, *Mildred Pierce* ) The man is good in every movie he was ever in. Smarmy, you still end up feeling for him.

 

Dave Burke - (Ed Begley, *Odds Against Tomorrow* ) What a great actor!

 

Don Birnam - (Ray Milland, *The Lost Weekend* ) - He really goes there, and we have never seen anything like it, before or since.

 

Lt. Candella - ( Victor Mature, *Cry of the City* ) Mature almost falls into stereotype, but in the last scene he completely redeems himself and the movie, dredging up the past with a vengeance.

 

Philip Marlowe - (Dick Powell, *Murder, My Sweet* ) Because he's got the right combination of tough and funny

 

I seem to like King Kong type villains - the kind that for some reason, you still feel sorry for at the end, no matter what evil they have done..... I also seem to like the ones who are mad as a march hare.....

 

 

_*Favorite Female:*_

 

Debby Marsh - (Gloria Grahame, *The Big Heat* ) - this one is so far above the other ladies that she almost needs a separate listing. Because it is Debby's story. Because Debby turns out to be the hero.

 

Leslie Crosbie - (Bette Davis, *The Letter* ) Well, really. It's about the best you can get.

 

Ellen Berent Harland - (Gene Tierney, *Leave Her to Heaven* ) I imagine men say to themselves at the end of this film... "I still want her. It'd be worth it."

 

Norma Desmond - (Gloria Swanson, *Sunset Boulevard* ) A towering performance. Pure chutzpah.

 

Phyllis Dietrichsen - (BArbara Stanwyck, *Double Indemnity* ) Underneath t all, I really feel for Phyllis. All she wants is everything.

 

Tanya - (Marlene Dietrich, *Touch of Evil* ) Campy, yes. Spot on, yes. The reason she's here is that I could've picked her for *A Foreign Affair* or *Witness for the Prosecution* , too. Marlene is under-appreciated nowadays.

 

Verna Jarrett - ( Virginia Mayo, *White Heat* ) I don't think I even have to explain

 

Mrs. Anthony - (Marion Lorne, *Strangers on a Train* ) Goofy. The kind that creates evil.

 

Lorraine Minosa - (Jan Sterling, *Ace in the Hole* ) - Wow! Was there ever a colder woman on the face of the earth? Not even Phyllis can touch her.

 

Zeena - (Joan Blondell, *Nightmare Alley* ) Warm, beautiful, but also smart enough to know the score. Sadly, she watches, knowing what will happen.

 

Rachel Cooper - (Lillian Gish, *Night of the Hunter* ) - The hand of Providence. I want her on my side.

 

Brigid O'Shaunessy - (Mary Astor, *The Maltese Falcon* ) - I think I am the only one who really likes Mary Astor's breathy portrayal. What makes her different from the run of the mill bad girl is that she has the good girl act down pat. She KNOWS Sam wants something more than just a roll in the hay, and she gives him that image. I just like her. She can play with the big boys.

 

Vicki Buckley - (Gloria Grahame, *Human Desire* ) - I like her for the same reason I enjoy the Kong noir males, I still feel sorry for her at the end.

 

Shoplifter - (Lee Grant, *Detective Story* ) the fact that I remember her after seeing this film once is amazing. She made quite an impression on me.

 

Rose Given - (Hope Emerson, *Cry of the City* ) I've NEVER seen anyone like her, ever...she's awesome, actually sexy scary. What this woman could have done as Lady Macbeth - too bad no one gave her the chance.

 

Mama Roma - (Mimi Aguglia, *Cry of the City* )

 

Nurse Pruitt - (Betty Garde, *Cry of the City* ) - Yeah, I know, I put down three ladies from the same film.... I just thought the female characters in Cry of the City were some of the best written and acted female roles in any film from this genre. No one was a stereotype, and none of them went where you were expecting them to go.

 

Mrs. Frankie Neall - (Marie Windsor, *The Narrow Margin* ) She hit me like a ton of bricks. Wonderful. If I'd seen her in anything else, I'd have her down twice.

 

Ellen Graham - (Veronica Lake, *This Gun For Hire* ) - warm, sexy, smart, beautiful, and kind. She is a perfect angel.

 

 

I will post my supporting actor picks later, 'cause I am tuckered out from all this thinking.

 

Edited by: JackFavell on Oct 26, 2009 11:45 AM

 

Edited by: JackFavell on Oct 26, 2009 3:47 PM -correction of the ridiculous Bruno Kirby to the sublime Bruno Anthony

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Jackie! I'm so glad you jumped in...and in the deep end of the noir pool! Thanks so much for taking the time to list and explain your choices.

 

The response has been terrific and lots of surprises.

 

It's been a while since I saw Cry of the City so I really don't have a handle on the characters. Your list makes me want to check it out again.

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