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The definitive film noir

Guest TCMhost-Claire

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Has anybody mentioned King Vidor's steamy, over-the-top, black and white classic, l949's "Beyond the Forest"? It's now being accepted by countless movie buffs as the movie great it really is. Bette Davis is the main reason the movie has been so controversial. She gave out countless interviews until she died that it was the worst movie of her career. Davis was never her best critic. Davis performance is a stunning tour-de-force in her portrayal of sexually repressed Rosa Moline who's married to small town doctor Joseph Cotten. She has a sleazy affair with hunky, cute David Brian. She has an abortion which leads to peritonitis and as she dies, she struggles out of her bed, slaps on grotesque make-up, grabs her coat and staggers to the train that will hopefully carry to Chicago and her boyfriend. Fabulous movie, all the way through and Max STeiner's powerful score ranks with his greatest. And dig those smoking coal stacks in the background when Bette vows, "If I don't get outta here, I'll die. If I don't get outta here, I hope I die!"

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I'll go with "He Ran All the Way" with John Garfield as ultimate noir.


Of course the Polonsky directed "Force of Evil" also shows off the noirish tilt to Garfield's character, plus we have the added after effect of the blacklist aura to the film.


I also like Bogie in "The Harder They Fall" as the pugilistic art is always good fodder for noir situations.


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The definitive film noir to me is Out of the Past with Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer. She is the perfect femme fatale. Beautiful, ruthless, fickle, dangerous...This is the best. And Mitchum is a great film noir anti-hero. Sucked down by his obsession with Kathy Moffet. The story is interesting, told in flashback, full of love, intrigue, betrayal, loss...a wonderful performance by Kirk Douglas.


Double Indemnity, The Asphalt Jungle, Detour are also top-notch. The Set-Up with Robert Ryan, which someone mentioned, is cool because it takes place in "real time". The movie is about 90 minutes long, and the action takes place in 90 minutes of unbroken time during a night at the fights.

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I love this movie! My mother was a real movie fan and she took me to see that movie (mainly because I was too young to get it) . I might have been 5 or 6 years old...the only scene I remembered was the scene that Gloria G gets scalded by Lee Marvin. I've asked all the movie buffs I know what the name of this movie was...no one knew about it, now all these years later outta the blue!


Lo and behold...when I tuned into the TCM...there it was but it wasn't until the scalding scene that I jumped up from the sofa yelling "this is the movie I've been trying to find out the name off for a jillion years" The Big Heat - love it...since then I've tuned in several times over the past few months and I see something new each time I watch.


It's a little hokey in some places and the scalded makeup isn't very realistic but it was a joy to watch and of course, the good guy wins.

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I used to like the Bogart version of The Maltese Falcon, until I saw the 1931 version with Ricardo Cortez, Bebe Daniels, and Thelma Todd. This is a pre-code movie, so it is a little more clear about the relationships between Sam Spade and the various women. I also like Dudley Diggs as Gutman and Otto Matieson as Dr. Cairo.


Diggs was a great actor, but he is in so many minor roles in 1930s films. He is outstanding in this film. He played the doctor in the 1935 version of ?Mutiny on the Bounty?. Matieson is a great actor, but I think he died young in a car wreck a couple of years after this film was made.


After the Bogart version was made, this one was re-titled ?Dangerous Female?.


Interestingly, the Bogart version is very similar to this one, in the staging, the lighting, the dialogue, and the characters. It?s as of the producers and actors of the Bogart version studied this original version and tried to copy it. This original one shows Ms Wonderly in prison in the last scene.


Walter Long plays a better Miles Archer than the guy in the Bogart version, and Thelma Todd is a more desirable wife. Too desirable.


TCM plays this version every now and then.


Now I?m trying to find the Bette Davis version, from around 1936.

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I think my favorites in this category would be:


Double Indemnity - I could watch this one again and again.


The Maltese Falcon - I'm a huge Bogie fan, and this is one of his best.


Mildred Pierce - Perhaps my favorite Joan Crawford film...or at least in the top 5.


I also think Sunset Boulevard is a very good example of noir...and I think it's a great film. I just can't watch it that often cus it's just so doggone creepy to me! *lol*

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I saw In a Lonely Place (1950) recently and it became one of my favourite noirs; Humphrey Bogart plays a character with a temper, in the beginning we see his temper as a quirk that makes his character more interesting, but by the end of the film we see it as a creepy pathological disorder he just cannot control and because of it he can't get what he wants from life.

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There is a book called "The Dame in the Kimono" which comes from a line in the original movie "The Maltese Falcon", the book is on Hollywood, censorship, and the Hays code. We used this book in my cinema class on censored movies, pre-code and movies that came out after the code but had trouble with the code for one reason or another. The book covers from pre code to the coming of nc-17 movies. Good book to read if you are intrested on the info.

But you already knew this, this is for any one who is intrested in this book, i just thought it is a good book.


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Thanks for the information.


I think someone could write a very interesting book about the subject of ?vice? in this country, starting back in colonial days and carrying it on through to modern times. What happened with the Hays Code was just a very small part of that history.


Over the years I?ve worked on various journalistic research projects about different subjects, and occasionally I read information about ?vice? in the old days, and also I remember a little of what I occasionally saw of ?nightclub? districts in small towns from my childhood in the late 1940s and early ?50s.


Seems that when some of the Western territories began to become part of the United States early in the 19th Century, vice, crime, corruption, gambling, dames, etc. were common in many Western cities, but not so much in the Northeast. I?m very inclined to think that the addition of the French Louisiana Territory in 1803 is what started the big vice phenomenon in America, with New Orleans being its headquarters early in the 19th Century. The French seemed to be a little more inclined toward vice back then than the more stoic and conservative English. And don?t forget that many American men bought women as slaves early in the 19th Century, and New Orleans had the largest slave market at that time. The slavery of women in the early 19th Century for the specific purpose of slave harems is not written about very much today.


Some large Eastern cities did have their ?red light districts?, but they were limited to districts or ?red zones? such as that exist in or near cities in Latin America today. These zones were attempts by city leaders to restrict ?vice? to certain limited parts of cities, or, in many cases, they were restricted to rural county areas outside cities, to keep them away from family areas, but a second purpose of them was to keep them as far out of family neighborhoods as possible, so that they could still exist but not attract too much attention from family-oriented people who wanted to shut them down altogether. Some of the wild rural nightclubs of the 19th Century eventually became known as ?roadhouses? in the early 20th Century, and they often turn up in old film noir movies today.


As the country advanced further Westward, there were vast Western territories that contained a mix of Americans, such as English, French, and Spanish, and depending on certain circumstances, some of the new booming towns to the West had much more vice than others, especially towns that contained mostly wild men, such as old mining towns like Virginia City, Nevada. But many of these territorial towns had no law... no federal, local or state law. The US Marshals we see in some Western films were an attempt by the feds to bring law and order to some of the towns of the wild territories, and the local Sheriffs were attempts by local civic groups to form their own local law & order governments.


By the end of the 19th Century, much of America had quite a lot of vice in it, and there were constant battles between church and family people and corrupt city and county governments regarding the eradication of vice near small towns and inside big cities. Sometimes the vice groups won the battles and sometimes the family and church groups won.


When I was a kid in the late ?40s, while traveling around the South and West, our family car often passed by many ?nightclub districts? which often were situated just outside of some towns, on the main highways, and in some cases they were situated inside small towns. I remember them because of all the neon lights, which I liked, but I remember my folks telling me that we were not driving through ?carnival? areas (which is what I thought they were) but high-crime areas.


By the 1920s and ?30s there were a lot of these vice-crime districts all over the country, both inside and outside various towns and cities, and I think this is one reason we have film noir and pre-code movies today, because the characters in these films often frequented these districts. So, while much of America in the 1930s lived the ?Andy Hardy? lifestyle, there were also plenty of roadhouses and speakeasies just outside of town or in old sleazy parts of cities.


Now, one reason the Hays Code came into being was because most parents were able to isolate their kids from the vice zones and red-light districts by means of various zoning laws, but only through Hollywood films, starting in the late teens and early 1920s, could the kids be taken into these places, at least by means of filmed stories. This was the first time that the kids of America could actually see what went on in these red-light districts, by seeing movies about them.


This is why so many parents across the country fought so hard for the various private, church, state, and even a federal ?decency? code for movies. A similar thing was going on in England and other European countries at that same time. England?s movie decency code was even more restrictive than the Hays Code. Hollywood producers were able to avoid a federal movie decency law by establishing the private-industry Hays Code, and that seemed to satisfy most of the parents until the Code began to be violated in the 1950s. The old Code first went into effect in the late 1920s, but a more strict version of it went into effect in 1934.


Many of the real vice and red-light districts in this country lasted well into the 1950s in many towns and county areas, until many of them began to be put out of business by various local and state laws. I remember gambling joints in various towns around the country in the late 1940s and early ?50s, and specifically around New Orleans in the early 1960s, although gambling was illegal under local city, county, and state laws.


So, the Century-long battle to try to keep crime, gambling, drugs, alcohol, prostitution, and other vices away from being learned about by kids is what led to the Hays Movie Code in 1934.


I think ?It?s a Wonderful Life? is a good example of a movie that shows a town where the family-oriented people won the vice battle, and it also shows the role that one person, George Bailey, played in that long battle. During the brief time when Bailey ?never lived?, the movie shows the local town as ?Potterville?, and it shows Main Street as being a red-light vice, gambling, and bar district. That?s the way towns really were back then, well into the 1940s and early ?50. I remember seeing both kinds of towns during my travels around the country as a kid. A cross-country driving trip back in those days could take someone through a lot of Bedford Falls type family towns, and also through a lot of Potterville type vice towns.


An interesting movie to see about a Potterville type town of the 1950s is ?The Phoenix City Story?. This film is about a small all-vice town in Alabama that was run by hoodlums and criminals, and a successful project by a state attorney general to clean up the town. I lived in and around Alabama back in the mid-?50s and I remember adults talking about all the crime and murder going on in that town. It was supposed to be a place that everyone should avoid. I grew up hearing similar stories about certain Mexican border towns such as Nuevo Laredo, Juarez, and Tijuana.


This type of border town is shown in the film ?Touch of Evil? with Orson Welles. A film about one of the local-criminal American vice barons of 1949 is ?Flamingo Road.? A glamorized version of a vice baron in a Mexican border town around 1935 can be seen in ?Border Town? with Paul Muni.

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Insightful information. I'm sure there's a been few scholarly articles about it; I'll look it up via the Scholar's Portal. Unfortunately, it's so painfully obvious that the Production Code and upteen Andy Hardy movies did absolutely nothing to prevent America descending to the depths of depravity I get to watch on Cops or practically any reality show on the air today. No wonder vice and crime became appealing when husbands and wives didn't even sleep in the same bed in the movies yet pulp-fiction of the same period is rife with sordid literature featuring all kinds of drug addicts, prostitutes, pimps, peeping toms, and all delineated in terms no film noir could ever come close to mirroring.

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Tough one Claire as there are so many greats in the Noir Genre !


I would have to go with Out Of The Past, The Big Sleep, The Maltese Falcon, Double Indemnity, & a few not as well recognized, at least by casual viewers, such as On Dangerous Ground, The Big Steal, Twist Of Fate & The Racket.

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I just made this post on another thread here, but it belongs here as well, for the definitions of film noir:

"Just want to let you all know that here is a very good Noir web site -- has reviews of many noir films, interesting definitions of noir, etc. Worth a look. I know you will love it. Here are some links from that web site:




Have fun,


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Yesterday, I watched the Fox movie "Where The Sidewalk Ends". Directed by Otto Preminger, it includes elements associated with 'film noir'. For example:


--Nearly every 'exterior' scene is at night.

--Every interior scene that includes a window view outside--outside it is night.

--Dana Andrews, the lead actor, is trapped in a bad situation. A situation of his own making. Dana Andrews does a lot of sweating.

--Gene Tierney is the lead actress. Need I say more? Okay, I will. My God she is beautiful.

--Tough guy cop (Dana Andrews), tough guy criminals (Neville Brand and Gary Merrill), tough guy cop supervisor (Karl Malden).

--Shadowy and seedy cityscapes.

--Tough looking cars.


BTW: I am almost positive one of the TCM film introductions is from "Where The Sidewalk Ends". The introduction I reference is at night, bridge in background, car pulls up to sidewalk in front of seedy, shadowy looking apartment building.


Experts, am I correct? If so, TCM lifted one of their film "intros" from a 20th Century Fox film!



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