|That's Justin Stewart ^ in the dress|
Chinatown (1974) was directed by Roman Polanski and stars Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway. A neo-noir film that captures the essence of the golden age of noir, it won one Oscar and three Golden Globes. Nicholson plays detective Jake Gittes, a man hired to spy on an unsuspecting husband, who happens to work for the Los Angeles Department of Water. Eventually discovering he was set up to follow the husband Gittes becomes embroiled in a LA war for power. Someone is buying up land and water in large quantities and all signs point to Noah Cross (Jack Huston). Faye Dunaway plays Evelyn Mulwray, the daughter of Cross and the femme fatale. She warns Jake of her powerful father and tries to help him to thwart her dad, and ultimately the two become lovers. Obviously since this is noir, they do not end up in happily ever after. I won’t spoil the ending but Gittes learns some pretty terrible things about the Cross family and his new girlfriend.
4. The Naked City
The Naked City (1948) was directed by Jules Dassin and has an ensemble cast of sorts. This movie is unique in that is was shot in a sort of documentary style of narration. The film opens on the murder of a young model in New York City by two men, while simultaneously showing what the soon to be main characters are up to at the exact same moment. Later the two murderers are drinking together when one of them cracks up over the stress. So obviously the other one kills him and dumps his erstwhile partner in the East River. The discovery of the dead model and the dead man in the river set Lt. Dan Muldoon (played by Barry Fitzgerald) onto the case. The film explores the inner workings of the NYPD in the 40’s while taking us through a menagerie of suspects. Ultimately a washed up professional wrestler is discovered to be involved with the slayings and the movie ends with a chase and a bridge top gun fight. The mystery isn’t exactly the most interesting but the way the film is shot and edited make it a good one to check out on a lonely evening.
3. Kansas City Confidential
A revenge tale and a heist film all wrapped into one movie! Kansas City Confidential (1952) is the first film noir by Phil Karlson and stars John Payne. The film begins with an armored truck robbery and four robbers getting away with one million dollars in cash (that’s like a google dollars in 2013 money). John Payne plays Joe Rolfe a flower-delivery truck driver. Rolfe’s route intersects with the armor truck and he is accused of helping the robbers with their escape. Eventually the police have to release him because they don’t have enough evidence to charge him with anything. Feeling his life has been ruined and with a heart full of hate, Joe sets off on a bloody trail of revenge. He follows the clues all the way down to Mexico, where he finds the leader of the robbery gang holed up as well as a beautiful woman. The end of the movie has a bit of a twist that I won’t ruin here but suffice to say, it’s quite good! As a side note, this movie served as the inspiration for Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs film.
Detour (1945) is a cheaply made, very dark, classic noir. The film centers on a bitter, down on his luck, piano player named Al (played by Tom Neal). He’s stuck in New York tickling the ivories in some dive bar, all while his girlfriend is in LA looking for stardom. He finally gets the chance to get out of town but he’s so broke he has to hitchhike all the way across the country. He makes it all the way to Arizona before shit gets real. He’s picked up by a bookie, Charles Haskell Jr., who offers to take him to LA in his sweet convertible. Al takes over driving at one point but has to pull over to put the top up. When he tries to wake up Haskell to help him, he finds the man unresponsive. He runs around and opens the door and Haskell tumbles out and hits his head. Now he’s dead. Al fears the police will blame him so he dumps the body (always the best idea) and assumes Haskell’s identity (always the even better idea). Al picks up a female hitchhiker and tells her that he’s Haskell. Unfortunately for Al, she already had a ride with Haskell earlier and catches him in his lie. She blackmails him into helping her run a con on Haskell’s dad. In the end things get even worse for Al and by film’s end he is picked up by the police, never to meet his lady love again.
1. Double Indemnity
My all-time favorite noir film is Double Indemnity (1944). This film is directed by Billy Wilder and stars Fred MacMurray as an insurance salesman, Barbara Stanwyck as the femme fatale, and Edward Robinson as a claims adjuster on the lookout for fraud. Now the premise of the film is insurance fraud, which may not sound super exciting but I promise that this film is a taut thriller from beginning to end. The film is told in the form of a flashback by Walter Neff (MacMurray). He details how he met Phyllis Dietrichson (Stanwyck) while trying to sell her husband some insurance. Her flirtation with Neff ends with her trying to purchase life insurance on her husband which he correctly identifies as her planning his murder. When Neff tells her to buzz off she follows him home and used her feminine wiles on him. After some sexy-pants banana time he agrees to help murder her husband. They stage a very convincing death where it looks like this guy falls off a train to his death. Since this would be considered an accident the insurance payout will double (double indemnity). Neff’s company is initially suspicious, but ultimately pays Dietrichson. Things start to go south when Neff finds out that his new squeeze may have killed her dead husbands’ old wife as well when she worked as a nurse. He also discovers she is two timing him with a young man. Things really flare up from there and eventually we find Neff has been recording his whole story on a Dictaphone while he slowly bleeds out in his office. This film is considered “the” noir film and features one of the best femme fatales ever put to screen. I highly recommend you check it out!