Film Noir is a specific sub-genre of crime film that features cynical characters, femme fatales, the criminal underworld, an ominous atmosphere and utilizes shadowy photography complemented by foreboding music. It had its golden era in post-WWII Hollywood, but the film style still continues to this day. During the month of November, or Noirvember, we’re focusing on a few classics of the genre as well as one newer film. Click on any titles below to place a hold on the film in the catalog.
Strangers on a Train (1951)
Based on the classic story by Patricia Highsmith (which is also in the collection), a sociopath tries to convince a fellow commuter that two strangers can commit a perfect, untraceable crime by killing someone that the other person wants dead. His listener dismisses the idea, but then his troublesome wife is murdered and the killer blackmails him into keeping up his end of the bargain.
The Big Sleep (1946)
This film is also adapted from a book (this time by Raymond Chandler) and features P.I. Philip Marlowe. He is hired to help the daughter of a wealthy general who is being blackmailed over a gambling debt. But, our detective soon finds himself drawn deep into a web of love, murder, gambling, blackmail, and crime, including a love affair with the general’s other daughter, Vivian.
The Amazing Mr. X (1948)
This film is available for streaming on Hoopla. A widow and her sister become deeply involved with a mysterious spiritualist who claims to have hidden knowledge of her dead husband, drawing the sisters into a web of mystery and lies.
The Maltese Falcon (1941)
No list of classic film Noir titles would be complete without The Maltese Falcon. Sam Spade just might be in over his head when a client comes to him looking for a mysterious bird statue of incredible value. What follows is a race against a group of eccentric criminals and a beautiful femme fatale to see who can get their hands on the priceless treasure first. This 1941 Humphrey Bogart film is a cinematic masterpiece, but if you’re looking for more, there’s also a 1931 film starring Ricardo Cortez as Spade, and of course, the classic book by Dashiell Hammett. All three are in our collection.
The Killers (1946)
Based on the short story by Ernest Hemingway (The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway), Richard Siodmak’s film adaptation features Burt Lancaster (in his first film) playing a doomed former boxer who falls hard for Ava Gardner’s femme fatale before he is murdered. The film is predominantly told in flashbacks as Edmond O’Brien, an insurance investigator, unravels the mystery surrounding the murder.
The Hitch-Hiker (1953)
This is the first film noir directed by a woman. Ida Lupino directed this adaptation of Billy Cook’s real-life murder spree. She focuses this story on two friends, played by Frank Lovejoy and Edmond O’Brien, who pick up the titular hitch-hiker. They are then held hostage at gunpoint as they are forced to drive him to Mexico.
Sweet Smell of Success (1957)
Like The Killers, Alexander Mackendrick’s film also features Burt Lancaster. This time he’s playing a media kingpin opposite Tony Curtis’ morally bankrupt Broadway press agent. This film is adapted from a short story by Ernest Lehman and features lies, cheats, double crosses and blackmail from nearly every character.
Inherent Vice (2014)
Film Noir is generally thought of as a 1940s-50s genre. However, the style and character types are still being used today and Paul Thomas Anderson’s film version of Thomas Pynchon novel Inherent Vice is a brilliant example of Neo-Noir. Its labyrinthian plot follows Joaquin Phoenix’s drug-fueled private investigator through 1970’s L.A. as he investigates the disappearance of a former girlfriend.