Ten of the Best – Noir Directors

 

It’s been a while now since I tried my hand at compiling one of these lists. Having already covered western directors and stars, as well as noir stars (all of which can be found indexed under the Articles tab at the top of the page), I thought I’d try to round things out by taking a crack at noir directors. Once again it’s a wide field with a lot of runners, and it’s no easy task to narrow it down to ten individuals. I tried to focus on those directors I fell made the greatest contribution to the genre, be it through their innovation, their influence or their general affinity for noir. I haven’t tried to rank them in any particular order – just settling on those I wanted to include was tough enough.

Fritz Lang

In some ways I like to think of Fritz Lang as the father of film noir, the man who brought his expressionist background to bear on Hollywood from his arrival in the 30s and blended it into his dark masterpieces throughout the 40s and 50s. Pretty much every film he made in the US has a strong sense of noir, and there’s not really a bad one among them – even the weaker efforts have significant points of interest.

Robert Siodmak

Another big favorite of mine, Siodmak worked on a whole variety of material before Phantom Lady set him off on the noir path. That was to initiate an incredibly strong run and resulted in his producing an enviable body of work by the end of the decade.

Jacques Tourneur

One of the subtlest directors ever to ply his trade in Hollywood, Tourneur came into his own as part of Val Lewton’s B unit at RKO. Those dreamy low-budget horror classics are packed with noir imagery and sensibility, and Tourneur carried that over into his work in such influential pieces as Out of the Past.

Anthony Mann

Best known today for his brooding and psychologically complex westerns in the 50s, Mann didn’t just chance on those elements. He started out working mainly on economical noir pictures, often with John Alton behind the camera, in the previous decade. While his westerns are, justifiably I think, more celebrated, his 40s film noir remains a major achievement.

Nicholas Ray

A powerful director, Ray’s passionate and intense examination of outsiders spans a number of genres. but films like On Dangerous Ground and In a Lonely Place are among the best films noir produced. Watching his films can be an emotionally exhausting experience but deeply satisfying one too.

Otto Preminger

People may argue over whether Laura constitutes real film noir (for what it’s worth, I think it does) but there can be no question that Preminger made strong genre entries. A difficult man to work for by all accounts, his films with Dana Andrews and the sublime Angel Face, among others, mark him out as a prime mover in the world of dark cinema.

Billy Wilder

Even if Wilder had only ever made Double Indemnity he would still rate inclusion in this list as far as I’m concerned. Once you bear in mind he also made Ace in the Hole and Sunset Boulevard, and that his dramas and comedies frequently featured extremely dark subjects, I don’t think there can be any doubt he deserves his place here.

Joseph H Lewis

With Lewis The Big Combo and Gun Crazy are probably the standout titles, but they’re by no means the only worthwhile noir pictures he made. His sense of visual inventiveness is quite wonderful and I don’t think I’ve seen one of his movies yet where I wasn’t impressed by his pacing and use of the camera.

Jules Dassin

Only eight years elapsed between Brute Force and Rififi, but that period of time saw Dassin move from the US to the UK and then France, and the five films he made during those years make up a sold noir block on his  filmography.

Sam Fuller

A genuine in your face maverick, Fuller hit his noir stride with Pickup on South Street and would return to the genre sporadically into the mid-1960s. A director who was hard to pin down or pigeonhole, aside from the brashness of his filmmaking style, Fuller brought a real burst of energy to his noir pictures.

So those are my ten picks. I had to omit names like Orson Welles, Robert Aldrich, Henry Hathaway, Raoul Walsh, Carol Reed, Curtis Bernhardt and John Brahm to mention just a handful. I’m sure some will disagree with a few of my final choices, and I’d be pleased to hear which ones anyone feels ought to be replaced.

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111 thoughts on “Ten of the Best – Noir Directors

  1. This list primarily reminds me how many great noirs I still have left to discover (leaving me rather under-qualified to comment on your choices, of course, though I’m certain they’re spot on).

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    • And of course that’s one of the great of joys of film noir too – there are so many examples to view, and that’s before you even get into the whole business of marginal entries.

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  2. No complaints from me mate, great list, especially since it looks like Fritz Lang at No1!… and my other absolute favourites, Siodmak, Tourneur, and Mann in hot pursuit too.

    Maybe just an honorary mention to Boris Ingster for Stranger on the Third Floor, which I only saw recently. It’s not a film I’m head over heels in love with but purely on innovation and influence, the design of that film, with such an over abundance of noir visual motifs you could be forgiven for thinking it was a parody if you didn’t know it predated them all.

    Best from a fellow Lang-lubber
    Chris B

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    • Cheers, Chris. I didn’t specifically rank the choices but I always knew Lang had to get first mention, anything else would just feel wrong.
      I feel something similar about Stranger on the Third Floor – I wouldn’t be crazy about it either but there are some beautiful visual flourishes.

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  3. Great idea for a “list”, Colin! I cannot find anything to want to argue with there – all the greats are there (Lang, Siodmak, Mann, Tourneur et al).
    I might personally want to somehow find a way of squeezing in Edward Dmytryck for three outstanding examples of the genre (“CROSSFIRE”, “CORNERED” and “MURDER MY SWEET”) and also Henry Hathaway who also contributed a handful of real classics to the genre (“KISS OF DEATH” is just one).

    Film Noir is such a joy to watch, to return to time and again and to discover films you haven’t seen before.

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    • Jerry, I came close to putting Dmytryk on there as he had a showing in the genre. Apart from the films you mentioned, he also directed Obsession, The Sniper & Mirage. Very close to making the cut but I couldn’t include everyone.

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  4. Am I allowed to sulk/throw my toys out the pram,on RTHC. 🙂
    No Phil Karlson!

    SCANDAL SHEET,99 RIVER STREET,KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL,TIGHT SPOT,
    FIVE AGAINST THE HOUSE,PHENIX CITY STORY,HELL’S ISLAND,THE BROTHERS RICO,
    KEY WITNESS.

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    • John, I’ll have own up and shamefully admit Karlson completely slipped my mind. That’s an impressive group of titles and I agree he would be worthy of consideration at the very least.

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    • Thanks, Jeff. A few alternatives have been put forward, which I think have reasonable points in their favor, but that’s always the case with these things.

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  5. I tend to think of film noir as an expression of a kind of free falling sensibility; life seen from a dislocated standpoint, rather than anything to do with films ticking any particular list of stylistic tropes. So, for example, i would think of someone like David Lynch as a noir director.

    With this in mind Colin, it was interesting to view your list.

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    • Thanks, Chris. OK, I did set deliberate parameters here in order to make the task a manageable one, it would have been altogether too onerous otherwise. Noir is essentially about a world suddenly thrown out of kilter, the arbitrary and capricious nature of fate and so on. That in itself is pretty open-ended and means that noir situations can turn up in almost every genre – thrillers, melodramas, westerns, science fiction, period dramas, Gothic romances etc.
      I know some people argue for a very specific and narrow interpretation of noir, but I generally take a more expansionist view on it myself. I would see no problem in classing Lynch as a noir director – Mulholland Drive and Blue Velvet strike me as noir works, although I’d say neo-noir. This might be regarded as an unnecessary distinction, but I feel it’s appropriate as there is a referential feel to such latter day works which sets them apart from the classic era variety.

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  6. Hard to argue with your main choices, Colin.

    Siodmak also directed a film called The Great Sinner with Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner (at her peak) which has many noir elements, and could be considered a “costume noir”.

    Anthony Mann also took his noir sensibility into his many Westerns with Jimmy Stewart, as well as the utterly noir and hair-raising western, The Furies, which is rarely written about. I think you may have covered it in the past, though….

    Some excellent alternate choices from the gallery, especially Phil Karlson, Edward Dmytryk, and John Farrow.

    I know Hitchcock is a “special case” but I think films like Notorious, The Wrong Man, I Confess, The Paradine Case, Vertigo, Strangers On a Train, Under Capricorn, Spellbound, and Shadow of s Doubt probably could make the cut, and all are stupendous films.

    Speaking of British directors, Carol Reed also did Fallen Idol in addition to The Third Man, The Man Between, and Odd Man Out. David Lean did two films that could probably be considered noirs, The Passionate Friends and Madeleine, both with his wife, Ann Todd.

    It is hard to exclude Welles, just on the basis of The Stranger, Lady From Shanghai, and Touch of Evil, amongst a few others….

    Kubrick had some noir street cred with Killer’s Kiss and The Killing; and John Huston with two stunning seminal noirs, The Asphalt Jungle and The Maltese Falcon.

    I am going to put Richard Fleischer up for a shout-out as well, with Trapped, Follow Me Quietly, Violent Saturday, The Clay Pigeon, Armored Car Robbery, and the incredibly taut railroad drama, The Narrow Margin. He also had a hand in His Kind of Woman, which is credited to John Farrow. I don’t know if anyone has ever tried to do a neo-noir analysis of his later masterpiece (1971), Soylent Green, but my guess is it could be done.

    Alfred Werker is worthy of mention as well, with He Walked By Night (co-directed by Anthony Mann), Shock, and one of my guilty favorites, Repeat Performance.

    How about John Brahm, who directed The Lodger, Hangover Square, The Brasher Doubloon, and the quite engrossing, The Locket. Those are all solid films!

    Hard to leave out Rudolph Mate, who directed The Dark Past, Union Station, Second Chance, and one of my all-time personal noir favorites, D.O.A. He was also cinematographer on Gilda, and was apparently uncredited as cinematographer on Lady From Shanghai. Some good work there!

    Lastly — I’d probably put in a plug for Anatole Litvak, too, who directed the proto-noir, Confessions of a Nazi Spy, as well as The Long Night, The Snake Pit, Five Miles to Midnight, the dark WWII drama Decision Before Dawn, and one of the absolute core Film Noirs from the original cycle, Sorry Wrong Number (1948). That film has a dazzling narrative structure, a gaggle of doomed characters, and plenty of noir visual style. It’s as pure as it gets….

    You hit the mainline, though, Colin, for the true giants of noir directing.

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    • Hi, Harvey, great contribution there, and a few points I want to address. You’ve highlighted just how much depth there is to noir, not just in terms of the number of people involved but also the range – from legendary A-listers to the solid studio pros.

      I really wouldn’t argue with anyone who feels Welles ought to be in a top 10 list, his credentials are strong. I tend to think of him as belonging in his own category though, and the same applies to Hitchcock, where again I agree that a strong case could be made for his inclusion.

      And you mentioned that you thought I had written about Mann’s The Furies in the past, I did indeed here.

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  7. Just wanted to put in a plug for my favorite Noir of all, Dassin’s Night and the City (which you don’t mention – Shame !! shame!!) . I don’t know if there is any film that is so populated with great characters, top to bottom. Widmark is great, of course, but the supporting players in this one are just perfection.

    Also, I wanted to mention this upcoming blogathon that you would be a natural for…

    http://tinyurl.com/oaxranw

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    • An excellent movie, Jeff. While I didn’t mention it directly, I did refer to it obliquely when I spoke of Dassin’s run of noir pictures starting with Brute Force.

      And thanks for the link to the blogathon – I’ll keep it in mind.

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      • Some very interesting suggestions there from Harvey! Richard Fleischer made some terrific contributions for sure ( ‘ARMORED CAR ROBBERY’and ‘THE NARROW MARGIN’ are absolute classic films).

        I am glad Jeff mentioned Dassin’s “NIGHT AND THE CITY” too. Laura reviewed it recently but was evidently rather disappointed by it. I think it is terrific with a great, snivelling performance by that fine and versatile actor, Richard Widmark. A great depiction of a rather seedy post-war London.

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        • Haven’t had a chance to read Laura’s piece yet, but I love the movie too, Jerry, and feel Widmark gives one of his best performances – of course there were no shortages of great performances from that man.

          Fleischer did make a number of fine noir pictures, although I remember being somewhat underwhelmed by The Clay Pigeon when I last saw it.

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          • And talking of Widmark, this week I also watched “THE LAST WAGON” again and it too was transmitted in widescreen – beautiful print! Widmark, like Robert Ryan, was never afraid to play unsympathetic. Both are huge favourites of mine, partly for that very reason.

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            • Oh I’ll watch Widmark in almost anything, such is my admiration for the man. The Last Wagon is another favorite of mine, beautifully helmed by Delmer Daves and another film where he uses the wonderful Felicia Farr to very good effect.

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  8. Yes, Colin, I only saw ‘THE CLAY PIGEON’ once and was similarly underwhelmed. I am sure you are very familiar with the two of Fleischer’s I mentioned – absolutely riveting.

    And talking of Phil Karlson (well someone was), last night I watched his rather fine western “GUNMAN’S WALK” and was delighted to find it transmitted by TCM in widescreen. More channels are now thankfully making a point of showing films in widescreen format on UK TV. The message is getting across!

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    • Yes, I didn’t mean to suggest any criticism of Fleischer’s overall output – there are more examples of strong, solid work, such as those you mentioned.

      I think it was John who brought up Karlson’s name, and I’m grateful he did so, and Gunman’s Walk is one of his very best films.

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  9. First, I really enjoyed this list and appreciated your choices. I like lists, making them myself as well as reading those of others. It’s best not to consider them too sacred but more a means of focusing our perceptions about our cinematic experience. In any event, I love all the directors you named and probably most of the films behind these choices too, so don’t see much to argue with–it’s inevitable that any list of ten is going to leave many worthy contenders out. So, with that, some more specific observations about all this.

    I especially agree about your first two choices, which would definitely be mine also and in the same order. I happen to be treating myself to my own complete Fritz Lang retrospective (everything he has made that survives is on DVD now) and have been taking my time with this over the last three years but am now in the homestretch, and as it happens, just the other night I watched his superb THE BIG HEAT, which I’m sure is one of the movies that motivated you to put him on top. But I don’t think with him it’s any specific film or films–it’s that his vision as it evolved through many years from his early German films through the American ones and back to Germany again is a vision that in such a profound way stimulated what became known as “film noir”–it’s hard to imagine it without him really. From the Mabuse films on, Lang saw the dark and the decay and in the deepest sense “underworlds”–one thing I like so much about him though is that if he was tough-minded and unsparing about this, he was never cynical about it, had deep feeling for humanity and could render characters and situations with a hard-earned sympathy. OK, I admit Gloria Grahame’s Debby Marsh in THE BIG HEAT is in my mind as I write that–an extraordinary and deep characterization (and she also has Lang’s funniest line, given his architectural vision, coming into Glenn Ford’s hotel room and saying “I like it…early nothing”). But his overarching vision is constant and that touch of tragedy is never far away, and his cinematic realization of his ideas made him always awesome.

    By contrast to Lang, Siodmak is imposing less for an overarching vision of his body of work than for the way he defined film noir in the 40s, really even more strikingly than Lang did over the course of ten films from PHANTOM LADY to CRISS CROSS within that decade. It’s interesting to me to compare Lang and Siodmak here with your first two choices in Western directors (with which I also strongly agree) Ford and Mann, as the relationship to the genre is the same there. Ford has the deepest, most abiding vision and one carried over years and into all genres in which he worked (as Lang’s also did in the genres he worked in) but in the 50s, the Western’s greatest period, there are only a few Ford Westerns, even though they are key, and it’s Mann who, with ten films (like Siodmak in film noir) becomes the genre’s definitive figure for that decade.

    But in film noir, moving on from Lang and Siodmak, it’s hard to see any of the other eight people you named as specialists, except maybe for certain periods of their career, and I think that’s the nature of film noir. It’s well to remember the phrase “film noir” wasn’t even invented until all of the classics of noir had been made, but at a given time directors could be typed if they did something well–so, for example, Mann deservedly coming into his own with T-MEN (after the very good DESPERATE and RAILROADED) has a brief crucial period in film noir before finding his mature place with Westerns.
    On the other hand, Jacques Tourneur only has two real film noir OUT OF THE PAST and NIGHTFALL, but they are both outstanding and the first especially is going to be one of the first movies anyone thinks of, and probably more for its classic noir qualities than for the individual tone that Tourneur gives it or the subtleties that you rightly observe. I guess that’s my way of saying that he deserves to be on the list just as much.

    Again, really, I can’t quarrel with anyone you named because I like the film noirs that they made, whether a significant number of a few. Like others, I thought of Karlson and Fleischer and even the Huston of THE ASPHALT JUNGLE, and they would have been deserving but no more than any of the directors you did choose. If you were going to replace someone, I’d suggest Mann, simply for the reason that in four lists of directors and actors he is the only one who made two lists (and belonged more on the Western list–but I’ll come back to this)–still, it’s very hard to get around the cinematic artistry of Mann with John Alton on T-MEN and RAW DEAL for the way noir might look.

    Rather than go on too much about that, I’ll say a little more about film noir, risking controversy here, but folks, this is just my view of it so take it as that. In line with this I can reference the people you chose a little more too. I wrote a lot on film noir when I started writing about movies and it was always enjoyable to engage it but over the years I’ve become a little ambivalent. It often seems that 1) film noir lends itself so readily to a romanticizing of despair and a cynical and bleak view of life and while this is legitimate artistic vision it isn’t the only valid one and maybe not the deepest one, and 2) even though there was no genre of film noir until after the fact, it’s now thrown like a net over anything it will catch, and kind of casually too, including so many movies that be appreciated more deeply from other perspectives.

    In regard to 1) I’d point out that at least one director on your list (maybe all of them in their ways) takes film noir in a different direction than the classic one. In Nicholas Ray, in his three film noirs THEY LIVE BY NIGHT, IN A LONELY PLACE and ON DANGEROUS GROUND, there are no femmes fatales–on the contrary the heroines in each are a moral force, even arguably a spiritual one, and the best thing in the lives of the male protagonists. Further, while these films all have their share of violence, alienation and brooding atmosphere, Ray is never in the least cynical about this but sees it all in the most mature way and to the extent the characters cannot be free from bleak film noir fate, it is because he is seeing them honestly and does take the full measure of everything positive they lose. What is more in ON DANGEROUS GROUND, the bitter isolated cop Jim Wilson played by Robert Ryan is convincingly saved from this in the second part of the film and finds redemption and spiritual renewal, something that happens in Westerns but is not supposed to happen in film noir and doesn’t very often. Yet ON DANGEROUS GROUND, like the other two Ray movies I’ve named is one of the greatest film noirs–these Ray movies, made close together early in his career, are among the greatest partly because he is less bound to noir motifs.

    In regard to 2) I will part company from most here in saying that there are no noir Westerns, including PURSUED, RAMROD, BLOOD ON THE MOON or even a movie as minor as I believe STATION WEST to be. These movies have noir inflections in the visual style that go with them being made in that period, and they may have some iconography with actors we know from noir as well, but in, especially, PURSUED, the characteristic thrust of the Western toward peace, renewal and reconciliation is so odds with film noir. In this regard, Mann’s first three black and white Westerns in 1950 are all sometimes called Western noir but they are not. Rather they still have visual inflections in the photography (especially DEVIL’S DOORWAY with Alton) but Mann is already finding his vision for the Western that goes so deeply into everything the genre will be in the 50s. DEVIL’S DOOWAY is most of all a seminal work in the deep treatment of the tragedy of the American Indian that would be so important in the 1950s, THE FURIES has elements of melodrama in common with many Westerns and earlier stories by Niven Busch (though not ideally worked out, much as I love much about the film), and the first Mann/James Stewart movie WINCHESTER ’73 is already a step toward the mature treatment of revenge that would be so important for Mann and other directors in 50s Westerns. By BEND OF THE RIVER, when he begins to work in color, the noir inflections are gone.

    Of course, contemporary stories where there are criminals should all be taken as film noir, shouldn’t they? I would say no. I’m still saddled with my initials on an early entry in a film noir reference book that I wrote years ago on DRIVE A CROOKED ROAD, but when I studied this film more closely to write a longer piece for the now sadly defunct UNDERCURRENT, I was able to say what I now believe about this film, which has a crime and a femme fatale (though she has little heart for it) but no expressionist visuals and no noir vision. It is more about the world of its time in a very real way–remember that worlds removed from the world of film noir can also be sad. Here’s a link but if you only want to read what I said about this specifically, it’s the eighth paragraph (hope this works):

    http://old.fipresci.org/undercurrent/issue_0711/lucas_drive.htm

    I think I love most of the same film noirs that you and others do, even though I don’t like to toss the term around the way I used to. It’s because I don’t want to sound negative about this that I don’t comment much when you write on film noir though I am this time. I like seeing the directors you named lauded for the films they made that are film noir and do show so well the things we like about it and feel that way about most that others have been named too. And I will add that though I feel a lot of movies are not really film noir, I don’t see a cut off point and do think that as late as 1961, Fuller’s superb UNDERWORLD U.S.A. really has a profound film noir vision and a cinematic style that carries it, as much as any of the earlier films.

    To end on a positive note, I’ll observe that the director of my own favorite film noir missed your list. Although there is a lot about him that makes Robert Aldrich an ideal director for film noir, there are not many works in his filmography that fall easily into noir. However, KISS ME DEADLY is my favorite, and great enough that if I could make one change I’d leave Mann for Westerns and put Aldrich in here. The reason why I think KISS ME DEADLY is the greatest film noir resonates for me with everything else I’ve said, though in a different way. Here, I believe is the real vision of film noir taken to its logical end–it takes an unsparing view of a decaying, even dying universe in which even its “hero” is morally challenged and often casually sadistic. But far from being cynical or adolescent in its view of this, the film threads its vision of this world with a deep and very mature tragic vision, in so many references mourning a lost world that might have been better, or at least imagined as better–as hauntingly echoed in the Christina Rosetti poem “…the thoughts that once we had.”

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    • Blake, that’s quite a response, and I’d like firstly to thank you for taking the time and trouble to reply so thoroughly to this post. I’ll probably need to return to this more than once to do it justice.

      To begin, one of the things that jumps out at you when you make a list like this is the fact there were few genuine noir specialists, which you noted, unlike the western, for example. That serves to make the exercise both interesting and also a little more difficult too. I guess the reason is down to that which you referred to, the fact the style of cinema wasn’t even recognized as such until the classic cycle had passed, and even then it continues to be seen more as a cinematic mood than a full blown genre.

      On Mann, I know what you mean about his inclusion of two lists I put together, and I did think about that when compiling it. I also feel his westerns are the greater works and he has to be considered among the very finest and most influential directors to work in that genre. However, visually at least, there is a strong noir influence in his early westerns, and his pure noir work is most certainly worthy. In the end, i thought it would be wrong of me not to acknowledge his contribution and so he was in.

      Aldrich also appeared on my western directors list, and I felt comfortable affording him a place there rather than on a noir list. I think Kiss me Deadly is one of the greatest films noir too, full of despair and that tragic yet non-cynical mood you spoke of. But he made more westerns, and particularly fine ones too, so I’m happy enough to honor him primarily for that.

      I really enjoyed your comments on western noir, or the lack of it in your view, and also on film noir as a perhaps overused term. I want to read that again though before coming back to you. Thanks for the link – I’m going to follow that right now.

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      • Just to say I actually agree about Aldrich for your Westerns list (and honestly forgot he was on that). I think he was especially strong in that genre, more than any other he worked in, even though I do consider KISS ME DEADLY his greatest–well, one of the greatest of all American movies. I didn’t care so much that he missed your list here–mostly I just wanted to say a little of what I feel about KISS ME DEADLY because it fits in with my main line of thought in the comment I made.

        I know that between the two lists of actors and the two lists of directors there were people on both that could have gone on the other list. I share the admiration of you and Jerry for both Robert Ryan and Richard Widmark, both among my half dozen favorite male leads in American movies. I know Ryan made your noir list and Widmark your Westerns list, and I’m just fine with that–obviously, it could have been the other way around and made sense too.

        There are more specialist directors for Westerns than for film noir so it probably is easier to make that list. It’s certainly valid to put anyone on a noir list who had a period in those films–Preminger is another great example of that. The actual range of his interests turned out to be very wide but doesn’t take away from what he did in that 1944-1952 period, a great contribution to what we now think of as film noir.

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          • Tourneur couldn’t be termed a noir specialist of course, as has been stated, but those two films – Out of the Past in particular – are such good examples of noir that I felt he deserved his place.
            Again, I know the Lewton films aren’t considered full noir but Cat People, I Walked with a Zombie and The Leopard Man come very close in theme and visual appearance.

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        • I already briefly mentioned the western/noir connection, but I’ll just comment here in response to what you said about some actors moving comfortably between the two genres.
          The fact certain performers like Widmark, Ryan and Mitchum were able to work successfully and convincingly at both s another link in my mind. OK, this may be a bit of a superficial connection (and you’re welcome to call me out on it) but these men were “types” who seemed to belong in both westerns and noir pictures.

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      • Just read your article on Drive a Crooked Road. I have a copy of the film that’s still unwatched so I ended up skipping quickly through some sections so as not to spoil the film for myself. Having said that, I like what I read and it’s definitely been bumped quite a few places up the queue.

        That piece ties in with what you said here about the overuse of the term film noir. Now I’m someone who admittedly takes a pretty expansionist view of the genre, although I do appreciate the reservations yourself and others have about taking this too far. Too many standard crime films get labelled noir for both reasons of convenience and marketing. I guess it does the films in question something of a disservice if the term doesn’t actually apply – after all, there’s nothing wrong with admitting that a movie is a straight crime picture and nothing else. And of course we also run the risk of making true noir even harder to define through the inclusion of arguably non-noir fare.

        That leads me on to your point about western noir. While i wouldn’t be fully in agreement, I do see how the kind of positive and redemptive qualities which we both love in the classic western can be seen to dilute or negate the noir essence. Still, there are noir films which show spiritual salvation taking place, granted not as often, so I feel it’s something of a grey area, appropriately enough.

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    • I am part of a Facebook group dedicated to Noir, and it seems like a week never goes by without a “Why isn’t (put film name here) a Noir?” or a “Noir isn’t a genre” discussion breaking out. I unwittingly got into one myself when I said that Jacques Becker’s “Le Trou” had a lot of Noir shading. I got slapped down for that heinous statement, so I backed away, because I would literally rather smash my thumb with a hammer than get involved in another of those discussions.

      I am enjoying this thread immensely, because I’m getting a lot of new stuff to watch.

      You can’t beat Colins’ comment section.

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    • Hi Blake– I am really enjoying your responses and ideas about Film Noir.
      I did want to call attention to one sentence you wrote about why Westerns are not really classifiable as Noir: “The characteristic thrust of the Western toward peace, renewal and reconciliation is so odds with film noir”. Very good point, except that I notice that many a solid Film Noir ends with a nod to something very much like “peace, renewal and reconciliation”. The bad guy gets caught/dies, law and order is restored, some levity breaks through, the “right” guy and girl get hooked up, etc. Let’s say something like Pickup on South Street comes to mind, or Mildred Pierce, The Killers, Narrow Margin… Of course, many end in death, bleakness, tension, loss, an existential quandry, or a mixture of something dark and something light/restorative: Maltese Falcon, DOA, Criss Cross, Brute Force, Double Indemnity, Hangover Square, The Asphalt Jungle, Kiss Me Deadly…..

      Many of what would be called the Noir Westerns take us through considerable tension, trauma, doom & fate, the vicissitudes of a femme fatale, the corruption of good men, descent into madness, etc. along with some expressionistic style in terms of light/shadow, skewed angles, etc. Some do end with something like reconciliation and renewal, just as some traditional Noirs do, but these are consistent with a story arc and ethos that tries to put a bit of a “happy ending” onto stories of doom and depravity.

      One of my favorite examples of this trope is a splendid Neo-Noir, Blue Velvet. At the start, we see lots of banal images of the sugary Eisenhower-era type, and then suddenly the camera descends from a low-angle shot of the sunny sky and flowers down into the turf, down into the dirt–the realm of the bugs, of the primitive, the instinctual. This is where we reside for the next couple of hours, but as the film ends, we see that Jeffrey’s dad is up & about, Jeff & Sandy are together, and the “Frank” evil has been eliminated. The camera tips upward again, up towards the light, the sky, the flowers….As if to say, we can only stay in the Inferno of the Id for so long, we have to round this off — even if we are scarred from the journey into the depths…. Does this type of ending disqualify it as a (Neo) Noir?? I don’t think so. It is just a coda that slaps on a veneer of civilization and provides a bit of an anti-dote. OK, maybe it is not as dark and fearless as the utter chaos and doom of Kiss Me Deadly, but I am just saying that these type of buffed-up codas don’t disqualify a Noir, nor should they disqualify a Western that is drenched in Noir.

      It took me a long time to come around to the idea of Noir Westerns, largely because the environment of the films are just so outdoorsy; just as there is no crying in baseball, there are no horses in a Film Noir!!! And maybe it is a matter of how Film Noir influenced the Western that is really the point. I think Film Noir gave across-Genre permission to show certain kinds of gritty, consumed, compromised, lustful, deranged, corrupt characters that transcended the usual black-and-white-hat stereotypes, and gave some license to the mise en scene & cinematography as well as a means of extending character and existential dilemmas. So maybe the two Genres don’t exactly mix, but they sure started sharing a fair amount of DNA!!!

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      • Hi, Harvey. I hope Blake won’t mind me jumping in here briefly. I fully appreciate both points of view here, although I tend more to your interpretation with regard to the inclusion of western noir.
        I think the point Blake was making was not that noir has to end badly or without positive effect, rather that the direction of the story “throughout” much darker. In the case of westerns, this narrative drive generally isn’t so bleak – the tale tends to aim for a more positive resolution from the outset.
        I’m not 100% convinced this precludes westerns from being classified as noir, though I do understand that perspective.

        Like

      • I just saw this, Harvey. I am so behind this week that I haven’t even been able to get to my comments on Colin’s DAWN AT SOCORRO piece yet.

        I know everyone defines Film Noir in his or her own way, and am fine with that. My own view of it has evolved. I probably said what I wanted to say about this already–and will just remind that I did acknowledge the resolution of ON DANGEROUS GROUND as satisfyingly on the spiritual upbeat. Interestingly, the first part of the film (the city part) is as deep-dyed in Film Noir as one could get, I believe, and as expressively in the stretch of film from Wilson’s beating up of Bernie Tucker to his hauntingly melancholy nocturnal return to his lonely apartment that same night. So many things can happen in any movie, especially a really great movie, and they are in the end more important even than genres, or styles of filmmaking, though those things are important as a starting point and do so much to shape films in positive ways.

        I don’t want to get down on Film Noir. It’s likely I love most of the same Film Noir classics that others here do. But it is the most popular kind of movie in classical cinema now (I wish it were the Western of course) and sometimes I do wonder why the darkest view would be taken as the most valid one or the most mature.

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        • sometimes I do wonder why the darkest view would be taken as the most valid one or the most mature.
          Could it be that the darker, more pessimistic examples are seem at first glance purer and therefore easier to define or more recognizable?

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  10. I carelessly wrote (re Siodmak) “…over the course of ten films from PHANTOM LADY to CRISS CROSS” but the second title should have been “THE FILE ON THELMA JORDON (or sometimes called simply THELMA JORDON) which followed CRISS CROSS and the last of those ten. Sorry…would never mean not to acknowledge a movie I care about.

    Also, sorry about a little writing that is still garbled because I proofread too quickly, but I’m guessing what I meant to say is always clear enough (hope so, anyway).

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  11. Wow! this thread has really grown since I was last here.
    Having got over one of my fave directors not making the mix;I thought I would comment further.

    Firstly,as with your Western directors list,you say 10 of the best…not THE best.
    Actually I would go further to say 10 directors of the “best known” or most highly regarded Noirs.
    From my point of view and it’s totally personal I would say that Siodmak is the most worthy
    of inclusion..his contributions to the genre are monolithic.

    As is my wont I thought that I would try a different tack and talk about “unheralded” Noir
    directors. There are many I could discuss here but I thought that I would narrow it down to
    two or three.

    Before I get into that I thought that it’s also worth mentioning that there are directors that
    no-one would associate with Noir who proved to adapt very well to that type of film when the
    occasion arose.
    Gordon Douglas,more associated with Westerns,if anything made two cracking Noirs
    BETWEEN MIDINGHT AND DAWN and KISS TOMORROW GOODBYE.
    RTHC fave George Sherman,again,even more so than Douglas,known for his Westerns
    made two splendid Noirs namely LARCENY and THE SLEEPING CITY.
    Lewis R Foster,certainly not heralded for his Westerns,and quiet right too,actually came into
    his own when a Noir came his way. MANHANDLED,CAPTAIN CHINA and CRASHOUT are
    his very best features. On the strength of this Foster should have made fewer Westerns and
    lots more Noirs.

    Anyway now we travel into the world of poverty row,it’s a world,as well you know Colin where
    I am happiest and many would say where I should stay!
    As mentioned before there are many directors that could be brought into the mix but I will
    discuss just three.
    Firstly possibly the least known of the three is John Reinhardt.
    Mr Reinhardt’s early passing at age 53 I should think cut short a promising career.
    He is mainly know,if at all ,for a series of low budget thrillers mainly for the likes of Monogram.
    Possibly the strongest of these is THE GUILTY an incredibly cruel and indeed mean spirited
    little picture with a wonderful “Edward Hopper-ish” look.
    I may have got this wrong but I understand this film has been restored recently
    The same I believe,goes for Reinhardt’s HIGH TIDE another interesting poverty row Noir.
    Both these films feature Don Castle a troubled actor in real life who is a sort of leading
    light in low budget thrillers.
    Reinhardt’s CHICAGO CALLING has been championed by Blake Lucas,I don’t know if it
    actually qualifies as a Noir but it’s on my “must track down list”
    The second diretor I wish to discuss is Jack Bernhard.
    Mr Bernhard’s last feature is listed as THE SECOND FACE from 1950 yet imdb notes his
    passing as 1997.
    Like Reinhardt Jack Bernhard made a series of low budget thrillers for the likes of
    Monogram. I always found it interesting that Monogram’s Noirs look wonderful as opposed
    to their B Series Westerns (starring the likes of Johnny Mack Brown,Wayne Morris and
    Whip Wilson) which look cheap and tacky.
    Bernhard’s most famous film is the cult favorite DECOY a film well deserving of it’s reputation.
    Jean Gillie,briefly married to Bernhard at the time is unforgettable as a Femme Fatale
    to be reckoned with. The only downside to the plot is the Boris Karloff revive an executed
    prisoner device which audiences were more able to accept in the Forties.
    Interestingly the film was written by Ned (Nedrick) Young later a victim of the HUAC crew.
    Furthermore Young has a “political” device to justify his British Femme Fatale.
    Her insatiable desire for money was formed during her upbringing in the grinding poverty
    of a Lancashire Mill Town,.
    Bet you did not expect that in a Forties Monogram B Flick!
    Sadly Jeane Gillie passed away a few years later from pneumonia aged just 33 I believe.
    Other Bernhard pictures are also of interest mostly notably THE HUNTED which has just been
    given a lovely restoration by Warner Archive.
    Another Bernhard gem is the striking BLONDE ICE which is crying out for someone to restore.
    Another film on my “must track down list” is Bernhard’s VIOLENCE another Warner Archive
    restoration. This film has a mixed reputation but Bernhard’s involvement and the provocative
    subject matter make a must see for me.
    I should add that the aforementioned Ned Young was mostly employed by his friend
    Joseph H lewis,as an actor during his “blacklist” years. As a writer Mr Young is possibly
    best known for THE DEFIANT ONES.

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    • Lots of great info there on Poverty Row directors and their movies, of which I’m really only familiar with Decoy. Plenty of stuff there for me to look out for.

      Like

    • Well worth saying, John. Of the feature films she directed, the only one I’ve seen is The Hitch-Hiker, which is a terrific low budget thriller.
      I’ve seen more of her TV work: Thriller, AHP, Have Gun Will Travel and of course The Fugitive, particularly the well-judged episode Fatso.

      Like

    • I had considered Ida Lupino, but I could only think of 2 noirs she made, The Bigamist and The HItch-hiker, and I thought maybe 2 was a little slim to include her among the top rank of directors in this genre. But I love those 2 films!!

      Like

      • I’ve yet to see The Bigamist myself, never got round to it for some reason, but I think that even if The Hitch-Hiker was the only movie she’d made, she would deserve to be mentioned in any discussion of noir directors.

        Like

      • There’s also Outrage (1950) and Not Wanted (1949); some don’t consider the former to be a noir (on balance I do) and she did most of the latter uncredited after Elmer Clifton had a heart attack.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. I did mention above that I would discuss 3 directors but as the previous post turned out longer than I had intended I thought I would make this a two-part-er.
    Plus I am in the habit of occasionally losing epic length posts.

    Robert Florey is the best known of the three directors that I am discussing and is possibly
    best known for his Noir THE CROOKED WAY.
    (Colin,did you mention this film has recently been restored for a possible Blu-Ray release?)
    An overlooked Florey gem is FACE BEHIND THE MASK a wonderful little film with Peter Lorre
    at the top of his game.
    Another Florey/Lorre cult classic is THE BEAST WITH FIVE FINGERS which certainly has a
    wonderful gothic look. That film of course is a Horror Film not a Noir but I thought I’d bring it
    into the mix anyway.
    Florey made a whole series of B Crime Thrillers which many folks would class as Noirs these
    days. Some of the best,if you can find them are KING OF ALCATRAZ,WOMEN WITHOUT NAMES
    and PAROLE FIXER. The latter film has been championed by Laura and I understand that
    she is spreading the word on this little gem to others.

    In closing I must take up on Blake’s point regarding the term “Noir Western”
    It’s never been a term that I too am not totally comfortable with
    Let’s face it in those days the term had not been coined for thrillers,let alone Westerns.
    Furthermore a lot of A Westerns were made in black & white for reasons of budget more than anything else.
    If one must use the term “Noir Western” I guess the most deserving film would be BLOOD ON THE
    MOON if for nothing else, Nicholas Musuraca’s sensational photography.
    The jury’s going to be out on this one for a long time,from my own point of view I don’t really
    like to class films like RAMROD,COLORADO TERRITORY or YELLOW SKY as “Noir Westerns”

    Of course a lot of the success of many of the films that we have been discussing is in fact the
    wonderful photography. I guess the leader of the Noir pack would have to be John Alton.
    His credits are more or less cast in stone.
    Interestingly a lesser known Alton project is THE PRETENDER directed by W Lee Wilder.
    (Billy had little time for his lesser known brother BTW!)
    THE PRETENDER looks sensational but looking at W Lee Wilder’s other credits there is little
    if anything, that remotely comes close in terms of style,look and sheer class.
    W Lee Wilder is best known for a series of incredibly tacky poverty row Horror/Sci Fi films
    like PHANTOM FROM SPACE and THE SNOW CREATURE.
    Having said all that the “trash addict” in me has a really fond affection for Wilder’s
    MAN WITHOUT A BODY a British B that has to be seen to be dis-believed!

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    • I remember talking about Florey when I featured The Crooked Way back at the beginning of the year. A Blu-ray of the movie was mooted to be on the way via Kino, but there’s been no official confirmation of that yet.

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  13. John, if you’re still following the thread, there was an announcement on the HTF today from the Kino insider that The Crooked Way is indeed coming soon on both DVD and Blu-ray from a brand new master. You can see the announcement here.

    Like

      • While I’m into Blu-ray, Jerry, I do limit my purchases on that format for a number of reasons. In any case, I’m glad there’s a redone DVD coming as well since Kino Blu-rays, as far as i know are locked to Region A and I only have Region B capability for BD.

        Like

  14. Thanks Colin,
    I must admit that I have not been following the various HTF threads as closely as I should.
    Very interesting discussions on that thread,I might add.
    Certainly agree with the cats who want to see KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL and
    99 RIVER STREET on Blu Ray. As has been discussed here before I would love to see
    a proper restoration of another key Payne Noir THE BOSS. The MOD of that one was
    wretched.
    Nice,also to see people interested in wanting THE KILLER IS LOOSE in High-Def as well.
    I know this is a random comment but I feel generally Noir addicts are far more interested
    in seeing Blu-Ray editions of classics (and minor/cult classics) than Western fans.
    Am I right in thinking that not one of Anthony Mann’s Universal Westerns has made it
    to Blu-Ray yet?
    Nice screenshots over at DVD Beaver of the Blu’s of FORTY GUNS and THE INCREDIBLE
    SHRINKING MAN.
    Very pleased with the Koch INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN…when Grant finally ends up
    in the basement the Blu-Ray really rocks!
    Someone noted recently that it’s only a matter of time before Koch treat us to a Blu-Ray
    of THIS ISLAND EARTH. That’s the only classic Universal Sci-Fi Movie that I never got
    the opportunity to see in a cinema.
    I am constantly bemused,confused that truly awful films like THE THING WITH TWO HEADS
    (also reviewed by The Beaver) can get a Blu-Ray release yet much sought after films
    like the aforementioned Mann Westerns as well as RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY and
    THE LAST WAGON are still in limbo.

    Like

    • John, I really couldn’t say how the enthusiasm for Hi-Def content among noir fans compares to that of other genres, although I have a hunch the healthy appetite possibly stems from the fact a lot of these movies were either unavailable or available only in rather poor condition for a long time.

      And I’m another who would be keen to see a Blu-ray of This Island Earth.

      Like

  15. It’s interesting that Kino Lorber have announced a Blu-Ray of A BULLET FOR JOEY which
    would indicate that KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL and 99 RIVER STREET must surely
    follow, I would certainly go for an upgrade of the latter. The “official” DVD of KANSAS
    CITY CONFIDENTIAL was very good I thought,although it did surface on various p.d. Hell
    imprints.
    I do hope Kino-Lorber can source some decent master material for THE BOSS.
    Thanks for supplying the HTF Kino Lorber link,I will watch for further announcements.

    When the master material is very good I think hi-def black & white is stunning.
    As I only started seriously collecting DVD’s when I retired this was the same time as the Blu-Ray
    era and indeed the MOD era.
    With all the lesser known films suddenly surfacing on MOD’s I kept more of the major films
    on the back-burner hoping that eventually they would surface on Blu-Rays.
    That is not to say that I avoided DVD’s of every major or A picture.
    Since going the Blu-Ray route I have been able to add many A pictures to my collection,especially
    several Eastwoods, and highly regarded films like HOMBRE and CHARLEY VARRICK and
    many Hammer Films among others.
    I am still holding out for a couple of McQueen’s on Blu Ray like NEVADA SMITH and TOM HORN
    and there are still lots of films on my “Blu-Ray Wish List” for example THE LAST FRONTIER,
    MADIGAN and THE SHOOTIST although I am sure all of these will surface in time.
    It is interesting to note that next week Carlotta in France will release COWBOY on Blu Ray
    and,so they inform me without “forced” subtitles…really looking forward to that.

    Like

    • Any former MGM releases are a good bet to get upgraded by Kino these days, which is generally good news as many of those were originally non-anamorphic or had other faults.

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  16. Great list. The only omission I might have thrown in is Rudolph Mate, largely through being a big fan of D.O.A. but really there isn’t much to argue with here, and as normal after reading one of your lists I want to dig out all those noirs again. Heck, perhaps I will.

    Incidentally, I don’t know if your posts are not appearing on my feed or they’re sneaking past when I’m not looking, but my apologies for not seeing it and replying sooner.

    Like

    • I know what you mean, Mike, there is a great temptation to start watching stuff you’ve half forgotten when compiling or reading lists – although that’s not such a bad complaint. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Mike– I agree about Rudolph Mate!! I mentioned him up above in one of my posts:

      ***Hard to leave out Rudolph Mate, who directed The Dark Past, Union Station, Second Chance, and one of my all-time personal noir favorites, D.O.A. He was also cinematographer on Gilda, and was apparently uncredited as cinematographer on Lady From Shanghai. Some good work there!***

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Pingback: The New-Look Monthly Update for June 2015 | 100 Films in a Year

  18. I’m very late to the party, but have just enjoyed reading your list and the discussion which is amazing as usual on your blog, Colin. A lot of noirs here that I still need to catch up with, though I’ve been getting into the genre more recently. I do love Preminger and recently saw ‘Angel Face’ on TV – a wonderful performance by Jean Simmons.

    Like

    • Thanks for that, Judy – never too late to chip in, you know!
      I’m pleased to hear you’ve been catching up on some noir, and having a good time with it too. Preminger is great, isn’t he? I really like his noir work and I’m very fond of Angel Face myself, which I wrote a piece on here last year.

      Like

  19. One director I would fit in here is Republic Studio mainstay, George Blair. The man worked only on B-films, but managed to turn out some of the best lower budget noir product.

    These include, “Gangs of the Waterfront”, “Exposed” (a fav), “Post Office Investigator”, “Unmasked”, “Insurance Investigator”, Secrets of Monte Carlo” and the excellent, “Federal Agent at Large” and “Lonely Heart Bandits”.

    Corny titles aside, these are top flight programmers that all clock in at around 60-70 minutes. I would have loved to see what Blair could have done with a good sized budget. I have reviews up for all but “Unmasked” which features a top flight killer bit by Raymond Burr.

    Republic cranked out a seemingly endless supply of low-rent westerns, comedies and crime programmers for the double bill market. (not to mention the serials)
    A lot of these were trash, but every so often they managed to turn out a neat little gem.

    Like

    • I know from previous postings you’ve made at the BlackBoard that you’re both a fan of and something of an expert on these second string Republic pictures so it’s good to get a bit of info what titles (and who directed them) are the ones to look out for. Not having seen any of those you listed here, I find it very useful info.

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  20. Colin

    While not as well thought of as most on your list, I would like to put Felix Feist’s name in the pile. He dabbled in several genres and cranked out some nice (mostly low rent) stuff. Noir wise, THIS WOMAN IS DANGEROUS, THE THREAT, THE MAN WHO CHEATED HIMSELF, TOMORROW IS ANOTHER DAY and the killer, THE DEVIL THUMBS A RIDE are all quite watchable..

    Gord

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    • Good pick, chum, and he’s definitely worth mentioning. Of the titles you mention, I haven’t seen the first two but I agree the others are all good or better.

      Like

  21. TOMORROW IS ANOTHER DAY is probably my favorite Steve Cochran film. I have a early sci-fi end of the world film from 1933 called DELUGE that Feist directed. Ever heard of it?

    Like

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