November’s Month is Noir-vember, what that means is I’ll be recommending Noir films for you to watch.
Noir is one of the most influential genres of film. They were mainly produced in the 1940s’-50s’ and generally were crime and mystery dramas. The Black-and-White cinematography and striking lighting give every film a deep sense of grit and a foreboding atmosphere. They feature a number of many types of characters, like the anti-hero, the femme fatale, or the cynical detective. The characters are morally grey or pitch-black, rarely does anyone make it out happy.
Here’s three classic Noir films:
- In a Lonely Place (1950)
In a Lonely Place is about an aspiring actress, Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame), who begins to suspect that her temperamental, screenwriter boyfriend, Dixon Steele (Humphrey Bogart) is a murderer.
Noir-legend, Humphrey Bogart, absolutely kills it as Dixon, it’s one of his best performances (next to The Treasure of the Sierra Madre). He’s charming yet there’s an undercurrent of dread to it all. Grahame is also amazing, she’s both seductive and disinterested. The chemistry between the two is electric. Don’t think it’s only about the performances, the film’s technical prowess is superb.
The director, Nicholas Ray, who also did Rebel Without a Cause, does a fantastic job at revealing just the right amount of information. The blocking is great. What truly elevates the film is the script, written by Dorothy B. Hughes and Andrew Solt, and for her time, Hughes was a very accomplished noir novelist and critic, winning several awards for her works. The script is just fantastic. The dialogue is excellent, and it’s, somehow, further improved by the stellar performances.
The film is available to watch on Amazon Prime and Tubi and to rent on Amazon.
2. Ace in the Hole (1951)
Ace in the Hole, directed by the fabulous Billy Wilder, is one of the most pessimistic and cynical Noirs, and that’s saying something. The film is about a frustrated ex-journalist, Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas), who gets stuck working for an Albuquerque newspaper, suddenly, a local man gets trapped in a cave, Tatum exploits this event to revive his career, and it all turns into a media sensation.
The performances, from Douglas and everyone else, are absolutely amazing. The script, co-written by Wilder, Walter Newman, and Lesser Samuels, is fantastic. The exquisite cinematography, by Charles Lang, conveys the moods and themes extremely sufficiently.
Like I said, the film is cynical-to-the-max. It’s twisted and rotten. It’s seedy and dirty. It’s rusty and unclean. If the film was a wet towel, it would drip black ooze. Tatum is such a despicable character, and it’s helped by the fact that Douglas plays him to perfection. Ultimately, the film is a critique of media sensationalism and human nature.
A man is stuck under tons and tons of rocks, he’s going to die if no one does anything, and what does the everybody do? Well, you’ll just have to watch the film to find out.
The film is available to rent on Amazon.
3. Elevator to the Gallows (1958)
Directed by the wickedly talented Louis Malle, at just 24-years-old, Elevator to the Gallows is about an ex-military businessman, Julien Tavernier (Maurice Ronet) who murders his arms-dealer employer, who is the husband of his mistress, Florence Carala (Jeanne Moreau), however, an unfortunate chain of events causes rifts in his plan for happiness.
First off, I feel the need to mention the beautiful jazz score, and it was done by music legend, Miles Davis. Since jazz is a genre known for improvisation, it makes complete sense that Davis composed the music while watching the film. He had already seen the film once, so Malle and others projected the film for him again, and he played his trumpet to whatever he felt like the mood was. Which is just astounding. The amount of talent that Davis had is just awe-inspiring. You can find a video about that process here!
The score isn’t the only factor that makes the film great, Malle’s direction is stellar. He utilizes Hitchcockian suspense, and sometimes even better than the Master himself. The juxtaposition of events that directly impact each other, and seeing how the characters react, I don’t want to say too much, but it really aches the heart.
The acting is stellar, Moreau is the knockout performance, the emotion she bares on screen is unbearable at times. Georges Poujouly and Yoir Bertin play a young couple, Louis and Véronique, and they are almost too good at their respective roles.
Elevator to the Gallows is a heartbreaking noir, and it instantly become one of my favorites.
The film is available to watch on HBO Max and Criterion Channel. It’s also available to rent on Amazon.