Gunny's 50 Greatest Film Noirs

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Film noirs are one of my 3 favorite movie genres along with Westerns and war films. I never get tired watching the old great classics. So I decided to do a thoughtful list of 50 that I consider the greatest of all-time. I picked mainly from true classical era film noir that is basically 1940 through 1959. No neo-noir on this list.

This list was extremely difficult to compile. I started this a month ago and have finally come up with an order I think does the genre justice and ones I highly recommend to everyone if you're a fan of the style.

I also realize that the term "film noir" is very broad for some people and the definition is different from one person to the next. So these selections are just those that I consider film noirs from the classical era. I'm sure there's some films that I don't consider film noirs but you do that I would include in my top 50 if I considered it as one. At the end of the list I will list about 50 honorable mentions.

Hope you enjoy.
"Certainly there is no hunting like the hunting of man, and those who have hunted armed men long enough and like it, never really care for anything else thereafter." - Ernest Hemingway


The Stranger On the Third Floor (1940)

Director - Boris Ingster

Cast - Peter Lorre, John McGuire and Margaret Tallichet

This is commonly considered the first "true" film noir, although there were some before it that contained many film noir elements.

John McGuire plays Mike Ward, a witness in a murder case. His girlfriend Jane (Margaret Tallichet) thinks maybe the young man is innocent. Mike begins to wonder if he was correct in what he saw and his decision.

Suddenly he is arrested for a similar murder and Jane goes out and try and find the real killer who commited both homocides. Peter Lorre plays the mysterious Stranger.

This movie is highly enjoyable and a good one to introduce you to the film noir genre. I could make a case for this to be a little higher on the list but I finally settled it in at the #50 spot.

Bright light. Bright light. Uh oh.
The dream sequences in that flick make it worth watching. That and Peter Lorre's eyes.
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The Hitchhiker (1953)

Director - Ida Lupino

Cast - Edmond O'Brien, Frank Lovejoy and William Talman

The Hitchhiker was directed by Ida Lupino, which was rare for a woman to direct a film noir. She was one of the first. The film is loosely based on a true story.

It features 2 friends, Roy and Gilbert (O'Brien and Lovejoy) who pick up a hitchhiker (Emmett Myers) on their way on a trip. Little do they know the man is a murderer.

The film is extremely suspenseful and does a good job at making you feel how terrified the 2 men must have felt. O'Brien and Lovejoy give good performances while Myers is believable as a psychotic killer.

The dream sequences in that flick make it worth watching. That and Peter Lorre's eyes.
Affirmative. The dream sequence was very good. And I really liked Peter Lorre in this.


The Lady From Shanghai (1947)

Director - Orson Welles

Cast - Rita Hayworth, Orson Welles, Everett Sloane, Glenn Anders

Michael O'Hara (Orson Welles) falls for Elsa (Rita Hayworth) and agrees to work on her and her husband's (Everett Sloane) yacht. Once on board Michael is thrown into a complex and twisted murder plot.

This is a fun movie that moves along nicely. There's no shortage of twists and turns and the acting is extremely solid. Don't walk away or you'll miss something. This film is one of Welles' best and Hayworth is just simply stunning as always and delivers a very nice performance.


Detective Story (1951)

Director - William Wyler

Cast - Kirk Douglas, Ealanor Parker, William Bendix, Cathy O'Donnell and Lee grant

Kirk Douglas stars as Jim McLeod, a no-nonsense detective along with a cast of other detectives and officers as they battle crime on the streets of New York City.

The movie features superb directing and a very good story. The film is gritty and realistic as Ealanor Parker and Lee Grant give terrific performances. Kirk Douglas does a very nice job playing McLeod and this is one of his better roles. William Bendix is also great as Detective Lou Brody.

Cool stuff, I like this kind of list. I'm a fan of the genre and appreciate your restricting it to the classic period.
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Pickup On South Street (1953)

Director - Samuel Fuller

Cast - Richard Widmark, Jean Peter and Thelma Ritter

Richard Widmark plays Skip McCoy, a pickpocket who unknowingly steals top secret film from a woman (Jean Peters). She finds him and ends up falling for him. Meanwhile the agent the film was intended for comes looking for it at all costs.

Pickup On South Street is a solid film filled with mystery, intrigue and gritty violence. Thelma Ritter delivers a terrific performance as Moe, a rat for the police. Widmark is also fantastic as a common thief.


Key Largo (1948)

Director - John Huston

Cast - Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Edward G Robinson, Claire Trevor and Lionel Barrymore

Humphrey Bogart plays Frank McCloud on his way to an old hotel to honor a war buddy who was killed during WWII. Once there he meets his deceased friend's widow (Bacall) and father (Lionel Barrymore) who now run the hotel. Gangster Johnny Rocco (Edward G Robinson) and his crew arrive at the hotel during a hurricane as they eventually take over once their cover is blown. McCloud now struggles and wonders if he has the courage to take out Rocco and his ganngsters.

Claire Trevor and Bogart turn in the best performances. Director John Huston does a nice job in showing the inner-conflict McCloud endures in trying to drum up enough courage to confront the gangsters as well as tells a suspenseful and tense story. The acting all the way around is solid in this timeless classic.

What a great start love all of these
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The Dark Corner (1946)

Director - Henry Hathaway

Cast - Lucille Ball, Clifton Webb, William Bendix and Mark Stevens

Mark Stevens plays Bradford Galt, a PI who suspects his ex-partner is trying to have him killed. Galt's beautiful secretary Kathleen (Lucille Ball) attempts to try and help out her boss whom she has fallen for as he becomes entangled in a mysterious plot.

The Dark Corner is a suspenseful and thrilling movie as well as a geat example of a classic film noir. It invokes all the traits and elements of the genre and has its share of twists and turns. Ball gives a wonderful performance in one of her only dramatic roles. In this film she shows she is very diverse and more than capable of playing a serious part.


Act of Violence (1948)

Director - Fred Zinnemann

Cast - Van Heflin, Robert Ryan and Janet Leigh

Frank Enley, played by Van Heflin, returns home from the war and dealing with his past where he was a POW in a German camp. Frank soon discovers his once best friend whom he thought was killed in the German camp, Joe Parkson (Robert Ryan), actually survived and is looking for revenge for what happened while they were POWs.

Director Fred Zinnemann does a good job in putting forth a dark and suspenseful film in what is one of his best works. Heflin and Ryan give good performances as the main stars of the film in this enjoyable tale of revenge and dealing with your past.


The Letter (1940)

Director - William Wyler

Cast - Bette Davis, Herbert Marshall and James Stephenson

Bette Davis is Leslie Crosbie who one quiet night shoots and kills a respected man. Leslie claims she is innocent and that the shooting was in self defense but a letter emerges that may shed light and the truth on the whole story.

I could have easily moved this one higher on the list. Director William Wyler weaves a delicious tale of mystery and intrigue with enough twists and turns that keep you constantly guessing and your eyes fixated on the screen. Bette Davis delivers a terrific performance as always along with James Stephenson who does a great job playing her lawyer. The Letter was well-received and nominated for 7 Academy Awards.

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Awesome list so far. This is a GREAT idea and I'm looking forward to the rest of this list. Film Noir is a dying art form, so I'm glad we are talking it up and appreciating some of the gems of the genre. Plus, I am looking forward to discovering some that I have never seen. Great work!
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Scarlet Street (1945)

Director - Fritz Lang

Cast - Edward G Robinson, Joan Bennett and Dan Duryea

Edward G Robinson is Chris, an average man who is unhappy in his marriage to his wife Adele (Rosalind Ivan). One day he sees a woman named Kitty (Joan Bennett) being attacked by a man (Dan Duryea). He comes to her rescue and he eventually falls in love with her. Little does he know the man that attacked her is actually her boyfriend, Johnny. Johnny and Kitty decide to swindle money from Chris as his wife's first husband (Charles Kemper) whom they thought was dead emerges. Murder and mystery ensue.

This is an enjoyable film as director Fritz Lang puts forth a nice psychological piece. Robinson and Bennett are solid and Duryea is excellent as a shady and abusive criminal. The ending invokes a typical depressing twist so common in the film noir genre that we've come to love.

Act of Violence has always been one of my personal favorites. This is a really good list thus far, but will we be seeing some international or neo-noirs as well? The Japanese New Wave had some really gritty Noirs that made most American Noirs seem tame in comparison. All the same with or without, this is shaping up to be a great list, kudos my friend!

(Edit: Read the above post, it's good your sticking to the classics).
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-Stan Brakhage


The Woman In the Window (1944)

Director - Fritz Lang

Cast - Edward G Robinson, Joan Bennett, Raymond Massey and Dan Duryea

Edward G Robinson is Richard Wanley, a college professor. He is infatuated with a picture of a woman he's never met (Joan Bennett). One day he ends up meeting the beautiful female who's name is Alice. Her boyfriend suspects there is more going on than a casual meeting and Wanley ends up killing him in self defense. Instead of telling the truth he decides to dispose of the body and cover up the killing along with Alice. Blackmail and betrayal are prominent themes in this tragic film noir.

Director Fitz Lang once again does an excellent job in creating suspense along with a very well-written screenplay. Robinson, Bennett and Dan Duryea are as always great. Raymond Massey also puts in a very nice performance as District Attorney Frank Lalor. The ending has a couple of terrific twists that will surprise you and leave you with a satisfied movie experience.

Act of Violence has always been one of my personal favorites.
It is a great film. I definitely had to squeeze it in my Top 50. I need to watch it again soon. Been a few years since I've viewed it.

This is a really good list thus far, but will we be seeing some international or neo-noirs as well? The Japanese New Wave had some really gritty Noirs that made most American Noirs seem tame in comparison. All the same with or without, this is shaping up to be a great list, kudos my friend!
You're right about some of the foreign film noirs. And there are indeed some great ones. However I only put a couple on the list. I tried to concentrate mainly on American film noirs from the classical period. No disrespect to the others. There's just so many films of this genre I had to narrow it down.

I'm excited to see so many fans of film noir. I was worried there wouldn't be a great deal of enthusiasts of the genre. Seems it's a very popular style among people here. That's great.