Combining the hard-boiled American crime fiction of the Great Depression with the dark visual style of German Expressionism, the genre now known as Film Noir emerged in the 1940s and ‘50s and has continued to endure well into the 21st Century. This month, Kanopy is celebrating the genre with “Noirvember,” and you can stream dozens of classic and modern Noir films there for free using your Livingston Library card. Check out some of the recommended titles below, or browse Kanopy’s complete Film Noir Collection here. (Descriptions provided by Kanopy)
The Stranger – 1946, directed by Orson Welles
Having directed two undisputed masterpieces – Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons – Orson Welles delved into the suspense film, crafting a baroque postwar thriller that drew upon the style of his previous work, while laying the groundwork for his later film noir classics The Lady from Shanghai and Touch of Evil. Edward G. Robinson stars as Wilson, a government agent who tracks down a high-ranking Nazi officer (Welles) who has managed to craft a new identity for himself in a quaint Connecticut town, marrying the daughter (Loretta Young) of a local judge.
Sweet Smell of Success – 1957, directed by Alexander Mackendrick
A powerful film about a ruthless journalist and an unscrupulous press agent who’ll do anything to achieve success, this fascinating story cuts deep and sends a chilling message. It’s late at night in Times Square, and everything’s buzzing with nervous energy. But press agent Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis) is oblivious to it all as he nervously waits for the early edition of The Globe. Whose career did gossip columnist J. J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster) launch today…and whose did he destroy?
D.O.A. – 1950, directed by Rudolph Maté
Frank Bigelow (Edmond O’Brien) is about to die, and he knows it. The accountant has been poisoned and has only 24 hours before the lethal concoction kills him. Determined to find out who his murderer is, Frank, with the help of his assistant and girlfriend, Paula (Pamela Britton), begins to trace back over his last steps. As he frantically tries to unravel the mystery behind his own impending demise, his sleuthing leads him to a group of crooked businessmen and another murder.
Detective Story – 1951, directed by William Wyler
In this influential crime drama, an embittered cop, Det. James McLeod, leads a precinct of characters in their grim battle with the city’s lowlife. But while McLeod fights crime on the streets, his wife suffers from neglect at home. Based on Sydney Kingsley’s Broadway play, this seminal movie was a prototype for everything from Hill Street Blues to NYPD Blue. Nominated for Best Actress (Eleanor Parker), Best Supporting Actress (Lee Grant), Best Director, and Best Screenplay at the Academy Awards.
The Hitch-Hiker – 1953, directed by Ida Lupino
Beyond its obvious cultural significance as the only classic film noir directed by a woman (actress Ida Lupino), The Hitch-Hiker is perhaps better remembered as simply one of the most nightmarish motion pictures of the 1950s. Inspired by the true-life murder spree of Billy Cook, The Hitch-Hiker is the tension-laden saga of two men on a camping trip (Edmond O’Brien and Frank Lovejoy) who are held captive by a homicidal drifter (William Talman). He forces them, at gunpoint, to embark on a grim joyride across the Mexican desert.
A Kiss Before Dying – 1956, directed by Gerd Oswald
He had looks, charm, and killer instinct! Beneath his clean-cut looks…was a cold-blooded killer. Robert Wagner stars as Bud Corliss, a darkly handsome college boy so obsessed with wealth that he’d do anything to get it. When his rich girlfriend gets pregnant and is threatened with disinheritance, Bud stages her suicide, sending her plummeting from the roof of a high-rise. It’s the perfect crime…until the dead girl’s sister begins to unravel Bud’s deadly scheme.
The Big Combo – 1955, directed by John H. Lewis
A noir classic about a police lieutenant who comes under pressure from a gang headed by a vicious thug. He is helped by the gangster’s wife, jealous at her husband’s affair with another woman, who supplies him with information to help him close the net on his foe.
Detour – 1945, directed by Edgar G. Ulmer
From Poverty Row came a movie that, perhaps more than any other, epitomizes the dark fatalism at the heart of film noir. As he hitchhikes his way from New York to Los Angeles, a down-on-his-luck nightclub pianist finds himself with a dead body on his hands and nowhere to run–a waking nightmare that goes from bad to worse when he picks up the most vicious femme fatale in cinema history, Ann Savage’s snarling, monstrously conniving drifter Vera. Working with no-name stars on a bargain-basement budget, B auteur Edgar G. Ulmer turned threadbare production values and seedy, low-rent atmosphere into indelible pulp poetry. Roger Ebert once wrote that the film “lives on, haunting and creepy, an embodiment of the guilty soul of film noir. No one who has seen it has easily forgotten it.”
Repeat Performance – 1947, directed by Alfred Werker
An amazingly original hybrid of film noir, supernatural fantasy, and backstage melodrama, the film stars Joan Leslie as a Broadway actress who magically relives the previous year of her life, but can she alter the fateful mistakes and misjudgments that led to a New Year’s Eve tragedy? In the years after its 1947 release, Repeat Performance seemingly vanished. For many who’d seen it, the film’s startling premise and stunning set-pieces became merely a tantalizing memory. It fell so far off the cultural radar people began to think they’d only imagined the movie. But thanks to the dedication and diligence of the Film Noir Foundation, Repeat Performance was restored in collaboration with UCLA Film & Television Archive and the Packard Humanities Institute.
Brighton Rock – 1947, directed by John Boulting
Pinky, the psychotic, razor-toting gang leader, romances and marries a teenage waitress in order to keep her silent about one of his nefarious crimes. Richard Attenborough’s intense performance as teenage gangster Pinkie Brown elevates this adaptation of Graham Greene’s novel.
Woman on the Run – 1950, directed by Norman Foster
A lost gem rediscovered! Thanks to the efforts of the Film Noir Foundation, this terrific 1950 film noir, the only American print of which was burned in a 2008 fire, has been rescued and restored to its original luster. Join the wild chase around San Francisco as a man goes into hiding after witnessing a gangland execution. Police bird-dog his wife Eleanor (Ann Sheridan), certain she’ll lead them to her husband, whose testimony against the killer could bring down a crime kingpin. But Eleanor and her hubbie are Splitsville—she never wants to see him again. When roguish newspaperman Danny Leggett (Dennis O’Keefe) charms Eleanor into helping him track down the hidden husband—there are unexpected, stunning, and poignant results. This nervy, shot-on-location thriller is a witty and wise look at the travails of romance and marriage, and perhaps the best cinematic depiction ever of mid-20th century San Francisco.
Kansas City Confidential – 1952, directed by Phil Karlson
Three convicts are contracted by a mysterious benefactor to pull a bank heist. The four men, having worn masks during the crime, are complete strangers and are anonymous to one another, but plan to meet up in Mexico to divvy up the loot. Part of their master plan is to frame the robbery on Joe Rolfe, an ex-con himself–but little do they know, Rolfe has convinced the police of his innocence and has now been hired to catch the true culprits.
–Joe, Adult Services & Acquisitions Librarian