Although film noir has long been a source of fascination for film scholars, historians and aficionados of studio-era Hollywood cinema, the majority of writing on the genre remains focused on the same limited canon of well known titles—The Maltese Falcon, Out of the Past, The Killers, etc. And yet, unlike other dominant studio genres such as the musical or the Western, some of the most revealing examples of film noir lie not in the well-worn center, but rather at the further margins of the genre itself, in the lesser known and forgotten gems we have unearthed for this series.
While the selected films display film noir's signature chiaroscuro style and explore classic noir themes—cruel fatalism, the femme fatale, brutal violence—they also offer some of the more unexpected and inventive variations on noir concepts, revealing subtleties and complexity of the genre and leading us down dark, lonely streets where we’ve never been before.
Directed by John Berry.
With John Garfield, Shelley Winters, Wallace Ford
US 1951, 35mm, b/w, 77 min.
John Garfield delivers a magnificent, haunting performance in this, his last film, and one of his more difficult roles - a petty con grown numb to all emotion but fear and trapped in a miserable corner of his own making. Commanding a rare soulfulness from Shelly Winters, blacklisted director John Berry conjures the oppressive heat of a New York August to create an incredible, oppressive tension that carries the film to its unforgettable end. He Ran All the Way frighteningly echoes the terrible circumstances that led to Garfield's premature death by a stress-induced heart attack just days after the film's production ended and following his persecution for his Leftist leanings by both the FBI and the House Committee on Un-American Activities.
Directed by Cy Endfield.
With Frank Lovejoy, Lloyd Bridges, Kathleen Ryan
US 1950, 35mm, b/w, 92 min.
Like Fritz Lang’s Fury, Try and Get Me is a potent vision of an America ruled by mob mentality. U nemployed WWII veteran Howard Tyler ( Lovejoy), desperate to feed his family, falls in with a cold-blooded criminal (Bridges), but their spree of robberies soon turns to murder. The direction of young Communist Cy Endfield reveals a cool, clear rage at the economic and social injustices that are the nightmare behind the American dream. Shortly after this film, Enfield was blacklisted and spent the rest of his career in England. Bridges’ later career as a television star has obscured what a fine actor he was; here he is believably chilling as both predator and victim.
Directed by Joseph H. Lewis.
With Nina Foch, Dame May Witty, George Macready
US 1945, 35mm, b/w, 65 min.
This break-through feature from B-master Joseph H. Lewis (Gun Crazy, The Big Combo) serves as the missing link between the Gothic melodramas and thrillers popular in the early 1940s (Rebecca, Dragonwyck, The Uninvited) and the film noirs that followed closely on their heels. Nina Foch plays the title character, a hapless young woman lured to an Old Dark House by the promise of gainful employment only to find herself the prisoner of a family of criminal lunatics. Lewis directs the proceedings like a pulp version of Hitchcock, ably abetted by remarkable cinematographer Burnett Guffey’s use of claustrophobic lighting and expressionist shadows.
Directed by Jacques Tourneur.
With Aldo Ray, Anne Bancroft, Brian Keith
US 1957, 35mm, b/w, 78 min.
The dark romanticism of hard-boiled author David Goodis finds its ideal vehicle in Jacques Tourneur’s underappreciated and rarely screened film. An ad man (Ray) is on the lam for a crime he did not commit, tired of hiding out in the back alley world just off Hollywood Boulevard but too frightened to move. I nevitably, his past comes creeping silently up behind him and as it does, Tourneur leads us on a break neck chase for buried treasure, and away from a pair of ruthless killers. A breathtakingly young and gorgeous Anne Bancroft plays the girl who joins Ray for the ride.
Directed by Boris Ingster.
With Peter Lorre, John McGuire, Margaret Tallichet
US 1940, 35mm, b/w, 64 min.
A young man falsely accused of murder claims the secret to the crime lies with a stranger whom no one else has seen and who could very well be the figment of a nightmare hallucination or the result of a cruel joke. Peter Lorre plays the mysterious and possibly unreal stranger who lurks in the shadows of this little-known film, directed with remarkable visual flair by former Eisenstein colleague Boris Ingster and released one year before Huston’s The Maltese Falcon (typically named as the first film noir).
Directed by Irving Reis.
With Pat O'Brien, Claire Trevor, Herbert Marshall
US 1946, 35mm, b/w, 93 min.
Noir goes to the art museum in this thriller with a highbrow setting. The spirit of De Chirico haunts this wonderfully suspenseful and wholly unexpected film about an art detective gripped by the recurrent dream of a train wreck that seems to grow more and more real. As so often in noir, wartime trauma is evoked, this time as a possible solution for the protagonist’s apparently shaky sanity. Director Irving Reis was a pioneering early sound designer who worked with Orson Welles on The War of the Worlds and Citizen Kane, among other projects.
Directed by André de Toth.
With Dick Powell, Lizabeth Scott, Jane Wyatt
US 1948, 35mm, b/w, 87 min.
Bored with his job and his comfortable suburban existence, a married insurance adjuster ( Powell) begins an affair with a beautiful model ( Scott). This absorbing film noir was a particular favorite of novelist John O'Hara, who admired its fidelity to the speech, dress, manners and lifestyle of middle-class Americans in the post-WWII period. It also marks a high point in the career of the underappreciated, Hungarian-born André de Toth (ca. 1913-2002), an instinctive rebel who pushed the conventions of the American genre film to their limits with his uncompromising studies of human behavior. De Toth’s classic Westerns and film noirs influenced younger directors such as Martin Scorsese, who called him “a director's director.” Print from UCLA Film and Television Archive.
Directed by Felix Feist.
With Ruth Roman, Steve Cochran, Lurene Tuttle
US 1951, 35mm, b/w, 90 min.
Doomed lovers on the run are a quintessentially noir archetype, combining the American romance of the outlaw with the poignant appeal of redemptive love. A powerful and little known variation is provided by legendary B film director Felix Feist (Donovan’s Brain, The Devil Thumbs a Ride) in one of his more sensitive and revealing pictures. The great Steve Cochran stars as a lonely convict just out of the pen and disoriented by the harsh logic of the outside world. Brief solace is found in his friendship with a taxi dancer (Roman)-- until her ex-lover turns up dead and the blame falls, inevitably, upon the innocent man. Haunting images of postwar Americana are vividly evoked throughout the film as specters of the dream denied the young couple. Cut short by his premature death at age 48, Cochran’s fascinating career ranged from a Warner Bros. contract, where he was typically cast as a heavy (White Heat, Highway 301), to important roles in such classic films as Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives and, most notably, Antonioni’s Il Grido.
Directed by Phil Karlson.
With John Payne, Evelyn Keyes, Brad Dexter
US 1953, 35mm, b/w, 83 min.
John Payne stars in Phil Karlson’s two-fisted thriller as a down-on-his-luck boxer reduced to a night shift cab hack, the easy target of his disappointed wife’s enduring scorn. His wife’s sudden murder, in a dark fulfillment of his unspoken wish, only brings bigger problems as he must move quickly to clear his name while staying one step ahead of the law and the criminal underworld. Karlson’s direction is extremely lean and sophisticated, as he plays with a Chinese box structure of hidden perspectives and brilliantly stages one of the most unexpected and cruelest jokes in film noir. Little known today, John Payne was, like Dick Powell, an extremely popular song and dance man who grew tired of the sunny side of the street and rejected lucrative assignments to seek out tougher roles after the war.
Directed by Phil Karlson.
With Richard Conte, Dianne Foster, Kathryn Grant
US 1957, 35mm, b/w, 92 min.
Years before The Godfather, 1950s noir great Phil Karlson offered one of postwar Hollywood’s most powerful studies of syndicated crime as an extension and dark allegory for the American family. Richard Conte plays an ex-accountant for the mob who is lured back into the web of the criminal underworld by the mysterious disappearance of his younger brother. A loose adaptation of Georges Simenon’s eponymous novel, The Brothers Rico uses minimal means to evoke the cruel and omnipresent menace of organized crime and the spiraling paranoia of a man on the run.