It's dark outside and the streets are wet —it must be time to list the 10 best film noirs ever. So light a cigarette and see if you can pull off sporting a fedora, here's the list of the best film noirs.
- "The Maltese Falcon" This is generally considered the first and one of the best film noirs. It features Humphrey Bogart as hard-boiled detective Sam Spade, who's hired by a girl (trouble!) to investigate the disappearance of her sister. It goes downhill from there, eventually turning into a hunt for the titular MacGuffin that almost everyone in the movie wants to get their hands on.
- "Double Indemnity" One of the recurring themes of film noir (and there are many) is the femme fatale, which is Latin or something for "woman you should stay the hell away from but don't." And "Double Indemnity" has one of the deadliest females in all of film noir in the form of Phyllis Dietrichson, who tricks poor sap Walter Neff into killing her husband so they can collect the insurance money. If you didn't think the world of accident insurance could make for a suspenseful thriller—think again.
- "Le Corbeau" Most of the best film noirs are American by default, since the term was coined years after the fact when Hollywood crime thrillers were finally allowed to be viewed in France following Nazi occupation. But the French could sometimes beat America at its own game, as with this Occupation-era thriller about the hunt for a mysterious writer of poison-pen letters that was also banned by the Nazis because of its bleak and cynical point of view.
- "Scarlett Street" Is there a better cinematic shorthand for a man who is at the mercy of others than Edward G. Robinson in an apron? Fritz Lang directed many of the best film noirs and this is no exception—quite possible the legendary Robinson's greatest performance.
- "The Big Sleep" Many of the best film noirs aren't as concerned with plot as they are with style and mood. And since no one knows what the hell is going on in "The Big Sleep," it must be one of the best film noirs ever! And if you believe Hollywood lore, you also get to see the forty-something year-old Humphrey Bogart falling in love with the early-twenties Lauren Bacall. Romantic, and slightly creepy!
- "They Live By Night" It's hard being a young criminal, when your heart just isn't in it. This is one of the most heartbreaking and best film noirs, which is especially impressive since film noir isn't known for tugging on the heartstrings.
- "The Third Man" No, this has nothing to do with Jack White. It does have to do with Orson Welles as Harry Lime, that incorrigible cut-up who sells bad penicillin to hospitals, resulting in terrible medical damage for the children treated with it. That rascal!
- "Sunset Blvd." Hollywood is a dark and dangerous place, which makes it the perfect setting for a metafictional film noir about movies, jealousy, murder, and sex with a monkey.
- "Detour" Not all of the best film noirs had big stars and A-list budgets—in fact, few of them did. But "Detour" is micro-budgeted even by noir standards, and man, oh man is it a nasty little piece of work. You'll be captivated by the delirious parade of murders and deceit, and you might need a shower afterward.
- "Touch of Evil" This is often considered one of the best film noirs, and the last true one. It opens with a highly revered long-take that follows a car bomb from the point of installation in the back of a car to explosion a half-mile or so later. After that, it's a feverish murder mystery with a challenging plot and fantastic performances, even one from Charlton Heston as a Mexican police officer!
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