Top 6: Film Noir

Posted in Top 6 at 4:59 am by Sam

For Episode 41’s Top 6 segment, we tried to pick the best six films noir. We covered film noir back in Episode 20, and here is a loosely connected continuation of that discussion. As it turned out, though, neither one of us could choose how to prune down the possibilities — there are just too many great ones — and so Sam restricted himself to only choosing classic noir films and still wound up with seven, and Stephen gave up trying to rank the movies and just contented himself with picking six great films representative of the genre.

What are your favorites?

As always, we recommend listening to the episode before reading further.

  1. Double Indemnity (1944)
  2. Chinatown (1974)
  3. The Maltese Falcon (1941)
  4. Dark City (1998)
  5. Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
  6. Body Heat (1981)
  1. Double Indemnity (1944)
  2. The Big Sleep (1946) / Sweet Smell of Success (1957)
  3. The Maltese Falcon (1941)
  4. Notorious (1946)
  5. Laura (1944)
  6. Mildred Pierce (1945)


  1. Jeffrey (84) said,

    July 10, 2007 at 11:33 am

    Great lists although possible contenders would be Kiss Me Deadly, The Big Combo, Touch of Evil, Gilda, They Live By Night, Nightmare Alley, They Drive By Night, The Postman Always Rings Twice, Detour, The Killers and if it counts The Night of the Hunter.
    Honourable mentions to My Favorite Brunette and Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid. :-)

  2. Sam (405) said,

    July 10, 2007 at 12:50 pm

    I take issue with Detour — it’s absurdly overrated by critics trying to earn a badge of prestige by “rediscovering” the misunderstood genius of some cheap B movie — but the others you list are great picks. This was easily the hardest Top 6 list to prune down. I started with a field of roughly 60 titles to try to prune down, and culling through them was downright painful. How do you talk about the best noir movies and not mention Out of the Past, The Killers, Gun Crazy, or Ace In the Hole?

    Since recording the segment, I’ve second guessed my Mildred Pierce pick a gazillion times, because it was a multi-way tie, and I don’t even remember how I broke it. I should have broken it differently, though, if only because when I started to talk about it, I realized I didn’t have a whole lot to say.

    I also regretted including Notorious, not because it’s not worthy, but Stephen was right to question its status as a noir. It’s on the edge, and I think it was fair game, but if I had set my boundaries narrower, it would have been easier to narrow the list down. Actually, I think that might have been my plan, because I think the reason I mistakenly wound up with seven titles is that I put one in to replace Notorious, then forgot to delete Notorious from my notes. But hey, this way a great movie gets an extra plug, so no big deal.

  3. siochembio (82) said,

    July 10, 2007 at 3:23 pm

    What makes Notorious eligible for “noir-ish” status is, to me, the Devlin character and the relationship between him and Ingrid Bergman. Devlin, though he loves Alicia (apparently), he is nearly incapable of expressing it and it leads him to treat her like dirt for most of the movie. The relationship is bordering on sado-masochism, and this extreme (for the time) perversity makes me consider it “noir-ish.” No, it’s not a true noir because the hero does not succumb to his weakness, but the hero is barely a hero, and THAT is noir.

    I really need to see Chinatown.

  4. joem18b (231) said,

    July 10, 2007 at 4:26 pm

    Not to be a nitpicker, but Notorious isn’t a war movie, it’s a post-war movie. The Nazies are exiles in South America after the war ends. But still nefarious…

  5. Jeffrey (84) said,

    July 11, 2007 at 10:40 am

    Can’t believe I missed out Sunset Boulevard, that’s easily my number 1 pick. I also like DOA, The Killing, Gun Crazy, In a Lonely Place, The Narrow Margin, Angel Face, Stranger on the Third Floor and The Lady from Shanghai.

    Neo noirs I would choose are The Long Goodbye, The Grifters, The Last Seduction, Brick, Sin City, LA Confidential and Point Blank.

  6. joem18b (231) said,

    July 11, 2007 at 12:56 pm

    I liked these but don’t see them mentioned much:

    The Box (2003) - Classic noir. James Russo is the basic, ravaged, perservering, doomed hero.

    King of the Ants (2003) - I’m calling this neo-noir because holy cow it’s dark, and the young protagonist out of the blue signs up to kill a man in his kitchen for 13K. George Wendt as a Coenesque John Goodman character. Kari Wuhrer the femme fatale.

    Following (1998) - This one does get mentioned.

  7. Stephen (221) said,

    July 11, 2007 at 11:11 pm

    Jeffrey mentioned Brick, which I hadn’t seen when we recorded this list, and I want to second it as a very interesting flick. It wouldn’t make my list, but it’s extremely cool. It’s an updating of the classic hard boiled / noir stuff, but set in a modern day high school. All of the characters are students but the dialog is practically out of Chandler. It’s a trip and a neat movie.

    LA Confidential was on my short list, and I don’t think Sin City really counts as a noir. I love it, but I have no idea how to categorize it.

  8. Jeffrey (84) said,

    July 13, 2007 at 11:58 am

    The writer/director of Brick, Rian Johnson, was actually inspired by the works of Dashiel Hammett:

  9. Ferrick (140) said,

    July 17, 2007 at 5:10 pm

    What about a movie like Blade Runner? Neo-Noir? Too Sci-Fi?

  10. JoAnneThrax (4) said,

    July 23, 2007 at 1:56 pm

    “Blade Runner” is definitely not Noir. It lifts plenty of Noir elements in it’s design, but it takes more than that to be Noir. It annoys me no end when people list it as one of the “best noir” pictures. There are plenty of other, more appropriate, categories it can be the best of…

  11. Stephen (221) said,

    July 23, 2007 at 2:54 pm

    So, JoAnneThrax, what does it take to be noir? I think that defining noir is such a tricky thing that I would be hesitant to categorically rule out such a noirish film.

  12. Ferrick (140) said,

    July 23, 2007 at 5:30 pm

    And that’s why I ask. It seems like categorizing Noir is almost not possible. Maybe it is Noir if it feels like Noir and that is enough. But if someone can break it down, it would be nice.

    A lot of Noir is based on Hard-Boiled Crime/Detective stories. So, does it feel like that?

    For me, Blade Runner is Sci-Fi, obviously, but it also feels like Noir. A lot of Philip Dick’s stories have Noir feel in them but they are definitely Sci-Fi first.

    You obviously don’t find a Noir section your local Blockbuster (you don’t find me there either so maybe I’m Noir).

  13. joem18b (231) said,

    July 23, 2007 at 5:53 pm

    Head-scratchin about this on Episode 6 of “Out of the Past” podcast: http://outofthepast.libsyn.com/index.php?post_id=19057

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