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Shooting My Credibility in the Foot: A Dozen Film Noir “Classics” I’m Not That Crazy About

Posted by martinteller on November 5, 2012

Here in the midst of Noir-vember, my thoughts have turned to the classics of the genre that for one reason or another, don’t “do it” for me.  These are films that are highly regarded, often ranked among the best noir has to offer.  Four of them are in Eddie Muller’s top 25 and that guy probably knows more about noir than anyone, ever.  I should say that with the exception of D.O.A., these are all movies I like to some degree.  But I don’t love them, not enough to put in my personal list of the top 100 noirs.

By posting this list, I run the risk of being thought of as not a true connoisseur of the genre… some may even say I don’t get it at all.  Most of these films I would like to see again, to keep trying to capture the magic that has worked on others.  Revisits of most or all of them will come in time (and some of them I actually have in my collection).

1. The Big Heat (seen: twice) – I love Gloria Grahame, but nothing else about this movie sticks with me.  There are a number of Fritz Lang noirs I think are better, richer.  Yet this seems to be the most respected one.  I do regret not buying the limited edition Blu-Ray, which now fetches pretty steep prices.  But I do own it (in a DVD box set), so maybe the third time will be the charm.

2. The Big Sleep (seen: twice) – When the average person thinks “film noir” this is probably one of the first handful of titles that comes to mind.  But I’ve just never gotten too excited about the Marlowe character, as iconic and central to the genre as he is.  And I have to admit, the incomprehensibility of the plot impedes my enjoyment.

3. Body and Soul (seen: once) – I’m probably being unfair in making comparisons, but to me this just doesn’t measure up to The Set-Up when it comes to boxing noirs.  It feels too formulaic to me, and the softened ending diminishes the impact.

4. Born to Kill (seen: twice) – Tierney’s great, supporting performances are fun, and there’s some enjoyable trashiness to it.  But I’ll just quote my last review: “On the whole it’s just too soapy, largely due to the terrible, string-heavy score and the upper-class setting…. a few of the scenes really sing, but a number of them come off as flat.”

5. D.O.A. (seen: once) – As I said in the intro, this is the only film on the list that I would say I “dislike” rather than “don’t love”.  However, I haven’t seen it since long before the noir bug bit me, so I definitely owe it a second look.  Perhaps the “horrible dialogue, pretty bad acting, and a convoluted plot” aren’t as bad as I thought at the time.

6. High Sierra (seen: twice) – It didn’t deserve the bad score I gave it the first time around.  But although it improved on my rewatch last year, it didn’t shoot up into the “love” region.  Not very stylish, and rather dull at times.

7. In a Lonely Place (seen: twice) – Of the films on this list, this is the one I like the most.  I have the DVD, I look forward to seeing it again.  But a lot of people whose opinions I respect hold it in very high regard, and I’m just not that enthusiastic about it.  It feels a bit slow to me and I dislike the score.

8. The Killers (seen: twice) – This was one of the very first noirs I ever saw.  At the time I said “I’m not a big noir guy” which now amuses me to no end.  I revisited it last year and bumped my rating up a notch, but besides the terrific cinematography it doesn’t push my buttons very much.

9. Kiss Me Deadly (seen: twice) – I actually own this on Blu-Ray.  Its odd, brutal charms have grown on me a bit, but not quite enough to push me over the top.  I think I need to view it in the right mindset, properly embracing Mike Hammer as an anti-hero.

10. The Prowler (seen: once) – I just don’t get why everyone seems to think this is the bee’s knees.  Maybe more than any other movie on this list, this is the one where I most feel like I’m missing the point.

11. The Reckless Moment (seen: once) – The characterizations really hampered my enjoyment.  Bennett is more idiotic than reckless, and the relationship with Mason didn’t feel genuine to me.

12. Scarlet Street (seen: once) – What soured this for me was having already seen Renoir’s witty adaptation of the same story, La Chienne.  Lang’s Hollywood-crippled rendition feels watered down by contrast.  A good movie, but one that suffers in comparison.

addendum 2/12/2013: Since writing this post, I have revisited Scarlet Street and would remove it from this list.  I don’t know if it would make my top 100 noirs, but it’s a lot better than I gave it credit for.  I would now replace it with Laura (see below).


Honorable mention #1: Laura (seen: twice) – This didn’t belong on the main list because it is in my top 100 noirs… right at the bottom.  When I revise the list — as I hope to do in about a month — it will probably drop off.  Again, this is one of the most iconic films of the genre, but it’s not seedy or raw enough for my tastes.  I like my noir with a little more zing.

Honorable mention #2: Sunset Blvd (seen: twice) – I really really enjoy this movie, and will be purchasing the Blu-Ray.  It’s just not very noir to me.

Feel free me to call me crazy, a Judas to the genre, or just plain wrong.  Or feel free to agree.  You can comment anonymously if you want 😉

6 Responses to “Shooting My Credibility in the Foot: A Dozen Film Noir “Classics” I’m Not That Crazy About”

  1. jared said

    Oddly, Ive never been all that big on the Bogart film noirs either and generally agree on all of those you listed.

    Only inclusion on the list that kind of ticks me off is Kiss Me Deadly.

    • I’m not big on Bogart’s noirs either. I LIKE him, but the only thing I truly love him in is Casablanca.

      Sorry that my inclusion of KMD ticks you off 😦 This type of list is kind of guaranteed to generate some dissent though.

      • jared said

        “Ticks me off” being in a polite movie disagreement way 🙂

        I suppose I actually really like the Maltese Falcon as far as Bogart noirs go (which you didnt list thankfully), but I think the supporting characters are the real draw there.

      • Agreed. I almost did include Maltese Falcon to be honest, just because I feel it’s a bit overhyped. Like Citizen Kane… it’s great and it’s influential, but it’s not a movie I get passionate about.

  2. Alan said

    Agree with pretty much all of your choices and points- Personal top Ten- Detour, Force of Evil, Nightmare Alley, Double indemnity, Lady from Shanghai, Lost Weekend, They Live by Night, Touch of Evil, Asphalt Jungle, Thieves Highway- Bogart’s best Noir (my own description and ridiculed by many ) was Treasure of Sierra Madre !, Check my blog at ‘Fragments of Noir’ and give me your opinion

    • I should be posting my top 100 noirs some time next month, but all of your top ten except Lost Weekend are on it. Most of them quite high (Double Indemnity #1, Nightmare Alley and Asphalt Jungle both top 10). My favorite Bogart noir is probably Dead Reckoning or Desperate Hours.

      I had to Google your blog (the link on your name didn’t work). I like it, very unusual!

      Thanks for commenting!

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