Staff Picks: Noirvember
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Feature Presentation’s Staff Picks is not a best-of list. How do you even craft a list of the best of something as subjective as film? This is a list designed to highlight films (and occasionally television shows or other mediums of entertainment) of a certain theme or topic. It’s a watchlist, they are suggestions. Movies on this list will very in quality, length, genre, and home video or streaming availability.
This list’s theme: Film Noir
This Gun for Hire (1942)
Sadistic killer-for-hire Raven becomes enraged when his latest job is paid off in marked bills. Vowing to track down his double-crossing boss, nightclub executive Gates, Raven sits beside Gates’ lovely new employee, Ellen, on a train out of town. Although Ellen is engaged to marry the police lieutenant who’s hunting down Raven, she decides to try and set the misguided hit man straight as he hides from the cops and plots his revenge.
Let's start with some Noir 101.
Alan Ladd, in the role that broke him out of bit parts and made him a legend of film noir.
Veronica Lake, the femme fatale.
Based on a novel, A Gun For Sale - an equally great title.
San Francisco. An innocent man. Assassins. Marked bills. Double-crossing. Revenge. Nightclubs. Shaky ethics. Emotional brutality.
It also has a crackerjack script, its own Screenwriting 101 course on how to cut all fat and make every single thing on the page matter over the course of the picture.
If you're on this list for all-time classics of the noir "genre," this will be the only entry. But if you need that, it's a good place to start. If you're already an expert but missed this essential entry, you can't look it over anymore.
A college student gets deeper and deeper in trouble when he takes a loan from a shady college professor.
All of the best noir films could be called Crime and Punishment.
Unfortunately, Fyodor Dostoevsky took that title in 1866, so the next best option is to rip off his morality tale for a sloppy B-picture - right?
Some may disagree, as this 68 minuter from Poverty Row slaps together the basic elements of the novel to then take it all back (it was all dream!) in the film's frustrating film minutes.
However, it takes what it needs from Dostoevsky to make it a textbook noir film: the alienated loser, the mistrust, the bleakness, the anxiety, the crime, the punishment...sort of.
If my AP Literature teacher had told me that Crime and Punishment was all of those things and more, I probably would have paid attention and actually read the novel.
Let's be honest, she probably did. I just didn't listen.
The Big Clock (1948)
Stroud, a crime magazine’s crusading editor has to post-pone a vacation with his wife, again, when a glamorous blonde is murdered and he is assigned by his publishing boss Janoth to find the killer. As the investigation proceeds to its conclusion, Stroud must try to disrupt his ordinarily brilliant investigative team as they increasingly build evidence (albeit wrong) that he is the killer.
The Big Clock stars Ray Milland and Charles Laughton.
This murder mystery with noir overtones is the very best of the cat-and-mouse thriller. When a wrong man on the run is tasked with hunting down himself by the man who actually committed the crime, the manhunt has nothing to do with facts or motives, it's just about getting justice - and the flashy headlines to match.
Milland is great, as he is to do - but the real showstopper is Laughton as a Charles Foster Kane-esque magnate (Musk? Bezos?) who cares about few things that don't involve money.
It's tight (courtesy of a literal ticking clock), effective, and surprisingly funny thanks to both Laughton and real-life wife Elsa Lanchester (of titular Bride of Frankenstein fame), who's a real standout.
Remade in 1987 as No Way Out with Costner and Hackman.
When investigative reporter Irwin “Fletch” Fletcher goes undercover to write a piece on the drug trade at a local beach, he’s approached by wealthy businessman Alan Stanwyk, who offers him $50,000 to murder him. With sarcastic wit and a knack for disguises, Fletch sets out to uncover Stanwyk’s story.
I had to include something a little funky here and nothing says unconventional like Chevy Chase on a film noir list.
But I love Chevy and you can't stop me.
I know that many people find him obnoxious, or find his real-life counterpart to be eerily similar to the asshats he often plays, or there's some combination of the two that turns you off. I get it.
But ever since I was little, I've loved his dry wit and sarcastic eyes. Something about him just makes me giggle. So this role, where he plays a deadbeat features reporter/master of disguise/curiosities-can-kill-the-cat prime example, really tickles me. The jokes are a mile a minute in this noir-inspired mystery with legitimate mystery. We've got the classic unlikeable protagonist, heavy narration, what's essentially a femme fatale, and more of those tropes that we love in a Chevy comedy where he gets to do what he does best.
A sequel in 1989, Fletch Lives, was recently followed by a legasequel, Confess, Fletch, this year starring Jon Hamm.
Credit: Each plot synopsis comes from Letterboxd via TMDb.
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