For the sixth time now, my November is not Movember but Noirvember. The month in which to celebrate all that is noir, noirish, post-noir, proto-noir, colour noir, international noir.. any kind really. Film Noir may very well be my most favourite kind of style, genre, mood, or whatever you want to call it. I think it is because it is something intangible, something fluid, that it appeals to me so much. Nobody will ever quite agree on what film noir actually is, and that means for once, I, the film illiterate film enthusiast, get to decide which is which. I like to think that it really does not matter and that trying to define film noir by one beautiful and concise set of rules or definitions is a complete waste of time. It is not in the spirit of the month anyway to get stuck in an endless back and forth over whether or not film X is a [true] film noir or not.
Every November since 2016 I have tried to find a balanced diet of dark alleys, smoky cafés, black holes, and seducing female eyes. But also the occasional homme fatale, silent film, or modern era post-noir. For the last two years I have tried to watch some more international noir and post noir. If you’re looking to get into film noir, have a look at this list or this one. When you’re looking to dive deep, this list may be more useful to you. These are all of the movies I have watched in 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020. My favourite film noirs can be found over on my Flickchart. However it should be said that tagging movies as Film Noir is an impossible task, so the list is both incomplete and too long. Finally, I rarely re-watch movies, but every year I try to find one big title to watch again. Sometimes to give it a second chance, sometimes just for the joy of seeing it again. I have not decided on this year’s re-watch yet, but I’m eyeing the noir-ish The Night of the Hunter (1955) and / or The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946).
So far this year has been fine, but a little underwhelming. No real highs or lows, but a few slight disappointments. I guess it comes with watching more and more obscure movies every year. Nonetheless, I would like to highlight a few movies that I think deserve their neon signs lit. One classic noir, one neo noir, and one foreign language (post) noir.
A Colt Is My Passport (1967)
|Original title: Koruto wa ore no pasupooto|
|Rating: (3.5 / 5)|
|Director: Takashi Nomura|
|Duration: 84 min.|
|Genres: Action, Crime, Film Noir|
A Colt Is My Passport is what is called a Nikkatsu Noir, named after Japan’s oldest film studio that produced them. They made quite a few of them during the late 1950s and 1960s and so far all of them that I have seen are quite good. Criterion, on its Eclipse label, has bundled five of them together in a neat box set. Unless you’re into Pinku Eiga (NSFW), this is probably the last good thing they ever did at Nikkatsu, unfortunately. “Colt” is the last film in the Eclipse set, but it’s a great final entry. During a time when the Japanese New Wave was about at its peak, this movie remains quite normal. The movie tells the story of a hitman and his helper who are forced on the run after the assassination of a high up yakuza gang boss. They find themselves in a hideout, a room in a little motel near the ocean, when things go wrong. The film is shot in black and white and has some pretty nice action sequences.
A Woman’s Vengeance (1948)
|Original title: A Woman's Vengeance|
|Rating: (3.5 / 5)|
|Director: Zoltan Korda|
|Duration: 96 min.|
|Genres: Drama, Film Noir|
From the Japanese seaside to 1948 Hollywood. Henry, a bit of a French playboy type, is married to a sickly woman. Henry has culture, as they say, his wife does not. They do not seem to understand each other on an intellectual level, something Henry and his secretary do. You think you know where this is going? Think again, because on the side Henry is seeing another barely 18 year old girl, also of the uncultured variety, but she obviously has the looks to make up for it. That’s just how those things [don’t] work. The day after having had an argument, Henry’s wife dies, but it is blamed on her nurse who allowed her to eat something she wasn’t supposed to eat. Henry’s secretary is ready to throw herself at him, but Henry secretly marries the young girl instead. Insulted and humiliated, several things about Henry’s wife’s death are a little odd. Did he murder her? Aside from a standard opener, this movie is a look into the minds of the main players. There’s no real mystery here. It’s the journey that counts, not the destination.
As a fun side note, Ann Blyth, who plays the young wife in this movie is one of only a handful of actors from this era who are still alive today. Her most famous role is that of Veda Pierce, starring alongside Joan Crawford in one of Film Noir’s all time greats, Mildred Pierce (1945). She also plays smaller parts in other noirs, such as Brute Force (1947) and Thunder on the Hill (1951).
|Original title: Hammett|
|Rating: (3.5 / 5)|
|Director: Wim Wenders|
|Duration: 97 min.|
|Genres: Crime, Drama, Film Noir, Mystery|
Hammett, Dashiell Hammett. Likely one of the greatest contributors to Film Noir to ever have lived. He wrote novels, pulp fiction, short stories.. anything. We can thank him for The Thin Man, not quite noir but it leads up to his greatest work, The Maltese Falcon. So great that the 1941 version we all know is actually a remake. If we’re feeling inclusive and count Satan Met a Lady, it is actually the third incarnation of the story. He also wrote The Glass Key (also filmed twice) and proto-noir City Streets from 1931. But these are all things that Dashiell Hammett actually did. What he didn’t do was to have anything to do with the 1982 movie Hammett. The main character is a fictionalized version of the real Hammett, but none of the things that happen actually happened.
So what didn’t actually happen then? Hammett has moved on from his life of sleuthing to establish himself as a writer. He’s a heavy smoker and drinker, something the professions of noir private eye and writer have in common. When the film starts he is writing the script for a new novel. One day he is visited by an old friend from his detecting days, and before he knows it he is searching Chinatown for a young Chinese girl. His old friend goes missing and he loses his script. He is being followed by some shady character, and people even end up dead. Before he knows it he is in way over his head. And like any sensible film noir character (none, ever), whenever he is offered a way out, he isn’t going to take it.
Hammett features a film noir staple in Elisha Cook Jr. He’s obviously no longer his young self, and instead is playing a cab driver who keeps popping up to transport people around San Francisco. Back in the days, Elisha Cook Jr. was known for playing the sucker crooks, hopeless saps, or when he held a job it would be as a bell boy or waiter or something at the lowest rung of the social ladder. He was great at playing this type of supporting role and for that reason I’m always happy when I see his name pop up in the credits. He’s become a personal favourite over the years. Other names from classic Hollywood who make an appearance are Sylvia Sidney and Samuel Fuller, who usually directs movies instead of playing in them.
That’s the perfect bridge to the final bit of this post. It wasn’t going to be there, but I kind of forgot to finish up writing the thing and as such ended up seeing several other movies. The latest one, and my favourite of the month so far, is way over the top post-noir Shock Corridor (1963). It is directed by, you guessed it, Samuel Fuller. His Pickup on South Street (1953) and Park Row (1952) are terrific classic film noirs to watch as well. I hope you are inspired to enjoy some great classic movies, and I hope I could help with these suggestions. Or if you’re a newcomer, do check out some of the all time greats from one of the linked lists. I wish you all a great Noirvember!