Bleak times call for bleak movies so today we’re enlisting the help of some classic noirs to program another festival day. Fortunately, despite mostly having fairly depressing endings, these are all some of the most comforting films to watch if you’re anything like me. So sit back, relax, and watch some chain smoking gumshoes explore the seedy side of the world. [Henry Baime]
Noir films have a certain atmosphere to them that I just adore. Everything is so well put together and suave, almost to a comedic extent. While I’m perfectly aware that The Maltese Falcon is genuine in its execution, it has aged bizarrely. Case in point, Sam Spade’s refusal to emotionally acknowledge anything that’s happening around him as the mystery of the titular statuette becomes more and more twisted.
Despite modern sensibilities making films like these relics of a far gone time in the medium, The Maltese Falcon is still an incredible film. Humphrey Bogart is perfect as the cold and calculating detective, outwitting every opposition that comes his way. Mary Astor is also wonderful as O’Shaughnessy, a multi-faceted woman trying to get the falcon in any way that she can.
When you strip the film down to its parts, The Maltese Falcon makes for a wonderful comfort film with a tight mystery. It’s just a joy to watch as Bogart carries it the whole way through, every line delivered with a level of confidence and suave that is always magnetizing. A truly incredible film that is a distilled product of a bygone time, and simultaneously hasn’t aged a day. [Jen]
$2.99 to rent on VOD
Dial M for Murder may not technically qualify as a traditional film noir—though the plot centers around homicide, the tone is far from dour or cynical, and there’s no real mystery for the audience to unravel, as we’re kept in the loop with every development and turn—but as far as crime films go, this is the peak. It’s a fast-paced, ingenious, and most importantly, fun thriller that plays like an enthralling chess match. The narrative is intricate but avoids the usual tricks of misdirection and withholding information to keep the audience engaged; instead, we serve as an omniscient observer, watching the tightly-wound mechanics of the plot unfolding almost in real-time.
Hitchcock shoots the film, which takes place almost entirely in one location, with a sharp formal restraint. Rather than employing grandiose camerawork or adopting an excessive visual style to invigorate the dialogue-heavy narrative, he focuses on setting up the spatial geography of the apartment and maintaining continuity, trusting that the sublimely elaborate narrative alone will enrapture the audience. That’s not to say the film isn’t visually interesting, though; the colorful cinematography is vibrant, and the performances are pitch-perfect across the board. Beyond being Hitchcock’s best, it’s one of my favorite films of all time. [Kern Wheeling]
Available on Tubi, Hoopla, and Kanopy; $2.99 to rent on VOD
The film that established Billy Wilder as one of the greatest directors of his time, Double Indemnity is a magnificently twisted tale of a housewife who wishes her husband were dead and an insurance salesman who she encountered devising a plot to get rid of the husband by framing his murder as a suicide and cash a check for the big insurance payout. What first seemed to be the perfect murder soon begins to unravel as motives become clear and a brilliant insurance investigator begins to suspect foul play. Though it falls into many of the genre conventions (in some cases inventing them), and the trajectory is clear from the opening scene which includes a confession, it is all so expertly crafted that it always seems new and it would be impossible to turn away. Wilder certainly has one of the most impressive filmographies out there but this makes a serious claim to being his best. [Henry Baime]
Available on Starz and Kanopy; $2.99 to rent on VOD
Louis Malle is a director of great variety, from romance in The Lovers to surreal fantasy in Black Moon. Elevator to the Gallows is a shot at noir, and it’s a brilliant one. Exemplary editing holds it together, and it’s a fast paced story of a kill gone wrong. Jeanne Moreau stars as the mistress of a self-assured businessman played by Maurice Ronet, who has murdered his employer. His dead boss also happens to be the husband of Moreau’s Florence. It’s a frantic chase to deal with all the unforeseen complications of the kill, and it’s a stumbling descent into consequence.
The two lovers planned the murder together, but the love story is between the camera and Moreau. She glows as we dart through the streets of Paris at night, and the score by Miles Davis is a glimmer of light. The film is just as much her thoughts as it is an anatomy of a murder, and the iconic shot of her bathed in streetlamp light is even lovelier in motion. It’s the perfect murder immediately screwed up in the aftermath, and the elevator is literal, when Ronet’s Julian is trapped inside. The inevitability of the perfect plan being discovered afterwards is the stakes, not the accomplishment of said airtight plan, and that’s what makes it so interesting. [Sarah]
Available on the Criterion Channel; $3.99 to rent on VOD
Though all noirs explore the dark side of humanity, few do it as well Carol Reed’s 1949 classic, The Third Man, a film that finds Orson Welles, in probably his best role, profiting off of selling fake medicine to dying people in a Vienna ravaged by the Second World War. No matter which side of the war the characters here were on, no one is righteous now and everyone will stoop to the lowest of lows for some money. With a jaunty yet haunting score (now somewhat ruined for many by Spongebob), and a destroyed Vienna as the backdrop, The Third Man presents one of the most evocative portraits of the perpetual suffering that war leads to long after it ends and the true horrors people will gleefully engage in. The film is undeniably gloomy but Welles’ mustache twirling villainy is so laced with childlike impishness and the sewer chase is such an adrenaline rush that The Third Man manages to be fun at the same time. It’s a perfect film full of images that sear themselves in your brain and it ends with perhaps the greatest of final shots. [Henry Baime]
$2.99 to rent on VOD
Quarantine Film Fest alfred hitchcock billy wilder carol reed dial m for murder double indemnity elevator to the gallows humphrey bogart jeanne moreau john huston louis malle maurice ronet orson welles the maltese falcon the third man