Better late than really, really late, I sometimes say.
Back in 2011, in response to a request from one of my readers, I offered up part I of my Top 10 Films Noirs. I acknowledged that I have a great many favorite noir features, and I shared my plans to return soon with my next set of Top 10.
Well, three years later, I’m finally getting around to compiling my next phase of top noirs – for today’s celebration of Noirvember, I’m offering up my next five faves.
Peggy Cummins and John Dahl show us what it means to be Gun Crazy.
1. Gun Crazy
First of all, how I left this film off my first list, I have no idea. Gun Crazy depicts the story of Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins) and Bart Tare (John Dahl), “star-crossed” lovers who embark on a crime spree, inextricably bound by their affinity for firearms and their obsession with each other.
Favorite scene: There are SO many to choose from, but I’m going to pick the one where Cummins convinces the straight-laced Dahl to buy into her plan for generating income – through the time-honored strategy of armed robbery. Bart is understandably reluctant to make this leap; but when Cummins offers Dahl “one last kiss,” he’s all “Where’s the nearest bank?”
Favorite quote: “We go together, Annie. I don’t know why – maybe like guns and ammunition go together.” – Bart Tare (John Dahl)
These two put the cross in Criss Cross. (Or something like that.)
2. Criss Cross
Another undeniable, often-seen favorite. Criss Cross has an awesome cast that includes Burt Lancaster, Yvonne DeCarlo, and Dan Duryea; all the noir characteristics you could want, from flashbacks to a dyed-in-the-wool femme fatale; and first-rate direction by Robert Siodmak. Not to mention a great story involving a dangerous love triangle, an intricate payroll heist, and lots of mendacity. If you know what I mean.
Favorite scene: I love the scene where Dan Duryea discovers his wife, Yvonne DeCarlo, in the house alone with Burt Lancaster, her former (and once again) lover. Rather than start swinging or pull his gat on the duo, Duryea calmly helps himself to a beer, and observes that “it don’t look right.” You can carve up the tension with a machete.
Favorite quote: “I should’ve been a better friend. I shoulda stopped you. I shoulda grabbed you by the neck, I shoulda kicked your teeth in. I’m sorry Steve.” – Lt. Pete Ramirez (Steven McNally)
3. The Big Combo
Richard Conte. I mean, really, what more needs to be said? He portrays the head of a crime syndicate and Cornel Wilde is on hand as his indefatigable nemesis. The plot is typically complex, but it boils down to Wilde’s dogged determination to nab Conte for murder and his concomitant obsession with Conte’s girlfriend (played by Wilde’s real-life wife, Jean Wallace). The great supporting cast also includes Lee Van Cleef, Earl Holliman, Jay Adler, Helen Walker, Ted deCorsia, and John Hoyt. Talk about an embarrassment of riches!
Favorite scene: There’s a scene where Conte spits out a serious of nasty lines at Wilde, and the whole time, he not only has his back to Wilde, but he speaks to Wilde through his right-hand man and chief flunky, Brian Donlevy. The whole scene is like one giant slap in the face. Oh, Wilde tries valiantly with a couple of lame comebacks, but he’s woefully outmatched.
Favorite quote: “Joe – tell the man I’m going to break him so fast he won’t have time to change his pants. Tell him the next time I see him he’ll be down in the lobby of the hotel crying like a baby and asking for a ten dollar loan. Tell him that. And tell him I don’t break my word.” Mr. Brown (Richard Conte)
Ford and Hayworth strike a steamy pose.
It’s not necessarily the quintessential noir, but it sure is good. (In fact, I happen to be in the throes of a Gilda obsession right now – as I write this, I’m watching it for the fifth time in three days. Put the blame on Mame!) Rita Hayworth gives the performance of her career, as a good-time girl who marries a wealthy and powerful casino owner (George Macready), only to discover that she’s still in love with her old flame (Glenn Ford).
Favorite scene: I thought this would be a hard decision, but it’s got to be the scene where we first see Gilda – the scene where Glenn Ford learns that his boss has married his former lover. Both Hayworth and Ford conceal the fact that they know each other, but they converse in such nice-nasty tones, and with such poison-tinged smiles on their lips, Macready would have to be blind and deaf not to know that something was up.
Favorite quote: “I hate you so much that I would destroy myself to take you down with me.” Gilda (Rita Hayworth)
“If he’d bawl me out, I might like him better.”
5. Scarlet Street
Directed by Fritz Lang, Scarlet Street stars Edward G. Robinson as a hen-pecked, would-be artist who gets way more than he bargained for when he falls for Joan Bennett, a no-good dame he meets on the street after rescuing her from a beating delivered by her boyfriend (Dan Duryea). It’s got lots of twists and turns that you’ll never see coming, and an ending that’s arguably one of noir’s best.
Favorite scene: I like the scene that illuminates the characters played by Bennett and Duryea. Bennett is slovenly and slothful, laying around the house in her bathrobe in the middle of the day, spitting grape seeds onto the floor, and tossing garbage into the sink atop dirty dishes. But she’s crazy about Duryea, who’s a bully and an opportunist, willing to pimp his girlfriend out to Edward G. Robinson so he can get to “Easy Street.”
Favorite quote: “If he were mean or vicious, or if he’d bawl me out or something, I’d like him better.” Kitty March (Joan Bennett)
Stay tuned for my next Top 5 noirs, and join me tomorrow for day 23 of Noirvember!