List o’ the Week: The Toughest Men and Women of Film Noir
There are lots of ways to define the word “tough.” Strong and resilient. Physically hardy. Hard to cut or chew! But in the film noir realm, the “tough” description takes on a whole ‘nother meaning, giving us characters who are ruthlessly determined, relentlessly hard-boiled, fearless, callous, and willing to do whatever it takes to get whatever they want. It’s one of the things I love most about film noir.
This week’s list celebrates the toughest dames, dicks, gunsels and dolls of film noir. Read on and see if your favorites are here!
Ida Lupino: Hard-boiled tough. It was all in her attitude . . . she could cut you down to size with a few choice words, and slap you with a smile on her face. See Road House, While the City Sleeps
Dick Powell: Smooth tough. Always cool, always unflappable. See Johnny O’Clock , Cry Danger
Claire Trevor: Refined tough. Like a lump of coal polished into a diamond, she glittered on the outside, but was rock-hard on the inside. See Murder, My Sweet, Born to Kill
Sterling Hayden: Stoic tough. Life was serious business for this tough guy. (I mean, really – did he ever smile?) See The Asphalt Jungle, Crime Wave
Marie Windsor: Steely tough. She was as hard as nails and sharp as a razor. See The Narrow Margin, The Killing
Robert Ryan: Quietly tough. He didn’t have to raise his voice to make his intentions known or his expectations understood. See The Racket, Act of Violence
Barbara Stanwyck: Icy tough. With one chilly glance, she could reduce a man (or woman!) to a puddle. See Double Indemnity, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers
Charles McGraw: Relentlessly tough. Never gave up, never gave in, never gave an inch. See Loophole, The Narrow Margin
Audrey Totter: Tough bitch. Her toughness was tinged with a surly sense of entitlement and disdain. See Tension, The Unsuspected
Richard Widmark: Psycho tough. Whether motivated by monetary greed or desire for a woman, he could be a more than a little wacky. See Road House, Kiss of Death
Gloria Grahame: Sultry tough. Using her sensuous means to justify the nefarious ends. See Human Desire, Sudden Fear
Dan Duryea: Wily tough. Always thinking, scheming, maneuvering, and plotting. See Scarlet Street, Too Late for Tears
Hope Emerson: Imposing tough. Her inner fortitude was backed up by her massive size and her willingness to use it to her best advantage. See Caged, Cry of the City
Richard Conte: Arrogant tough. Was there anyone who thought more of himself and his impact on others than a Conte character? (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) See The Big Combo, New York Confidential
Helen Walker: Sociopathic tough. Her motivations were a little on the socially deviant side. See Impact, Nightmare Alley
Robert Mitchum: Vulnerable tough. Like Kryptonite to Superman, his toughness could always (temporarily, at least) be weakened by a woman. See Out of the Past, Angel Face
Lizabeth Scott: Streetwise tough. Despite her veneer, she gave the impression that she was from the other side of the tracks. See The Racket, I Walk Alone
Humphrey Bogart: Morally tough. Displaying a set of principles that were often lacking in the tough. See The Maltese Falcon, Dead Reckoning
Joan Crawford: Cultivated tough. She displayed a toughness that was initially dormant, but blossomed out of necessity. See The Damned Don’t Cry, Mildred Pierce
Lee J. Cobb: Loud tough. His bellowing and blustering provided an exclamation point to his toughness. See The Garment Jungle, Thieves’ Highway
So, that’s my list of noir’s toughest! Who’s on your list of favorite tough guys and gals?