Day Eight of Noirvember: Top 10 Films Noirs of 1947
I’ve never actually done a year-by-year analysis of the features released during the classic noir period (I really will have to do that one day), so until I do, I’m buying into the 1947 hype. For today’s celebration of Noirvember, I’m offering up my Top 10 films of 1947 (in no particular order). Check ‘em out!
Out of the Past
This one is kind of a no-brainer. Frequently cited as the quintessential noir (although I beg to differ, because Double Indemnity, hello?), OOTP was a box-office hit that was described by one critic as a “taut and suspenseful melodrama” and hailed by another as “a flashy addition to the tough-guy archives.” Told mostly in flashback, the film focuses primarily on a triangle of love and murder involving private dick Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum), mobster Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas), and Whit’s duplicitous girlfriend Kathie Moffat (Jane Greer), for whom Jeff forms an irrevocable and, ultimately, fatal attraction.
Memorable quote: “You’re like a leaf that the wind blows from one gutter to another.” Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum)
This little-seen noir is one of my all-time favorites. It stars Kent Smith as Richard Talbot, a San Francisco doctor who puts a spark in his humdrum, regimented life when he falls for local nightclub singer Nora Prentiss (Ann Sheridan). When Nora gets fed up with being the other woman, Richard pulls out all the stops in his efforts to keep her in his life – and you’ve got to see it to believe what he comes up with! The film is the one I always have in mind when I say “they don’t make ‘em like they used to.”
Trivia tibit: According to popular columnist Sheilah Graham, Ann Sheridan suffered from an infection in one ear during the film’s production, and during the final shots of the feature, could only be filmed from one side.
Born to Kill
Described as a “homicidal drama strictly for the adult trade” and a “sexy, suggestive yarn of crime with punishment,” Born to Kill tells the doomed story of Helen Trent (Claire Trevor) and the aptly named Sam Wild (Lawrence Tierney), who meet on a train platform on their way to San Francisco. Helen is returning home after finalizing her divorce, and Sam is hightailing it out of town after murdering his girlfriend and the man he found her with. And that’s just the beginning! (And if you need a convincer to check out this film: Elisha Cook, Jr. That’s all I’m sayin’.)
Memorable quote: “As you grow older, you’ll discover that life is very much like coffee: the aroma is always better than the actuality.” Albert Arnett (Walter Slezak)
Set in a men’s prison, Brute Force focuses on the five inmates of one cell: Joe (Burt Lancaster), who turns to a life of crime to pay for the medical bills of his invalid girlfriend; Freshman (Jeff Corey), who meets a grisly fate when he double-crosses his pals; Spencer (John Hoyt), a suave gambler who’s lighthearted on the outside but steely on the inside; Soldier (Howard Duff), who dreams of returning to the small town in Italy where he left his wife during the war; and Tom (Whit Bissell), a mild-mannered bookkeeper whose devotion to his wife turns out to be his downfall.
Trivia tidbit: This film marked Howard Duff’s big screen debut, and in the opening credits he was listed as “Howard Duff: Radio’s ‘Sam Spade’” which was, up to then, his claim to fame.
Another little-known, all-time favorite, Desperate stars Steve Brodie as a newlywed truck driver with a baby on the way, who gets way more than he bargained for when he accepts a job hauling perishables for a boyhood friend, played with gleeful malice by Raymond Burr. Brodie’s loyal and ever-trusting wife is portayed by the lovely Audrey Long, who passed away just a few months ago at the age of 92. The film was one of several noirs directed by Anthony Mann, who also helmed such gems as T-Men, Raw Deal, and Border Incident.
Memorable quote: “I’m sorry I can’t give you a choice of food, Steve, but it won’t make much difference. You’re not going to live long enough to get any nourishment out of it.” Walt Radak (Raymond Burr)
Body and Soul
This gripping feature centers on Charlie Davis (John Garfield), who is determined to earn money for his family through the professional boxing game. He gradually works his way up to the top of his field, but at a price – he’s forced to fork over a large percentage of his earnings to a local gangster, his relationship with his long-time sweetheart is imperiled when he has an affair, and he becomes entangled in corruption when he’s ordered to throw an important fight. The film’s excellent cast includes Lilli Palmer, Anne Revere, and Canada Lee.
Trivia tidbit: Cinematographer James Wong Howe wore roller skates while he filmed the fight scenes; he held the camera and was pushed around the ring by an assistant.
Dick Powell plays the title character in this feature, a gambling casino owner described as the type of man who “looks at a situation, says, ‘what’s in it for me?’ and acts accordingly.” Dapper and devil-may-care, Johnny finds himself suspected of murder when a crooked cop and his naïve girlfriend turn up dead. Others in the cast are Evelyn Keyes as the dead girl’s sister, Thomas Gomez as Johnny’s partner, and Ellen Drew as Johnny’s one-time lover (who still carries a blazing torch).
Memorable quote: “I haven’t had enough tears – I want more. I want to be able to say, ‘Do you know who I’m crying for? Johnny O’Clock. You know who he was. The smartest man in the world. I know because he told me so. Johnny O’Clock’s no fool, he said.’ That’s why he’s dead. Because he’s no fool!’ Nancy Hobbs (Evelyn Keyes)
Kiss of Death
If you don’t know anything else about this film, you probably know that it’s the one in which Richard Widmark tosses a wheelchair-bound woman down a flight of steps, cackling maniacally the whole time. (And no many how many times you see it, it’s still a shocker.) The story centers on Nick Bianco (Victor Mature), a luckless, small-time hood who becomes a reluctant stool-pigeon in order to earn his release from prison and reclaim his two small daughters.
Trivia tidbit: Richard Widmark made his screen debut in Kiss of Death, playing the psychotic Tommy Udo. His performance earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor (he lost to Edmund Gwenn in Miracle on 34th Street.)
This outstanding film (and the subject of the 2012 “GIANT” Dark Pages issue) stars Tyrone Power as Stanton Carlisle, an unscrupulous carnival barker with aspirations of greatness. As the film unfolds, the carnival’s mélange of characters is introduced, including Zeena (Joan Blondell) and her alcoholic husband (Ian Keith), who perform a mind reading act; Bruno (Mike Mazurki), the dim-witted strongman; and Bruno’s girlfriend, Molly (Coleen Gray), who specializes in a sideshow attraction in which she appears to be infused with thousands of bolts of electricity.
Memorable quote: “I was made for it. The crowds, the noise…you see those yokels out there – it gives you a sort of superior feeling, as if you were in the know and they were on the outside looking in.” Stanton Carlisle (Tyrone Power)
This film opens in a courtroom where Larry Ballentine (Robert Young) is on trial for the murder of his wealthy wife. In flashback, as Larry tells his story, the film reveals the events that led to Larry’s arrest, showing him as a loafer who has married for money and who has no intention of forsaking his financial security for the sake of the ladies he continues to charm, including a New York magazine writer (Jane Greer) and a secretary in Los Angeles (Susan Hayward).
Memorable quote: “She looked like a very special kind of dynamite, neatly wrapped in nylon and silk. Only I wasn’t having any. I’d been too close to one explosion already. I was powder shy.” Larry Ballentine (Robert Young)
And that’s it! But the problem with Top Ten lists is that you have to stop at ten. So here are a few more for your consideration – I’ll call these Honorable Mentions:
The Devil Thumbs a Ride: Lawrence Tierney stars as a killer who terrorizes a traveling salesman who picks him up on the road.
Dead Reckoning: War hero Humphrey Bogart is determined to unearth the whereabouts of his missing combat buddy. Co-stars Lizabeth Scott.
The Unsuspected: Claude Rains is a radio personality who specializes in the dramatic re-telling of real-life crimes, and finds himself embroiled in a murder worthy of his radio show. With Audrey Totter, Joan Caufield, and Hurd Hatfield.
If you get a chance to see any of these features, don’t pass it up! You won’t be sorry.
Join me tomorrow for Day Nine of Noirvember!