Day Twenty-Three of Noirvember: Top Three in ’53

Earlier this month, as part of my campaign to point out first-rate noirs released in years other than the typically touted 1947, I spotlighted my top five film noir features from 1945. I’m continuing this effort for today’s Noirvember post, with my top three from 1953. It was a fun personal challenge to narrow my favorites to just three films, although I had to leave some really good ones by the wayside! Check out the other noirs released in that year and let me know what your top three would be!

The Big Heat

One of my favorite noirs of all time, this one was a no brainer for my list. The Big Heat stars Glenn Ford as police detective Dave Bannion, who finds that he’s not only up against local mobsters but his superiors as well when he tries to unearth the real story behind the suicide of a fellow officer.

Yet another reason to stay away from coffee.

Besides those famed scalding-hot-coffee-in-the-face scenes (yeow), I love The Big Heat for its variety of well-drawn characters. There’s Bannion’s tough, fearless, but damaged detective, who tamps down his grief over the murder of his wife in order to hunt down the man responsible. There’s Gloria Grahame’s Debby Marsh, a gangster’s moll who transformed from light-hearted golddigger to defeated victim to steely, mink coat-clad vigilante. Mike Lagana, played by Alexander Scourby as a syndicate boss whose refined exterior barely masked the scary, ruthless killer underneath. And giving Lagana a run for his money in the scary department, Jeannette Nolan turned in a flawless performance as Bertha

Duncan, the widow of the suicidal cop who had more guts than a bucket full of pig innards.

Favorite quote: “I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor. Believe me, rich is better.” – Debby Marsh (Gloria Grahame)

Wicked Woman

For sheer personal enjoyment, I had to include Wicked Woman as one of my top three picks. It’s no acclaimed classic like Double Indemnity (1944) or Out of the Past (1947), and its cast doesn’t feature any big name stars, but this 77-minute low-budget gem packs a wallop.

Seriously, you have to check out this movie.

The story is about Billie Nash, the dame of the title, played by the infinitely watchable Beverly Michaels (who happened to be married to the film’s director, Russell Rouse). Escaping via bus from a never-revealed past, Billie gets to where she’s going and finds herself part of a gritty quadrangle that includes Charlie Borg (Helton), a fellow dweller in her rooming house who gives new meaning to the word “creep”; Matt Bannister (Egan), owner of the bar where Billie finds work and the object of her none-too-subtle affections; and Matt’s wife, Dora (Evelyn Scott), a world-weary but good-hearted soul who just happens to be a drunk. From start to finish, Wicked Woman is a noir lover’s smorgasbord, overflowing with memorable lines, over-the-top performances, and a perfect ending. For me, watching this movie is like settling back with a bucket of buttered popcorn and a bag of Skittles – it may not be good for me, but I LOVE it!

Favorite quote: “That dinner don’t entitle you to no special favors, buster!” – Billie Nash (Beverly Michaels)

99 River Street

My final 1953 decision was a photo finish between two movies set on dark, shadowy boulevards – 99 River Street and Pickup on South Street. As much as I admire the latter, 99 River Street won out for one main reason: John Payne. Underrated and often overlooked, Payne was made for film noir. He had just the right combination of rugged but accessible good looks, take-no-crap toughness, and everyman vulnerability – all of which were on display in this feature.

Because John Payne.

In River Street, Payne is Ernie Driscoll, an ex-prize fighter turned cab driver who finds himself in a whole mess of trouble when his shrewish wife (excellently, if briefly, played by Peggie Castle) turns up dead in the back seat of his taxi. Supporting Ernie is his misadventures are a whole passel of memorable characters, including Linda James (Evelyn Keyes), an actress who helps Ernie hunt down the killers; Christopher (Jay Adler), the thoroughly terrifying head of a jewel fencing ring; and Mickey (Jack Lambert), Christopher’s uber-savage henchman. The film’s non-stop action is topped off by a socko climax at the waterfront location of the film’s title, where Ernie’s boxing prowess comes in handy in his quest to subdue the bad guys.

Favorite quote: “Rhinestones wrapped around a ten-dollar movement – they might be real if I hadn’t married a pug.” – Pauline Driscoll (Peggie Castle)

Join me tomorrow for Day 24 of Noirvember!

~ by shadowsandsatin on November 23, 2018.

4 Responses to “Day Twenty-Three of Noirvember: Top Three in ’53”

  1. I would’ve definitely cast a vote for Ida Lupino’s “The Hitch-Hiker”. William Talman scared the pants off of me!!

  2. You hit the trifecta with your picks. In THE BIG HEAT another good line is when Debbie tells Bertha, “We’re sisters of the mink”. And thanks for refreshing my memory with WICKED WOMAN. As Cookie in 77 SUNSET STRIP would say, “Baby, it’s the ginchiest”! Re: 99 RIVER STREET- Evelyn Keyes is an underrated actress.As well as this film she has great chemistry with Van Heflin in THE PROWLER. If you do 1951, I hope you include it.

  3. 99 River Street is a gem. Love the scene in the theatre where Evelyn practices her acting skills at John’s expense! And I agree with you about Wicked Woman. Ms. Michaels is magnificent!
    Looking at 1953 releases, lots of entertaining films that year. I’d include City That Never Sleeps with Gig Young.

  4. […] Day Twenty-Three: Top Three in ’53 […]

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