30 Overlooked Noir Films That Are Worth Watching

11. A Double Life (1947)

A Double Life (1947)

Respected stage veteran Anthony John (Ronald Colman) tackles his greatest role yet – Othello. However, after starring in a long production portraying a jealous murderer, the character starts affecting his mind and his behaviour which changes the way he acts around others off-stage.

The film predictably contains many scenes from Shakespeare’s play. Roland Colman was anxious of tackling Shakespeare so director George Cukor shot the Othello scenes separately and in the order of the play to make him more comfortable.

Scenes where he struggles with his persona perhaps haven’t aged as well, but it is worth watching just for Colman’s sake. He was the second choice for the role after Laurence Olivier who was unavailable. Colman was rewarded for his performance as he won the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role in 1948.

The film also did well, winning another Oscar for Best Music. Cukor also received a nomination for Direction and Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon received nominations for Writing. The film also competed for an international prize at The Venice Film Festival that year


12. Crossfire (1947)

Crossfire (1947)

A man lies murdered in a hotel room. The suspects are three soldiers one of whom is missing. A police detective goes after all three, determined to find the killer. However, the reason for the murder will unpleasantly surprise everyone.

Described as more of a message film than a noir thriller, It was the first B-movie and one of the few noirs ever to receive a Best Picture nomination, the film did well critically and financially, winning a special award at Cannes in 1947 and was nominated for the BAFTA award for best film in 1949 and for five Academy Awards in 1948, including a best supporting actor nomination for Robert Ryan which would unfortunately be the only nomination he ever received.

Like Gentleman’s Agreement (1947) which won the Oscar for Best Picture that year, the film deals with bigotry. The film was based on the novel The Brick Foxhole by Richard Brooks where the focus was on homophobia, this subject was changed for the film. The film was directed by Edward Dmytryk.


13. Call Northside 777 (1948)

Call Northside 777 (1948)

Chicago reporter P.J. McNeal (James Stewart) re-investigates an eleven year murder case where two men were sentenced to life imprisonment for killing a cop in the prohibition era.

Known and loved for playing struggling middle class Americans, Stewart had just starred in the now classic It’s a Wonderful Life. He, however, chose to go against type and play the persistent and cynical reporter P.J. McNeal.

Many purists may not classify the film as a complete noir. One of the main reasons being its documentary style presentation as it is based on a true story. Also, it was the very first Hollywood produced feature film which was shot entirely on location in Chicago, which adds to its documentary feel.

Directed by Henry Hathaway who had made quite a few well received but unpopular noirs, the film was based on Newspaper articles by James P. McGuire and Jack McPhaul.


14. The Big Clock (1948)

The Big Clock (1948)

George Stroud (Ray Millannd), editor-in-chief of a crime magazine, wakes up after a night of drinking, only to find himself framed for murder.

George Stroud works for Earl Janoth (played by Charles Laughton) who does what he does best, playing a tyrannical, domineering man hated by all his employers and his wife.

Filled with fluid camera work and complicated long shots as seen in the opening, the film was directed by John Farrow and written by Jonathan Latimer based on the novel The Big Clock by Kenneth Fearing. In spite of its fine writing, the film was ignored by the Academy.


15. Force of Evil (1948)

Force of Evil

Ambitious lawyer Joe Morse (John Garfield) works with his powerful gangster employer to control the numbers racket in their city. The film then goes on to show the relationship between Joe and his estranged brother Leo (Thomas Gomez) who happens to run one of these rackets.

A noir like no other, the movie is directed and co-written by Abraham Polonsky whose career was completely destroyed because of the blacklisting in the 1950’s. Polonsky’s career never did recover and he only worked in the film Industry again twenty years later.

The film will be remembered for its poetic dialogue written by Polonsky who based the screenplay on the novel Tucker’s People by Ira Wolfert who also receives a writing credit. The dialogue has a singsongy feel which is brilliantly delivered by the actors, most notably during the heated exchanges between Joe and Leo.

John Garfield excels in playing a determined man who will do anything to reach his goal except crossing over the only man who helped him become what he is today, his brother Leo (played to perfection by Thomas Gomez).

Largely classified as a B gangster picture in America, it was lauded in Europe and has since been re-evaluated as a classic of the genre and as an American masterpiece when it was preserved in the United States National Film Registry in 1994.

It has since inspired many filmmakers, most notably Martin Scorsese. Here is a video of him on the film.


16. The Window (1949)

The Window (1949)

A take on The Boy Who Cried Wolf from Aesop’s Fables; because of the summer heat, Tommy, a young boy decides to sleep on the fire escape. There, he witnesses a murder. No one however believes him because of his habit of crying wolf.

Written by Mel Dinelli and Cornell Woolrich, directed by Oscar nominated cinematographer Ted Tetzlaff who is most well known for his work on Hitchcock’s Notorious, the film was shot in New York’s Lower East side, giving Tetzlaff lots of scope to show the gritty side of the city that never sleeps. Tension is built throughout with Tommy telling everyone his story while no one believes him. The risk is the murderer might overhear him.

Nominated for best film at the 1950 BAFTA awards and remade at least three more times, it proves that the film holds up well even today.


17. Caught (1949)

Caught (1949)

Smith Ohlrig (Robert Ryan) marries model Leonora Eames (Barbara Bel Geddes) just to prove his psychiatrist wrong. Leonora, a young innocent girl from Denver, immediately regrets her decision of marrying the psychotic millionaire and looks for a way out.

The film marks the Hollywood debut of James Mason and is full of brilliant performances, with Ryan who plays a charmless uncharismatic millionaire who loves his pinball machine more than his wife. Bel Geddes, also starring in one of her first roles, plays a trademark Ophüls character. Special mention must also go German actor Curt Bois who is onscreen for less than 10 minutes, but leaves a lasting impression.

The film also batters various believes of 40’s America including the belief of a woman being second to a man and the belief that the only reason for a woman’s existence is to marry a rich man.

The film is based on the novel Wild Calendar by Libbie Block. Block based Ohlrig on the self-obsessed Howard Hughes, a characterisation further exaggerated by director Max Ophüls in the film.


18. The Reckless Moment (1949)

The Reckless Moment (1949)

A housewife does all she can to protect her supposedly guilty daughter from a police investigation which is being undertaken due to a crime that occurred close to their area. Matters are further complicated when she is blackmailed.

Filled with director Max Ophüls’ famous sweeping camera movements, whose influence can be seen today in Paul Thomas Anderson’s films, the film is also shown from the female’s (Joan Bennett) point of view, another one of Ophüls’ trademarks.

The film however goes on to become more of a romantic melodrama, having just a few things common with a trademark noir.

This was the last film directed by Ophüls before he returned to Europe to start the most significant run of his career. The film was based on the novel The Blank Wall which also served as the source material for 2001’s much darker and sexual The Deep End.


19. The Set-Up (1949)

The Set-Up (1949)

There have been many noirs dealing with the life of a boxer. Body and Soul (1947) received three nominations and won one Academy Award and was also the first collaboration between John Garfield and Abraham Polonsky. Kirk Douglas starring Champion (1949) won one and was nominated for six Oscars and the Golden Lion at The Venice Film Festival in 1949.

Stoker Thompson (played by the always reliable Robert Ryan) is a boxer past his prime. His manager knows that he will lose and accepts money for a ‘dive’ from a powerful gangster. He, however, doesn’t tell Stoker about the set-up.

The entire film is shown in real time with no flashbacks or daydream sequences. The boxing scenes are as gritty and realistic as they come as the fights are not edited to save time also, the close-ups of the glaring crowd eating their popcorn and wearing their lipstick add to the sense of realism. This shouldn’t come as any surprise though as the film was directed by Robert Wise.

The screenplay was adapted by Art Cohn from a poem written by Joseph Moncure March. The film was ignored by the Academy, but was nominated for Best Film at the BAFTA Awards in 1950 and won the FIPRESCI Prize and Best Cinematography at Cannes in 1949 where it was also nominated for the first prize, losing to The Third Man.


20. Thieves’ Highway (1949)

Thieves’ Highway (1949)

A war veteran Nico Garcos (Richard Conte) goes to San Francisco to confront Mike Figlia (Lee J. Cobb), a produce dealer who cheated his father.

Director Jules Dassin made four noirs successively from 1947-1950 and was blacklisted during the production of the last one. Each one of these noirs can now be regarded as classics in the genre and out of the four, Brute Force (1947), The Naked City (1948), Thieves’ Highway (1949) and Night and the City (1950), Thieves’ Highway remains the least recognised.

Cobb plays Mike Figlia who, much like Johnny Friendly (another character Cobb would go on to play five years later in the eternal On the Watefront), is a sleazy businessman who is well connected and will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid paying anything he owes.

Dassin, who would have unquestionably reached greater heights had he not been blacklisted, was unable to find work anywhere and after working on Broadway for a while, left the country for Europe where he made his masterpiece Rififi in 1955.

The film is also responsible for accurately showing the working of the lively fruit and produce market. The film was released as part of the Criterion Collection in 2005 and was written by frequent noir writer A. I. Bezzeride.