Wednesday, November 11, 2020

The Lineup: A Summary of My Noirvember Week One Viewing

by Rosalie Lewis
There’s a rumor going around that I like film noir. I don’t know who started it, but I’m here to tell you not a word of it is a lie. That’s why November has become one of my favorite months--because to classic film fans, it’s known as Noirvember.

Despite an evening or two pulled away from my noir viewing to watch election coverage, I’m happy to say so far I’ve seen some excellent new-to-me noirs, and I have plenty more planned for the rest of the month. What do you say we dive in?

Manhunter (1986, available to rent online)
OK, this one is a bit of a cheat because I watched it on October 31 as part of my #ScaryMovieMonth viewing, but I’m still counting it because it fits neatly into both horror and noir camps. I can’t believe I’ve loved Michael Mann’s work for most of my adult life and didn’t watch his take on the Hannibal Lecter story til now. Come for Dennis Farina, stay for William Petersen, and enjoy a young Stephen Lang who pops up as an obnoxious tabloid reporter along the way. Hannibal isn’t really the center of this film’s plot, but he does make a couple of key appearances and I must admit it was strange seeing Brian Cox inhabit the role instead of Anthony Hopkins.

As usual for Mann, the story is enhanced considerably by the visual approach (yes, there’s plenty of neon lighting and shades of blue from cinematographer Dante Spinotti) and the music (composed this time not by frequent '80s collaborators Tangerine Dream, but instead by Michel Rubini and The Reds). I will never again hear Iron Butterfly’s In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida without thinking of this movie’s climax.

This movie instantly became a favorite for me, and I look forward to returning to it often.

The Street With No Name (1948, currently uploaded to YouTube)
Noir lovers everywhere know this: If Richard Widmark is in the picture, that picture is worth seeing. I was excited to dive into this movie, part of my beloved Fox Film Noir collection, and Widmark was the main attraction. The director, William Keighley, is probably best known for co-directing Errol Flynn’s Adventures of Robin Hood; but he cut his teeth on gangster pictures with the likes of James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson.

The story, a “ripped from the FBI files” situation, follows an undercover agent asked to infiltrate a crime syndicate that seems to be getting help from someone in the police force. Said crime syndicate is headed up by none other than Widmark, who plays a villain with great panache and in this movie also plays a piano. Not enough gangster piano players these days, I tell ya!

Red Rock West (1993, available via Peacock TV)
I have yet to see a John Dahl movie I didn’t love. This one has been on my radar for a while and I finally got my hot little hands on a DVD copy from eBay only for it to pop up for free streaming on Peacock. Ah well! I wanted a physical copy anyway.

This is a real hidden gem. In it, you’ve got Nicolas Cage (Patrick’s favorite actor!), Dennis Hopper, Lara Flynn Boyle, and J.T. Walsh. Dwight Yoakam also makes a brief appearance. It takes place in a small town in Wyoming, where a too-honest man gets embroiled with some very dishonest residents thanks to a combo of mistaken identity, bad timing, and a nearly empty gas tank and wallet. It’s got a little bit of Coen Brothers DNA, but it also reminds me of the Western Noir category that popped up on the Criterion Channel over the summer. This is the type of picture that Robert Mitchum or Robert Ryan might have starred in for Columbia or RKO -- a perfect blend of crime caper and prairie outlaw showdown.

The movie opens with Cage doing one-handed splits push-ups in the desert, all denim jackets and brooding stares. Later we’re introduced to Lara Flynn Boyle’s character, a woman with incredible eyebrows and the most perfect cat eye ever. She was born to be a femme fatale, and you can tell within seconds Cage shouldn’t trust her but he will anyway. As for Hopper, he doesn’t disappoint when he rolls up with Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues playing on the stereo and steps out wearing a bolo tie.

As with most Dahl scripts, this one has great dialogue. When a character pulls a gun on someone, he underscores it with, “Does that tickle? Cuz it won’t if I pull the trigger!”

Another great exchange after a particularly gnarly showdown that puts a husband and wife at odds, to say the least: “What should I do?” “If I were you, I’d get a divorce.”

I was also delighted that through the whole picture, Dennis Hopper’s character referred to J.T. Walsh’s character as “Wayner” even though everyone else calls him Wayne. And if you thought Jules eating a Big Kahuna Burger in Pulp Fiction was great, wait til you see Dennis Hopper eat a turkey sandwich in this movie.

I can’t recommend this enough -- it’s everything I want in a neo noir and then some. I even rewound a scene multiple times to admire the way the neon bar signs were reflected in a mud puddle--it’s just the best.

The House on 92nd Street (1945, currently uploaded to YouTube)
Another entry in my Fox Film Noir collection, and another one that feels a little bit a like J. Edgar Hoover fanfic (not surprisingly, he gave this movie his blessing before its release). Henry Hathaway of True Grit fame directed this movie, along with a number of other noir films: The Dark Corner, Fourteen Hours, Kiss of Death, 13 Rue Madeleine, and Call Northside 777

The style of this movie is that of a docu-drama, so it features some actual surveillance footage and newsreel stock from the World War II time period. It even features several actual FBI personnel in the cast. So if you’re a history buff, this is definitely of interest. The story itself is about an American who worked as a double agent, employed by the Nazis but in actuality cooperating with the FBI to intercept messages from other sleeper agents in the US leading up to the war. There are some fun reveals, and a great performance from Signe Hasso as the ever watchful Elsa Gebhardt. Still, this feels a bit less noir and more FBI propaganda overall. I liked it but I doubt it will be one of my favorite watches this month.

Destroyer (2018, streaming on Hulu)
I’m still mad I didn’t catch this in the theater when it came out two years ago, because I bet it would look amazing on the big screen. Still, better late than never. This is a hell of a picture, and if you haven’t seen it yet, please do so immediately after reading this article. Karyn Kusama directed it, and Nicole Kidman headlines in a role very against type.

The story unfolds bit by bit, and we learn that the very sleep-deprived, alcoholic looking Kidman character previously spent time as an undercover agent with a group of drug dealers and bank robbers. Let’s just say it didn’t go as well as Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze in Point Break. She thought that was all ancient history, but it’s come back to haunt her and now she’s gotta think fast and act tough to get the closure she seeks.

Kidman is ferocious in this movie, with not an ounce of glamor but plenty of world weariness. She does things that are unethical, unkind, illogical even at times, but we still manage to feel empathy for her because she plays it with such humanity. It’s an incredible thing to watch.

I hope Kusama makes a lot more movies in this vein -- she really deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Kathryn Bigelow or Martin McDonagh when it comes to filmmakers who are so self-assured and tell such compelling stories about flawed characters.

Up Next I still have a bunch of Fox Film Noir movies to catch up with, including Whirlpool, Moontide, Vicki, and Boomerang. I also plan to celebrate Claude Rains on his birthday (November 10th) by watching Where Danger Lives. (If you want alternative options, check out The Unsuspected). I also like to sprinkle in some neo noir and international options, so I’m hoping to find time for The Chaser, This World Then the Fireworks,The Bad Sleep Well, Night Moves, A Better Tomorrow, Deep Cover, and The Long Good Friday.

What’s on your list for this month? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!


  1. I found Destroyer fascinating, but I was confounded about what the film was actually talking about. Is it literally just about trauma? Maybe I'm overthinking, or maybe I'm dum. It's a tossup.

    Happy to see shoutouts for Red Rock West and The Street With No Name! Richard Widmark and Nic Cage 4ever. Both the best parts of their respective Kisses Of Deaths in the same role.

  2. My favorite Hannibal Lecter in Manhunter. Because Brian Cox is just very creepy. when Anthony Holkins plays creepy, with the mouth noise and one liners. Not that Hopkins is bad, i just prefer the more natural approach of Cox

    1. I'm so with you here, Cox's just plays it so darn normal and that is far far more chilling than the theatrics that Hopkins leaned into, though those theatrics did work really well in Ridley Scott's Hannibal a movie I have no right in liking as much as I do but I just do... BUT Manhunter is where it's truly at! :)

  3. After the horror binge of last month, I have been drawn to noir films. They are a good change of pace. Pitfall, Macao, and Nightfall are the ones I have gotten to so far. Where Danger Lives and The Racket are currently on the DVR. (TCM has recently aired a lot of films I want to see.) I picked up a used DVD of The Street With No Name this year because Widmark is in it. I will see I if there is time to get to that.

  4. I love this idea of Noirvember and I will be joining in from now on...