Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Coldest Stories Ever Told

 by Rosalie Lewis

"In the Noirvember movie milieu, the characters fall into two separate yet equally important groups: the detectives who investigate crime and the lost souls or heartless dames that perpetrate them. These are their stories. (dun dun)"

This month, I’ve been celebrating the noir genre in my reading choices (Patricia Highsmith, Jim Thompson) as well as my movie viewing. You know what also has both books and movies? The library. And you know what you probably have access to if you have a library card? Kanopy, a streaming service that is awesome and free (at least in the US—perhaps our international readers can suggest similar services in your locales). You knew I was bound to get to my point sometime during this tortured introduction and here we are! So today, I thought I’d share a few of the noir entries available on Kanopy, although there are other ways to view them if that service is unavailable to you.

Budapest Noir (2017)
We’ll start with a modern noir set in the same time period as the classics, but in a different locale than we’re used to seeing. As the title suggests, this takes place in Hungary and finds the country at a turning point as Hitler’s antisemitic crusade is taking hold across Eastern Europe. A journalist gets a tip about a murdered Jane Doe, and begins to uncover details about her identity and connections that could make for quite the story. Based on the book of the same name, this movie gets the stylistic details right and has an interesting setting. I preferred the novel, but this is a pretty good adaptation and director Eva Gardos gets to showcase her city of origin while introducing us to some very compelling Hungarian actors.

Brighton Rock (1948)
We go from Hungary to England, where a young power hungry gangster named Pinkie Brown (Richard Attenborough) is trying to carve out a corner of turf for himself by any means necessary – whether murder or marriage. There’s a carnival (always a fun setting for devious deeds), a sweet young waitress/witness named Rose (Carol Marsh), a broad named Ida (Hermione Baddeley) who suspects foul play, and a pivotal voice recording just waiting to be played on an elusive phonograph. Pinkie is the type of character that would’ve been played by James Cagney in an American picture, and Attenborough is memorable for his brutality and the spell he casts over the lovelorn Rose. The movie’s climax is suspenseful and effective, and the violence in the movie caused it to be banned in New South Wales upon its release. I’ve been meaning to see this for a long time and glad I finally checked it off the list!

99 River Street (1953)
This movie takes place in the Big Apple, which has taken a bite out of protagonist Ernie Driscoll (John Payne), a washed up boxer whose new, less glamorous job is driving a cab. Things go from bad to worse when he finds out his wife is stepping out on him, with a jewel thief no less. At least he gets a little positive female attention from Linda (Evelyn Keyes), an aspiring actress waiting for her big break. When things spiral out of control, Linda and Ernie team up and soon find themselves over their heads. This is decidedly a B picture, but a good one. Keyes nearly walks away with the movie in a late scene inside a diner where she calls forth all of her feminine wiles and leaves anyone with a pulse panting by the end. For his part, Payne gets some memorable lines, including this one: “There are worse things than murder. You can kill someone an inch at a time.”

Too Late for Tears (1949)
This one has been on my list basically since I became a Noirista, and I finally caught up with it today! It absolutely lives up to its reputation as a quintessential entry of the genre, and in particular Lizabeth Scott has never been more memorable (or heartless) than she is here. She and her husband (Arthur Kennedy) mistakenly gain access to a giant case filled with cash. He wants to alert the cops; she wants to keep it. Their differing approaches (and the consequent fallout) lead to what might diplomatically be called marital discord. Noir staple Dan Duryea has a supporting role as the guy the money was intended for, and he is reliably sardonic. Sample dialogue: “Don’t ever change, Tiger. I don’t think I’d like you with a heart.” Outstanding stuff. The version on Kanopy is the Film Noir Foundation restoration released by Flicker Alley, and it looks great.

What have you been watching this month? I’d love to read your recommendations and discoveries in the comments!


  1. Hey, i just watched Who Framed Roger Rabbit yesterday. Not your typical Noir, but it still counts. I have a bunch of Noir compilation full of less known movies, but never watched most of them. I really should get to it. But Noirvember is almost over, it's too late 😁

    1. Roger Rabbit totally counts! It would be awesome to do a Bob Hoskins noir marathon of The Long Good Friday, Mona Lisa, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

  2. This is the second straight year I have organized my movie watching around Noirvember. The watch list is always more extensive than time and energy permits. Too Late For Tears is in that list, it will have to wait for some other time. For a Lizbeth Scott recommendation, Pitfall (1948) is worth a watch.

    Woman on the Run (1950) - San Francisco is a character in itself.
    Death Whistles the Blues (1962) - A tropical noir from Spanish director Jess Franco
    Somewhere in the Night (1946) - A solid post-war noir. Somehow amnesia ran rampant at this time.
    Decoy (1946) - If you have not seen this one, you should. It is one the craziest film noir plots ever.
    Lured (1947) - Pretty light on noir elements, but it still has a fine performance from Lucille Ball
    The Big Heat (1953) - The only re-watch. Gloria Grahame is steals the show.
    Two O'Clock Courage (1945) - Not Anthony Mann's best.
    The Hot Spot (1990) - A fun, sleazy neo-noir
    Fargo (1996) - Surprisingly funny and very dark.

    1. You've gotten some awesome viewing in this month! I adore Woman on the Run, Somewhere in the Night, The Big Heat, and Fargo. Great picks. I have not seen the others so you have inspired me to seek them out. I'm especially interested in the Jess Franco pick--he's a bit of a blind spot for me and I love the idea of a tropical noir.