Roger Ebert’s Colon Hex
[Guest blog by Mark Scott]
Wes seems to have the music side of things pretty much on lock-down, so I thought I might take a crack at film.
The term film noir gets tossed around quite a bit by film critics and scholars, as well as pretentious hipsters loitering around the entrance to “adult” room at North Campus Video, but press either of those people to define film noir and you’ll likely find that no two people quite agree. Part of the reason is that the term itself was coined and applied, for the most part, retrospectively by a French film critic who noticed a number of similar themes and moods in a lot of American films made during the 1940s and into the 50s. Most of films considered as classic film noir tend to be crime dramas and mysteries. Attempts have been made to lay out some of the elements or themes of film noir: the heavy contrast of light and dark images (chiaroscuro photography); a protagonist–usually, but not always a private detective–with an ambiguous moral code; a femme fatale, a seductive woman who leads to the protagonists downfall; and an urban setting. That many of films labelled noir do not fit all, if any, of these parameters has lead many critics to view noir more as a style, rather than a genre.
But this is all kind of bullshit. Essentially, they’re just dark films–both in terms of lighting and theme/mood. The men are usually hard-asses; the woman are sexy, seductive and dangerous. Everybody smokes a ton of cigarettes. There’s crime and double-crossing all over the place; and one of –if not both–the lead characters usually ends of dead. Unfortunately for Steve, Shia Labeouf is in none of these movies.
So, without further ado, I present to you, loyal Grip reader, my all-time top 5 favorite films noir (in no particular order):
1. Night and the City (1950)
Richard Widmark stars as Harry Fabian, a hustler who tries to become a pro wrestling promoter. His plans are derailed when he runs afowl of gangster, and rival promoter, Kristo, played by Herbert Lom. Directed by Jules Dassin, Night in the City is considered one of the absolute classics of the noir era.
2. The Big Sleep (1946)
Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in film based on a Raymond Chandler novel (adapted for the screen by William Faulkner)–what else is there to say?
3. The Third Man (1949)
Perhaps the last great film of the period, The Third Man is as close to a perfect film as I’ve ever seen. It stars Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles, though, Wells doesn’t actually appear on screen until about two-thirds in. Graham Greene wrote the screenplay, which he eventually turned into a novella of the same title. The plot is way too complicated to describe, so I’ll simply end with the film’s most memorable quote: “Don’t be so gloomy. After all it’s not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. So long Holly.”
4. Pickup on South Street (1953)
Richard Widmark also stars in this Samuel Fuller picture, this time as a pickpocket who ends up with a microfilm of government secrets. Jean Peters also stars as Candy, whom Fuller fought hard to get after turning down stars such as Marilyn Monroe, Betty Grable and Ava Gardner. Fuller said he knew he had to have Peters as Candy because he said he liked how she walked: slightly bow-legged, like a lot of prostitutes.
5. The Killers (1946)
The first third of the movie is based on a short story by Ernest Hemmingway of the same title. Two hit men walk into a diner in a quiet suburban town looking for a man they call the “Swede” (Burt Lancaster). They quickly find him in bed at his rooming house and gun him down. The rest of the movie follows an insurance investigator piecing together the details of the Swede’s life in attempt to catch the men responsible. Hemmingway said that this film was the only film based on his work that he could “genuinely admire.”