That’s a great title, but I can’t back it up. There is frankly just too much debate about what movie is considered the best film noir movie. With that being said, I’m going to spend some posts highlighting a few of the top films with some reasoning why film aficionados gave these films such high marks for noir. So get your popcorn, licorice and soda, sit back and enjoy!
The Maltese Falcon
Remember some of what makes a movie film noir is a morally weak private eye, a femme fatale, dark themes, black-and-white filming, plenty of corruption, and ill-fated relationship and the like. And does The Maltese Falcon fit this! This movie was based on the classic novel by Dashiell Hammett and is considered to be the first noir movie. A piece of trivia that I’ll bet many don’t know, the classic 1941 movie with Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor is actually a remake of a 1931 version starring Bebe Daniels and Ricardo Cortez. Another version (which didn’t include the falcon) was made in 1936, called Satan Met a Lady, with Warren William and a young Bette Davis.
This fabulous story about a cool but cynical San Francisco private eye, Sam Spade (Bogart, of course), and his dealings with three unscrupulous adventurers who are all trying to find a jewel-encrusted falcon statuette is not only considered a great piece of film noir, but one of the best movies ever made. The cinematography and direction by John Huston, in his directorial debut, are a large part of what makes this such an evocative movie.
Dashiell Hammett’s Detective
Any writer can only hope to create such an iconic character as Sam Spade. Spade only appears in this novel and a few short stories, but Spade is considered as the figure that shaped the hard-boiled private eye. Spade is cold, detached, sardonic, and bent on his own brand of justice. He’s seen the underbelly of the world and is willing to rub elbows with criminals,while at the same time working to bring them to justice. Spade has some type of morality, although it’s clouded in ambiguity.
Detective fiction would not be the same after The Maltese Falcon was published. All books in the genre were compared to this classic. Hammett fused clean prose with sharp dialogue, created memorable characters and a story with plenty of twists and turns. It’s a great literary work that’s also part thriller, love story, part dark comedy. Brilliant.
No Humphrey Bogart?
It’s true. Bogart was not Huston’s original choice to play Sam Spade. The role was initially offered to George Raft, who rejected it (bet he wished he could change that). Can you imagine this film with someone other than Bogie playing Spade? This role gave Bogart huge acclaim and set his onscreen persona in stone.
There are plenty of deceitful villains, quirky lowlifes (Peter Lorre), and the lying femme fatale. And it has a downbeat and bitter ending, typical of noir movies to come.
If you haven’t watched this movie, I encourage you to do so. It’s highly entertaining, in a dark sort of way.
And, take a look at the poster. There is something unique that makes this poster unique from others produced for the movie – anyone know what it is? HINT: the answer is in Reel Estate Rip-off, the second Reed Ferguson mystery.
If you enjoy film noir, read my Reed Ferguson mystery series. Reed is a wannabe private eye who loves film noir and crime fiction, and these mystery novels are consistently well-reviewed: This Doesn’t Happen In The Movies, Reel Estate Rip-off, and the short story Elvis And The Sports Card Cheat.
5 Star Review
There is little doubt that Renée Pawlish is a promising new voice to the comic murder/mystery genre. Quite noticeable…is Pawlish’s adept development of the plot coupled with her ability to contrive clear, concise and playful prose with almost perfect pacing.
Norman Goldman, Bookpleasures Publisher and Editor