The Best Discoveries of 2020: Film Noir Part I

Updated: Dec 21, 2020



My two-part Film Noir Discoveries of 2020 is not really a best-of, but rather the whole kitchen sink of noir that I saw for the first time in 2020. So while you won’t see any rewatches (and I had many of those), you will see film noir titles from different countries and different decades (and of varying quality), although most of these will be from the classic film noir era (1941-1959). Everything here is at least noir-stained. You’ll also see several titles from last month’s Noir City International virtual film festival, made possible by the Film Noir Foundation and the AFI Silver. In most cases, you can simply click on each film’s title for a full review.


Well, I see Jack Lambert standing beside me with his arms folded and a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, so I’d better get started.




Apology for Murder (1945) Edgar G. Ulmer (Amazon Prime)

A large part of my Noirvember viewing consisted of low budget endeavors, and budgets don’t get much lower than Edgar G. Ulmer’s pictures. Detour’s Ann Savage returns fort his one, but will her character here match the evil that is Vera?


At Close Range (1986) James Foley (Amazon Prime)

I don’t know why it took me such a long time to finally see At Close Range, a terrific film that’s totally noir. I also don’t know why more people don’t talk about it. It’s terrific.



Black Eye (1974) Jack Arnold (Warner Archive DVD)

Fred Williamson plays Shep Stone, a former cop who’s now a private investigator, looking for a runaway girl and the unique silver-handled walking cane people are willing to kill for. Fairly routine, but enjoyable.



Black Gravel (Schwarzer Kies, 1961) Helmut Käutner (Noir City International, Kino Lorber Blu-ray)

Be warned, this one’s bleak, but what a tremendous film from postwar Germany.



The Black Vampire (El Vampiro Negro, 1953) Román Viñoly Barreto, Noir City International, soon to be released on Blu-ray by Flicker Alley)

Here’s an Argentine version of Fritz Lang’s M (1931) that is absolutely stunning, one of the best films I saw at Noir City International. A Blu-ray is scheduled for a 2021 release, so keep checking the Flicker Alley website for an announcement.



Blind Spot (1947) Robert Gordon (ok.ru)

Chester Morris stars as one of the most down-and-out noir protagonists you’ve ever seen.


Budapest Noir (2017) Éva Gárdos (Kanopy)

The time is 1936 and Hungary is on the brink of an alliance with Hitler. When a young prostitute is found beaten to death in a courtyard, no one shows the slightest interest except a crime reporter named Zsigmond Gordon (Krisztián Kolovratnik). The story is quite conventional with few surprises, but the performances and period detail are impressive. I’m looking forward to giving this one a second look.



Chicago Calling (1951) John Reinhardt (Warner Bros. DVD)

Possibly my favorite Dan Duryea performance, and that’s saying something.



The Come On (1956) Russell Birdwell (ok.ru)

I’d forgotten all about this movie until I heard Eddie Muller and Anne Hockens talking about it on the third installment of Ask Eddie. It stars Anne Baxter, Sterling Hayden, and John Hoyt. Without any of them, it would be just another routine con man/blackmail crime picture, but with them, you can (mostly) ignore the scripts weaknesses and clichés. How can you not like hearing Hayden tell Baxter, “Women like you belong to nobody. And everybody,” just before he grabs her for a kiss, the harsh Sterling Hayden kind?



The Crooked Web (1955) Nathan H. Juran (Noir Archive Vol. 2 Blu-ray set, Mill Creek)

Stan (Frank Lovejoy) runs a drive-in with his girlfriend Joanie (Mari Blanchard). When Joanie’s brother Frank (Richard Denning) comes by for a visit, he sells Stan on a get-rich-quick scheme. But there’s more going on here… The Crooked Web is one of those film noir titles with a good idea, but it ends up shooting itself in the foot with untenable motives and characters who just couldn’t be as dumb as they are and still function in the real world. Disappointing, but Frank Lovejoy fans will want to check it out, and if you have the Mill Creek set, you’re going to watch it anyway.



Death in Small Doses (1957) Joseph M. Newman (Amazon Prime)

A government agent (Peter Graves) goes undercover to find out the leader of an amphetamine racket among truckers. Much better than I anticipated. Chuck Connors has a field day in this one as a hopped-up truck driver.



Eight O’Clock Walk (1954) Lance Comfort (Network DVD, UK)

This Brit noir courtroom drama features Richard Attenborough as Tom Manning, a cab driver suspected of murdering a young girl after she played an April Fool’s trick on him. Tom’s wife Jill (Cathy O’Donnell, one of my all-time favorites) hires an inexperienced lawyer to represent her husband. You know you’re watching a bland film when your title is Eight O’Clock Walk, which sounds like a melodrama set in a retirement community.



The Facts of Murder (Un maledetto imbroglio, 1959) Pietro Germi (Noir City International, Mya Communication DVD)

That rarity of rarities is a movie – a murder mystery, no less – that succeeds in telling an effective story while combining more than enough comedy to satisfy audiences who may not typically enjoy murder mysteries. Plus it’s a terrific police procedural.



FBI Girl (1951) William Berke (Forgotten Noir Collector’s Set 2, VCI Entertainment DVD)

Audrey Totter? Raymond Burr? What else do you need to know?



The Fifth Horseman is Fear (aka …and the Fifth Horseman is Fear, 1965) Zbyněk Brynych (Noir City International)

Perhaps my favorite film from Noir City International. Unfortunately, there seems to be no legitimate release of the film yet. Let’s hope that will change.



Five Minutes to Live (aka Door-to-Door Maniac, 1961) Bill Karn (Amazon Prime)

You truly have to see this film to believe it. Featuring Johnny Cash and Opie!



The Flying Scot (1957) Compton Bennett (Network UK DVD)

This Brit film is more crime thriller than noir. It’s not as good as either Rififi (1955) or The Narrow Margin (1952), but borrows elements from both and has some nice tension throughout.



Four Ways Out (La città si difende, 1951) Pietro Germi (Noir City International)

Unfortunately it appears this film is not available on DVD, Blu-ray, or online. If you know otherwise, please let me know.



Framed (1947) Richard Wallace (Imprint Essential Film Noir Collection 1, 1947-1957 box set)

I’d been waiting for years to see this one, and it did not disappoint. Glenn Ford plays Mike Lambert, a down-on-his-luck truck driver who finds himself looking for work in a small town where he meets Janis Carter and Barry Sullivan, both of whom seem to show a curious interest in him. The Alan K. Rode commentary on the Imprint (an Australian label) is terrific.



The Green Glove (1952) Rudolph Maté (Alpha Video DVD)

A gauntlet covered with jewels and stones? A forerunner to the Infinity War? Ah, that would be a no. The Green Glove is worth seeing, although it has some serious pacing issues, and it took me quite awhile before I connected with the characters (and they with each other). But it's Glenn Ford and George MacReady! We already know from Gilda (1946) that this will be worth watching just for these two guys.



Guilty Bystander (1950) Joseph Lerner (byNWR.com)

Zachary Scott plays Max Thursday, an ex-cop who’s constantly drunk in what has to be one of the shabbiest apartments in all of film noir. When his ex-wife Georgia (Faye Emerson) wakes Max out of his drunken stupor with the news that their son is missing, he goes into action, or tries to. Guilty Bystander is filled with wonderful low-life characters and a mixture of scenes that are absolutely dynamite and others that seem more like a first rehearsal. Do check this one out, recently restored and playing (for free) on Nicolas Winding Refn’s website.



Guns, Girls and Gangsters (1959) Edward L. Cahn (Mamie Van Doren Film Noir Collection Blu-ray set, Kino Lorber)

Despite this being a “Van” movie with Mamie Van Doren and Lee Van Cleef, it’s really a dud. I liked The Girl in Black Stockings (1957) from this collection (marginally) better.



Hell Bound (1957) William J. Hole Jr. (Amazon Prime)

Hell Bound begins with a great opening, but can it sustain the tension? I’ve you’ve got Amazon Prime, you can find out.



The Hoodlum (1951) Max Nosseck (Alpha Video DVD)

I can tell you that Lawrence Tierney’s job at the gas station’s gonna last about two minutes, especially when there’s a bank across the street.


The Housemaid (1960) Kim Ki-young (Noir City International, Martin Scorsese's World Cinema Project No. 1 set

Good gracious, what a movie! This one will knock your socks off, and maybe even more.



Il Bidone (1955) Federico Fellini (borrowed from a friend, now part of the Criterion Essential Fellini box set)

Fellini does noir? In this stunning, lesser-known Fellini work, Broderick Crawford plays a middle-aged, small-time swindler who’s grown tired of con jobs he pulls outside Rome with his partners (including Richard Basehart). The last half hour of this film is absolutely stunning.



Illegal Entry (1949) Frederick de Cordova (ok.ru)

Howard Duff is a former pilot now working undercover as a U.S. immigration inspector trying to expose a smuggling ring. By this time, these laughable introductions by actual government officials were still clinging to life, but once those are over, this film noir isn’t bad at all. The film co-stars Märta Torén and noir favorite Paul Stewart.



I Love Trouble (1948) S. Sylvan Simon (Amazon Prime)

Franchot Tone, Janis Carter, Adele Jergens, Eduardo Ciannelli, and Raymond Burr in only his fourth credited film.



The Inner Circle (1946) Phil Ford (Amazon Prime)

This “film noir lite” is still fun and worth exploring.



The Intruder (1953) Guy Hamilton (Network UK DVD and Blu-ray)

When Ex Colonel Wolf Merton (Jack Hawkins) discovers a burglar wrecking his home, he recognizes the intruder as a man who served under him in WWII. Primarily a war story with noir element, The Intruder is an overlooked film that should be better known.



Iron Man (1951) Joseph Pevney (YouTube)

There ain’t no Robert Downey Jr. here, just boxing and noir.



Lady Gangster (1942) Robert Florey (Amazon Prime)

Things begin well when you're pulling a bank job and Jackie Gleason is your wheel man, but this is primarily a women's prison flick (with Faye Emerson in the title role) featuring a script that must've deteriorated in the director's hands.



The Limping Man (1953) Cy Endfield (VCI Video DVD)

I think the cast in this photo is looking for a good script. American Lloyd Bridges returns to London to reunite with his lover (Moira Lister), only to find himself exiting the passenger plane, standing next to a man who drops dead from a sniper’s bullet. This Brit noir begins well, then meanders, but commits (IMO) cinema’s greatest sin with an unforgivable ending. This limping man needs to be put out of his misery.



The Long Good Friday (1980) John Mackenzie (Arrow Blu-ray, UK; also the Criterion Channel)

One of the all-time great British (or otherwise) gangster pictures stars Bob Hoskins as Harold Shand, a London gangster trying to form a legit business with American partners who have mob connections. In just one day (the Good Friday of the title), Shand’s world comes crashing down around him, only he has no idea who’s responsible for the mayhem. Although he was already well known on BBC television by this time, The Long Good Friday launched Hoskins’s film career.


Okay, that’s half of the list. That should help with your Noirvember withdrawal. More next time!

220 views0 comments

© 2019 by Andy Wolverton

 Proudly created with Wix.com