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Feature
Become A Film Noir Expert In Ten Easy Movies
Master a genre in just a handful of films

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Don your seediest trench coat or sultriest dress and head to the nearest dark alley because it’s time to celebrate that coolest of cool genres: the film noir. From the early ‘40s, these dark-hued thrillers have been populated by iconic, whiskey-stained antiheroes, sharp-eyed femme fatales, world-weary ‘tecs and trigger-happy gangsters; giving us fatalistic tales soundtracked by the screech of tires and the bark of gunshots. Down the years Hollywood’s shadowy B movies have matured into A-list classics. They twist around your mind like the languorous curl of Lucky Strike smoke – stories from the pages of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler told by directors of the calibre of John Huston, Fritz Lang, Anthony Mann, Billy Wilder and Michael Curtiz. Now, with Nicolas Winding Refn’s mod-noir Driver on the horizon, Johnny Depp gearing up for a remake of Hammett’s The Thin Man, edgy French thriller Point Blank arriving in cinemas, and L.A. Noire thrilling gamers, noir is back and you need to know about it. Sexy, smart and sinister, here’s ten classics to get your started.

WORDS PHIL DE SEMLYEN
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Become A Film Noir Expert In Ten Easy Movies | The Maltese Falcon (1941)
The Maltese Falcon (1941)

Director: John Huston
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Sidney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre
Tagline: "A guy without a conscience! A dame without a heart!"

Whether this noir trailblazer is better than Howard Hawks’ equally definitive Bogart thriller The Big Sleep is a matter for debate, preferably in a dark corner of your local speakeasy at 4am. In the end, it boils down to preference: Hammett or Chandler? Spade or Marlowe? Astor or Hepburn? Falcon offers none of the chauffeur-driven blind alleys that still stump us - and baffled even Chandler - in The Big Sleep, but the smouldering sexual chemistry, oily hucksters (Peter Lorre, Sidney Greenstreet, John Ridgely) and pervasive air of menace are all present and correct. John Huston’s San Francisco-set whodunit came first, plucking a whole new genre from the studio ghetto with storytelling as complex and sophisticated as anything audiences had seen before. The plot’s McGuffin – a precious artefact that would give Lucas and Spielberg an idea or two – was chased by one of the greatest noir casts assembled. Bogart, who’d been cast into the to B-movie wilderness in a fit of pique by Jack Warner, led it, making a mockery of the initial decision to cast George Raft. He peppers the film with machine-gun patter, cynical smarts and some of the best lines in ‘40s cinema. “You always have a very smooth explanation,” Joel Cairo sighs in frustration, as Spade weaves his way out of another corner. “What do you want me to do,” says Spade, “learn to stutter?” Heck no Sam, we love you just as you are.

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