I know it's not for everyone.  It's not even for me sometimes. But when I want noir, I want great noir, whether it's a movie or a book.  

For example, "Out of the Past" with Mitchum, Kirk Douglas, and the amazing Jane Greer, with Jacques Tourneur directing.  Or "Gun Crazy" with John Dall and Peggy Cummins.  

Or Megan Abbott's "Bury Me Deep" or Queenpin" or Christa Faust's "Money Shot," or anything by the amazing Sam Reaves.

Nominations, anyone?  And what is noir, exactly, and what is it we like about it?  

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I guess everyone has his or her own definition of noir. Mine would be a story of ordinary people caught up in extraordinary circumstances as a result of their own unfortunate choices. In my opinion, there's no better movie that speaks to this than Night And The City (1950) starring Richard Widmark and directed by Jules Dassin. I posted a blog about this movie on my website (http://mikedennisnoir.com).

There are other classic examples, too. Double Indemnity (1944), DOA (1949), The Friends Of Eddie Coyle (1973), Detour (1945), and The Grifters (1990) spring to mind.

Novels? You can't go wrong with Jim Thompson, David Goodis, or James M Cain. Each has forged his own pathway into the darkest corners of the human condition.
Oooohhh, "The Grifters." OOOhh, David Goodis. I'd add Cornell Woolrich to that list. Not so fond of Cain (on the page -- in the movies, his stuff is great). Chandler once said of Cain, "Everything he writes smells faintly of goat." I'll go with that.

The piece on "Night and the City" is very good. Thanks for the link.
Oh, and I just want to say that Mike Dennis' website is KILLER. Also turned me on to a few others I didn't know about. Check it out. There's a lot of great reading there and some amazing paperback noir covers.
No doubt Chandler was better with words. But Cain's stories (IMHO) are twice as good. I bet that goat quote came from a jealous man.
Well, Chandler was a terrible snob -- he went to school at Dulwich, in England, and he never let anybody forget it. He was also nowhere near as forthcoming with sex as Cain was; he married a much older (and unwell) woman, and their relationship seemed to be one of caretaker and patient as much as anything else. He loved her to distraction, but I don't think he was comfortable with sex, at least not on the page.
Funny timing; I just re-watched The Grifters last weekend. Good, dark, story.
Cinematically speaking, I'm mighty fond of The Asphalt Jungle, a John Huston film based on a W.R. Burnett novel.

Little known noir film: Quicksand, starring Mickey Rooney of all people, but it works.
See, this is what I suspected when I posted this question, EVERYBODY here knows more about noir than I do.

We ought to grab all the titles that have been listed thus far and make them the beginning of a list, See if we can't come up with the best noir on the page and the screen. One of the great things about lists is that they give everybody who didn't participate in making them something to argue with.

Before I try to boil these down into a list, any other nominees? I'll make a few tomorrow when I'm not so fried from trying to write. No, writing. Trying to write and writing are the same thing.
A Touch of Evil (The Orson Welles cut is much better they say but I've only seen the original release, and it's not bad). I once read it was the last film of the Hollywood noir era. I think it came out in 1958.

But if we're going to make a list, here's a list that looks pretty good to me, though some of the selections are a forced fit, I think:

http://digitaldreamdoor.nutsie.com/pages/movie-pages/movie_film_noi...
Boy, Eric -- that's a phenomenal list. Why the hell is Netflix so noir-deficient?

Also, the site took a pass at a definition: "Night-time city streets; morally weak private eye, detective, or other protagonist; femme fatale (a beautiful but treacherous woman); crime of passion or money; high-contrast lighting and distorted shadows; paranoia; corruption; an ill-fated relationship; narrative in the "first-person". Any mixture or slight variation of this soup of elements constitutes a "Noir" film."

Not bad -- I would add "influenced by German expressionist film: after reading DTK's comments below.

And I agree with you about "Touch of Evil." They shot the astonishing opening, in what was supposed to be Tijuana, about three blocks from my house, on Windward Avenue in Venice, CA.
Oh, what the hell. Here's the list Eric linked to. Boy there's some great sh -- um, stuff on it.

1. The Maltese Falcon - (1941, John Huston) (Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre, Mary Astor)
2. Double Indemnity - (1944, Billy Wilder) (Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson)
3. The Big Sleep - (1946, Howard Hawks) (Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, John Ridgely)
4. Sunset Boulevard - (1950, Billy Wilder) (Gloria Swanson, William Holden, Erich von Stroheim)
5. The Third Man - (1949, Carol Reed) (Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Trevor Howard, Alida Valli)
6. M - (1931, Fritz Lang) (Peter Lorre, Ellen Widmann, Inge Landgut, Otto Wernicke)
7. Notorious - (1946, Alfred Hitchcock) (Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains, Louis Calhern)
8. Touch Of Evil - (1958, Orson Welles) (Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Orson Welles, Dennis Weaver)
9. Criss Cross - (1949, Robert Siodmak) (Burt Lancaster, Yvonne De Carlo, Stephen McNally)
10. Strangers On A Train - (1951, Alfred Hitchcock) (Farley Granger, Ruth Roman, Robert Walker)
11. Out Of The Past - (1947, Jacques Tourneur) (Robert Mitchum, Kirk Douglas, Rhonda Fleming)
12. The Big Combo - (1955, Joseph H. Lewis) (Cornel Wilde, Richard Conte, Brian Donlevy, Jean Wallace)
13. The Night Of The Hunter - (1955, Charles Laughton) (Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, Lillian Gish)
14. The Killing - (1956, Stanley Kubrick) (Sterling Hayden, Coleen Gray, Vince Edwards)
15. Key Largo - (1948, John Huston) (Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Edward G. Robinson)
16. I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang - (1932, Mervyn LeRoy) (Paul Muni, Glenda Farrell, Preston Foster)
17. Ace In The Hole - (1951, Billy Wilder) (Kirk Douglas, Jan Sterling, Robert Arthur, Richard Benedict)
18. Laura - (1944, Otto Preminger) (Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, Clifton Webb, Vincent Price)
19. White Heat - (1949, Raoul Walsh) (James Cagney, Virginia Mayo, Edmond O'Brien, Steve Cochran)
20. The Lost Weekend - (1945, Billy Wilder) (Ray Milland, Jane Wyman, Phillip Terry)
21. Angels With Dirty Faces - (1938, Michael Curtiz) (James Cagney, Pat O'Brien, Humphrey Bogart)
22. Rififi - (1955, Jules Dassin) (Jean Servais, Carl Möhner, Robert Manuel, Janine Darcey)
23. Sweet Smell of Success - (1957, Alexander Mackendrick) (Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis, Martin Milner)
24. The Blue Dahlia - (1946, George Marshall) (Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake, William Bendix, Howard Da Silva)
25. Night And The City - (1950, Jules Dassin) (Richard Widmark, Gene Tierney, Herbert Lom)
26. The Set-Up - (1949, Robert Wise) (Robert Ryan, Audrey Totter, George Tobias, Alan Baxter)
27. Scarface - (1932, Howard Hawks) (Paul Muni, Ann Dvorak, George Raft, Boris Karloff)
28. Shadow Of A Doubt - (1943, Alfred Hitchcock) (Teresa Wright, Joseph Cotten, Macdonald Carey)
29. The Big Heat - (1953, Fritz Lang) (Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame, Lee Marvin)
30. The Asphalt Jungle - (1950, John Huston) (Sterling Hayden, Marilyn Monroe, James Whitmore)
31. Nightmare Alley - (1947, Edmund Goulding) (Tyrone Power, Joan Blondell, Coleen Gray)
32. Body And Soul - (1947, Robert Rossen) (John Garfield, Lilli Palmer, William Conrad)
33. In A Lonely Place - (1950, Nicholas Ray) (Humphrey Bogart, Gloria Grahame, Frank Lovejoy)
34. The Lady from Shanghai - (1947, Orson Welles) (Orson Welles, Rita Hayworth, Everett Sloane)
35. Ossessione - (1943, Luchino Visconti) (Clara Calamai, Massimo Girotti, Dhia Cristiani)
36. The Woman in the Window - (1944, Fritz Lang) (Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, Raymond Massey)
37. Pickup On South Street - (1953, Samuel Fuller) (Richard Widmark, Jean Peters, Thelma Ritter)
38. Scarlet Street - (1945, Fritz Lang) (Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, Dan Duryea)
39. Kiss Of Death - (1947, Henry Hathaway) (Victor Mature, Brian Donlevy, Coleen Gray, Richard Widmark)
40. Gun Crazy (aka: Deadly Is The Female) - (1950, Joseph H. Lewis) (Peggy Cummins, John Dall)
41. Mildred Pierce - (1945, Michael Curtiz) (Joan Crawford, Jack Carson, Eve Arden)
42. Where The Sidewalk Ends - (1950, Otto Preminger) (Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney, Gary Merrill)
43. The Naked City - (1948, Jules Dassin) (Barry Fitzgerald, Howard Duff, Dorothy Hart)
44. Gilda - (1946, Charles Vidor) (Rita Hayworth, Glenn Ford, George Macready)
45. Murder, My Sweet - (1944, Edward Dmytryk) (Dick Powell, Claire Trevor, Anne Shirley)
46. Kiss Me Deadly - (1955, Robert Aldrich) (Ralph Meeker, Albert Dekker, Paul Stewart)
47. Sudden Fear - (1952, ) (Joan Crawford, Jack Palance, Gloria Grahame, Mike Connors)
48. This Gun For Hire - (1942, Frank Tuttle) (Veronica Lake, Robert Preston, Alan Ladd)
49. Dark Passage - (1947, Delmer Daves) (Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Agnes Moorehead)
50. The Postman Always Rings Twice - (1946, Tay Garnett) (Lana Turner, John Garfield, Cecil Kellaway)
51. Fury - (1936, Fritz Lang) (Spencer Tracy, Sylvia Sidney, Walter Abel, Bruce Cabot)
52. Leave Her To Heaven - (1945, John M. Stahl) (Gene Tierney, Cornel Wilde, Vincent Price)
53. D.O.A. - (1950, Rudolph Maté) (Edmond O'Brien, Pamela Britton, Beverly Garland)
54. Kansas City Confidential - (1952, Phil Karlson) (John Payne, Coleen Gray, Preston Foster)
55. Force Of Evil - (1948, Abraham Polonsky) (John Garfield, Thomas Gomez, Marie Windsor)
56. Crossfire - (1947, Edward Dmytryk) (Robert Young, Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan, Gloria Grahame)
57. The Strange Love Of Martha Ivers - (1946, L. Milestone) (Barbara Stanwyck, Van Heflin, Kirk Douglas)
58. House Of Strangers - (1949, Joseph L. Mankiewicz) (Edward G. Robinson, Susan Hayward)
59. Scandal Sheet - (1952, Phil Karlson) (Broderick Crawford, Donna Reed, John Derek, Harry Morgan)
60. The Wrong Man - (1956, Alfred Hitchcock) (Henry Fonda, Vera Miles, Anthony Quayle)
61. Odds Against Tomorrow - (1959, Robert Wise) (Harry Belafonte, Robert Ryan, Shelley Winters)
62. Raw Deal - (1948, Anthony Mann) (Dennis O'Keefe, Claire Trevor, Marsha Hunt, John Ireland)
63. Act of Violence - (1948, Fred Zinnemann) (Van Heflin, Robert Ryan, Janet Leigh, Mary Astor)
64. The Stranger - (1946, Orson Welles) (Edward G. Robinson, Loretta Young, Orson Welles)
65. You Only Live Once - (1937, Fritz Lang) (Henry Fonda, Sylvia Sidney, Barton MacLane)
66. Angel Face - (1952, Otto Preminger) (Robert Mitchum, Jean Simmons, Mona Freeman)
67. Pitfall - (1948, André De Toth) (Dick Powell, Lizabeth Scott, Jane Wyatt, Raymond Burr)
68. Detour - (1945, Edgar G. Ulmer) (Tom Neal, Ann Savage, Claudia Drake, Edmund MacDonald)
69. On Dangerous Ground - (1952, Nicholas Ray) (Ida Lupino, Robert Ryan, Ward Bond)
70. Panic In The Streets - (1950, Elia Kazan) (Richard Widmark, Paul Douglas, Barbara Bel Geddes)
71. Possessed - (1947, Curtis Bernhardt) (Joan Crawford, Van Heflin, Raymond Massey)
72. Human Desire - (1954, Fritz Lang) (Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame, Broderick Crawford)
73. The Street With No Name - (1948, William Keighley) (Mark Stevens, Richard Widmark, Lloyd Nolan)
74. Fallen Angel - (1945, Otto Preminger) (Alice Faye, Dana Andrews, Linda Darnell, John Carradine)
75. Phantom Lady - (1944, Robert Siodmak) (Franchot Tone, Ella Raines, Alan Curtis)
76. Cry of the City - (1948, Robert Siodmak) (Victor Mature, Richard Conte, Shelley Winters)
77. Dead Reckoning - (1947, John Cromwell) (Humphrey Bogart, Lizabeth Scott, Morris Carnovsky)
78. T-Men - (1947, Anthony Mann) (Dennis O'Keefe, Mary Meade, Alfred Ryder, June Lockhart)
79. Party Girl - (1958, Nicholas Ray) (Robert Taylor, Cyd Charisse, Lee J. Cobb, John Ireland)
80. The File On Thelma Jordon - (1950, Robert Siodmak) (Barbara Stanwyck, Wendell Corey, Paul Kelly)
81. The Brasher Doubloon - (1947, John Brahm) (George Montgomery, Nancy Guild, Conrad Janis)
82. Clash by Night - (1952, Fritz Lang) (Barbara Stanwyck, Paul Douglas, Robert Ryan, Marilyn Monroe)
83. Mystery Street - (1950, John Sturges) (Ricardo Montalban, Sally Forrest, Bruce Bennett)
84. Niagara - (1953, Henry Hathaway) (Marilyn Monroe, Joseph Cotten, Jean Peters, Max Showalter)
85. While The City Sleeps - (1956, Fritz Lang) (Dana Andrews, Rhonda Fleming, George Sanders)
86. Side Street - (1950, Anthony Mann) (Joe Norson, Ellen Norson, James Craig)
87. The Big Knife - (1955, Robert Aldrich) (Jack Palance, Ida Lupino, Rod Steiger, Shelley Winters)
88. Border Incident - (1949, Anthony Mann) (Pablo Rodriguez, Jack Bearnes, Howard Da Silva)
89. Desperate - (1947, Anthony Mann) (Steve Brodie, Audrey Long, Raymond Burr, Jason Robards Sr.)
90. Whirlpool - (1949, Otto Preminger) (Gene Tierney, Richard Conte, José Ferrer)
91. Journey Into Fear - (1943, Norman Foster, Orson Welles) (Joseph Cotten, Dolores del Rio)
92. Undercurrent - (1946, Vincente Minnelli) (Katharine Hepburn, Robert Taylor, Robert Mitchum)
93. Hollow Triumph - (1948, Steve Sekely) (Paul Henreid, Joan Bennett, Eduard Franz)
94. Beyond A Reasonable Doubt - (1956, Fritz Lang) (Dana Andrews, Joan Fontaine, Sidney Blackmer)
95. House Of Bamboo - (1955, Samuel Fuller) (Robert Ryan, Robert Stack, Shirley Yamaguchi)
96. Lady in the Lake - (1947, Robert Montgomery) (Robert Montgomery, Audrey Totter, Lloyd Nolan)
97. The Two Mrs. Carrolls - (1947, Peter Godfrey) (Humphrey Bogart, Barbara Stanwyck, Alexis Smith)
98. Roadblock - (1951, Harold Daniels) (Charles McGraw, Joan Dixon, Lowell Gilmore, Louis Jean Heydt)
99. Where Danger Lives - (1950, John Farrow) (Robert Mitchum, Claude Rains, Maureen O'Sullivan)
100. Stranger On The Third Floor - (1940, Boris Ingster) (Peter Lorre, John McGuire, Margaret Tallichet)
That for the comments Tim. I understand the idea that noir lighting and effects could have been down to the low costs of most movies, however if you look at the people who were working on film noir as directors and specifically technical workers (lighting guys, photography guys) there are undeniable similarities between Film Noir and German Expressionism.

Those German movies all have dark themes, strange lighting, and liberal use of shadow. However the stories are noticeably more avant garde and obscure. A lot of those working in German film were Jewish and as the Nazi's became more powerful many of the Jews who could leave did...and many technical film workers headed to their natural home of Hollywood.

What then happened is the dark undercurrents of pre-war Germany (and the fact that the Jewish workers brought their fears and neurosis with them) meant that films of the period were almost certainly going to be paranoid and uncertain. These were uncertain times after all, even in the US.

Where I think the genius came in is that this European sensibility and paranoia became attached to the US culture of corruption, crime, and individuality. The were also a number of excellent writers like Chandler, Hammett, Cain, Spillane etc etc who were writing amoral works with an incredibly hard edge. When these writers, directors, and technical workers came together we got the holy trinity: dark themes, hard characters, and pre/current/post war paranoia and thus we got Film Noir!

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