Noir Nook: 75th anniversary of Noir
There are so many noirs – some are good, some not so good. Some are great.
And some are legendary.
This month the Noir Nook celebrates the 75th anniversary of the release of five iconic films from the classic noir era. A generation has passed since these films were first seen in the dark by people out there, but they’re iconic, memorable, and timeless – the kind of films that you can watch over and over and never get enough of.
The great sleep (1946)
I’ll admit it – half the time I don’t know what’s going on in this movie. But I do not care. It may have more twists and turns than a Chubby Checker video, but it’s Bogie and Bacall! In short, the action revolves around Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) private dick hired by an elderly invalid, General Sternwood, to pay off the gambling debts accumulated by his ruthless younger daughter Carmen (Martha Vickers). This seemingly straightforward assignment morphs into something much more unwieldy and features a range of characters, including Sternwood’s smart and sexy older daughter Vivian (Lauren Bacall); local bully Eddie Mars (John Ridgely); the hapless crook Harry Jones (Elisha Cook, Jr.); and Sean Regan, an Irishman hired by Sternwood to “do his drinking for him,” who escapes before the film begins and never shows up.
Trivia Treats: This was the last film for Charles Waldron to play General Sternwood. He died before the film premiered.
Gilda is another film with plot points that I miss – but who cares again? In the title role of the seductive temptress, Rita Hayworth is simply mesmerizing. She can be seen in almost every scene, and if she isn’t, you longingly await her return. The film is set in Argentina and begins with an introduction to the two male characters who, together with Gilda, form a dangerous triangle of passion, cheating and murder. We meet little player Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford) on the streets of Buenos Aires. When a group of locals discover that he has cheated on them out of their money, Johnny is saved from a certain fight with Mundson by casino owner Ballin Mundson (George Macready) and eventually worked his way up to the position of right hand man.
Trivia Treats: The black dress that Hayworth wore in her famous “Put the Blame on Mame” number was designed by Jean Louis. He was reportedly inspired by the controversial 1884 painting by John Singer Sargent entitled “Portrait of Madame X”.
The murderers (1946)
This movie starts off with one of my favorite scenes in all of noir. No matter how often I see it, it always leaves me breathless. Two menacing guys – perfectly played by William Conrad and Charles McGraw – show up in a small town looking for a Pete Lund, better known as the Swede (Burt Lancaster). The men make no secret of their motive: they are planning to kill the Swede, and unfortunately he is not difficult to find. After the murder, it turns out that the Swede left life insurance, and investigator Jim Reardon (Edmond O’Brien) is tasked with finding and paying off the beneficiary, a hotel maid who once saved the Swedes from suicide. After speaking to the maid, Reardon continues his investigation and tracks down the Swede’s friends and co-workers – including a traitorous woman named Kitty (Ava Gardner) – to uncover the story behind his murder.
Trivia Treats: Virginia Christine, who played the Swede’s girlfriend before they met and was intrigued by Kitty, rose to fame years later as Mrs. Olson, the broadcaster for Folgers Coffee.
When the postman rings twice (1946)
One of the first noirs I’ve ever seen When the postman rings twice is one of my favorites from that time. The story is simple: a drifter has an affair with the wife of a roadside restaurant owner, and the two of them plan to murder their husband. It’s a simple description that doesn’t even scratch the surface of the shadowy joys this film has to offer. There is the beautiful Lana Turner as the duplicitous woman Cora Smith; John Garfield as Frank Chambers, the drifter who allows his passion to be turned into murder; and Cecil Kellaway as Cora’s unhappy husband. And to spice things up even further, we have Leon Ames as the prosecutor, who is not fooled by the couple’s innocent act, Hume Cronyn as the insidious defense attorney, and Audrey Totter in a small but crucial role as Madge, a waitress at the diner, that catches Frank’s eye. From Lana Turner’s almost completely white wardrobe to the hot chemistry between the murderous couple and the unexpected conclusion of the film, there is just so much to love about this film.
Trivia Treats: As in the James M. Cain novel on which the film is based, Madge’s initial preoccupation in the film was a lion tamer. (Seriously.) A scene was actually filmed where she introduces her lions to Frank, but the idea was later dropped and she became a waitress instead.
The strange love of Martha Ivers (1946)
This movie stars two of my favorite noir women: Barbara Stanwyck and Lizabeth Scott, which makes him an automatic winner in my eyes. Add in the hugely talented Van Heflin and Kirk Douglas and you have what it takes to be a cinematic gem. At the beginning of this feature film, we are introduced to three of the main characters as children: Martha, who is raised by her wealthy, much-hated aunt, and her two friends, the adventurous and exciting Sam, and Mause Walter, the son of her aunt’s fawning advisor. During a confrontation on a dark and stormy night (really!) Martha slams and kills her aunt, blaming a mysterious fleeing intruder for the murder. As adults we learn that Martha (Stanwyck) has become the powerful owner of a mill empire and Walter (Douglas) is her husband as a public prosecutor. We also learn that Martha and Walter conspired years earlier when a former family member was arrested for a robbery in order to accuse the man of the murder of their aunt and to obtain his conviction and execution. Meanwhile, Sam (Heflin), now a traveling gamer, returns to town – unaware that Martha and Walter wrongly assumed he knew the truth about their aunt’s death – and a curious quartet forms when Sam forms befriended a local. her lucky child Toni Marachek (Scott).
Trivia Treats: This film was Kirk Douglas’ theatrical debut.
Treat yourself to a celebration of these iconic films that were released 75 years ago – see one or all of them! You’ll be glad you did.
– Karen Burroughs Hannsberry for Classic Movie Hub
You can read all of Karen’s Noir Nook articles here.
Karen Burroughs Hannsberry is the author of the Shadows and Satin blog, which focuses on films and performers from the Film Noir and Pre-Code era, and the Editor-in-Chief of The dark side, a bimonthly newsletter all about film noir. Karen is also the author of two books on film noir – Femme Noir: The Bad Girls of the Film and Bad Boys: The Actors of Film Noir. You can follow Karen on Twitter below @TheDarkPages.
If you want to learn more about Karen’s books, you can read more about them here on Amazon: