Wednesday nights are about to get dark and dangerous at the Library.
Join us for a new film series featuring classic film noir movies from the 1940s and 50s, a cinematic style full of dark streets, dangerous dames, and double-crosses. Many of you might be familiar with the term “film noir” (or, like me, you may already be a huge fan of these movies), but if not, you’ll see some great examples of the genre at the Library, including The Maltese Falcon, Double Indemnity, and Touch of Evil (see below for the complete list).
Film noir, with its classic cinematography saturated in light and shadow, was characterized by particular elements: the femme fatale, the defeated hero, the wronged gangster, the dangerous-but-sensitive henchman, the moll, the lug, the palooka—you get the idea. These movies, often shot with low budgets out of necessity, focused on mood, stylized lighting and downbeat characters.
Though they were sometimes dismissed as low-grade “B” pictures at the time, in retrospect we can see what a major impact noir movies had (and continue to have) on the film industry. Film noir made lasting stars out of Humphrey Bogart and Robert Mitchum with legendary roles; boosted Joan Crawford’s Hollywood career when it started to sag; and set the stage for the later work of Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino. And if you’re a fan of the AMC series Breaking Bad, you can thank film noir for giving us Walter White and all his meth-dealing troubles.
I’ve been a fan of film noir for decades—my love for the style probably started when Bogart looked at that black statue of a bird and said, “It’s the stuff dreams are made of” in The Maltese Falcon.
We’ll kick off the film series on Feb. 28 at 5:30 p.m. with what I think is one of the prime examples of the genre: Double Indemnity (1944) starring Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, and Edward G. Robinson. In that film, an insurance agent (MacMurray) lets himself be talked into a insurance fraud scheme that leads to murder and arouses the suspicions of his boss (Robinson). Everything probably would have been okay if it hadn’t been for that alluring ankle bracelet that Stanwyck wears as she descends the stairs to meet MacMurray for the first time.
Here’s the rest of the lineup for the films at the library:
The Maltese Falcon (1941) starring Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet. Hard-boiled detective Sam Spade (Bogart) is approached by a mysterious woman named Miss Wonderly (Astor) who claims she needs protection from a man named Floyd Thursby. What follows is a series of murders, corruption and uncertainty all tied up in a classic web of mystery and deceit revolving around a prized statue of, you guessed it, a falcon.
Out of the Past (1947) starring Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer and Kirk Douglas. A private eye (Mitchum) escapes his shady past to run a gas station in a small town, but that past catches up with him when a wealthy gambler (Douglas) hires him to find his missing mistress (Greer). When Mitchum catches up to her in Acapulco, sparks fly….as do bullets.
On Dangerous Ground (1951) starring Ida Lupino and Robert Ryan. A troubled city cop (Ryan) roughs up one too many suspects and is sent upstate to help investigate the murder of a young girl in the winter countryside. There he meets a young beautiful blind woman (Lupino) whose brother is the chief suspect in the killing. The climactic chase through the snow is absolutely thrilling.
Gun Crazy (1950) starring John Dall and Peggy Cummins. This is probably the oddest movie in the series, but it quickly became one of my favorites when I saw it about 10 years ago for the first time. The plot synopsis at IMdb sums it up nicely: A well meaning crack-shot husband (Dall) is pressured by his beautiful marksman wife (Cummins) to go on an interstate robbery spree, where he finds out just how depraved and deadly she really is. These two definitely give Bonnie and Clyde a run for their money.
The Narrow Margin (1952) starring Charles McGraw and Marie Windsor. A Los Angeles cop (McGraw) and his partner are assigned to protect a mobster’s widow (Windsor) who is about to testify to a grand jury, spilling secrets about the mafia. Most of the action takes place on a cross-country train trip and it should go without saying that some very bad henchmen are on board, too.
Touch of Evil (1958) starring Orson Welles, Charlton Heston and Janet Leigh. Touch of Evil opens with one of the most perfect unbroken tracking shots in film history: three-and-a-half minutes in which we see a bomb planted in the trunk of a car in a seedy Mexican border town, watch a young newlywed couple get in the car and drive off, and then—well, I won’t spoil it for you by saying what exactly happens. The rest of the film is just as gripping as those first few minutes. Welles is outstanding as the bitter, overweight and possibly corrupt police captain who must work with his Mexican counterpart (Heston in dark makeup) to solve an international crime.