Bright Lights Film Journal

A BRIEF HISTORY OF NOIR

The ’30s
M (Lang)
Two Seconds (LeRoy)
Scarface (Hawks)
Fury (Lang)
You Only Live Once (Lang)
Sabotage (Hitchcock)

The ’40s
Stranger on the Third Floor (Ingster)
The Seventh Victim (Lewton/Robson)
Shadow of a Doubt (Hitchcock)
Laura (Preminger)
Phantom Lady (Siodmak)
Fallen Angel (Preminger)
The Woman in the Window (Lang)
The Killers (Siodmak)
Scarlet Street (Lang)
Mildred Pierce (Curtiz)
Double Indemnity (Wilder)
Detour (Ulmer)
Leave Her to Heaven (Stahl)
The Big Sleep (Hawks)
Gilda (Vidor/Maté)
The Locket (Brahm)
Notorious (Hitchcock)
The Stranger (Welles)
T-Men (Mann/Alton)
Born to Kill (Wise)
Force of Evil (Polansky)
The Lady From Shanghai (Welles)
Out of the Past (Tourneur)
Pitfall (de Toth)
Raw Deal (Mann/Alton)
Ruthless (Ulmer)
Sleep, My Love (Sirk)
Border Incident (Mann/Alton)
Caught (Ophuls)
Criss Cross (Siodmak)
Gun Crazy (Lewis)
The Reckless Moment (Ophuls)
The Set-Up (Wise)
White Heat (Walsh)

The ’50s
The Asphalt Jungle (Huston)
D.O.A. (Maté)
In a Lonely Place (Ray)
Sunset Boulevard (Wilder)
Where the Sidewalk Ends (Preminger)
The Prowler (Losey)
Strangers on a Train (Hitchcock)
Angel Face (Preminger)
The Big Heat (Lang)
On Dangerous Ground (Ray)
Pickup on South Street (Fuller)
Confidential Report aka Mr. Arkadin (Welles)
Rear Window (Hitchcock)
The Burglar (Wendkos)
The Big Knife (Aldrich)
Kiss Me Deadly (Aldrich)
The Big Combo (Lewis)
The Killing (Kubrick)
The Wrong Man (Hitchcock)
The Lineup (Siegel)
Machine Gun Kelly (Corman)
Touch of Evil (Welles)
Vertigo (Hitchcock)
Anatomy of a Murder (Preminger)

The ’60s
The Intruder (Corman)
Underworld USA (Fuller)
Eva (Losey)
Lolita (Kubrick)
The Manchurian Candidate (Frankenheimer)
Shock Corridor (Fuller)
The Killers (Siegel)
The Naked Kiss (Fuller)
Bunny Lake is Missing (Preminger)
In Cold Blood (Brooks)
Point Blank (Boorman)
The Boston Strangler (Fleischer)
The Legend of Lylah Clare (Aldrich)

The ’70s
Bloody Mama (Corman)
The Honeymoon Killers (Kastle)
Dirty Harry (Siegel)
The Grissom Gang (Aldrich)
Klute (Pakula)
The Long Goodbye (Altman)
Sisters (De Palma)
Chinatown (Polanski)
The Conversation (Coppola)
Night Moves (Penn)
All the President’s Men (Pakula)
Obsession (De Palma)
Taxi Driver (Scorsese)
Looking for Mr. Goodbar (Brooks)
The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover (Cohen)
The Driver (Hill)

The ’80s
American Gigolo (Schrader)
Cruising (Friedkin)
Blow Out (De Palma)
Blade Runner (Scott)
Scarface (De Palma)
Star 80 (Fosse)
Blue Velvet (Lynch)
Body Double (De Palma)
To Live and Die in L.A. (Friedkin)
Dead Ringers (Cronenberg)
Patty Hearst (Schrader)
The Thin Blue Line (Morris)
Crimes and Misdemeanors (Allen)

The ’90s
The Grifters (Frears)
Barton Fink (Coen Bros)
JFK (Stone)
Silence of the Lambs (Demme)
The Player (Altman)
Reservoir Dogs (Tarantino)
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (Lynch)
Natural Born Killers (Stone)
Pulp Fiction (Tarantino)
Se7en (Fincher)
L.A. Confidential (Hanson)
Lost Highway (Lynch)
Eyes Wide Shut (Kubrick)
Fight Club (Fincher)
The Insider (Mann)
The Talented Mr. Ripley (Minghella)

The 2000s (so far)
Memento (Nolan)
Mulholland Drive (Lynch)
The Man Who Wasn’t There (Coen Bros)
Auto Focus (Schrader)
Femme Fatale (De Palma)
Sin City (Rodriguez/Miller)
Match Point (Allen)
The Black Dahlia (De Palma)

NOTES: This is a personal and selective list, and I apologize for leaving out anyone’s favorites. For the most part, I’ve tried to avoid citing genre hybrids and foreign language productions – with certain seminal exceptions like Blade Runner (noir/sci-fi) and M. Also, when I compare certain official classics such as The Maltese Falcon to films that are really dark – say, The Seventh Victim, The Woman in the Window (pictured above), or Huston’s own The Asphalt Jungle – they don’t seem all that noir to me, so I have omitted them.

Noir is a visual style (as I wrote in Bright Lights, it is “the collision of German Expressionism with documentary realism, paralleling the emergence of ‘the city’ as a character”) that in turn reflects a mindset, a way of seeing the world. In a true noir, evil is not confined to a few bad apples; there is something “out of joint” with the universe at large. Noir’s shadow of dread can be political in nature (malice, corruption, incipient fascism), metaphysical (the “fallen world”), psychological, or any combination thereof. It is not so much a genre as a world view that can be applied to any genre, yet – paradoxically – is most at home in the crime film.