Likeable characters in film noir


I know, I know. Everyone in noir is such a hot-headed bastard or a devious femme fatale or a crooked cop. Well, not everyone. There are those characters in noir that are just good people, or at the very least, characters that make you sympathize with them, whether it’s because they’re trying to get their life back together, or they help out other characters, or whatever it is. Certain characters in noir are just nice and likeable. Here are some of them:

Susan (Jean Wallace) from The Big Combo (1955) – Oh, poor little angel. She wants to get away from Mr Brown (Richard Conte) so bad that she will deliberately harm herself in the process. You just want to hug her and take her away from everything and you cheer her on when she finally breaks free.

Moe (Thelma Ritter) from Pickup on South Street (1953) – As street-smart, wise-talking and instantly likable as you’d expect from a Thelma Ritter character. And her exit might be one of the most heart-breaking things I’ve ever seen in a film.

Dennis (Dennis O’Keefe) and Tony (Alfred Ryder) from T-Men (1947) – Their friendship is beautiful albeit brief and their journey throughout the film is nerve-wrecking and extremely tense, which makes you root for them even more.

Captain Finlay (Robert Young) from Crossfire (1947) – The detective with a conscience. His monologue at the end makes you understand why the solution to this crime is so important to him.

Dave Bannion (Glenn Ford) from The Big Heat (1953) – He just wants to do his job, bring the bad guys to justice and go home to his family at the end of the day. He’s got a good heart and good values, which are hard to find in film noir.

Debbie Marsh (Gloria Grahame) from The Big Heat (1953) – She’s probably the most likeable femme fatale ever. In fact, I’m not too sure about her being a femme fatale at all. She’s caring, understanding and kind-hearted and her scene with Bannion in the film’s resolution is just so tender and bittersweet.

Laura (Gene Tierney) from Laura (1944) – She was surrounded by people who loved her, who used her, who were obsessed with her, who thought of her as the greatest thing in New York City. And she never lost her sense of self, strength, unassuming confidence and determination.

Laurel (Gloria Grahame) from In a Lonely Place (1950) – Because we don’t know what actually happened until the last scene, we’re left with the same doubts and fears as Laurel throughout the film and it’s like we’re watching the whole thing through her eyes.

Pat (Claire Trevor) from Raw Deal (1948) – With her narration, she guides her though the film while giving us an insight into her personal and emotional turmoil and we connect with her. Raw Deal is Pat’s film.

Ann (Marsha Hunt) from Raw Deal (1948) – She’s the moral compass of the film. And even though Pat and Ann are love rivals fighting over Joe (Dennis O’Keefe)’s affections, you kind of wish they would go off together, leaving that cad behind, Thelma and Louise-style.

Chris Cross (Edward G. Robinson) from Scarlet Street (1945) – He just hurts my soul. He didn’t deserve any of it and his last moments are probaby the darkest moments ever in film noir. It’s just painful to watch.

There are many others, of course. Maybe I’ll do a part 2 one of these days.


6 film noir opening scenes/sequences I love


The Killers (1946) – two shadows on the ground announce the arrival of the titular killers, stepping out from behind the diner they will enter in just a few seconds. It is one of the most excitingly scary scenes in all of film noir.

T-Men (1947) – Like a tiger lurking in the shadows, T-Men’s opening scene (after the introduction) is as cold and intimidating as it gets and it sets the mood perfectly for the most nerve-wrecking noir ever.

Sunset Boulevard (1950) – cars everywhere – the Homicide Squad – and a voice-over monologue by Joe Gillis (William Holden) make this one of the most exciting opening scenes ever.

The Big Combo (1955) – a boxing match, followed by a woman running away from two men, who finally capture her and tell her that Mr Brown wants her to see the match. Everything you need to know about The Big Combo is in those first 2 or 3 minutes.

Double Indemnity (1944) – A car speeds through Los Angeles, ignoring the STOP sign, in a foreshadowing way. Then Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) walks into his office to tell his story. And we’re off… The narration is fantastic and every detail is on point.

Laura (1944) – That insanely awesome opening line is made even more awesome by the fact that it is spoken by noir’s most eccentric character of all time. He is then introduced to us sitting in the bathtub writing his newspaper column. Genius.

Of course, there are many, many more to choose from, but these are the ones that come to mind right now.


DOUBLE BILL #8: 1946 and 1947 (Noir edition)

collage-2017-11-10When it comes to great years for film noir, anything between 1943 and 1955 is gold. 1944 has Double Indemnity and Laura, 1950 has Sunset Boulevard, In a Lonely Place and The Asphalt Jungle, not to mention 1955 and The Big Combo and Kiss me Deadly. So, to be honest with you, I could have chosen anything, but in the end I had to go with 1946 and 1947.

1946, to me, is the most versatile of all years for film noir. We have the hot and steamy Gilda, the electrifying chemistry of Bogie and Bacall in The Big Sleep, the unshakable love affair that is Notorious, the puzzle-like plot of The Killers, the suburban masterpiece The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, and of course, the most brilliantly bizarre noir all of time, Decoy. Not to mention countless others. It was such an exciting year for noir, such an extravaganza of boldness and ground-breaking filmmaking and I never really realized that until I did my top 30 favorite noirs and saw that a lot of them actually come from 1946.

1947, on the other hand, was the year of the sadistic killers. Robert Ryan in Crossfire, Richard Widmark in Kiss of Death, and, of course, Claire Trevor and Lawrence Tierney in Born to Kill (God, has there ever been such a despicable pair of humans in any noir?). On top of this, there’s also the twist-filled The Lady from Shanghai, the heavy and hush-hush T-Men, and, of course, the noir of noirs, the masterpiece that is Out of the Past. Oh, who doesn’t love Out of the Past?

You can’t go wrong with either of these. Both of them produced an array of masterpieces, and, personally, I think 1946 might be the greatest year for film noir of all time, closely followed by 1947. But that’s just my personal opinion. Either way, you’ve got a winner.

My Top 30 Favorite Films Noir

Noirvember is finally here and to celebrate, I’m going to share with you my top 30 favorite noirs. I did a top 20 last year and I felt like it wasn’t enough. I left some of my big ones out and it almost killed me, so this year I thought a top 30 was in order.


  • This is a very personal and very subjective list. I’m not claiming these are the 30 greatest noirs, I’m saying these are MY favorites.
  • Neo-noirs will not be included, because The Old Hollywood Garden focuses on the classic period primarily.
  • Because noir is a very broad genre (why do they have to make this even more difficult?!), I tried to stick to films that most closely resemble and fit into the noir category.
  • I have seen 55 films noir, so you can imagine how hard this was. Feel free to ask me about any noir you didn’t see on the list.
  • Because I haven’t seen every film noir ever made and because tastes and preferences change overtime, this list can be updated in the future.
  • As always, you’re more than welcome to share your personal favorites on the comment section.

Here we go!

30. The Woman in the Window (1944)

      Dir. Fritz Lang



‘I don’t want to make trouble for anybody. I can, of course, but I don’t want to.’






29. The Blue Dahlia (1946)

      Dir. George Marshall


‘Half the cops in LA are looking for you.’

‘Only half?’






28. Decoy (1946)

      Dir. Jack Bernhard



‘People who use pretty faces like yours don’t live too long anyway.’







27. Detour (1945)

      Dir. Edgar Ulmer




‘Fate, or some mysterious force, can put the finger on you for no good reason at all.’





26. Touch of Evil (1958)

      Dir. Orson Welles



‘He was some kind of man. What does it matter what you say about people?’





25. The Lady from Shanghai (1947)

      Dir. Orson Welles




‘Killing you is killing myself. But you know, I’m pretty tired of both of us.’





24. In a Lonely Place (1950)

      Dir. Nicholas Ray




‘I was born when she kissed me. I died wen she left me. I lived a few weeks while she loved me.’






23. Scarlet Street (1945)

      Dir. Fritz Lang





‘Can’t you get those lazy legs off that couch, baby?’






22. The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

      Dir. John Huston


‘Experience has taught me never to trust a policeman. Just when you think one’s all right, he turns legit.’





21. The Maltese Falcon (1941)

      Dir. John Huston



‘I’ll be waiting for you. If then hang you, I’ll always remember you.’






20. Mildred Pierce (1945)

      Dir. Michael Curtiz





‘She plays the piano like I shoot pool.’






19. The Third Man (1949)

       Dir. Carol Reed



‘Oh Holly, you and I aren’t heroes. The world doesn’t make any heroes outside of your stories.’




18. Raw Deal (1948)

     Dir. Anthony Mann





‘I want to breathe. That’s why I want to get out of this place. So I can take a deep breath again’






17. Crossfire (1947)

      Dir. Edward Dmytryk




‘I was in a stinkin’ gin mill, where all he had to do to see me was walk in, sit down at the table and buy me a drink.’





16. The Big Sleep (1946)

      Dir. Howard Hawks




‘What’s wrong with you?’

‘Nothing you can’t fix.’





15. The Big Heat (1953)

     Dir. Fritz Lang



‘You know I’ve been meting your kind now for ten years. Sacred rabbits who never see a thing. You wouldn’t stick your big fat neck out for anybody, would you?’




14. Pickup on South Street (1953)

     Dir. Samuel Fuller



‘Even in your crummy line of business you gotta draw the line somewhere.’





13. Kansas City Confidential (1952)

     Dir. Phil Karlson



‘I know a sure cure for a nosebleed. A cold knife in the middle of the back.’





12. Gilda (1946)

      Dir. Charles Vidor


‘Hate is a very exciting emotion. Haven’t you noticed? Very exciting. I hate you too, Johnny. I hate you so much that I think I’m going to die from it.’





11. T-Men (1947)

      Dir. Anthony Mann


‘They had to know all the answers. Failure to do would mean a bad grade later on in the shape of a bullet or an ice-pick.’






10. The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)

     Dir. Lewis Milestone



‘A sure thing is never a gamble.’





9. Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950)

    Dir. Otto Preminger

Where the Sidewalk Ends_Dana Andrews in a tradmark fedora and overcoat


‘That’s a fancy way of trying to frame somebody – getting yourself knocked off. A guy’s gotta be outta his head for that. I didn’t know a guy could hate that much. Not even you.’




8. Sweet Smell of Success (1957)

    Dir. Alexander MacKendrick



‘Match me, Sidney.’




7. The Big Combo (1955)

    Dir. Joseph H. Lewis




‘First is first and second is nobody.’






6. Notorious (1946)

    Dir. Alfred Hitchcock




‘Dry your eyes baby, it’s out of character.’






5. The Killers (1946)

    Dir. Robert Siodmak




‘If there’s one thing in this world I hate, is a double-crossing dame.’







4. Out of the Past (1947)

    Dir. Jacques Tourneur




‘And then I saw her – coming out of the sun. And I knew why Whit didn’t care about the forty grand.’





3. Sunset Boulevard (1950)

    Dir. Billy Wilder



‘Alright Mr DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.’





2. Laura (1944)

    Dir. Otto Preminger



‘I shall never forget the weekend Laura died. The silver sun burned through the sky like a huge magnifying glass. It was the hottest Sunday in my recollection.’




Before I reveal my number 1 noir, here are a few honorable mentions: The Hitch-hiker (1953), Kiss me Deadly (1955), Pitfall (1948), Fallen Angel (1945), The Chase (1946), D.O.A (1950)…








  1. Double Indemnity (1944)

         Dir. Billy Wilder


‘It sounds crazy, Keyes, but it’s true, so help me. I couldn’t hear my own footsteps. It was the walk of a dead man.’



That’s it from me!

Happy Noirvember, everyone!