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.


9 thoughts on “Likeable characters in film noir

  1. Yet another fun, creative post! I may have to do this one myself, and I’ll link back to you if I do.

    I share some of your choices, but here’s further comment:

    I feel for Sue in The Big Combo, but it’s Rita the burlesque gal I find most sympathetic.

    And I see we are meant to be sympathetic with Chris in Scarlett Street, but ultimately I’m not. He shouldn’t have married his landlady, and he’s a fool to think Kitty would love him. It’s sad he never got to be a great artist, but how many of us do? 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I really like Rita as well (part 2 maybe?)

      I know, I think Chris Cross’ thing is that were meant to pity him I guess, cause he’s such a ‘loser’, and I suppose likeability and pity go together in film noir in a way.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. maddylovesherclassicfilms

    Great list. Here are a few of my favourite good Noir characters.

    Kathleen in The Dark Corner.
    Philip Marlowe in Murder My Sweet and The Big Sleep.
    Sam and Toni in The Strange Love Of Martha Ivers.
    Moe, Skip and Candy in Pickup On South Street.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Five Hot Noir Messes – B Noir Detour

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