My six favorite film noir scores


I love film scores. And since it’s Noirvember, here are six of my favorite film noir scores, in no particular order:

The Big Combo (1955, dir. Joseph H. Lewis) – Cool and jazzy, David Raksin’s score thrusts you into the ride that is The Big Combo as soon as it starts.

Double Indemnity (1944. dir. Billy Wilder) – The spooky theme by Miklós Rózsa (pictured) is particularly scary when you’ve got Fred MacMurray’s silhouette slowly coming at you in the opening credits.

The Third Man (1949. dir. Carol Reed) – Anton Karas’ masterpiece is deliciously catchy, fabulously unusual and as beloved as the film itself.

Laura (1944. dir. Otto Preminger) – Possibly the most iconic of them all, David Raksin’s score is as other-worldly and hauntingly beautiful as a film score gets.

Raw Deal (1948, dir. Anthony Mann) – As atmospheric as the movie itself, Paul Sawtell’s score is pleasantly intoxicating; almost ghostly. Coincidentally, it is eerily similar to theme from Rebecca (1940. dir. Alfred Hitchcock).

The Killers (1946, dir. Robert Siodmak) – Announcing the arrival of the killers wherever they go, Miklós Rózsa’s score is menacing, frightening and grand, and, if I had to choose, probably my all-time favorite film noir score.




One of the bravest screenwriters of the 1940s, John Paxton’s run as RKO’s top story-crafter between 1944 and 1947 culminated in one of the era’s most acclaimed ‘message pictures’ and preceded one of Hollywood’s most controversial witch-hunts.

Born in Kansas City in 1911, John Paxton attended the University of Missouri where he studied journalism before moving to New York where he got a job organizing a playwriting contest for the Theatre Guild. He was a reviewer for Stage magazine where he befrieded future RKO producer Adrian Scott and in 1943 he moved to Hollywood and was hired by Scott as a screenwriter. His first film was My Pal Wolf (dir. Alfred L Werker) in 1944 and, that same year, he received critical acclaim for his screenplay of Murder, my Sweet (dir. Edward Dmytryk), starring Dick Powell, which he adapted from the Raymond Chandler novel. He received the Edgar Award for Screenplay and the Scott-Dmytryk-Paxton-Powell team was born. Their second collaboration came in 1945 with Cornered, and two years later, there was So Well Remembered, this one Dick Powell-less. In 1947 came what is arguably John Paxton’s greatest and most praised achievement, his screenplay for Crossfire (dir. Edward Dmytryk), which he adapted from Richard Brooks’ novel The Brick Foxhole. Having changed some of the themes to fit the then-current Hollywood blacklist wave, Crossfire became a message picture about anti-Semitism, which we covered here. Ironically, Scott and Dmytryk were actually blacklisted and surprisingly, Paxton was not and ended up receiving an Oscar nomination for it. He didn’t win, but did received his second Edgar Award. He left RKO the following year, and throughout the 1950s, he worked for a number of studios and wrote such screenplays as Fourteen Hours (1951, dir. Henry Hathaway), The Wild One (1953, dir. Laszlo Benedek), The Cobweb (1955, dir. Vincente Minnelli), as well as On The Beach (1959, dir. Stanley Kramer). In 1971, he won the Golden Globe for Kotch (dir. Walter Matthau) and in 1972 he adapted the Adrian Scott play The Great Man’s Whiskers for television. John Paxton died in 1985 at the age of 73.

Film noir’s seven hottest couples!

‘From the moment they met, it was murder!’, goes the tagline of Double Indemnity (1944). And to be fair, that could be the tagline for any of them! Lust, angst, love, hate, lies, double-crossings and murder… When two people come together in film noir, you can expect any and all of those! Here are seven of my personal favorite couples in noir world, in no particular order:

outofthepast_jeffandkathieKathie Moffat (Jane Greer) and Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum) in Out of the Past (1947) – The baddest bad girl and the coolest cat can only be an explosive combination! Poor Jeff. All he wanted was to start over, but as we know, noir won’t let anyone escape their past. In this case, Kathie is the key to Jeff’s past as well as his ultimate destruction, and he knows this. As her double-crossing ways get more devious by the minute, Jeff tries his hardest to get out and, as a result, lust, fascination and hate collide whenever these two are in the same room together.

the-big-sleep-bogieVivian Sternwood (Lauren Bacall) and Phillip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) in The Big Sleep (1946) – The most convoluted plot ever actually makes for one of the most exciting noirs. And right at the center of it all is the relationship between Vivian and Marlowe. Curiously, in a world full of deceit, chases and double crosses, these two seem to be more at easy with each other than when they’re apart, and, being the only real-life couple on the list, that is perhaps not surprising.

hqdefaultStella (Linda Darnell) and Eric Stanton (Dana Andrews) in Fallen Angel (1945)– Stella’s no-nonsense, straightforward attitude is not what con man Eric expected when he got off the bus in Walton, but he definitely likes it. Their cat-and-mouse game is fun to watch, mostly because of how she can handle him despite his controlling ways, and their interactions clearly define the good side of town vs bad side of town aspect of the film. This, ironically, makes Stella one of the most sympathetic characters in noir.

double-indemnity-life-1944-2Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) and Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) in Double Indemnity (1944)– It all started with an anklet. And ended far worse than either of them imagined. A murder plan concocted by a housewife and an insurance salesman, both driven by lust and greed, their combined rottenness is matched only by sleaziness of their relationship. It’s hot, it’s mad and it’s deceitful. What could go wrong?

lonelyplace3Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame) and Dix Steele (Humphrey Bogart) in In a Lonely Place (1950)– When Dix becomes the main suspect in a murder, Laurel, his neighbor, testifies, and the two unexpectedly fall in love. The question of the whether or not Dix is guilty is all the more poignant when their relationship is put to the test over and over, as we navigate the film through Laurel’s eyes. Their love for each other is so consuming, so intimate, so desperate, it makes In a Lonely Place seem more like a love story disguised as a murder mystery noir than anything else.

pickuptiltedCandy (Jean Peters) and Skip McCoy (Richard Widmark) in Pickup on South Street (1953)– A pickpocket, a Communist agent’s girlfriend and the top-secret microfilm between them… a combination that results in one of the most electrifying and intense love-hate relationships in noir world, and one of the few that doesn’t end tragically. As their feelings for each other become clearer, their chemistry is so good, their kisses so intimate, you almost feel like you’re intruding… Hot, hot, hot.

sem nome.pngGilda (Rita Hayworth) and Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford) in Gilda (1946)– The hottest couple of them all, in my opinion. The circumstances surrounding their reunion – Johnny is hired by Ballin Mundson (George Macready) to work at his casino, not knowing his ex-lover Gilda is Ballin’s wife… – are enough to let the angst flow! Their love-hate relationship is hot, exciting, tragic and romantic, as they try to deny their feelings for each other, to no avail. Their chemistry is some of the best there has ever been, and, as far as film noir goes, that is always a bonus!