‘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:
Kathie 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.
Vivian 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.
Stella (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.
Phyllis 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?
Laurel 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.
Candy (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.
Gilda (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!