Overlooked and Underrated: Film Noir’s unsung heroes, villains and in-betweeners

Happy Noirvember to all of you dames and misters out there in the dark! This year, I thought I’d do something a little different. There’s a big blogathon coming up and WORLD CINEMA will logically be featuring a noir, so for Noirvember’s first post, I wanted to give a little shout out to just SOME of the characters and performances that I’ve enjoyed over the years that don’t seem to get a whole lot of attention. So, obviously, Robert Mitchum in Out of the Past or Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity won’t be here. Here’s to the unsung heroes, villains and in-betweeners!

Dana Andrews in Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950, dir. Otto Preminger) – Where the Sidewalk Ends is one of the most ingenious noirs out there and Dana Andrews’ Mark Dixon is a delicious anti-hero: a troubled cop who must come to terms with the fact that his own father was a crooked cop himself and that he must do everything he can not to end up like him. He almost manages, until one night, when everything goes wrong…

Richard Basehart in He Walked by Night (1948, dir. Alfred Werker) – I wrote about this amazing film a few years ago and referred to Basehart’s Roy Morgan as an impenetrable psychopath. A smart, resourceful and mysterious killer who manages to outsmart the cops as they chase him around the streets of Los Angeles. It’s a quiet performance which, in 1940s noir, was slightly rare and its calmness is its strength. Basehart is on top form in this.

Louis Calhern in The Asphalt Jungle (1950, dir. John Huston) – The wealthy lawyer in one of cinema’s most iconic heist operations, Alonzo D. Emmerich is a calm and calculating man and Calhern delivers a nuanced and restrained performance that kind of almost breaks your heart, even though it shouldn’t. He was Oscar-nominated that year for The Magnificent Yankee (1950, dir. John Sturges), so understandably went un-nominated for Jungle, but I maintain that he should have been. 

Jean Gillie in Decoy (1946, dir. Jack Bernhard) – I talked about Jean Gillie’s performance in this film a few years ago and I mentioned that I’ve long considered Margot Shelby, the mastermind behind one of the most far-fetched plots in any noir, to be a nuanced anti-heroine, rather than a villain or a femme fatale. She’s a fascinating, endlessly analysable, double-crossing badass.

Dennis O’Keefe in T-Men (1947, dir. Anthony Mann) – As I’ve said a few times, I think T-Men is the tensest of ALL noirs. Two Treasury men go undercover to bring down a notorious counterfeit ring – what could go wrong, right? The brief friendship between both of them is quite sweet and, as the tension builds, it slowly breaks your heart… This is a far cry from O’Keefe’s Joe Sullivan, the charming, two-timing cad from Raw Deal (1948, Mann).

Thelma Ritter in Pickup on South Street (1953, dir. Sam Fuller) – One of Thelma Ritter’s six (!) Oscar nominations, Pickup on South Street’s police informant Moe is a smart, endearing, wise-cracking woman whose exit is still one of the most heart-breaking I’ve ever seen…

And on that happy note, Happy Noirvember and stay tuned!

26 thoughts on “Overlooked and Underrated: Film Noir’s unsung heroes, villains and in-betweeners

  1. Carol, thank you once again for another excellent walk along the side streets of noir, my favourite genre. I’ve seen all of these with the exception of ‘T-Men’, which I will have to hunt down and watch. Thelma Ritter is almost the greatest actor many have not heard of. Fabulous.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. mikefilmbuff

    Thanks to you Carol, I got to see these neglected films and performance. From film noir to pre code to foreign films it’s been a wonderful ride. Looking forward to more of your recommendations and analyses. It’s always a pleasure.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great article and perfect choices regarding unsung performances. Louis Calhern is one of the finest actors whose brilliance is never given enough attention. His performance is genius in The Asphalt Jungle and he delivers one of cinema’s greatest lines about the nature of crime.

    Btw what’s the big upcoming blogathon? Sounds interesting!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I may have misled you all lol I’m taking part in a blogathon, the Distraction one, over at Rebecca’s blog! I think I saw your name there?

      And yes! ‘Crime is a left-handed form of human endeavor…’brilliant!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. John A. Rizzo

    I watched “Decoy”. Crazy movie, but in a good B way. The plot mixing noir and a touch of Sci fi was a bit reminiscent of “Kiss Me Deadly”. Yes, Jean Gillie’s Margot was wicked to the bitter end. I must say I really liked Sheldon Leonard as a detective.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Dennis Sullivan

    I watched ‘Where The Sidewalk Ends’ last night. I thought the first half was great with some standout moments but that the end didn’t quite live up to that potential. Gene Tierney’s character was a bit too understanding.

    It reminded me of LA Confidential in a few places, showing the internal workings of the police station, police violence being punished yet also used deliberately, but most importantly a cop that looks like Curly from the Three Stooges.

    I’ll check out a few of the other films in your post in the coming weeks.

    Liked by 1 person

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