Welcome one and all to a new regular feature here at MakeUseOf, crudely titled “Stuff to Watch”. Each week I’ll be delivering a visual-dose of moving images, internet-related film-making and little known gems that are available free online for your perusal.
First up it’s the seedy, moody and highly stylized world of film noir, the catch-all term for the crime, drama and suspense ridden world of 1940s film-making. On this list you’ll find 6 black-and-white releases, each with their own heady doses of femme fatales, hardened crime fighters and deserted alleyways.
These films have been hand-picked from the Internet Archive, and are available for both streaming and downloading to watch as you please.
Too Late For Tears [IMDB] (1949)
A lonely highway, a speeding car and the sudden acquisition of $60,000 is all it takes to push some people to the edge, as this 1949 classic starring Lizabeth Scott (as Jane Palmer) demonstrates. Jane’s husband is keen to turn the money over to the police, but she resists and before long a mysterious character shows up to claim the cash.
With a life of luxury in her sights, Jane proves her worth as a femme fatale. This film tackles the issue of money and its impact on relationships and personalities in typical film noir fashion. With Jane and her husband on opposite sides of the fence, tragedy is unavoidable in this tense and highly watchable piece of cinema.
Directed by Rudolph Maté, who is considered by many a master of the film noir genre, D.O.A. features one of the most iconic intro sequences in the history of film. The opening shots introduce the main character – Frank Bigelow (played by Edmond O’Brien) – as he walks in to a police station to report his own murder.
Unnervingly the police appear to already be expecting him, as he tells them that he has been poisoned and only has a short time to live. The rest of the movie is spent following Frank in his quest to find out who his killer is and why he is wanted on the slab. If you’ve never watched a film noir before, this one provides a gripping introduction to the genre from one of the finest film makers of the time.
He Walked By Night [IMDB] (1948)
An example of an early film using experimental storytelling techniques, He Walked By Night is presented in a semi-documentary style and hit cinemas with the tagline “From the homicide files of the Los Angeles police”. In the dead of night a lone gunman shoots and kills an LAPD officer, prompting an epic manhunt in pursuit of the killer.
The film itself is based on the real-life events of Erwin “Machine Gun” Walker, who evaded the death penalty by claiming insanity on death row. In true film noir style, He Walked By Night was the first feature-length production to use the Los Angeles underground sewer and storm drain systems as mood-defining backdrops. Gritty!
Starring the renowned Mickey Rooney, Quicksand begins with an auto mechanic borrowing a paltry $20 from his employee’s cash register to woo a waitress with expensive tastes. This small and seemingly inconsequential act sets the ball rolling for what is a rollercoaster ride of events the mechanic could not have prepared for.
As Rooney’s character attempts to put right his wrongdoings, his circumstances become worse and each attempt to get out of trouble backfires. A series of unfortunate events that leave the viewer feeling for the mechanic and gripped to their seats, Quicksand delivers a heady blow of film noir complete with grimy settings and a tense finale.
Detour delivers a steady dose of ever-increasing peril in a similar way as Quicksand (above). When hitchhiker Al Roberts decides to travel from New York City to Los Angeles in pursuit of his singer girlfriend Sue, he accepts a lift from a man who suffers an accident and dies.
Fearing for his freedom, and how the police will react, Al takes on the identity of the dead man and continues his journey. Along the way he encounters a woman who is wise to his plan and uses Al’s unfortunate situation against him.
Walter Williams is a successful businessman who has recently purchased three factories in Denver. As he prepares to travel his wife claims to be feeling unwell and cannot travel with him to Colorado, instead opting to travel with her cousin – except the cousin turns out to be Walter’s wife’s lover, and instead the two plot to kill the businessman.
I’m not going to divulge any more as this is a film that’s full of twists and turns that simply has to be watched. What else can be said about a film with the tagline: “Wanted by two women! One for Love! One for Murder!”?
They just don’t make them like they used to do they? If you’ve enjoyed this small dose of classic film, don’t forget to check out our Hitchcock collection and of course the horror section too! If you have any of your own recommendations from the genre then don’t forget to add them in the comments below.
Have you any favorites on this list? Do you love film noir? Leave a comment!