Movie Mixtape: 6 Movies to Keep Noirvember Going

Noirvember, an excuse to spend a month watching all kins of film noir, ends in a few days, and it will last all year. That’s because it’s a spirit. An ethos. A perfect month-based pun that also happens to occur at the dimmed, icy time of year perfect for the genre.

In other words, keep this list handy for a bright, sunny day in Spring when you want to stay indoors with a soul-darkening picture filled with great actors playing bad people.

Kansas City Confidential (1952)

This film spits out every scene through gritted teeth. It’s also got an abundance of twists and turns all covered up by creepy masks and torn playing cards.

The gist is that Mr. Big, a hooded figure looking for a huge payday, hires three desperate men to help him pull off a bank robbery. The brilliance of the job is that none of the men will ever know the other (hence the masks) and they’ll pin it on an ex-con with a little help from a simple-minded, shoot-first police department. Everything going according to plan is only the first slip up.

With plot for days, a deep chiaroscuro of black and white, and an unnervingly sweaty performance from Jack Elam, this one deserves a look. It’s also free.

Please Murder Me (1956)

This Angela Lansbury-starring film is a riff on Double Indemnity with Raymond Burr playing a defense attorney and lover of Lansbury, who is sent to trial for killing her husband. While it’s in the same wheelhouse as the Bill Wilder all-timer, it definitely has its own life.

The two big reasons are Burr and Lansbury. The former, with that deep velvet voice choreographing the logic descent of a good-ish man. The latter, showing a cruel promise of what she’d later do in Manchurian Candidate. It’s a thoroughly tense movie, and it’s also free to stream.

House of Games (1987)

David Mamet’s directorial debut was this con job that gleefully lies to its audience. Don’t mind the awful trailer. The movie is a stunner.

Linsday Crouse plays a well-known psychologist who falls in with a con man played by Joe Montegna, who reluctantly teaches her increasingly complex cons for larger and larger amounts of money. It has no shortage of Mamet’s signature dialogue, and it toys with noir convention in fascinating ways while incorporating the deadly thrill and grit necessary to shock the system.

The Hitch-Hiker (1953)

Straightforward compared to other entries, Ida Lupino’s story of fishing buddies who catch a serial murderer in their car is the angriest of the bunch. Roy and Gilbert (Edmond O’Brien and Frank Lovejoy) are the epitome of average joes in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the film pokes its finger in their chest for an hour to see how close to the edge they’ll go.

It’s not about private eyes or crooked cops or cynical detectives. It’s about normals thrust instantly and deeply into the abnormal. Lupino’s technical skill is crystal clear here, but it’s also a fantastic display of character as two schlubs become three dimensional under duress. Oh, and this one’s also free to stream.

Busting (1974)

Anchored by Elliot Gould’s charm and Robert Blake’s bluster, Busting lives in the sweet spot of a Venn diagram of comedy, noir, and exploitation. It’s 1970s sleaze that was problematic in its own time, which says a lot. Kinda like M*A*S*H transported to a big city gutter. Fair warning.

As a historical artifact, it’s a forerunner for the endless buddy cop movies and TV shows that came after. It directly influenced Starsky and Hutch‘s creation, and the genre only blossomed from there.

Beat the Devil (1953)

As a palate cleanser before jumping back into The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep, John Huston’s crime adventure starring Humphrey Bogart as criminal elder statesman is a magnificent send-up of noir tropes. It’s as if Huston took a standard noir screenplay and had the actors deliver the lines with a wink of awareness that transforms hard-boiled lines into sarcastic quips.

It’s a breath of fresh air that’s still rooted in the scummy noir tradition. Naturally, Peter Lorre is in it to steal every scene and add to Bogart’s dark bona fides as both have a little fun.

The Mix

Hopefully this offers a broad spectrum of the loved and underloved. The mutts and pedigreed beasts of the genre beyond the most notable names.

That’s part of the magic of Noirvember. It acts as a discovery engine for the uninitiated and the well-versed alike, showering rightful praise on the cream of the crop as well as the worthwhile dirt further down into the barrel.

It’s a shame that so little Noir is available on the major streaming sites, and an even bigger shame that there’s so little available from before 1980 on the major streaming sites. That’s a rant for another time. For now, in the final cool days of Noirvember 2019, let’s chomp a cigar, open a mysterious briefcase, and celebrate the darker corners of our souls.

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