26. “Out of the Past”, Jacques Tourneur (1947)

Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list

Out of the Past

Out of the Past

dir. Jacques Tourneur scr. Daniel Mainwaring based on his novel Build My Gallows High cin. Nicholas Musuraca with Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, Kirk Douglas, Rhoda Fleming, Richard Webb, Steve Brodie,Virginia Huston, Paul Valentine, and Dickie Moore

In 100 words: The greatest of all noirs has a sly sense of humor: Mitchum delivers one-liners with such casual indifference adding weight and levity to his words. Torneaur makes elegant images, filling rooms with so much cigarette smoke that may suggest characters expressing themselves through every puff. The plot keeps turning, making it difficult to keep track of who’s double-crossing who. But despite that, a sense of loss emanates from Mitchum’s Jeff that’s quite unusual for this genre. Greer too feels more cunning than the average femme fatale, but I love how her desperation reads across her face, even when performing coolly.

Other Movies for Context: Tourneur makes handsome images as apparent in one picture I’ve seen of his called Cat People (1942), which is quite literal despite its eerie affectations. As far as noirs go, I love The Big Heat (1953) and In a Lonely Place (1950), which just suggests how much I adore Gloria Grahame.

54. “Daisy Kenyon”, Otto Preminger (1947)

Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list

Daisy Kenyon.jpg


Daisy Kenyon

dir. Otto Preminger scr. David Hertz, based on the novel by Elizabeth Janeway cin. Leon Shamroy with Joan Crawford, Henry Fonda, Dana Andrews

In 100 words: In Daisy Kenyon, Preminger created an interesting marriage of naturalism and artifice; a melodrama built like a noir with all that word implies: the expressionistic lighting, deft camerawork and subtly gauzy images imply the characters’ internal state. At the same time, the love triangle feels surprisingly realistic, which counters whatever melodramatic impulses the story may have. Characters act impulsively, but they face their choices head-on, rather than suffering quietly. I cannot think of another movie where my allegiances shifted from one obvious choice to another and back, yet still feel like I’m not being duped. This one does that and more.

Other Movies for Context: This is often been referenced as a Joan Crawford-melodrama so I’ll start there: Mildred Pierce (1946) is obviously her crowning glory. Preminger made Laura (1944), a sensational and tightly constructed (less than 90 minutes!) film, also starring Andrews, but memorable for Clifton Webb’s kooky performance. The Man With the Golden Arm (1955) did less for me, even if I do like Frank Sinatra in it.

65. “The Third Man”, Carol Reed (1949)

Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list.

The Third Man.jpg

The Third Man

dir. Carol Reed scr. Graham Greene cin. Robert Krasker with Joseph Cotten, Trevor Howard, Alida Valli, and Orson Welles

In 100 words: From the moment that zither motif begins, the movie has you under its spell. Reed’s post-war noir feels dreamy, finding ways to film Vienna’s beauty amid its crumbling architecture and the antiquated structures. The Dutch angles and expressionistic use of shadows and light also heighten the romanticism. Though everything about the film’s images and sound feel phantasmagorical, the script fills the screen with indelible characters so disillusioned, hardened, and maybe even confused about each other’s names: Harry Lime’s famous oratory crystallizes the cynicism at the heart of the story, surely made even more memorable by Welles’ smug delivery. That ending!

Other Movies for Context: The battered grace of the movie’s images remind me of G.W. Pabst’s The Joyless Street (1925) or even The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), although everything about it feels uniquely attuned to its milieu. But the post-war vision also owes a lot to the films of Italian neorealism, including Roberto Rossellini, especially Germany Year Zero (1946)  Carol Reed would go on to win an Academy Award for directing Best Picture-winner Oliver! (1968).