What a year for film noir! Let’s begin with a painstaking list of those omitted. You had Richard Widmark’s seething and sinister Tommy Udo in Henry Hathaway’s Kiss of Death. Tyrone Power and his traveling carnival troupe in one of the oddest entries with Nightmare Alley. Joan Crawford trapped in a vicious ménage à trois between Dana Andrews and Henry Fonda – Henry Fonda! – in Daisy Kenyon. Burt Lancaster tearing through steel in Brute Force. John Garfield doing what it is he does best, brooding as a tortured anti-hero in Body and Soul. You had Robert Ryan playing an outright anti-semite in Crossfire. Hell, you even had John Hodiak and Wendell Corey getting tight and chummy as the more fascinating love interest in Desert Fury, the year’s Gilda. But with that said, nothing tops the classic duo of Jacques Tourneur and Robert Mitchum in Out of the Past. It isn’t the most innovative script with the most inspired climax, but it is everything a noir should be. It’s smoke coiled underneath an exposed lightbulb. It’s Mitchum’s baritone voice cooly describing his downfall, probably with a dangling cigarette in his mouth. It’s Jane Greer’s twenty-two year old youth brandished against her jaded fatalism. It’s basically the stuff that dreams are made of. So here’s tipping my glass of scotch to that, the year’s best.
1. Out of the Past (Jacques Tourneur)
2. Black Narcissus (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger)
3. Quai des Orfèvres (Henri-Georges Clouzot)
4. Odd Man Out (Carol Reed)
5. Pursued (Raoul Walsh)
6. Monsieur Verdoux (Charles Chaplin)
7. T-Men (Anthony Mann)
8. Boomerang! (Elia Kazan) and They Won’t Believe Me (Irving Pichel)
9. The Macomber Affair (Zoltan Korda)
10. La Perla (Emilio Fernández)
Odd Man Out has got to be one of the most extraordinarily idiosyncratic exports from the Brits. A film that begins like a caper but evolves into something surreal, all unique unto itself in its quiet and poetic finale. Then there’s Powell and Pressburger’s technicolor extravaganza that basically boils down to horny nuns in the Alps. Who woulda thought that it could make for such a damn good movie!? But like E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India, it gets at British repression and social propriety against the call of, ahem, nature. Charlie Chaplin deviated as far away from his Little Tramp character with Monsiuer Verdoux, probably intending to make a statement by it, and Zoltan Korda snatches the win for the most criminally neglected film of the year with The Macomber Affair, one of the best adaptations of a Hemingway novel and an ironic piece of scrutiny against masculinity. Robert Preston should have won an award or something.
Next time, who knows! Hey, it was Robert Mitchum’s birthday today and I had a couple of hours to kill.