Sunday, May 15, 2022

Our Picks for the Four Favorite Noirs Blogathon

To celebrate National Classic Movie Day on May 16th, we're participating in our own Four Favorite Noirs Blogathon. For our quartet of noirs, we chose a bona fide classic (Out of the Past), an acclaimed cult film (Gun Crazy), and two lesser-known gems (Black Angel and Phantom Lady). Be sure to check out all the movies profiled in the Four Favorite Noirs Blogathon by clicking this link.

Jane Greer as Kathie.
Out of the Past (1947) – My favorite film noir has Robert Mitchum as a man who has put his shady past behind him and found love with a good woman in a small community where he operates a gas station. But, as is often the case in the movies, his past catches up with him when a former acquaintance passes through town. With its contrasts of bright lights and dark shadows, Out of the Past is a visual feast. It’s also a compelling tale of a man pulled back into the shadows of his past—no matter how hard he tries to escape them. Kirk Douglas nails the manipulating villain; too bad he didn’t play more bad guys. Yet, despite the presence of Mitchum and Douglas, the film belongs to Jane Greer, an underrated and under-utilized actress who created one of the genre’s best femme fatales.

Peggy Cummins and John Dall.
Gun Crazy (1950) - A film noir with a tragic love story involving a femme fatale and a gun-obsessed guy? That's the premise behind this low-budget cult film that was selected by the Library of Congress for inclusion in the National Film Registry in 1998. Director Joseph H. Lewis was a journeyman director with a resume that included some interesting "B" movies (My Name is Julia Ross and So Dark the Night). But none of his work comes close to the innovative style employed in Gun Crazy. The film's highlight is a three-and-half minute bank robbery shot in a single take from the inside of the getaway car. The climax is almost as mesmerizing with the two ill-fated lovers hiding out in a fog-enshrouded swamp as they listen to their pursuers' footsteps in the water. John Dall is superb as the gun-loving Bart, but Peggy Cummins owns the film as femme fatale Laurie. She exudes sexual energy with Dall while coming across as a cold, manipulative killer. But here's the beauty of her performance: Despite Laurie's bad girl persona and many faults, Cummins convinces the audience that her character truly loves Bart. 

June Vincent and Peter Lorre.
Black Angel (1946) - Singer Mavis Marlowe (Constance Dowling) augments her income via blackmail, so it's not surprising when she winds up murdered. The police arrest Kirk Bennett (John Phillips), one of her blackmail victims who had recently ended an affair with Mavis. Despite his pleas of innocence, Kirk is found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to die. His wife Catherine (June Vincent) stands by Kirk throughout his ordeal and never wavers in her belief that he is innocent. As Kirk awaits his execution, Catherine decides to conduct her own investigation--with the reluctant aid of Mavis' ex-husband (Dan Duryea). I'll avoid any plot spoilers here, but will note that Black Angel sports a clever twist, too. However, director Roy William Neill is the reason to see Black Angel. A "B" movie director for Universal, Neill is best known for his Sherlock Holmes films with Basil Rathbone. From the opening  elaborate tracking shot up the side of a high-rise into Mavis's apartment to the innovative use of music, Neill displays a distinctive style that indicated a promising turning point in his career. It's a tragedy that he died of a heart attack at age 59. 

Phantom Lady 
(1944) - After being stood up by his wife, Scott Henderson (Alan Curtis) meets a mysterious, distraught woman at an empty bar on a muggy Saturday night in NYC. When he ill-advisedly asks her to a show, she agrees on one condition: They exchange no names, no addresses, and never meet again. Scott agrees. Later that night, he goes home to find the police at his apartment. His wife has been strangled with one of his ties ("A knot so tight it had to be cut with a knife," says one of the detectives). Scott's alibi falls apart when he can't identify his mysterious date. Phantom Lady benefits mightily from Robert Siodmak's moody direction and Ella Raines, whose character tries to clear Scott. Siodmak creates some knockout visuals once Raines takes to roaming the city's darkened streets to find the killer. The scene in which she follows a suspicious bartender is a tour-de-force as the two move through rainy streets, a shadow-filled train platform, and partially lit arches.


  1. Such great choices, Rick! OOTP and Gun Crazy are frequently on my Top 10 lists -- I'm especially fond of Gun Crazy (it almost made my cut). And how cool to see Phantom Lady and especially Black Angel make your list -- it definitely does not get enough love. Thanks for another great Classic Movie Day blogathon!

  2. First of all, thank you for hosting this annual event. I always look forward to it and you never disappoint with a great theme. Now for the films, as I've said before, I'm not really a noir fan or expert, but it surprises me how many I've seen. A good film is a good film, forget the genre. "Out of the Past" is just too perfect. I know that Jane Greer is an excellent film noir femme fatale, but I can never take my eyes off of Mitchum in this one (sorry!). I've seen "Gun Crazy" a few times and really do like Peggy Cummins - she's such a matter of fact kind of nut case. I've not seen "Black Angel" or "Phantom Lady," but I will keep my eye out for them. Oh, and please don't make next year's theme westerns!

  3. Great choices. Even better are the stills that you added. So crisp. So evocative. I'm so jealous! Thanks so much for hosting. Such a great topic, too!

  4. All four of these sound fantastic and I really need to knuckle down and see Out of the Past. Thank you for this great read and for hosting this event!

  5. It's been a while since I saw Out of the Past, and I am definitely overdue for a rewatch.

    Your other three choices here are all things that have been on my want-to-watch list for a while -- thanks for confirming that wish :-) They all look and sound great!

  6. Fantastic choices! I'm particularly happy to see Phantom Lady in the list. I still have to see Black Angel, though.
    Thanks again for hosting this celebration!

  7. I vaguely remember seeing "Phantom Lady" years ago in a film class, and I think it might be time to go back to it. "Out of the Past" looks very intriguing as well. Great list and thanks for hosting Classic Movie Day! I know we all look forward to this. :-)