The Maltese Falcon (1941)
Written & Directed by John Huston
John Huston was born into entertainment. His father, Walter, got his start in vaudeville and then transitioned into movies. When John was born, his parent ended their earlier careers (his mother was a sports editor) to be more domestic. Walter became a civil engineer for a few years but eventually returned to acting. The couple divorced when John was six, and he spent much of his childhood at boarding schools, ferried between his two parents. Watching Walter act on stage profoundly affected John’s burgeoning love of storytelling and set him on his path to becoming a filmmaker.
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Blood Simple (1985)
Written by Joel & Ethan Coen
Directed by Joel Coen
Nothing in Blood Simple feels unnecessary. Each frame, each character action, every twist in the plot feels like it clicks right into place to tell a classic neo-noir tale. The Coens direct with confidence that they know every character and the perfect flow of the story. The title comes from Dashiell Hammet’s novel Red Harvest to describe the mindset immersed in violence and how it becomes addled with fear & terror. That perfectly describes this quartet of souls as they make bad choices, communicate poorly, and allow paranoia to take over their psyche. The result is a movie dripping with noir, reminiscent of old classics but paving its own country-fried way.
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Ace in the Hole (1951)
Written by Billy Wilder, Lesser Samuels, and Walter Newman
Directed by Billy Wilder
Billy Wilder was wildly prescient when it came to the worst of mankind. Long before 24-hour news cycles became a thing, Wilder was already foreseeing a time where a small incident could be exploited by the media into something more substantial. The forces of entertainment would find ways to prolong human suffering because it makes such a compelling narrative to the public. Wilder makes no bones about how he believes humans often succumb to their worst impulses and delivers a noir film that doesn’t need Los Angeles to give it atmosphere.
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Double Indemnity (1944)
Written by Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler
Directed by Billy Wilder
Damn, that was a good movie. You will, of course, feel like you’ve seen and heard this before, which speaks more to the profound influence this entry into the film noir genre has had on the culture. It’s said to be the movie that set the standard for all film noir to come after. A few months ago, I watched the pilot episode of Columbo and was reminded of how similar the murder plans are. You may recall The Coen Brothers’ Blood Simple or The Man Who Wasn’t There, both obvious nods to this masterwork. I can’t express how satisfying it is to finally see a film held up as a significant part of the canon and see that it truly lives up to the hype.
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