My strongest memories of watching classic film noir are always connected to summer. There’s something about watching noir on a hot night, even if you have air conditioning on, that’s so much more effective than if you were watching during a milder or colder season. Here are five films which are essential to understanding the genre and which would be lots of fun on a summer night.
The Maltese Falcon (1941, dir. John Huston) – starring Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Lee Patrick, Sydney Greenstreet; Elisha Cook, Jr.
This is the movie that got the category of “film noir” started. Bogie established his stardom as tough detective Sam Spade.
Double Indemnity (1944, dir. Billy Wilder) – starring Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson
Wilder mastered many genres, but this foray into noir is as much of a masterpiece as Sunset Blvd. and Some Like It Hot. Stanwyck received a much-deserved Best Actress Oscar nomination for her portrayal of an ice-cold femme fatale.
The Big Sleep (1946, dir. Howard Hawks) – starring Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Martha Vickers, Dorothy Malone, Regis Toomey; Elisha Cook, Jr.
This is the best collaboration between Bogart and Bacall, based on Raymond Chandler’s excellent novel of the same name. The novel is certainly worth reading but the film is necessary for any lover of great cinema.
Key Largo (1948, dir. John Huston) – starring Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, Lauren Bacall, Lionel Barrymore, Claire Trevor
This one feels especially appropriate now because New York City is experiencing the tail end of a tropical storm. Set in the claustrophobic trappings of a Florida hotel during a hurricane, Claire Trevor won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as gangster Edward G. Robinson’s alcoholic girlfriend.
Pickup on South Street (1953, dir. Samuel Fuller) – starring Richard Widmark, Jean Peters, Thelma Ritter
Perhaps the ultimate sweaty summer noir, this taut little drama (1 hour and 20 minutes long) takes place over only 48 hours, making every punchy line count. Anyone who has taken the train in NYC during rush hour and/or during the summer will appreciate the film’s opening scene in the subway.