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Film noir

a genre of dark crime films and detective stories

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Un-American activities: Ten best films noir not from the United States

  • Jun 11, 2012

Its name comes from the French and it often is called the dark side of the American dream, but film noir is global. Filmmakers from around the world have taken an art form that originated in the United States and made it speak their language. Their works are just as cynical and dark as their American counterparts and the characters they spotlight are just as aggressively selfish, but the accents are different.

10) Carne Tremula (1997, aka Live Flesh, Spain)
Written and directed by Pedro Almodovar.

Almodovar adapts a complex Ruth Rendell novel about five people affected by the shooting of a cop. It's serious and Almodovar does not invest it with the outlandishness of some of his later efforts, but he does lighten up the provocative goings-on with some humor.

9) Der Amerikanische Freund (1977, aka The American Friend)
From France and Germany, although much of it is in English.
Written and directed by Wim Wenders, adapting Ripley's Game by Patricia Highsmith.
A version released directly to video in 2002 is titled Ripley's Game and stars John Malkovich.

Wenders cast two top directors of American films noir, Samuel Fuller and Nicholas Ray, in small parts as gangsters in this tribute to U.S. gangster films. It's anchored by Dennis Hopper's performance as an American expatriate who sets up a young German man to become a hired assassin. Parts of it drag but that seems deliberate, as if Wenders wants us to have time to think things through. This unsettling one is worth thinking about.

8) Plein Soleil (1960, aka Purple Noon and also Lust for Evil, France)
Written and directed by Réne Clément, loosely adapting The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith.
A 1999 version stars Matt Damon, Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow.

Alain Delon (also impressive in Le Samourai, 1967) is cool and compelling as the original talented Mr. Ripley on the big-screen. The movie is a beautifully filmed take on the covetous, deceptive young man who wants his best friend, or at least wants to be him.

7) Du Rififi Chez les Hommes (1954, aka Rififi, France)
Written and directed by Jules Dassin.

The highlight is a daring jewel theft and so it might seem derivative of the U.S. movie The Asphalt Jungle (1950), except that Dassin has crafted a thrilling and intriguing original. It takes a long time for the thieves to pull off the elaborate heist and they do so in complete, nervewracking silence. That suspense gives way to something more interesting when they're done and they start looking at each other with growing distrust.

6) The Long Good Friday (1980, Great Britain)
Written by Barrie Keefe. Directed by John MacKenzie.

Bob Hoskins explodes as a crime lord whose underworld empire seems to be under siege by rival gangsters. There are touches of humor to break up the graphic suggested violence. Even without Hoskins, it would be interesting. With him, it is dynamic and gripping.

5) The Third Man (1949, Great Britain)
Written by Graham Greene. Directed by Carol Reed.
The American Film Institute in 1998 named this one of the Top 100 Films.

Many of Greene's stories have been adapted into films noir but probably none as well as this one. It is deservedly famous for its chase through a cavernous sewer and it is both acclaimed and scorned for its haunting/irritating musical score, which has Anton Karas playing a zither. Joseph Cotten is a writer caught up in the black market in Vienna after World War II. He's there to visit a friend (Orson Welles), but is told his friend was murdered. Or he is still alive. Maybe.

4) Les Diaboliques (1955, aka Diabolique, France)
Written by Henri-Georges Clouzot, Frederic Grendel, Jerome Geronini and Réne Masson.
Directed by Clouzot.

A murder conspiracy reflects the film noir vision of a world in which vicious people operate with seeming impunity. This eerie movie has a conspiracy of two chilling killers, a woman and her husband's mistress. They kill him, but maybe he's not dead after all. That possibility fuels an exhilarating, twisty thriller.

3) Le Professional (1981, aka The Professional, France)
Written and directed by Georges Lautner.

Before Matt Damon was Bourne, Jean-Paul Belmondo was Bourne-like. He is terrific in this thriller, which is fast-paced and clever. Belmondo is an assassin for the French government who spent two years in an African prison because his superiors betrayed him. Now they want to kill him. They might be in trouble because he's much smarter than they are.

2) Die Xue Shuang Xiong (1990, aka The Killer, China)
Written and directed by John Woo.

A cop is willing to exploit a blind woman to catch a hired killer. The story is riveting, the action briskly paced and the gunfights beautifully choreographed. John Woo does brilliantly what many other action directors wish they could do.

1) Get Carter (1971, Great Britain)
Written and directed by Mike Hodges.

Hodges (Croupier, 1998) tells with flair a story about a small-time hood seeking revenge for his brother's murder. The movie is full of surprises, including a stunning turn by Michael Caine, whose ruthlessness is astonishing.
Un-American activities: Ten best films noir not from the United States Un-American activities: Ten best films noir not from the United States Un-American activities: Ten best films noir not from the United States Un-American activities: Ten best films noir not from the United States

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June 11, 2012
wow! glad you included Le Professional --one of the underrated films with Belmundo in them. Good pick on the Killer also. Have you seen "City on Fire"?
June 11, 2012
Thank you, again. I haven't seen "City on Fire" and I'd never heard of it until you mentioned it. Not sure how I missed it because I've seen other top-notch Chow Yun Fat movies ("Hard Boiled" and "A Better Tomorrow"). That 's what I like about Top Ten Lists: They can inspire other people to share terrific suggestions. I'm grateful for this one and keen to follow your guidance.
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