Out of the Past

The greatest cigarette-smoking movie of all time.

That’s how Roger Ebert described this flick, which remains a near-perfect example of everything great film noir has to offer the world.

Puffing away like madmen, letting the smoke curl and dart across pristine black and white backgrounds, Robert Mitchum and Kirk Douglas stare each other down.

But, while the men get all macho, Jane Greer, maybe the most-dangerous one in the bunch, is content to saunter by, evil thoughts in her head and a pistol twitching in her fingers.

No one gets out unscarred in film noir land, baby. No one.

 

Farewell, My Lovely

Nobody does it better.

A cigarette on the lips, a glass of booze in one hand, a gun in the other, Robert Mitchum wears the rumpled suit of a world-weary PI like a second skin.

This mid-’70s film, set in 1941, follows along as our battered ‘n bruised hero tries to figure out why dead bodies keep popping up everywhere he goes.

The complex plot, which ties together neatly in the final moments, is courtesy Raymond Chandler.

Bonus points for catching an early Sylvester Stallone cameo, but it’s Mitchum, his voice laced with melancholy, who stands tallest in the dark night.

Odds Against Tomorrow

Things are gonna get explosive.

No one plays nice in this crackling film noir, which pits a pack of desperate men against each other as they plot a bank robbery.

Adding a twist to the already-shady happenings is a racial angle, as lip-curling punk Robert Ryan clashes with Harry Belafonte’s debt-riddled gambler.

The former hates the latter merely for being Black, which brings an extra edge to their often bitter verbal exchanges.

Directed by Robert Wise, who immediately followed this up with West Side Story, this one, complete with a fiery finale, hits like a fist to the face.

Vertigo

Talk about a turnaround.

This Alfred Hitchcock-helmed psychological thriller was misunderstood and ignored in its prime, yet has gone on to be hailed as one of the best American films ever made.

While it may have taken people time to pierce all the layers in a often very-complex tale of obsession and murder, the work was worth it.

Jimmy Stewart, playing somewhat against type, gets downright squirrely at times as a former cop who falls in love with a dead woman, and tries to shape her doppelganger into the original woman with tragic results.

Miss this one at your peril.

 

Notorious (1946)

You’re as cold as ice.

The moment when Cary Grant locks the car door, sending romantic rival (and poisoner) Claude Rains back to face his fate at the hands of fellow Nazi spies, remains one of the harshest fade-outs in cinema history.

And hey, before you complain about spoilers, the film celebrates its 75th anniversary this year.

If you haven’t seen one of Alfred Hitchcock’s best yet, less whining, and more viewing.

What you’ll find is an elegant slice of film noir, with a zippy Ben Hecht script filled with mystery, intrigue, and dialogue which crackles with every word.