Rain-slicked streets; plumes of cigarette smoke rising slowly through dark rooms and Venetian blinds casting deadly shadows. Toss in some tough guys in trench coats who fall for beautiful but deadly dames, and you’ve landed squarely in the world of film noir. If you’re a fan of movies like The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity, you can indulge your craving for private eyes, femmes fatale and endlessly quotable dialogue by visiting Noir Alley every Sunday morning on Turner Classic Movies. Hosted by genre expert Eddie Muller, the series showcases the dark and seedy side of the classic movie world. Titles screened thus far include acknowledged classics such as The Maltese Falcon and The Set-Up, as well as lesser-known but still influential films like Tension, featuring Richard Basehart, and He Ran All The Way, starring John Garfield.
Muller is the perfect host and guide to the twilight world of Noir Alley as the “Czar of Noir” has written several books on the genre, including the well-regarded Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir. He is also president of the Film Noir Foundation, which helps preserve and restore noteworthy movies, and acts as host for the annual Noir City film festival in San Francisco. Muller’s insightful, enlightening and entertaining comments before and after the films offer a virtual master class on the genre. He has also invited special guests to appear with him in the studio — including John Garfield’s daughter, Julie, and Robert Mitchum’s son, Christopher — for some informative, enjoyable and often touching interviews.
There’s no doubt that noir now seems timeless; the dark and fatalistic themes in these films have an additional resonance in today’s world. The look, style and feel of pics like They Live By Night and Gun Crazy have influenced a generation of modern filmmakers, including Lawrence Kasdan, Joel and Ethan Coen, and Curtis Hanson. In fact, neo-noir has become a genre all its own, with movies like Body Heat, Blood Simple and L.A. Confidential becoming classics in their own right. Even so, nothing beats the originals and Noir Alley is a place where you can visit (or re-visit) classic tales of deceit and double crosses like 1947’s Out of the Past which features this climactic exchange between Robert Mitchum’s about-to-fall guy Jeff Bailey and Jane Greer’s duplicitous Kathie Moffat:
Kathie: “I don’t want to die.”
Jeff: “Neither do I, baby but if I have to, I’m going to die last.”
In the coming months, Noir Alley will expose you to a loaded revolver full of snappy patter, bad news broads, and the guys who fall for them. Upcoming flicks include Nicholas Ray’s In A Lonely Place, featuring one of Humphrey Bogart’s best — and most atypical — performances as temperamental screenwriter (and murder suspect) Dixon Steele; Raw Deal, starring Claire Trevor, one of noir’s toughest dames, in a tale of love and murder; and Night and the City, director Jules Dassin’s existential London noir with Richard Widmark. Keep yourself up to date on the Noir Alley Facebook page, which has a ton of additional content, including a weekly “Noir or Not?” feature where Muller debates the noir bona fides of films like Casablanca. Noir Alley airs Sundays at 10am ET on Turner Classic Movies. Hopefully, I’ll see you around those dark corners down the street.
Photo by Paramount Pictures (courtesy Wikimedia)