Noir at its most exemplary. Though boasting stars like Joan Crawford and Henry Fonda and helmed by renowned directors, these five films are B movies in the best sense of the term: tight, raw and cannily devoid of gloss.
Hangmen Also Die (1943, B&W): Set in Czechoslovakia during the Nazi occupation, Hangmen Also Die depicts an Eastern Europe populated by spies, traitors and revolutionaries...a deadly funhouse of political intrigue in which every personal encounter brings with it the threat of betrayal. Pursued by the Germans after the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, Dr. Svobonda (Brian Donlevy) enlists the aid of a young woman (Anna Lee) who is oblivious to the lethal crosscurrents that surround her. As she learns more about the mysterious doctor, she grows aware of the involvement of her father (Walter Brennan) and fiance (Dennis O'Keefe) in the resistance, and soon finds herself entangled in the revolution's secret operations.Much of the nightmarish quality of Hangmen Also Die< is attributable to playwright Bertolt Brecht, who co-scripted the film with Lang, and legendary cinematographer James Wong Howe, who cloaks every conrner in shadow and endows the film with an almost tangible sense of claustrophobia.
The Long Night (1947, B&W): An exciting rediscovery from the studio vaults, The Long Night is an emotionally gripping, visually dynamic film noir, in which Henry Fonda, at the peak of his career, delivers an unforgettable performance. Presented in an intricate web of flashbacks, The Long Night follows the fractured thoughts of Joe Adams (Henry Fonda), a factory worker pinned inside his third-floor apartment after gunning down a mysterious, dapper gentleman (Vincent Price). Joe's memories, often containing flashbacks within flashbacks, reconstruct the events leading up to the shooting, revealing his romance with a quiet young girl (Barbara Bel Geddes), his less-romantic involvement with a worn-out showgirl (Ann Dvorak) and the varied twists of fate which drove Joe to murder.
Railroaded (1947, B&W): Anthony Mann,who took the suspense of film noir to dizzying heights with his movies T-Men and Raw Deal, brings his talents to the hard-boiled detective thriller with Railroaded.When a policeman is killed attempting to thwart a holdup, Detective Mickey Ferguson is assigned to the case. The case becomes personal, though, when the kid brother of Mickey's sweetheart is named as the gunman. Determined to find the truth, Mickey goes searching for clues and comes up with notorious gangster Duke Martin, played by John Ireland (Spartacus, Gunfight At The OK Corral). What follows is a blood-and-thunder extravaganza filled with betrayal and suspicions, handguns and hostages, and a climactic nightclub showdown.
Behind Locked Doors (1948, B&W): A shadowy sanitarium provides the claustrophobic stage for sadism, paranoia and murder in this classic film noir from director Budd Boetticher (The Killer Is Loose, Comanche Station). In a plot that clearly foreshadowed Sam Fuller's Shock Corridor, private detective Ross Stewart (Richard Carlson) checks himself into a mental hospital in an attempt to locate a corrupt judge hiding from justice. But before Stewart can reveal the truth, his true identity is discovered and he becomes a victim of his own ruse. With the help of a deranged punch-drunk ex-prizefighter (Tor Johnson of Plan 9 From Outer Space), the doctors at La Siesta Sanitarium concoct a plan to make Stewart a permanent resident. And the only person who shares Stewart's secret, the only one who can rescue him from certain death, is the scheming woman who sent him there (Lucille Bremer).
Sudden Fear (1952, B&W): Joan Crawford turns in one of the most emotionally charged performances of her career as a playwright who must use her plotting skills to save her own life, in this beautifully crafted film noir thriller. On a train headed home to California, Myra Hudson (Crawford) falls in love with, and marries, actor Lester Blaine (Jack Palance) whom she has just fired from her most recent New York play. Back on her San Francisco estate, something evil appears to be lurking just beneath the surface of the couple's idyllic life. Enter Gloria Grahame as Palance's girlfriend (in a stunning performance the New York Times called "hard, brash and sexy."). Soon it is clear that they are after more than new scripts as they greedily scheme for Myra's money. Director David Miller (Lonely Are The Brave) guides the story with supreme confidence, assisted by gorgeous black and white cinematography and an excellent score by Elmer Bernstein. Nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Actress (Crawford) and Best Supporting Actor (Palance), Sudden Fear is the unbeatable combination of a lushly produced Joan Crawford melodrama and a drop-dead suspense thriller.