Thursday, May 24, 2012


Clockwise from top left: Joe Pesci, Gina Gershon and Billy Zane, Woody Harrelson and Robert Mithum.

The best thing about noir as a genre is that it can be bent a thousand ways from Sunday. I've said that once and I'll continue.

While most classic noir films we've come to love have stemmed from the 40s and 50s (too many to name), plenty of neo noirs have been delivered in the modern day from director Roman Polanski's take of the private eye film in "Chinatown" to the burnt-neon world of Ridley Scott's sci-fi "Blade Runner." Those are givens. But what about the flicks off the beaten path?

Just as in my prior post, I'm going to recommend four more neo-noirs that some of you may have missed the first time around.

PALMETTO (1988) 

This gist: Woody Harrelson as a noir schnook borders on pure genius. Here's the gist: Jilted reporter Harry Barber (Woody Harrelson) is framed for for exposing corruption in City Hall in Palmetto, Fla. Once he's sprung, Barber is quickly seduced by the devil in a dress named Mrs. Malroux (Elisabeth Shue). She lets him in on a lil' fake kidnapping scheme: For pretending to abduct her stepdaughter, Harry snags $50,000. The officer in charge of the case hires Barber as the police spokesman, but their simple plan runs into complications and unexpected twists.

Why I loved it: Woody is fabulous and the humid Florida atmosphere drips off the screen. And Shue... Wow. Was she born to play a femme fatale. A solid neo-noir.


The gist: What's a noir list without a Marlowe film? The second big screen adaptation of Raymond Chandler's novel, is much closer to the source text than the original 1944 film " Murder, My Sweet." The film centers on Hollywood detetcive Marlowe's attempts to locate Velma, a former dancer at a seedy nightclub and the girlfriend of Moose Malloy, a petty criminal just out of prison.

Why I loved it: Robert Mitchum, for my money, is one of the best Marlowe's I've seen. Dare I say, he might be better than Bogie? Shot in lush, period detail, everything about it works. Look for a Sly Stallone cameo. Trivia: In 1978, Mitchum reprised the role of Marlowe in "The Big Sleep" but the drama was oddly set in the present day and in England.



The gist: Undoubtedly the oddest of this lot, the neo-noir is based on a posthumously published Jim Thompson story in all its seedy glory. And I DO mean seedy. Billy Zane stars as Marty Lakewood, a reporter forced to leave Chicago because he had uncovered too much police corruption (sounds similar to 'Palmetto.') He returns to his small hometown on the California coast to his ailing mother and prostitute sister (Gina Gershon), with whom he had an incestuous affair. The scheming begins...

Why I loved it: This is by far the kinkiest noir I've ever seen. And yes, kinkier than Thompson's other adaptation, 2010's 'The Killer Inside Me.' This B picture is filled with gangsters, policewomen and LOTS of double-crossing. No doubt, the film feels icky. A real neo-noir, but be warned. Caveat: This is a tough film to find. While some may be able to find it on VHS, I was able to snag it a few years ago on cable.


The gist: When the mob bears down on a widowed nightclub owner (Barbara Hershey), she enlists the help of New York City's most reliable crime scene photographer Leon "Bernzy" Bernstein (Joe Pesci), who agrees to get involved in exchange for good pictures -- and a potential romance. 

Why I loved it: Pesci delivers. This was an attempt to make Pesci a real leading man after he won his Oscar for 'Goodfellas.' Sadly, the film never found an audience. This is perhaps the most conventional film of this bunch, despite all the period detail. Still, a fine and worthy movie to add to any neo-noir canon. Trivia: The film is loosely based on the famed New York Daily News photographer Arthur "Weegee" Fellig. Currently streaming on Comcast.


  1. Saw all except Palmetto. Gotta get it. I've come to be a Woody H. freak these days. "Fireworks" was pretty raw stuff, the cop love scenes were brutal and Billy Zane had a full head of hair back then. You're right Mitchim shouldbe considered the best marlow ever with those hooded eyes and the perfect laconic face.

  2. Shit, sorry about that: should be not shouldbe and Marlowe not marlow.

  3. For me - Robert Mitchum is Marlowe. Farewell My Lovely is a classic noir flick. And Palmetto...forgot all about that one. Great flick!

  4. I will speak heresy and say Bogart was not the best Marlowe, tho THE BIG SLEEP is the best Marlowe film and the character was cool, but not Marlowe.

    Had Mitchum played Marlowe when he was around 35 (in a good interpretation) there would be no debate who was the best Marlowe.

    I'll go further on a limb and Powers Boothe was a great Marlowe on the HBO series from the 1980's, but the scripts and production values mar his performance.

    Everyone else ranks below Bogart.

    Kent Westmoreland


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