By Meaghan Walsh Gerard
In chilling contrast to the brazen Technicolor musicals of the decade, film noir settled deeper in to dark, shadowy corners. After GIs returned from the war, women were expected to go back to their household duties. Wives who once held factory jobs were expected to put on an apron and smile. For some, it was a welcome retreat, but others wanted to remain in nontraditional positions. This angst pervaded the country and gave rise to the femme fatale character on film.
Represented as a fallen women and dangerous to know, modern viewers will also find a certain sense of sympathy for her predicament. She is a far more than a simple villain. These sophisticated films of the 1950s highlight the noir sensibility and the femme fatale.
“Experience has taught me never to trust a policeman. Just when you think one's all right, he turns legit.”
A group of low-level criminals decide to pull off one last job. It’s a jewel heist that should be a cinch. The crew soon learns that the city may be paved and lit but it’s not civilized. The film also features a small early part for Marilyn Monroe.
“You'll always be a two-bit cannon. And when they pick you up in the gutter dead, your hand'll be in a drunk's pocket.”
This film brings together the style of film noir and the tension of the Cold War. A woman carrying secrets is pickpocketed on the subway. When she finds out the true value of what she was transporting, she seeks out the thief and becomes embroiled in a complicated scandal and a race to beat out Soviet spies. Jean Peters stars in this espionage thriller.
“He won't talk to me. I told him that I was your confidential secretary, but I guess I didn't sound confidential enough.”
The film opens with the main character telling us he is a dead man. He walks in to the police station to report his own murder. The rest of the movie is a flashback as he tries to figure out who poisoned him and why. Like most noirs, the plot details become a bit convoluted, but its strength lies in the narrative structure and creative storytelling. Pamela Britton stars alongside Edmond O’Brien.
“There is only one possible end. We are monsters. I don't like monsters.”
At a boarding school, a teacher and the headmaster’s wife conspire to kill the headmaster, but all does not go to plan. Tensions mount as the women try to maintain their composure and pull off the perfect crime. It’s also the story that Hitchcock regretted he never got to make. Véra Clouzot and Simone Signoret star in this French psychological thriller.
“Everybody lies to me!”
A troubled man stands on a building ledge on the 15th floor of a hotel in New York City. The police attempt to talk him down by bringing people from his life – his mother, his father, his estranged fiancée. With each visit, the tension ratchets up and more of his story is revealed. His mother (Agnes Moorehead) steals the show as a selfish, hysterical character. The film is also notable for being Grace Kelly’s first screen role.
Meaghan Walsh Gerard has been writing about films (especially classic ones) and books (especially gothic ones) for more than ten years on her site. She is obsessed with the art of storytelling and holds a master’s degree in cinema studies. Meaghan has been a DVD Netflix member since 2003. Follow Meaghan at mwgerard.com, on Twitter @mwgerard, or Facebook and Instagram.