SUGGESTED MEDIA

For those that are interested in media that features the mob, spies, or both, I'll list here the ones I recommend.

 

Film: Classic Noir

  • High Sierra (1941). Considered as a transition film between the 1930s gangster films and the 1940s films noir. First leading role and Star-Making Role for Humphrey Bogart, who had already made a career of playing gangsters in crime films.

  • The Maltese Falcon (1941). The third film adaptation of the same Dashiell Hammett novel, the second leading role for Humphrey Bogart, and the directorial debut of John Huston. An iconic depiction of the Hardboiled Detective and a major hit for the film noir genre.

  • This Gun for Hire (1942). Based on a Graham Greene novel, though with some material reworked for wartime-propaganda reasons. Professional Killer Philip Raven completes an assignment and is then double-crossed by his latest employer. He sets out to get revenge. Meanwhile, Nightclub Singer Ellen Graham is recruited by the federal authorities to spy on her current boss, who is suspected to be a fifth columnist. Raven and Graham are unknowingly Working the Same Case and their paths cross. A major hit for the film noir genre, and the film which turned Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake into "reliable box office draws".

  • Casablanca (1943), Wartime drama which has been listed as another major influence on the genre. The lighting and visuals were similar but darker to those of The Maltese Falcon. The setting in a shady and exotic bar of Morocco, the cynical and world-weary protagonist, the adulterous undertones of the main love triangle, a narrative populated by gangsters, black marketeers, con-artists, corrupt cops, and fleeing refugees willing to make deals to save their skins all add to the general mood of melancholy and pessimism. Casablanca, as depicted here, is a City Noir. Or in the words of Sheri Chinen Biesen, "a cramped, crowded, where an underworld climate and abundant dubious nocturnal activity proliferate".

  • Double Indemnity (1944). A successful but bored insurance salesman falls for a woman in an unhappy marriage, and the two conspire to commit The Perfect Crime by getting her husband to buy an accident insurance policy, and then making sure he meets an untimely end. A film notorious for pushing the envelope on The Hays Code restrictions to its limits. Despite an activist campaign "imploring the public to stay away on moral grounds", the film was a major critical and box office hit. It paved the way for further dark, controversial films and directly inspired imitators. Often seen as the Trope Codifier for films noir.

  • Murder, My Sweet (1944). The first film adaptation of a Philip Marlowe novel and one of the highly-regarded depictions of the Hardboiled Detective in cinema. The so-called "standard private eye formula" (of seeking a missing person and ending up personally involved in a bizarre case) tends to follow the lead of this film.

  • The Blue Dahlia (1946). A Navy officer returns from war service to discover that his son is dead (due to a traffic accident) and his wife unfaithful. When said wife is found murdered, the widower becomes one of several suspects in this murder case. The film is noted for its jaded view of what awaits the returning veterans of World War II, broken homes and nothing to return to. The protagonist himself has violent tendencies which are not particularly helping him adjust to civilian life even before the mystery begins.

  • Gilda (1946). A film set in the decadent atmosphere of post-war Buenos Aires. At its heart is a love-hate relationship between the male lead (and narrator) Johnny Farrell and female lead Gilda. A relationship with what critics call "dark and disturbing sadomasochistic sexual currents" which takes over the plot.

  • The Killers (1946). A life insurance investigator takes a closer look at a murder case, and finds out that the victim is linked to a past robbery and $250,000 in cash.

  • The Third Man (1949), produced by no other than British MI6 spy, Sir Alexander Korda himself.

  • Sunset Boulevard (1950) Satire of Hollywood and the passing nature of fame, especially for silent-era stars. Yes, this was before it was adapted into a Broadway musical.

  • Ace in the Hole (1951) A disgraced reporter, eager for a comeback, turns a man trapped by a cave-in into a media circus.

  • Niagara (1953) When two couples are visiting Niagara Falls, tensions between one wife and her husband reach the level of murder. Arguably the film that put Marilyn Monroe on the map, alongside Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How to Marry a Millionaire.

  • Touch of Evil (1958) Orson Welles and Charlton Heston star in a dark tale of police corruption and moral ambiguity on the Mexican-American border.

  • Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) One of the last films of the "classic noir" era, and known for being the first Noir with a black protagonist. A heist film with a heavy dose of social commentary about racism. Stars Harry Belafonte in a non-musical role.

 

Film: Neo-Noir & Misc. Gangster Films

  • Carry On Spying (1963) — a parody movie that is a mixture of film Noir and James Bond spy movies, starring a teacher of a spy school (that has post-graduate links to MI6) and his best students.

  • Blade Runner (1982), one of the most influential examples of Cyberpunk showing its Noir pedigree.

  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988) Don't let the cartoons fool you. This has a very Noir plot.

  • The Bourne Series (2002-2007) has a heavy neo-noir feel in many scenes, as well as being more of the 'stale beer flavored' type of spy fiction in contrast to the flashy, Bond-type ones.

  • The Dark Knight Trilogy (2005-2012) plays up the noirish aspects of Batman.

  • Sin City (2005), which is the genre's conventions turned up to 11.

  • The Departed (2006) starring Leonardo di Caprio

  • Public Enemies (2009) starring Johnny Depp

  • Gangster Squad (2013)

  • John Wick (2014) starring Keanu Reeves

  • The Godfather(1972) not really Film Noir, and more straight-up gangster film than anything. Still though, it's a good film series about the Mafia.

  • Goodfellas (1990) same as above; not really neo-Noir but a good gangster film nonetheless.

  • Scarface (1983)

  • American Gangster (2007)

 

  Television

 

Spy Fiction

  • This list of spy Noir.

  • And of course, all the James Bond films, which have varying depictions of the familiar 'tuxedo & martini approach', and the more classic, true-to-pulp-fiction 'hardboiled spy' approach.

  • of which a lot of the plot elements take their cues from the CIA's The Bourne Seriesreal life mind-control experiments.

  • The CIA's Control of Candy Jones, which is a true retelling of the famous pin-up model's unfortunate time as a mind-controlled CIA spy.

  • The Manchurian Candidate, both the films and book, if you want a thriller on mind-controlled spies.

  • The Spy Who Came In from the Cold, by John la Carré. It has a gritty, dark, realistic view of the early days of Cold War spying.

  • Homeland, if you want a good spy show about a secret agent who does have bipolar disorder.

 

Video Games

  • L.A. Noire (2011) fittingly enough.

  • Also the Mafia games, of course.

  • Max Payne (2001) - Also a movie. The second game was even billed with the tagline, "A film Noir love story".

  • The Bioshock series, at least in some parts. The Burial At Sea DLC is a straight-up Noir episode, however.

  • The Fallout series. Okay, so not really Noir, but they do deal with the unethical treatments of government experimentation on non-consenting civilians, as well as Cold War paranoia. Fallout also makes some homages to the Bioshock series stated above. It's guaranteed to be a Ring-a-ding-ding platinum ride, baby!

  • Hitman; at least the later games go for a more Noir feel.

  • Deus Ex: Human Revolution which is Cyberpunk, so Noir is bound to be there. Deus Ex also heavily borrows from the Noir aesthetics and narrative structure. Technically, this is a Noir game with government agents and conspirators replacing more common private-eyes and crooks.

 

Reading Material

  • Las Vegas Mob Museum case files. Their online page has a really good collection of Mob history info. The museum itself is also worth visiting. I've been there once, and the curators have done a fantastic job on layout out the history of the Mob, and their ties to Las Vegas. Everything is comprehensive, and the interaction is top notch as well. I highly recommend visiting if you're ever in town.

  • Anything from the Black Lizard pulp magazines. These short stories about hardboiled detectives were the forerunner of the Noir genre.

  • Anything by former MI5 agent, John le Carré, is considered to be a classic. His spy novels are more of the gritty, realistic, Noir-type than glamorous Bond. If you want a real deal of how early Cold War spying was, than look no further than le Carré. The Spy Who Came In from the Cold is his best known work.

  • The James Bond novels are actually a lot closer to the pulp fiction-style of 'hardboiled spies' than the glamorous films, especially the very first novel, Casino Royale.

  • Basically anything by Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hamett, James M. Cain, Jim Thompson, and Raoul Whitfield. They were the masters of the genre. A lot of their books became well-known film adaptions, such as The Maltese Falcon or The Big Sleep.

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© 2019 J.S. BLAYLOCK. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED.