First of all I came up with your five classic Hollywood noirs, but I thought anyone could do that, so I’ve widened it a bit.
The Big Sleep (1946) Directed by Howard Hawks
You’ve just got to have that, because of the sexual chemistry between Bacall and Bogart at the centre, which just burns off the screen.
Brighton Rock (1947) Directed by John Boulting
This is simply my favourite British film ever. It’s a great film of that era, the performances are fantastic, but it’s also the audacity of saying, here’s something you’d expect to be set in Los Angeles or New York and we’re going to go to Brighton. I went to University in Brighton and it has the shiny front but it is kind of seedy – maybe not so much now – but there were dodgy clubs. They’ve captured that British seaside town that has a bit of edge to it. It’s got that whole Graham Greene Catholic guilt running through it, and it is really dark.
The Third Man (1949) Directed by Carol Reed
Orson Welles and Joseph Cotten are the stars but it’s still a British movie. Noir is about ‘atmosphere’ if anything & this one drips with it… and that final scene… oh my (but no spoilers).
Touch of Evil (1958) Directed by Orson Welles
It’s Welles’ performance in ‘Touch of Evil’ which is brilliant but also the fact that as a director he can’t resist playing tricks. People are talking but the camera has just gone off on a walk. And there’s something deeply odd about Charlton Heston being in the middle of this. They’ve obviously sat around and gone, ‘What would be really funny, would be let’s get Charlton Heston, and make him a Mexican.’ There’s just so much weirdness in it, along with it being technically brilliant.
Chinatown (1974) Directed by Roman Polanski
I recently did a PhD external for a Nigerian filmmaker and he’d written a script about trying to make Nigerian cinema more cinematic and less verbal, and one of the models he was using was Robert Towne’s script for ‘Chinatown’. As part of that I watched it again and I don’t know what you’d do to make it any better.