FILM NOIR OVERLOAD – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Dark, rain-glistened streets. Ominous shadows hover in trash littered alleyways. Cats screech in the distance. Gunshots ring out and a body slumps into the gutter.

The world of film noir.

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As a kid, these were the second show in an afternoon at the movies. The “B” movie. Always in black and white, less than 90 minutes. Featuring the nearly-stars such as Dana Andrews, Richard Conte, Linda Darnell, and Sterling Hayden.

The titles were straightforward. “Where The Sidewalk Ends”, “This Gun For Hire”, “Kiss of Death”, “The Street With No Name”, “The Narrow Margin,” and “The Killers” among other small films now considered film noir classics.

The people were familiar too. The P.I. (Private Eye). He usually had a five o’clock shadow, chain-smoked, drank cheap whiskey out of the bottle or a paper cup. He worked in a dingy second floor office. The client? Usually a husky voiced, chain-smoking, heavily made up siren out of the Mae West Drama Academy. The P.I’s secretary? A snarky, but good-natured woman who didn’t take crap from her boss, the cops or hoodlums. The Bad Guys? Sleazy, menacing, and homicidal. Think young Richard Widmark, William (Pre-“Life of Riley”) Bendix, Neville Brand, Lee Van Cleef, Jack Elam, Jack Lambert, and probie villain, Lee Marvin. These guys loved to kill.

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There were no happy endings in these film noir classics. The female lead usually was a two-timer who got killed or took the fall in the closing minutes. Mary Astor’s Brigid O’Shaughnessy was straight out of central casting when Bogie’s Sam Spade turned her over to the cops in “The Maltese Falcon.” Spade liked her, but not enough to risk a bullet in the back one lonely night.

Robert Mitchum’s Phillip Marlowe wondered  “Why does everything I touch turns to shit?” in the 70’s reboot of “Farewell, My Lovely”.

I loved the fatalism of these movies, far removed from the glossy romantic dramas featuring Gable, Tracy, Flynn and other major stars of old Hollywood.

Lately, we’ve been watching Netflix’s stable of dark crime dramas. They come from around the world.

They all share a world-view that includes lots of death, depression, depravity, brutal murder, and minimal — if any — humor. Locale doesn’t matter. It could be Los Angeles, Denmark, the English countryside, or Sweden. It’s one, dark grim world, everywhere you look.

Thanks to an old friend, we’re currently watching a British series, “MidSomer Murders”. It’s set in a small, English village. There are multiple murders in each episode. We’re into season five and the bodies keep piling up. Marilyn and I wonder if they’ll have to bring in people from other small villages to keep the murderers in business.

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“MidSomer Murders” is balanced with humor from its continuing characters and the guest stars. I’ve noticed familiar faces like David Warner, Nigel Davenport and Richard Johnson among the guest stars. The plots are nicely developed, well-acted, and written with sly wit. The show is still running after 17 seasons, so Marilyn and I look forward each night to a batch of lovely murders with quirky, amusing characters.

I still love those dark and dangerous film noir folks. But these days, real life is often sufficiently grim. I prefer my murders with a bit of laughter.

Cheerio!

Author: Garry Armstrong

As a reporter for Channel 7 in Boston for 31 years, I was witness to most of the major events affecting the region. I met a lot of people ... politicians, actors, moguls, criminals and many regular folks caught up in extraordinary situations. Sometimes, I write about the people I've met and places I've been. Sometimes, I write about life, my family, my dogs and me. Or what might otherwise be called Life.

49 thoughts on “FILM NOIR OVERLOAD – GARRY ARMSTRONG”

  1. So many of my favourite films here, Garry. Can’t beat a good ‘Noir’. Nor do we seem to tire of who dunnits. But sometimes a bit of light relief is called for and Midsomer Murders fits the bill even as the bodies pile up. In the UK we’ve also been having a spate of noirer shades of noir – including some Welsh noir in Hinterland, and then far-flung Scottish noir in the Shetland series – both worth looking out for. The landscape is probably the lead character in both.

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    1. We watched Hinterland. That was set in Wales, talk about grim people. And such a gorgeous town with that lovely coastline. But everyone was so GLOOMY. Gee WHIZ. The show ended rather abruptly. I guess it got cancelled. I was surprised. They hadn’t resolved anything and I was expecting a bit more tying up of loose ends. Do you know the name of the one set in the Shetlands?

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      1. There’s another series of Hinterland I think coming up – in order to tie up loose ends. And yes it was very dark and in all sorts of ways. The Shetland series is simply called ‘Shetland’. The stories are based (loosely) on novels by Anne Cleeves. There is some truly good acting in it, and especially from Douglas Henshall who plays the chief inspector Jimmy Perez. The stories spring from the very particular land/seascape too: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shetland_(TV_series)

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        1. Shetland is not (currently) available except on DVD. Our cable company doesn’t offer the BBC channel — or at least, not the one that has the shows we want to watch. We get “BBC America” which has some stuff, but mostly not the recent popular shows. We have to wait until they show up on Netflix (which is where Midsomer is playing) or Amazon Prime or some such. Almost everything gets there eventually.

          Hinterland was good, but gloomy. We kept wondering why his boss was always picking on him. The guy was an effective cop regardless of his personal issues. I mean, he solved cases.

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    2. Tish, thank you. We’ve watched “Hinterland” in our noir binging. Enjoyed it very much. I love the different landscapes, accents and fresh faces. Hollywood seems to cast the same people in lead and supporting roles with too familiar locations.
      I have “Laura” in my dvr bin. I watch it a lot. I think I’ll watch it again today or tomorrow.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. The bell ringers and the reading group took some serious losses. I’ve been trying to calculate how many corpses since we started watching the show. It’s got to be nearly 100 and we are only in the 10th season. I think it average 4 or 5 murders per show … so maybe they are bringing them in by the busload to give the killers enough victims.

      Join a club there? I think I’d prefer to live in a safer place … like Boston or New York where the murder rate is lower!

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        1. We’ve been thinking they must be importing new victims by the busload. We live in a small town. I can only imagine what a murder spree like this would do to Uxbridge. Everyone would be hysterical, demanding the state declare martial law.

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          1. Honor Blackman joined the honor roll of MidSomer murder victims in one of the shows watched last night. Pity the demise of the still lovely Pussy Galore.

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    1. MidSomer isn’t so noir … but there are plenty of corpses. One small village with a hell of a murder rate. For noir, try Hinterland (Wales) or Wallander. Both are very good, but rather dark. Wallander is still on the air in England (set in Sweden, but it’s a BBC production) so there will be more of them. We watched all available shows. Grim, but well done. Good, intelligent scripts and fine acting.

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        1. I will look for it. The BBC channel, unfortunately, isn’t available on our cable package and doesn’t seem to have a streaming service. If they did, we’d probably subscribe. But. It’s available as an audiobook, so I bought the first one (it was just a couple of dollars).

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  2. Thanks to one of the lesser PBS stations here, I sometimes catch a Swedish or German police drama. Each apparently has been running a long time and contains these same elements you mention. You don’t even have to keep up with all the subtitles to know what is happening.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cop shows are pretty formulaic. The one set is Sweden is actually a BBC production, so it’s all in English. Just set in southern Sweden. The one in Denmark had subtitles, but you’re right — it’s pretty obvious what’s going on and there’s not a lot of conversation anyway.

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    2. Rich, I’m gonna find one of my old stop watches and keep a tally of the running time for murders in MidSomer. They’ve slackened off a bit in murders. Maybe the villains are tired or need help from the Murderers’ Bullpen.

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    1. Both? It is kind of like “Murder She Wrote.” Depopulation is a real danger. At 4 to 5 murders per episode, that’s going to affect business, too. Every time you turn around, someone else has become a corpse.

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        1. Oh, it is many murderers. I think if people would stop treating each other so badly, there would be a lot fewer murders. Talk about nasty, unpleasant people. Yikes. And done with an upper-crust British accent.

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          1. But then you’d have no program and have to move on to another location? The British have a way of doing diabolical things using the utmost proper language. Kinda almost makes you forgive their dastardly deeds just because they’ve described it so well in understandable language.

            Bro Ben

            OmniClassic Recording “Have Mic, will Travel”

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  3. Midsomer Murders was a favourite of David’s and mine for a long time. Apparently Midsomer is a fictional county made up of several villages and as much as I love charming English villages I’d be terrified that if I moved there I’d be knocked off one day. I did often wonder why, if Inspector Barnaby is so smart there is always a second and even third murder before he catches the bad guys. Another favourite of David’s was Inspector Morse, set in Oxford. I watched a few episodes of Shetland and Hinterland, mainly I admit because I love Scotland and Wales. I quite liked them but yes, they were hard going at times. I prefer my crime with a bit of humour.

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    1. We have started keeping score and setting odds on 1) how many corpses per show, and 2) how soon will the first body show up. For those of us who live in small towns, we know that the population would got berserk if there were ONE murder, much less a couple of dozen. We’d be calling for martial law. Bringing in the national guard, the Marines and drone strikes. We not only don’t have a Chief Inspector Barnaby, we don’t even have a real police officer. We have a couple of minimally-trained (and worse paid) part-timers. Mainly, they give out traffic tickets and break up bar fights.

      I think we’d move to a less homicidal town!

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    2. I just had a rush of recall from my working days. I often worked the murder beat which really isn’t funny. Frequently, we’d keep a running tally to see who had the most victims by week’s end. I was fortunate because I often came up with multiple murders in small towns. My best day was a triple homicide in East Hampton, Mass. We also found bones relating to older, cold cases. I won with ease that week.

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