50 Free Noir Films: An Easy Way to Sample a Great Cinematic Tradition


What is Film Noir? Ask that ques­tion to the Film Noir Foun­da­tion and this is what they’ll tell you:

Film noir is one of Hollywood’s only organ­ic artis­tic move­ments. Begin­ning in the ear­ly 1940s, numer­ous screen­plays inspired by hard­boiled Amer­i­can crime fic­tion were brought to the screen, pri­mar­i­ly by Euro­pean émi­gré direc­tors who shared a cer­tain sto­ry­telling sen­si­bil­i­ty: high­ly styl­ized, overt­ly the­atri­cal, with imagery often drawn from an ear­li­er era of Ger­man “expres­sion­ist” cin­e­ma. Fritz Lang, Robert Siod­mak, Bil­ly Wilder, and Otto Pre­minger, among oth­ers, were among this Hol­ly­wood van­guard.

Dur­ing and imme­di­ate­ly fol­low­ing World War II, movie audi­ences respond­ed to this fresh, vivid, adult-ori­ent­ed type of film — as did many writ­ers, direc­tors, cam­era­men and actors eager to bring a more mature world-view to Hol­ly­wood prod­uct. Large­ly fueled by the finan­cial and artis­tic suc­cess of Bil­ly Wilder’s adap­ta­tion of James M. Cain’s novel­la Dou­ble Indemnity(1944), the stu­dios began crank­ing out crime thrillers and mur­der dra­mas with a par­tic­u­lar­ly dark and ven­omous view of exis­tence.

In 1946 a Paris ret­ro­spec­tive of Amer­i­can films embar­goed dur­ing the war clear­ly revealed this trend toward vis­i­bly dark­er, more cyn­i­cal crime melo­dra­mas. It was not­ed by sev­er­al Gal­lic crit­ics who chris­tened this new type of Hol­ly­wood prod­uct “film noir,” or black film, in lit­er­al trans­la­tion.

Few, if any of the artists in Hol­ly­wood who made these films called them “noir” at the time. But the vivid co-min­gling of lost inno­cence, doomed roman­ti­cism, hard-edged cyn­i­cism, des­per­ate desire, and shad­owy sex­u­al­i­ty that was unleashed in those imme­di­ate post-war years proved huge­ly influ­en­tial, both among indus­try peers in the orig­i­nal era, and to future gen­er­a­tion of sto­ry­tellers, both lit­er­ary and cin­e­mat­ic.

If you want to get anoth­er angle on the ques­tion, you can always take into con­sid­er­a­tion Roger Ebert’s 10 Essen­tial Char­ac­ter­is­tics of Noir Films. But our sug­ges­tion, espe­cial­ly on a long Sun­day after­noon, is to spend some time watch­ing the clas­sic movies gath­ered in our col­lec­tion of 50 Free Noir Films. The col­lec­tion fea­tures pub­lic domain films by John Hus­ton, Fritz Lang, Orson Welles and oth­er cel­e­brat­ed direc­tors. Here’s a quick sam­ple of what’s in the archive:

  • Beat the Dev­il – Free – Direct­ed by John Hus­ton and star­ring Humphrey Bog­a­rt, the film is some­thing of a com­ic and dra­mat­ic spoof of the film noir tra­di­tion. (1953)
  • D.O.A. — Free — Rudolph Maté’s clas­sic noir film. Called “one of the most accom­plished, inno­v­a­tive, and down­right twist­ed entrants to the film noir genre.” (1950)
    Five Min­utes to Live — Free — Mem­o­rable bank heist movie stars John­ny Cash, Vic Tay­back, Ron Howard, and coun­try music great, Mer­le Travis. (1961)
  • Quick­sand Free — Peter Lorre and Mick­ey Rooney star in a sto­ry about a garage mechanic’s descent into crime. (1950)
  • Scar­let Street — Free — Direct­ed by Fritz Lang with Edward G. Robin­son. A film noir great. (1945)
  • The Hitch-Hik­er Free  — The first noir film made by a woman noir direc­tor, Ida Lupino. (1953)
  • The Stranger Free — Direct­ed by Orson Welles with Edward G. Robin­son. One of Welles’s major com­mer­cial suc­cess­es. (1946)

We recent­ly added anoth­er 15 films to the col­lec­tion of free noir films. So even if you’ve perused the list in the past, there’s now some­thing new to enjoy.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

25 Noir Films That Will Stand the Test of Time: A List by “Noir­chael­o­gist” Eddie Muller

100 Great­est Posters of Film Noir

4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More

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