If you've developed a taste for smoky bars, mysterious murders and cops pounding a dangerous beat thanks to the engrossing 'L.A. Noire,' we've got some essential film noirs for you, including several that inspired the video game.
Let us take you back to 1940s Los Angeles for classics like 'Double Indemnity,' with a double-dealing Barbara Stanwyck, and 'The Big Sleep,' with Humphrey Bogart as jaded P.I. Philip Marlowe. Then we tour the underbelly of overlooked L.A. noirs, where the cops can be more crooked than the criminals. Finally, we leave you with modern classics like 'Heat,' where the City of Angels is now in color, but just as noir.
1. 'Double Indemnity' (1944)
The clinches are steamy, the dialogue snappy, and the passion lethal when insurance salesman Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) meets greedy trophy wife Phyllis (Barbara Stanwyck), who's soon pitching him on bumping off her husband. Watch a clip.
2. 'Murder My Sweet' (1944)
You can't get more classic than a P.I. in his office after hours, a client who wants his ex found, a gold-digging dame, and lines like "Boys tell me I did a couple of murders. Anything in it?" from our hero. Add in a textbook interrogation scene, numerous bonks on the head, flashbacks and voice-over narration that's been copied and parodied ever since.
3. 'The Big Sleep' (1946)
Humphrey Bogart tries to get to the bottom of a few L.A. murders, two rich and wild sisters, and a mysterious blackmail ring in this gold standard of noirs, based on the book by Raymond Chandler. The mystery's a bit fuzzy, but dig that smoking chemistry between Bogie and future wife Lauren Bacall. Watch a clip where Bogart contends with her man-crazy younger sister.
4. 'Sunset Boulevard' (1950)
Billy Wilder's bitter valentine to Hollywood still stings. Dive in as aspiring screenwriter Joe Gillis (William Holden) recalls how he found himself lying face down in a pool, murdered by a faded movie star.
5. 'In a Lonely Place' (1950)
Possibly even darker than 'Sunset Boulevard,' with Bogart as a novelist-turned-screenwriter who becomes a murder suspect just as he's beginning a relationship with a beautiful neighbor (noir great Gloria Grahame). Watch a clip where Bogart's mean temper gives Grahame doubts about his innocence.
6. 'Kiss Me Deadly' (1955)
They didn't make 'em like this in the '40s: This is a noir for the atomic age, with dames who aren't just dangerous but psychotic, and a hero (Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer) who plays as rough as any of the heavies as he scours L.A. from flophouses to mansions for answers.
Lesser-Known Noirs: Cops, Crooked and Straight
7. 'He Walked by Night' (1948)
A great police procedural as the cops try to track a disturbed killer who disappears through the L.A. sewer system and could be just about anyone. The entire movie is online at YouTube.
8. 'Private Hell 36' (1954)
Two cops (Steve Cochran and Howard Duff) come across a stash of cash and decide to keep it for themselves. Add in a money-hungry girlfriend (Ida Lupino) and growing mistrust between the partners, and you've got the makings for a nifty little noir, directed by Clint Eastwood fave Don Siegel. Watch a clip.
9. 'Tension' (1949)
The clip below is one of the greatest intros of any noir, with homicide detective Barry Sullivan explaining how he breaks suspects. In this film, he's on a murder case he'd like to pin on a jealous husband, if he can. How he cozies up to the wife is definitely not by the book.
More Modern Classics
10. 'Chinatown' (1974)
In 1930's Los Angeles, private investigator Jack Gittes (Jack Nicholson) finds himself wading knee-deep into dirty politics and family secrets when he gets caught up in the conflicted lives of Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) and her powerful father (the director John Huston, as one of noir's most memorable villains). In the clip below, Gittes receives a stern warning from none other than the film's director, Roman Polanski.
Sure, it's got a Wang Chung soundtrack, but this sun-soaked noir by 'French Connection' director William Friedkin is just as gritty and bloody as any film in the genre. William Petersen is a Treasury agent willing to go to any lengths to nail counterfeiter Willem Dafoe. Check out this tense wrong-way chase scene on a busy L.A. freeway that begins at Union Station.
12. 'Heat' (1995)
Michael Mann's urban epic of an obsessed cop (Al Pacino) squaring off with a master thief (Robert De Niro) is a masterpiece of style, tension and elegance, with two legendary leads, a top-notch ensemble and a daring daylight robbery in downtown L.A.
13. 'Strange Days' (1995)
Missed this one in the '90s? Go back and savor Kathryn Bigelow's nihilistic vision of L.A. on the verge of the millennium, where a sleazy dealer in high-tech videos (Ralph Fiennes) is sent a copy of a murder. He and his bodyguard (Angela Bassett) try to find the truth, while staying two steps ahead of the killer cops on their trail. Check out the trailer.
14. 'L.A. Confidential' (1997)
Vice, homicide, narcotics, violent interrogations and Irish senior brass are just a few of the things that 'L.A. Noire' has in common with this Oscar winner. Relive the film's brutal "Bloody Christmas" scene, where boozed-up cops decide to get payback on some suspects who supposedly attacked their colleagues.
Want more cops & robbers? Check out our previous lists: The 10 Best Cop Films, Best Prison Break Movies and The 10 Best Heist-Movie Disguises.