The difficulty in determining the best film noir directors is in defining film noir. The characteristics of film noir include hard-boiled cynical heroes, femme fatales, virginal heroines and excessive violence. Furthermore, films noir are melodramatic movies shot in black and white on a low budget. Naturally, few films have all of these characteristics so, there is often some debate regarding whether any given movie qualifies as film noir; however, there is a body of films that, by consensus, are viewed as film noir and, on this basis, it's possible to compile a list of the best film noir directors.
John Huston Some film critics consider Huston to be the creator of film noir. That's probably going too far, but he, more than any other person, is responsible for establishing film noir as a sub-genre of motion pictures. Huston directed the first movie that everyone can agree is film noir: “The Maltese Falcon.” For no other reason than that, Huston would be counted as one of the best film noir directors. He also directed such film noir classics as “Key Largo,” “The Asphalt Jungle” and “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.”
Alfred Hitchcock Many people don't think of Hitchcock as a film noir director, much less one of the best film noir directors, but the evidence says otherwise. Hitchcock movies such as “Notorious,” “The Wrong Man,” “Shadow of a Doubt” and “Strangers on a Train” undoubtedly qualify as films noir. Furthermore, other Hitchcock movies such as “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” “Rear Window” and even the legendary “Psycho” are arguably films noir.
Orson Welles Unlike most other directors, Welles was fortunate in that many of his film noir efforts were pretty high budget movies. Both “The Lady From Shanghai” and “The Stranger” benefitted from studio marketing and financial backing. Many consider the classic film “A Touch of Evil” made by Welles in 1958 to be the last film noir. Welles and the studio fought bitterly over the editing of “A Touch of Evil.” Recently, a version of the movie was released that tries to present the film in the way that Welles wanted it edited.
Fritz Lang Lang was an Austrian filmmaker famous for his silent science fiction movie “Metropolis,” the most expensive silent film ever made. By the time he made it to Hollywood, Lang had become pessimistic and cynical in his outlook. Thus, he gravitated toward film noir projects. Lang is one of the best film noir directors because his movies went to extremes even for film noir. For example, “Scarlet Street” was so erotic that it was censored and “The Big Heat” was extraordinarily brutal even by film noir standards.
Ida Lupino In the late 1940s and through most of the 1950s, Lupino was the only female movie director in Hollywood, so she had to be an exceptional filmmaker. Much of Lupino's work was in film noir. Her movies were classic film noir in the sense that even though they were quickly made with a low budget, they still possess the tension, tight focus, and high quality that characterizes film noir. Lupino's best film noir is “The Hitch-Hiker,” a movie about two men who pick up a psychopathic killer and give him a ride.