The 10 best film noir DVDs showcase the finest crime and detective films ever made. The stylish direction, sinister storylines and crackling dialogue of film noir classics have won them countless fans through the decades. Turn off the lights and put on these DVDs for a dark look at the underside of the human experience.
“Detour.” A blackmailing woman leads a hapless musician on a deadly cross-country journey. This 1945 movie, shot in only six days, has been called one of the greatest low-budget films ever. In 1992, the U.S. Library of Congress added “Detour” to its list of “culturally significant” films.
“Gun Crazy.” John Dall follows femme fatale Peggy Cummins into a life of crime and murder. This low-budget drama played on B-screens originally, but has since been rediscovered as a noir classic. Drew Barrymore starred in a 1992 remake.
“The Big Sleep.” Humphrey Bogart starred in this film noir classic as Raymond Chandler’s detective hero Philip Marlowe. Smoking-hot bad girl Lauren Bacall draws Bogart into a case so complicated, even Chandler didn’t know who committed one of the murders. WB Video offers this DVD in a set with other Bogart-Bacall classics.
“Kiss Me Deadly." Arriving in the 1950s, writer Mickey Spillane was late to the pulp detective novel, but right on time for film noir. Ralph Meeker, as Spillane’s detective Mike Hammer, tracks a mysterious briefcase along a deadly trail. The explosive finale has influenced numerous later films, including Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction.”
“The Third Man.” Clueless Yank Joseph Cotton seeks the truth about a friend’s death in postwar Vienna. Orson Welles’ sinister turn in the title role combines with a shadowy finale in the city sewers to make this a near-perfect noir. This is one of the few film noir titles offered by Criterion, whose classy DVD sets always include pristine prints, behind-the-scenes features, and fun packaging with loads of extras.
“Chinatown.” Jack Nicholson and director Roman Polanski bring noir into the color era with their 1974 detective story, but the case is as dark as any Bogart ever investigated. Robert Towne’s chilling script was based on actual events in L.A.’s disreputable past. Paramount released a collector’s edition DVD in 2007.
"Blood Simple.” Joel and Ethan Coen became indie-film superstars with this new noir classic, their first film. A murder-for-hire scheme goes haywire as the killers double-cross each other. The Coens also displayed their love of dark crime drama in their later features like “Fargo” and “The Big Lebowski.”
“Sin City.” Robert Rodriguez’ 2005 visually innovative shoot-‘em-up takes the shadowy noir look to its most extreme. The director imitated the style of comic artist Frank Miller, who was heavily influenced by Spillane novels and film noir. The Director’s Cut DVD presents the four separate stories as they played in the comic book, and includes plentiful bonuses such as the original, undigitized footage shot on a Texas soundstage.
“The Maltese Falcon.” John Huston’s 1941 crime thriller may be the first film noir ever made, and is surely one of the finest. Bogart, as Sam Spade, pursues a twisting trail of suspects to find his partner’s killer. WB’s 2000 DVD includes a biographical look at Bogart’s movie trailers and a feature on mystery stories of the twentieth century.