5 Best Film Noir Detectives

Monday, January 24 by Travis Petersen

Film noir defined genre film in the 1940s and 1950s, making the 5 best film noir detectives some of the most famous film characters of all time. The five best film noir detectives were hard men trying to hold to a moral code and often being broken down slowly by the circumstances surrounding them and the femmes fatale that they encountered. Here they are, the five best film noir detectives.

  1. Sam Spade – Sam Spade is the main character of "The Maltese Falcon," portrayed in the film by that iconic star of film, Humphrey Bogart. A man who holds to the code of honor within his profession, he is an iconic character given an iconic performance and tops our list of the five best film noir detectives.
  2. Philip Marlowe – Philip Marlowe, Raymond Chandler's heroic detective with a heart of gold, appeared in several films in the 1940s, most notably "The Big Sleep," where he was portrayed by Bogart, appearing again on our list of the best film noir detectives, and in "Murder, My Sweet" by Dick Powell. Marlowe, a man of seedy pre-white-flight Los Angeles, is easily one of the five best film noir detectives, and one of film's longest-enduring characters, portrayed in the 1970s by Elliott Gould in "The Long Goodbye."
  3. Mike Hammer – Mickey Spillane's tough-as-nails, brutal, vengeful private eye is most well-known in film as portrayed by Ralph Meeker in the surrealist, paranoid adaptation of "KIss Me Deadly." This performance marks Hammer as one of the five best film noir detectives.
  4. Jeff Bailey – Robert Mitchum's "Out of the Past" PI is a tough man with a shady past. This iconic performance opposite one of film noir's greatest femmes fatale, Jane Greer, makes Bailey one of the five best film noir detectives.
  5. Mark McPherson – The lead cop in "Laura," a twist-filled mystery, rounds out our list of the best film noir detectives. Often forgotten among the Marlowes and Spades, McPherson is an underrated character, but one of the best as portrayed by Dana Andrews in a career-defining role.