A detective wanders down a foggy alley. A killer lurks in the shadows. A mysterious woman smokes a cigarette on the corner of a bar. These are the images we associate with the genre known as film noir. Most of these crime stories were brought to the big screen in the United States in the 1940s. However, the rest of the world took notice, and it wasn’t long before other countries were borrowing the formula. and appropriate it.
Here are some of the classic blacks and neo-blacks from around the world. Whether it’s a killer trapped in an elevator or an actress losing her grip on reality, these crime capers will keep you on the edge of your seat.
“The Samurai” (France, 1967)
Jef Costello is a meticulous hitman. For the next 24 hours, Jef races against time as he is relentlessly pursued by the police and the criminals who hired him, who now view him as a liability.
Very few actors have looked cooler on screen than Alain Delon like jef in the Samurai. Along with the director Jean Pierre Melville, Delon has created an icon of the stoic killer archetype, doing much of his acting with subtle expressions and gestures. Aided by a moody score and rich cinematography, the Samurai harmoniously blends suspense and melancholy and is an unforgettable portrait of a man realizing he can only run one time.
‘Oldboy’ (South Korea, 2003)
After being kidnapped by an unknown assailant and imprisoned in a hotel room for 15 years, Oh Dae-Su (Choi Min Sik) finally wakes up free, alone on a roof. He ends up with a cell phone, from which a mysterious caller tells him he has five days to find out his identity.
Old boy is easily one of the most successful blacks of the 21st century, and it’s easy to see why. Oh Dae-Su’s desperate search for answers and his struggle to readapt to the outside world are intertwined. From the now iconic hallway hammer fight to the heartbreaking final reveal, Old boy is a cult masterpiece that won’t be soon forgotten.
‘Odd Man Out’ (UK, 1947)
After a robbery in Northern Ireland goes wrong, revolutionary Johnny McQueen (james mason) is injured by police and falls out of his getaway car. He spends the night wandering the streets, evading the police and hoping to find the woman he loves.
After the nerve-wracking opening flight, strange man slowly evolves from a gritty crime drama to a meditative character piece. As his injury worsens and the cops close in on him, Johnny becomes increasingly disoriented. The paranoia of a man on the run is a theme often explored in film noir, and there are few better examples than this British classic.
“Tokyo Drifter” (Japan, 1966)
When his crime boss ends their operation and goes straight, right-hand man Tetsuya (Tetsuya Watari) is offered a job for a rival gang, but he refuses. The rival gang leader becomes enraged and sends assassins after Tetsuya, unleashing a wave of violence that sends Tetsu on the loose.
Tokyo Wanderer is a sleek and colorful neo-noir that feels way ahead of its time. Vibrant yellows, reds, and greens applied to pop art-inspired backdrops form a comic book-style aesthetic unlike any of its contemporaries. The hard-hitting editing transitions from one dynamic gunfight to the next, and if all that wasn’t enough, the film’s jazzy theme song is sure to end up on your latest playlist.
‘Elevator to the Gallows’ (France, 1958)
Two lovers, Florence (Jeanne Moreau) and Julian (Maurice Ronet), plot to kill Florence’s husband, who is Julien’s boss. The plan backfires, leaving Julien stuck in the office elevator, and Florence leaves thinking he’s abandoned her. Meanwhile, Julien’s car is stolen by a young couple who are having their own problems.
One of the first films of the “French New Wave”, Gallows lift brought a new artistic perspective to the black genre. Instead of the typical fuse-burning tension, much of the story unfolds with characters pondering the consequences of past actions or relaxing briefly with a drink, unsure where the next impulsive decision will take them. This tone is further heightened by lingering cinematography and a soulful original score of the one and only Miles Davis.
“The Third Man” (UK, 1949)
Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten), a pulpy Western writer, travels to Vienna to visit his old friend, Harry Lime (Orson Welles). Upon his arrival, he learns of Harry’s untimely death following a traffic accident. After talking with the locals, Holly begins to believe that things aren’t as simple as they seem.
The third man is often mentioned alongside American classics like The Maltese Falcon and Double Indemnity as one of the greatest film noir of all time. Listed and Alida Valli are phenomenal as two lost souls, while Welles makes a smaller but equally impactful appearance at the end of the film. As the story unfolds, it’s less about the mystery and more about whether it would have been better never to try to solve it at all.
“A Long Day’s Journey into Night” (China, 2018)
After years away, Luo Hongwu (Huang Jue) returns to his hometown, Kaili, for his father’s funeral. There, he remembers a woman from his past, and although their previous relationship is unclear, he is compelled to find her.
Long day trip into nightThe story is fragmented, subtly oscillating between past and present. Because of this, the plot can sometimes be difficult to follow, but it’s probably intentional for the audience to see things through Luo’s confused perspective. The Final Hour is a single, unbroken take that follows Luo as he takes a transcendent walk through his dreams and memories. The film is undoubtedly challenging, but it’s also a beautifully dark exploration of the passage of time and its impact on our lives.
‘Perfect Blue’ (Japan, 1997)
After the success of pop star Mima (Junko Iwao) decides to quit singing to pursue an acting career, she quickly learns that it will be a difficult task without attempting to shed her “good girl” image. As the strains and loneliness of the industry begin to tear through her psyche, she also finds evidence of a potential stalker.
perfect blue is a dark examination of the physical and psychological dangers of fame. As Mima’s mind slowly unravels from fear and pressure, it becomes increasingly unclear what is real and what is fake. Entire scenes unfold to reveal that they may or may not be part of a production Mima starred in. This animated masterpiece remains mysterious and haunting years later and will leave you lingering long after it’s finished.
“Diva” (France, 1981)
When the Jules factor (Frederic Andrei) falls under the spell of an American diva (Wilhelmenia Fernandez), he secretly records his voice despite his wish never to record his music. One day, his tape of her is replaced by a tape with incriminating evidence of a corrupt police officer, and he is chased by the officer’s partners in the crowd.
Member of the “cinema du look” movement of the 80s and 90s, Divaborrows black elements and infuses them with bright colors and a slightly abstract atmosphere. The moodiness of the genre is perfectly blended with the fun energy of the Midnight Movie. This is full screen with a stunning bike chase at the center of the film, which is sure to impress anyone looking for a visually stunning and exciting neo-noir.
‘Stray Dog’ (Japan, 1949)
When young detective Murakami (Toshiro Mifune) loses his gun on the sweltering streets of Tokyo, he immediately begins a search through the slums to find it. This eventually reveals itself as evidence in a series of crimes, and a more experienced detective is forced to step in and help Murakami.
legendary director Akira Kurosawa was at the forefront of Japanese film noir, and this early version of the buddy-cop film is one of its best examples. Kurosawa regulars Mifune and Takashi Shimura are reliably magnetic; Mifune’s tense energy contrasts perfectly with Shimura’s calm demeanor. Murakami’s mounting pressure as the case progresses is communicated brilliantly, with palpable warmth and claustrophobia in every frame. It culminates in a thrilling chase that is quite possibly one of Kurosawa’s most memorable finales.
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