Thursday, May 17, 2007

Top 10 Film Noir Premises

1) “Memento” (2000)
Leonard is a man with no long term memory, yet bent on hunting down his wife’s killer. Since he can’t remember anything for over fifteen minutes, he covers his body with tattoos to record the clues he has uncovered. He writes everything down, but still lives in a world where he will never know who and what he can trust. Taking his brilliant premise one step further, director Christopher Nolan structures his mystery with the scenes in reverse order.

2) “The Matrix” (1999)
What if one day you were told that your entire life has been a dream? This is what happens to the hacker known as Neo, who is shown how to step out of the Matrix, the virtual reality world designed to keep humans mentally occupied while their bodies are harvested for energy. He begins a messiah quest to free humanity.

3) “DOA” (1950)
A man bursts into a police station and tells the chief he wants to report a murder. “Whose?” asks the officer. “Mine!” shouts the man. He has been terminally poisoned, but in the 24 hours before he dies, he vows to solve his own enigmatic murder.

4) “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” (1988)
Robert Zemeckis gave noir a total revision by setting his comedy/drama/mystery in a Hollywood where cartoon characters are real, but treated as second-class citizens. Bob Hoskins plays an alcoholic detective trying to clear Roger Rabbit of a crime, but faces trouble in “Toontown” (the cartoon ghetto) as well as the racist outside world.

5) “Panic in the Streets” (1950)
A newly arrived illegal immigrant is found killed on the docks of New Orleans. The case would normally not get much attention, but the coroner (played by Richard Widmark) discovers that the corpse was carrying a deadly plague. The police must find the killer (who has been exposed to the disease) within 48 hours or he’ll become contagious and the whole city might be devastated by the outbreak.

6) “Dark City” (1998)
An amnesiac wakes up in a decrepit hotel with a mutilated corpse nearby. The police (or something like them) are already on their way. He escapes and begins to make his way throughout the Dark City, a gothic urban cityscape that seems to rearrange itself at night. Or at least, at a certain time of night. It’s tough to tell since the city is in perpetual darkness.

7) “Brick” (2005)
Dashiell Hammett’s unbeatable prose grafted onto a noir with a High School cast and setting? “Brick” makes it work. Brenden gets a hysterical phone call from his ex-girlfriend, full of slang he can’t understand. The next day she’s missing. His investigation into the possible conspiracy is a new twist on an old conceit.

8) “Suture” (1993)
Vincent Towers killed his father and met his long-lost brother, Clay, for the first time at the funeral. The police have him marked as their lead suspect and he needs to escape with his inheritance, so he plots to fake his death by killing his look-alike brother. According to the film, the only problem is that Clay survives, with his memory damaged so that he and everyone around him think he actually is Vincent. The postmodern twist on the story, never acknowledged by anyone in the film, is that Vincent is a thin, angular Caucasian and his “identical” brother is a muscular African American that couldn’t possibly pass as Vincent’s double.

9) “Point Blank” (1967)
Walker is a thief who gets double crossed (killed and robbed of his $93,000 share) by his partner when they rendezvous post-heist at Alcatraz (abandoned in 1963). A few years later, Walker rises from the dead with only two things on his mind: get back his $93,000 and take revenge. Lee Marvin plays Walker, a man of few words, no emotions and decisive action.

10) “High and Low” (1963)
A wealthy corporate executive is attempting to use all his resources to buy control of his company and turn it around, when he receives a ransom note from someone who has kidnapped his son. He jumps into action. However, he soon discovers that his son is safe… the kidnappers took his chauffeur’s same-age son. Now the issue becomes a moral dilemma (to pay or not to pay) as much as a great mystery case. One of Kurosawa’s best noirs.


Molly said...

Glad to see Panic in the Streets here! It's a brilliant premise, and I love seeing Zero Mostel and Jack Palance as the plague-carrying immigrant criminals.

Mad Dog said...

Interesting to see Brick, Suture and even the Matrix (so high!) on the list. I still REALLY wanna see High and Low.

FilmWalrus said...

Troublesome list for me to make, with some admittedly questionable choices.

Matrix has been so influential despite seeming cliche and over-discussed to our generation. I do think that the series as a whole fails to live up to its premise and promise.

Brick doesn't have a very good plot premise, but it is compelling and the high-school touch actually working impresses me. Maybe time with change me on that.

Suture also fails to live up to the full capacity of its premise, but I'd love to see more like it.

Panic in the Streets makes me so happy and it is truly deserving of the spot on the list. I'd say it is ripe for a remake.