Some of the most famous classic movies are crime noir dramas, featuring anti-hero protagonists; alluring and dangerous women; and danger lurking around every corner. Many of these classic films were adapted from equally classic and compelling novels. For your viewing and reading pleasure, we’ve compiled a list of nine of the best crime noir movies, and the books that inspired them.
In a Lonely Place
Book: 1947; Film: 1950
The film In a Lonely Place, which stars Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame, is perhaps not as well known as some of Bogart’s other film noir roles (The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, etc.), but has come to be recognized as an important part of noir history. Bogart stars as Dixon Steele, a screenwriter suspected of murder, and Grahame as Laurel Grey, his neighbor and love interest. In a Lonely Place is based on Dorothy B. Hughes’ novel of the same name.
Touch of Evil
Book (Badge of Evil): 1956; Film: 1958
Orson Welles directed this star-studded noir film, which features such legends as Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Marlene Dietrich, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and Welles himself. The plot follows a drug enforcement agent, played by Heston, investigating a car bomb explosion on the American side of the U.S./Mexico border with help from American authorities. Heston’s character soon begins to suspect that his American counterparts are up to no good, and that his life, as well as that of his new wife, played by Leigh, may be at risk. Welles loosely based his screenplay on the novel Badge of Evil by Whit Masterson.
The Maltese Falcon
Book: 1929; Film: 1941
The legendary John Huston directed the legendary Humphrey Bogart in the legendary crime noir classic. Bogart plays detective Sam Spade, who finds himself drawn into a web of intrigue, conspiracy and murder after he takes a case brought to him by a beautiful and mysterious woman, played by Mary Astor. As it turns out, everyone involved in this world of crime is after the same object: a highly valuable falcon statuette. The Maltese Falcon was based off of Dashiell Hammett’s novel of the same name.
The Postman Always Rings Twice
Book: 1934; Film: 1946, 1981
Cecil Kellaway, John Garfield, and Lana Turner star in this story about a drifter and a love triangle. After being hired by a diner owner, the drifter falls in love with the owner’s wife. The lovers then conspire to kill the owner and seize his assets. The two succeed, but there is trouble in store. Based on the novel by James M. Cain, The Postman Always Rings Twice was adapted for the screen a second time in 1981, starring Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange as the murderous twosome.
The Third Man
Book: 1950; Film: 1949
This is a rare case in which the movie actually inspired the book. The Third Man, widely considered one of the best films of all time, is set in post-WWII Vienna. Joseph Cotton, Alida Valli, Orson Welles and Trevor Howard star in this suspenseful tale about an American, Holly Martins, who comes to Vienna to take a job offered by his friend. Once he arrives, he quickly learns that his friend is dead. Martins takes it upon himself to investigate the death of his friend, which he believes to be highly suspicious. The screenplay was written by novelist Graham Greene; Greene went on to write a novel, inspired by the movie, which came out the next year.
They Live by Night
Book (Thieves Like Us): 1937; Film: 1948
This film, considered to have set the stage for 1967’s revolutionary Bonnie and Clyde, follows a wrongly convicted man (Farley Granger), who, after breaking out of prison and falling for a fellow criminal’s niece, stumbles into a life of crime. The movie was based on the novel Thieves Like Us, by Edward Anderson.
Book: 1943; Film: 1944
One of the most important films in the entire genre, Double Indemnity is a crime noir masterpiece. Insurance salesman Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) falls for Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck), a woman intent on killing her husband in order to live off an accidental death claim. The film was based on a novel by James M. Cain, though the great Raymond Chandler co-wrote the screenplay with director Billy Wilder.
Book: 1927; Film: 1946
Burt Lancaster, Ava Gardner, Edmond O’Brien and Sam Levene star in this film, about two hit men who find their mark only to realize he’s been expecting them. After the men carry out their mission, an investigator, suspicious of the death, decides to investigate, and finds a good deal more than he bargained for. The Killers was based on a short story of the same name by Ernest Hemingway.
The Big Sleep
Book: 1939; Film: 1946
Bogie and Bacall are at their best in this crime noir classic, based on one of Raymond Chandler’s famous Philip Marlowe novels. When P.I. Marlowe, played by Bogart, is hired by a rich old general to clean up the gambling debts of his unruly younger daughter, Marlowe finds the case to be infinitely more dangerous and complex that he could have imagined. The general’s older daughter, played by Lauren Bacall, has secrets of her own—but that doesn’t prevent Marlowe from falling for her.
Featured photo: Wikipedia; Additional photos: Wikipedia (Public domain); Wikipedia; Wikipedia; Wikipedia; Tom / Flickr (CC); Insomnia Cured Here / Flickr (CC); Criterion; Wikipedia; Wikipedia; Wikipedia