5 Films Noir Inspired by Novels
Some of the most lasting Hollywood movies are films noir—dark movies, set in the shadows of black and white films in the 40s and 50s are some of the most famous movies ever made. But not all of the genre's tough guy detectives and their dangerous dames originated on the screen. They came from hardboiled detective and murder mystery novels, many of which were written in the 30s and 40s. Novels and films are the best ways to tell these stories, many of which are characterized by sharp dialogued, vicious characters, and fast paced plots. Some of the best stories translate from the page to the with equal skill and force. Check out these novels, watch the movies they inspired, and let us know in the comments below which one was better: the movie or the book?
When Dashiell Hammet created Sam Spade, the cynical PI from San Francisco, he created the prototype for the tough guy detective. Sam is good at his job: he is smart, calculating, observant, and handsome—the perfect detective for any crime novel or film noir. So when the film came out in 1941, it was an instant success, turning the already well-known Humphrey Bogart into a superstar. The movie, staring Mary Astor and directed by John Houston, is credited as being one of the first films noir, preceded only by Bette Davis' The Letter. The Maltese Falcon was a big hit, and the book, with its clean writing and sharp dialogue, has become an American classic.
James M. Cain was a journalism professor when he published his first novel at the age of 42. He went from a teacher, to bestselling author, to being tried for obscenity in Boston almost overnight all because of his debut novel The Postman Always Rings Twice. Cain’s novel, a story about two lovers who resort to murder to be together easily translated into an essential film noir. The dark story of Frank and Cora was picked up by one of the brightest studios in Hollywood, Metro Goldwyn Meyer (MGM). At the height of the Hollywood studio system, MGM was known for having “more stars than the sky.” Twelve years after its publication Cain's novel was made into a movie. The movie and the novel are both still wildly popular today.
Bogart and Bacall were happily married and Hollywood royalty by the time they made their second movie together, The Big Sleep. The Raymond Chandler novel had already captured readers. The book featured one of Chandler's most famous characters: the tough guy (and secretly soft hearted) detective Phillip Marlowe, a private investigator in Los Angeles. In the novel, Marlowe is hired by the wealthy General Sternwood to find out who is blackmailing one of his daughters. But after Marlowe solves the case, he has a nagging feeling that he missed something and delves even further in the the world of Sternwood's two daughters.
In the film the heat and tension between Marlowe and his client's daughter is palpable thanks to Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall's chemistry and acting skills. The screenplay for Chandler's quick-paced and well crafted dialogue and exciting plot are helped onto the screen by none other than William Faulkner. The book and movie are still largely popular with readers and film watchers today.
Talking to a stranger on a train usually does not lead to murder—unless you've been put onto the page by Patricia Highsmith or memorialized on screen by Alfred Hitchcock. Like all films noir, the main characters are left to the hands of fate, for better or (more likely) for worse. When Guy Haines and Charles Anthony Bruno meet on a train, their friendly small talk leads to deadly consequences. Highsmith is a master of mystery (her books The Price of Salt and The Talented Mr. Ripley have both been made into Academy Award-winning movies) and Hitchcock has long been known as the master of suspense. Both of these artists have created thrilling books and movies, and Strangers on a Train is a prime example of both of their work.
The first scene of Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly is stunning. It's the dark of night in a black and white movie. Pictured are the bare feet of a woman; she gasps for breath as she runs down a highway wearing only a trench coat, desperately trying to flag down a car. Finally, she jumps in front of a sports car: it veers to the side and almost crashes. The driver, a tough-looking guy in a suit, angrily lets the young woman into his car. She is still too out of breath to speak, and she's still breathing hard as Nat King Cole’s “I’d Rather Have the Blues Than What I’ve Got” plays on the radio and the movie credits roll large and overbearing over the screen.
Don’t worry, Mickey Spillane’s novel is just as riveting as the opening scene of the movie. The violence and sexual tension of Spillane's books was shocking for the 50s. Kiss Me Deadly, with its fast talking, good looking characters, is still modern 65 years after it was first published. Over 225 million copies of his books have been sold worldwide, so it’s safe to say that Spillane was good at his job, and this book is too deadly to miss.