Film noir lovers in the New York City area are about to get the treat of a lifetime courtesy of the Museum of the Moving Image. Starting tomorrow, November 13, MoMI will host the “Lonely Places: Film Noir and the American Landscape” retrospective series, which includes fifteen American noir films made between 1945 and 1960 that capture a variety of settings, hardboiled detectives and beautiful femme fatales. The films have all been hand-selected by guest curator Sara Smith, and her decision to explore the 1940s means cinephiles will have the rare chance to see hard-to-screen and obscure classics in the genre on the big screen.
For a complete schedule and tickets to all the “Lonely Places” screenings, head over to the MoMI website. Listed below are Indiewire’s eight film noir movies from the 1940s not to miss during the retrospective. Synopses and showtimes provided by MoMI.
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“Out of the Past” (Jacques Tourneur, 1947)
The definitive film noir is also one of the most diverse in its settings, as Robert Mitchum’s dreamily fatalistic private eye drifts through country towns, rugged mountains, Mexican beaches, New York jazz clubs, plush San Francisco pads, and cabins in dark pine woods. Wherever he goes, he knows he can’t escape the consequences of past mistakes—double-crossing a powerful gangster, falling in love with Jane Greer’s alluring femme fatale. The irresistibly quotable dialogue plays like a series of jazz riffs on the theme of disenchantment, but Tourneur’s film, with ravishing cinematography by Nicholas Musuraca, is a source of perennial enchantment. Screenings: November 13 at 7:30pm, November 15 at 7:00pm
“The Reckless Moment” (Max Ophüls, 1949)
Ophüls’s last Hollywood film shows his trademark elegantly moving camera and sophisticated use of space, but authentically captures the look, sound and feel of a prosperous yet anxious postwar America and what screenwriter Robert Soderberg called “the American woman—the trapped woman,” a willing prisoner of her family. “The Reckless Moment” is a complex and ambivalent treatment of suburban values and that controversial icon, the American mother. In this tender, understated love story, the underworld blackmailer threatening a respectable housewife whose daughter accidentally killed a man turns out to be the one person who truly understands and appreciates her. Screening: November 14 at 2:00pm
“Nightmare Alley” (Edmund Goulding, 1947)
Capturing the sleazy allure of the carny through Lee Garmes’s atmospheric cinematography, “Nightmare Alley” follows a crooked psychic who rises from fairground swindles to classy nightclub acts and an unholy alliance with a manipulative psychoanalyst. With the precision and ruthlessness of a scalpel, Jules Furthman’s script dissects the mind-reading scam, in which trust and feigned empathy are just a means for bilking money out of suckers. Tyrone Power plumbs the depths of corruption and degradation as an homme fatale at once arrogant and perversely drawn to the lowest depths. The true noir landscape, this film reveals, is the human mind. Screening: November 15 at 2:00pm
“The Amazing Mr. X” (Bernard Vorhaus, 1948)
A slick, fraudulent spiritualist preys on a widow yearning to re-connect with her husband, staging elaborate ghostly visitations. But his illusions turn out to be far from the cruelest in this story, which explores the classic noir theme of someone’s desperate desire to recover a lost past, and the bitter consequences of this impossible dream. The real magic is supplied by cinematographer John Alton, who imbues the film with a misty, twilit, ethereal sheen, making the most of a romantic seaside setting. His work, long seen only on murky public domain videos, can now be appreciated in a restored print. Screening: November 15 at 4:30pm
“Leave Her to Heaven” (John Stahl, 1945)
The chilling story of a beautiful woman whose possessive love drives her to murder is filmed by Leon Shamroy in Technicolor so luscious and compositions so immaculate that the cinematography feels perversely complicit in the heroine’s crimes. The mismatch between the film’s gorgeous surface—all pristine landscapes, warm soft light, and stylish rustic interiors—and its insidious cruelty makes it deliciously disturbing; Gene Tierney is unforgettably terrifying as the dream girl who turns out to be a nightmare. The strangely numb, affectless quality of this melodrama reveals a sterile, deadly perfectionism in the American ideal of the good life. Screening: November 22 at 4:00pm
“Desert Fury” (Lewis Allen, 1947)
“Desert Fury” combines elements of the western, the gangster movie, and the melodrama, all fused in the heat of its blazing Technicolor. A cult favorite thanks to its unabashed homoerotic overtones and face-slapping flamboyance, the film is also a dense and fascinating study of emotional dependence, possessiveness, jealousy, and the desire for dominance. The terrific ensemble cast includes stand-out performances by Mary Astor and Wendell Corey as the two most prickly, frustrated, and intelligent characters. Driven by dark secrets, the story unfolds in luxurious high style against glowing landscapes, in a modern west thoroughly tainted by vice and corruption. Screening: November 22 at 6:30pm
“Cry of the City” (Robert Siodmak, 1948)
This tale of a police detective chasing a charismatic cop-killer focuses on the battle for hearts and minds between the two men, products of the same insular Little Italy neighborhood. Their charged, intimate encounters with a succession of brilliantly delineated characters are staged in cramped, stifling interiors. Director Siodmak was a master of chamber noir, always most interested in psychology and the tense, ingrown dynamics of family and romantic relationships. Here he combines gritty New York location shooting with moody atmospherics, peering into many of the city’s corners of furtive misery. Desperation and moral ambiguity inhabit this town like weather. Screening: November 28 at 4:00pm
“Moonrise” (Frank Borzage, 1948)
Cinema’s great poet of outcasts redeemed by love, Borzage made his only foray into film noir with this Southern gothic tale about a young man tormented by a legacy of guilt and violence. A veteran of silent movies, Borzage remained a visual storyteller, filling the screen with symbolic images of hunting, confinement, and unbearable tension. Lyrical, expressionistic, yet unflinching in its depiction of small-town bullying and intolerance, “Moonrise” has a feeling for the natural world and the traditions of rural life rarely found in noir. Atmospheric settings convey the stagnant weight of the past, but also a delicate, shadowy romanticism. Screening: December 5 at 4:30pm
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