19 September 2017

The Terror of Daylight – Neo Noirs for a Rainy Day

Fall’s coming and winter’s sliding in behind it. So I thought I’d talk about some rainy day movies for crime writers and readers: neo noirs, mysteries and thrillers. All movies I’ve seen more than once, some many times, and never get tired of. All of which I like and would recommend to anyone who’s into these genres. All of which I own in one form or another. And I know I’ll have left out some of your faves and even some of mine, but I have to leave some for another list some time down the road. And I know you won’t agree with some of my choices, but that’s what makes a horse race.

Many of these flicks involve the terror of the everyday, of the mundane. The “terror of daylight” as some have put it.

So here’s the list as they popped into my head, in no particular order:

Pacific Heights, with Michael Keaton, Melanie Griffith, Matthew Modine. I’m not a big fan of horror movies these days. They’re just too predictable for my tastes, plus they’re more shock fests than true horror. But to me, while probably technically a neo-noir, Pacific Heights is a true horror movie. Why? Because it’s the kind of thing that can happen to anyone. We’ve all probably experienced that bad neighbor (or tenant) or the guy who lives in the apartment upstairs and makes noise at all hours of the night. Well if those things bug you, you’ll be creeped out by this movie.

Malice: with Alec Baldwin, Nicole Kidman, Bill Pullman. Written by Aaron Sorkin of West Wing fame. There’s just something about this movie that I really like. I think it’s very clever, good twists. Engaging cast. I don’t want to give away too much but you think this is going to be a straightforward serial killer mystery, but it spins off in a totally unexpected way.

Masquerade, with Rob Lowe and Meg Tilley. Part love story, part crime movie, but very noir in the sense that everyone is doomed, even as they’re redeemed.

Body Heat, with William Hurt and Kathleen Turner, written and directed by Lawrence Kasdan. Double Indemnity for the 80s, and today. I recently posted about this movie on FB and found some people hate it, so I guess to each his own, but for me personally this is the perfect updating of noir to a more recent (if you can consider the 80s recent) era.

The Firm, The Client, The Rainmaker, Pelican Brief: A John Grisham Quartet, starring respectively: Tom Cruise, Susan Sarandon, Matt Damon, Julia Roberts/Denzel Washington. All of them really good movies. And, while not neo-noir really, these also help satisfy that craving for crime, suspense darkness and evil and are entertaining at the same time.

Derailed, with Clive Owen and Jennifer Aniston, based on the novel by James Siegel. I didn’t like the movie when it first came out, but it’s grown on me. For whatever reasons, even though I didn’t like it the first time I saw it, I gave it another shot. And another. And each time grew to like it more. A hapless family man is lured into a trap by lust – a very noir theme. And the bad guy (played to rotten perfection by Vincent Cassel) is so vicious and cruel, it makes my skin crawl every time.

The Lincoln Lawyer, based on the novel by Michael Connelly. Matthew McConaughey playing a sleazy lawyer – what’s not to love? When I first read the Connelly book this is based on, I wasn’t a big fan of the character, but the movie gave me a new appreciation for him. While not classically noir, you could make a case for the Ryan Philippe character as an homme fatale.

Fracture: A clever, intelligent psychological thriller. Great twists in this one. Anthony Hopkins and Ryan Gosling play an intriguing cat and mouse game. I love this one so much I bought the download off Amazon so I could watch it multiple times.

Final Analysis, with Richard Gere, Kim Bassinger and Uma Thurman. Very Hitchcockian with a twist of noir, reminiscent of Vertigo. Another one I could watch over and over.

Drive: Ryan Gosling as a movie stunt driver, who moonlights as a getaway driver for crooks. But that’s just the plot. The “story,” as one development exec used to tell me is something else altogether. The film has an urban fairytale quality that  makes it very memorable.

The Big Easy, with Dennis Quaid and Ellen Barkin. Not noir, but fun to watch. After seeing this movie I went out and bought a bunch of Cajun/Zydeco music CDs.

Devil in a Blue Dress, starring Denzel Washington, as Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins. The book is one of my faves and, of course, since it’s the first Easy book the one that turned me onto the character. I didn’t love the movie the first time I saw it, but it’s grown on me over the years in subsequent viewings. And it plays off the noir theme of the soldier returning home after the war to a very changed country.

Double Jeopardy / Kiss the Girls: Ashley Judd double feature. Both are great fun to watch. Ashley Judd at her best in these kind of action flicks. Instead of playing the femme fatale here, she is our every “man” noir hero/heroine, who takes matters into her own hands.

Angel Heart, with Mickey Rourke, Robert De Niro, Charlotte Rampling. I know people who claimed to have figured it out before the leader even finished spooling through the projector. I guess I’m not that bright. But definitely a good twist. Very dark. And a beautifully shot film. This was when Mickey Rourke still had a promising career.

John Dahl triple header: The Last Seduction, Kill Me, Again, Red Rock West, starring respectively: Linda Fiorentino, Val Kilmer, Nicholas Cage. All great neo-noirs based on the classic formula, with modern twists. I wish Dahl would make more.

The Grifters, The Getaway: Noirs based on Jim Thompson novels that start with G. And it must be noir if it’s Jim Thompson, right? Starring John Cusack and Angela Huston in the former, Alec Baldwin and Kim Bassinger in the latter.

And let’s not forget L.A. Confidential, based on James Ellroy’s 3rd novel in the LA Quartet. I loved the book when it first came out. I loved the movie when it came out. I re-read the book – I think I love the movie more! With Kim Bassinger, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce.

So that’s my starter list. What are some of your fave neo-noirs?


And now for the usual BSP.

I’m happy to say that my short story “Bunker Hill Blues” is in the current Sept./Oct. issue of Ellery Queen. It’s the sequel to the 2016 Ellery Queen Readers Poll winner and current Macavity Award nominee “Ghosts of Bunker Hill”. And I’m surprised and thrilled to say that I made the cover of the issue – my first time as a 'cover boy'! Hope you’ll want to check it out. Available at Ellery Queen, newstands and all the usual places.

My story “Blood Moon” appears in “Day of the Dark, Stories of the Eclipse” from Wildside Press, edited by Kaye George. Stories about the eclipse. Twenty-four stories in all. Available on Amazon.


  1. Paul,

    Congrats on your latest successes. Very impressive! I haven't seen all of the films you mention but those I have seen are ones I appreciated and would see again.

  2. Thanks, Jacqueline. And if you try some of the films you haven't seen I hope you're not disappointed. -- By the way, I enjoyed your blog on the dumbing down of bestsellers. Kind of sad. Kind of scary.

  3. Congratulations on your recent stories!

  4. Great list of movies, and well done with the stories!

  5. Such a great list! I've seen most of these films and agree on your including them here. A couple I still need to see--and will!

  6. Thanks, Art. And I'd be curious to see what you think of the ones you haven't seen after you watch them.

  7. When some of these movies came out I thought they were a pale imitation of the real thing, but now that some years have passed and almost nothing even close to a good Noir movie has hit the big or little screen, these seem a lot better. I'll look for them on TV and see if they still hold up. Thanks for the brief tour down that dark street.

  8. Thanks for reminding us of some excellent movies. The noir from the 40s and 50s are better (maybe I'm just getting old) but all of these are SO much better than the tripe they're filming today.

  9. Paul, just finished your story in the Sept/Oct EQMM. Good one.

  10. Paul, as you know, I love this stuff. Great list! My favorites, of those you mentioned, are Body Heat and L.A. Confidential, but I liked 'em all.

    Congrats on the latest stories!

  11. Love this list! Going to seek some out. I'm also a fan of Body Heat. That ending just knocked me out.

  12. Angel Heart gets my vote. Strangers on a train/ Double Indemnity are obvious favorites, But how about the space noir of Darkworld? or supernatural crime vengeance saga, The Crow?.

  13. Gayle, I think these are all pretty good movies to one degree or another. But they’re mostly not the same as classic film noir, which is my favorite genre.

  14. I agree with you O’Neil about the original noir cycle. But we have to take what we can get ;-) . And I think these are all pretty good movies.

  15. Thanks, R.T. I appreciate your comment! And glad you enjoyed the story.

  16. Thanks, John. And, of course, I love both of those that you mentioned. But I I like all of these on this list. They’re not all noir, but I think they’re all pretty good crime stories.

  17. Thanks, Melodie. Yeah, Body Heat is terrific. And very clever.

  18. I agree, Tony. Angel Heart’s a good one. Strangers on a Train and Double Indeminty are two of my all-time faves, but they’re part of the original noir cycle so I didn’t include those in my list. Double Indemnity is, to me, the ultimate noir and my fave of all!

  19. You might also want to try, The First Deadly Sin, which was Sinatra's last film. It was a very noir book written by Laurence Sanders. James Whitmore and Faye Dunaway put in some excellent performances, and Faye did it from a hospital bed throughout the entire film. Sinatra is so good that he pulled one of the best performances I've ever seen Faye Dunaway give. Another good one I like is Defenseless, starring Barbara Hershey and J.T. Walsh (whom we miss so much). A great noir and who dunnit film that keeps you guessing up to the end. I also like the remake of Diabolique, starring an incredible Sharon Stone and Kathy Bates -- my two favs. I like it even better than the original, although I would have preferred someone else play Isabelle Adjani's role. Jack Reacher is also an excellent film. Everyone is fantastic, and has Robert Duvall as the comic relief, much needed in this dark thriller. Very noir and taken from a book by Lee Child.

  20. Thanks for your comment, Cheri. I don't think I've seen The First Deadly Sin but I'll have to check it out. And I think I have seen the others you mention, though haven't seen Defenseless and Diabolique in some time. Maybe it's time to revisit them.

  21. Hey, Paul, you and I have the same taste in film. I have seen almost all on your list. This blog put me in the mood. I have a pile of papers to grade, so I will Netflix up some movies. I just finished watching the 10 Episodes of Harlan Coban's FIVE. I haven't read the book. The Netflix was just okay.
    Congratulations on the recent success. Not a surprise.


  22. Thanks, Diann. And I like Coben but started to watch Five. Couldn't really get into it. Might give it another shot some time. And good luck with your papers, at least you'll have some good movies to watch.


Welcome. Please feel free to comment.

Our corporate secretary is notoriously lax when it comes to comments trapped in the spam folder. It may take Velma a few days to notice, usually after digging in a bottom drawer for a packet of seamed hose, a .38, her flask, or a cigarette.

She’s also sarcastically flip-lipped, but where else can a P.I. find a gal who can wield a candlestick phone, a typewriter, and a gat all at the same time? So bear with us, we value your comment. Once she finishes her Fatima Long Gold.

You can format HTML codes of <b>bold</b>, <i>italics</i>, and links: <a href="https://about.me/SleuthSayers">SleuthSayers</a>