So, after watching some modern noir-inspired films, like Dark City, I decided to use the magic of Netflix to explore some more noir films. This is a very cool "long tail" phenomenon; I never would have been able to explore an interest like this so easily and so cheaply!
Anyway, we've watched two noir films so far: the first one was T-Men. With cinematography by John Alton, this looked promising visually, but aside from a couple of visually interesting scenes it was largely unremarkable, even kind of dull. We did get a good laugh out of the line "Ever spent ten nights in a turkish bath looking for a man?" Hidden homoeroticism; intentional or unintentional? Who knows?
The second one was He Walked by Night. This one features considerably better acting. Several scenes in particular are really stunning: a firefight in a darkened building, a chase through the sewers, with leaping shadows, and the final stake-out where the bad guy is lit by lights shining through Venetian blinds. These are noir cliches now but they are just gorgeous. Although the second film is much more engaging, it is also marred by a weak ending, and all the interesting details we've learned about the bad guy are just left hanging. I guess in 1948 audiences didn't demand to understand the motivations of their villains.
So far these two noir films have confirmed my initial suspicion that most noirs from the 1940s were more influential than they were truly good films. But we've got several more lined up. I'm mostly interested in the films John Alton worked on -- his use of lighting is absolutely amazing -- but if anyone has other specific recommendations for interesting noir films I'd be happy to hear them.
You can see some images from both films here.