The ten best detectives in classic film noir

Categories: Film, Lists

maltese_falcon.jpg
With the classic noir flick The Maltese Falcon screening at the Esquire this weekend for Midnight Madness, we've been thinking a lot about our favorite noir films, from the classic era to the modern. While there are a few archetypes in the genre, many think it always stars a detective, which isn't the case, as it turns out -- even as we were tallying up our favorites, we realized a few weren't detectives at all, but drug enforcement agents, newspaper men or just guys caught in a bad spot. But in honor of the film, we decided we'd look at our favorites from the classic period of noir, skipping over some of our favorite modern detectives like J.J. Gittes, Lemmy Caution and Marge Olmstead Gunderson.


10. Johnny Kelly (The City That Never Sleeps)
It's not always about a mystery or a good detective. Sometimes it's just about a disgruntled cop who decides to escort a magician across the border. Thankfully, it's not as simple as that -- and as Johnny Kelly (Gig Young) digs a little deeper, things start to reveal themselves.


9. Dave Bannion (The Big Heat)
Fritz Lang's classic film is a twisty, brutal portrait of a homicide detective taking on a crime syndicate. The film starts with Bannion's (Glenn Ford) friend and fellow cop supposedly committing suicide, but as tends to happen, all is not as it seems. Bannion's one of a few honest cops left on the force, and as he starts to unravel the mystery of his friend's death, things start getting seriously out of hand.


8. Mr. Wilson (The Stranger)
Mr. Wilson (played by Edward G. Robinson) is an officer in the United Nations War Crimes Commission who is hunting down a Nazi fugitive named Franz Kidler (Orson Welles). While he's not technically a detective, it's close enough for our purposes, as Wilson has to untangle Kindler's new identity to figure out exactly who he really is.


7. Mark McPherson (Laura)
Detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) starts the film by investigating the death of Laura Hunt, but as he gets closer to solving the case, he becomes more and more obsessed with the dead woman, eventually sleeping underneath her portrait. But all isn't (you know) as it seems ,and just as McPherson begins to think he's reached a dead end, something incredible happens.


6. Lt. Dan Muldoon (Naked City)
Directed by Jules Dassin, Naked City is one of our favorite films of all time -- starring Barry Fitzgerald as Lt. Dan Muldoon, the film revolves around the murder of an ex-model drowned in a bathtub. A whole web of lies and deceit start unfolding as Muldoon and his partner Halloran investigate the murder, but Muldoon's trap to catch the killer near the end of the film is one of the classic captures in history.



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4 comments
Phil Nugent
Phil Nugent

Dave Bannion would be nothing without Gloria Grahame to carry him over the finish line.

Jimi99
Jimi99

Depends on what you mean by "best".  For instance, in "Touch of Evil", Hank Quinlan could be considered one of the worst detectives in film noir, except that he's a good detective, just corrupt to the core.  

Thorin
Thorin

That's true -- maybe "favorites" would have been better

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