The ten best detectives in classic film noir

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5. Mike Hammer (Kiss Me Deadly)
Mike Hammer is a classic in a lot of respects, from both fiction and film. Unlike a lot of noir detectives, Hammer is nearly as brutal and crooked as the bad guys he chases. In this particular instance Hammer ends up locating and finding a mystery box with strange, glowing substance inside.

4. Miguel Vargas (Touch of Evil)
Miguel Vargas (Charlton Heston) is actually a drug enforcement officer, not a detective, but considering he does the same type of work, we figured he deserved a mention here. While it's a tad off that Charlton Heston is playing a Mexican, this particular story of a lying police captain, drugs and explosives is hard not to love.

3. Jeff Bailey (Out of the Past)
At first, Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum) appears to be a simple gas station owner in a small town in California, but when a mysterious visitor comes into town, it's revealed his real name is actually Jeff Markham and that he was a private investigator in New York. The film bounces back and forth in time to reveal a story of blackmail, theft, murder and plenty more. It's never totally clear what exactly Bailey's motives were or are.

2. Sam Spade (Maltese Falcon)
Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) is the quintessential noir private detective. He has seen the world for the wretched, awful, corrupt place that is, but still remains positive and idealistic. The Maltese Falcon has far too many twists to describe here, but if you haven't seen the film and decide to watch it tonight, we guarantee you won't know exactly what to expect.

1. Philip Marlowe (The Big Sleep, Murder, My Sweet, Lady in the Lake)
To put it bluntly, there is no better example of the noir detective than Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe. Played on the screen by a variety of actors, Marlowe was cool, calm and collected in the most egregious of situations and, most importantly, never faltered in his resolve. He would not fall for the femme fatale, would not double cross a good cop and worked on his own all the time. Technically Marlowe was influenced by Sam Spade, but since he appeared in far more works, he's more well-known.

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Phil Nugent
Phil Nugent

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


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.  


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

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