Earlier this week I remarked on Twitter how much I enjoyed Stanley Kubrik's 1956 movie about a race track heist, The Killing. Jack Shafer replied, "Okay, now you're ready for Detour (Edgar G. Ulmer). It will change your life."
I checked Netflix and learned that Detour isn't available there. But I remembered that archive.org has a large collection of public domain movies, so I looked there and lo and behold, they had it. I downloaded the highest resolution version watched it. The quality was quite good, aside from a couple of wobbly parts and a second of missing dialogue.
Jack steered me straight. This 1946 black-and-white film is as grim, hard-boiled, and twisty as any film noir title I've ever seen. Al (Tom Neal) plays a talented pianist stuck in cheap joint in New York. He's got an attitude to match the atmosphere (when a patron gives him a ten-dollar tip after he plays an insanely complex piece, he remarks that it's just "a piece of paper crawling with germs.")
Naturally, Al falls for the house singer, but she won't marry him because he doesn't have enough money. When she goes to Hollywood to try to become an actress, Al quits his job and starts hitchhiking across the country to be with her. He doesn't know it, but when a flashy loudmouth in a big car picks him up, Al's fate is sealed. Ann Savage, playing a femme fatale who seethes with bitter poison, is a show stealer.
It turns out that Archive.org has a collection of 43 film noir titles. If you've seen any of them, I'd appreciate it if you added your recommendations in the comments.
Archive.org's Welcome to Film Noir: expressionistic crime dramas of the 40s and 50s: tough cops and private eyes, femme fatales, mean city streets and deserted backroads, bags of loot and dirty double-crossers.
Mark Frauenfelder is the founder of Boing Boing and the editor-in-chief of MAKE and Cool Tools. Twitter: @frauenfelder. Come and hear Mark speak at the ALA conference in Chicago on July 1.