1950: Peak Noir

1950: Peak Noir

19 Episodes

The nihilistic shadow that loomed over postwar Hollywood was at its darkest in 1950, the year when the highest number of noir films were released. Ranging from canonical classics to hidden gems, these movies found directors like Nicholas Ray, Billy Wilder, and John Huston pushing noir beyond hard-boiled detective stories and hybridizing it with other genres: social-problem films tackling racism (NO WAY OUT) and mob violence (TRY AND GET ME!), melodrama and “women’s pictures” (CAGED, THE DAMNED DON’T CRY), heist capers (THE ASPHALT JUNGLE), road movies (GUN CRAZY), and even cynical self-portraits of Hollywood itself (SUNSET BOULEVARD, IN A LONELY PLACE). Exemplars of a move toward realism in Hollywood—many feature location shooting; true-crime sources; a grittier, less glamorous visual palette; and bleaker endings—these films exemplify the studio system at its peak, as well as the radical changes coming to the movies and the country itself.

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1950: Peak Noir
  • Imogen Sara Smith and Eddie Muller on 1950: Peak Noir

    Episode 1

    This introduction with noir experts Eddie Muller and Imogen Sara Smith was recorded in 2024.

  • 1950: Peak Noir Teaser

    Episode 2

  • Sunset Boulevard

    Episode 3

    Directed by Billy Wilder • 1950 • United States
    Starring William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stroheim

    Hollywood’s ultimate poison-pen letter to itself, Billy Wilder’s acerbic masterpiece casts real-life silent-screen icon Gloria Swanson as a faded movie star who draws a struggling screenwr...

  • Gun Crazy

    Episode 4

    Directed by Joseph H. Lewis • 1950 • United States
    Starring Peggy Cummins, John Dall, Berry Kroeger

    Bart Tare (John Dall) has been enamored with firearms since he was a kid. Annie Laurie Star (Peggy Cummins) is the sharp-shooting queen of a traveling carnival. When Bart beats Laurie in a sexuall...

  • In a Lonely Place

    Episode 5

    Directed by Nicholas Ray • 1950 • United States
    Starring Humphrey Bogart, Gloria Grahame

    When a gifted but washed-up screenwriter with a hair-trigger temper—Humphrey Bogart, in a revelatory, vulnerable performance—becomes the prime suspect in a brutal Tinseltown murder, the only person who ca...

  • The Asphalt Jungle

    Episode 6

    Directed by John Huston • 1950 • United States
    Starring Sterling Hayden, Louis Calhern, Jean Hagen

    In a smog-choked city somewhere in the American Midwest, an aging criminal mastermind, newly released from prison, hatches a plan for a million-dollar jewel heist and draws a wealthy lawyer and a c...

  • Night and the City

    Episode 7

    Directed by Jules Dassin • 1950 • United States
    Starring Richard Widmark, Gene Tierney, Googie Withers

    Two-bit hustler Harry Fabian (Richard Widmark) longs for “a life of ease and plenty.” Trailed by an inglorious history of go-nowhere schemes, he tries to hatch a lucrative plan with a famous wr...

  • Caged

    Episode 8

    Directed by John Cromwell • 1950 • United States
    Starring Eleanor Parker, Agnes Moorehead, Ellen Corby

    When nineteen-year-old Marie Allen (Eleanor Parker) arrives at a women’s prison already pregnant, she finds herself at the center of a war for her soul waged between a reform-minded warden (Agn...

  • Born to Be Bad

    Episode 9

    Directed by Nicholas Ray • 1950 • United States
    Starring Joan Fontaine, Robert Ryan, Zachary Scott

    Joan Fontaine makes for a memorably ruthless femme fatale in this deliciously dishy noir melodrama from genre master Nicholas Ray. She plays Christabel Caine, the outwardly sweet, beautiful, and do...

  • Stage Fright

    Episode 10

    Directed by Alfred Hitchcock • 1950 • United Kingdom
    Starring Jane Wyman, Marlene Dietrich, Michael Wilding

    One of Alfred Hitchcock’s most overlooked thrillers finds him teaming up with an all-star cast—including the ever-glamorous Marlene Dietrich—for a twisty tale of murder in the London theat...

  • Try and Get Me!

    Episode 11

    Directed by Cy Endfield • 1950 • United States
    Starring Frank Lovejoy, Kathleen Ryan, Richard Carlson

    Inspired by the highly publicized 1933 murder of department store heir Brooke Hart (also the basis for Fritz Lang’s FURY), this noir from blacklisted director Cy Endfield follows desperate, unem...

  • The File on Thelma Jordon

    Episode 12

    Directed by Robert Siodmak • 1950 • United States
    Starring Barbara Stanwyck, Wendell Corey, Paul Kelly

    Having established herself as the screen’s ultimate femme fatale in DOUBLE INDEMNITY, Barbara Stanwyck once again went bad—as only she could—in this brooding noir, directed with a surfeit of sh...

  • One Way Street

    Episode 13

    Directed by Hugo Fregonese • 1950 • United States
    Starring James Mason, Märta Torén, Dan Duryea

    This unconventional blend of gritty noir and dreamy romance stars James Mason as Frank Matson, a gangland doctor who, in a daring double cross, steals not only his mobster boss’s loot, but his moll La...

  • The Breaking Point

    Episode 14

    Directed by Michael Curtiz • 1950 • United States
    Starring John Garfield, Patricia Neal, Phyllis Thaxter

    Michael Curtiz brings a master skipper’s hand to the helm of this thriller, Hollywood’s second crack at Ernest Hemingway’s “To Have and Have Not.” John Garfield stars as Harry Morgan, an hone...

  • No Way Out

    Episode 15

    Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz • 1950 • United States
    Starring Richard Widmark, Linda Darnell, Sidney Poitier

    Sidney Poitier was launched to stardom with his powerful performance in this intense, unflinching exploration of racial hatred from writer-director Joseph L. Mankiewicz. When a white p...

  • Where the Sidewalk Ends

    Episode 16

    Directed by Otto Preminger • 1950 • United States
    Starring Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney, Gary Merrill

    Ben Hecht’s hard-bitten dialogue, Otto Preminger’s morally ambiguous direction, and one of Dana Andrews’s finest performances come together in this dark, brooding procedural. New York City cop Mar...

  • The Damned Don’t Cry

    Episode 17

    Directed by Vincent Sherman • 1950 • United States
    Starring Joan Crawford, David Brian, Steve Cochran

    In the first of her three collaborations with director Vincent Sherman, Joan Crawford brings commanding presence and hard-boiled glamour to her portrayal of a woman who uses and abandons men to ...

  • Panic in the Streets

    Episode 18

    Directed by Elia Kazan • 1950 • United States
    Starring Richard Widmark, Paul Douglas, Barbara Bel Geddes

    One night in the New Orleans slums, vicious hoodlum Blackie (Jack Palance, in his film debut) and his friends kill an undocumented immigrant who won too much in a card game. When Dr. Clint Re...

  • The Sleeping City

    Episode 19

    Directed by George Sherman • 1950 • United States
    Starring Richard Conte, Coleen Gray, Richard Taber

    Real-life location shooting at New York’s Bellevue Hospital distinguishes this uniquely disturbing noir. After a young doctor is shot in the head and police fail to uncover a motive, Fred Rowan (...