TO SOME, FILM NOIR is defined by its tropes: detectives, dames, and heists. To others, gritty pessimism is the sole signifier of the genre. The five movies being shown in the Rialto's Best of British Noir series at the Northwest Film Center fit most easily into the second definition: Despite moments of levity, they are uniformly bleak and fatalistic, the products of a post-war Britain struggling with its identity.
The film with the most name recognition stateside is Carol Reed's The Third Man (1949), written by Graham Greene and unquestionably one of the finest noir films ever made. Less well known is the film Reed and Greene collaborated on the year before, The Fallen Idol. Though Idol has the fewest noir trappings of any film in this fest, its theme cuts deeper: a child's loss of innocence as he grapples to understand a world of adults that operates on deception.
A third Greene-penned film is showing as well, just in case you were on the fence about him. 1947's Brighton Rock could be harmless and crackerjack if not for the immeasurable weight of Richard Attenborough's performance as teenage sociopath, Pinkie Brown, who aims to be a made man (he's soon to be played in a remake by the dude who played Ian Curtis in Control—no joke).
Rounding out the fest are Robert Hamer's brilliant kitchen-sink drama, It Always Rains on Sunday (1947), a clear predecessor to Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing that examines the widespread desperation of London's East End, and Peeping Tom, the 1960 movie that killed director Michael Powell's career. Tom has thankfully been reexamined by critics in recent years as insightful commentary on the voyeuristic nature of art, and is unquestionably the best film ever that features a tripod leg as a penis surrogate/murder weapon.