5 Los Angeles Noirs to Put You in the Mood for ‘Mob City’ (Guest Blog)

“Mob City” has a lot of work to do to show us something we haven’t seen before

TNT is gambling on its noir drama “Mob City,” set in 1940s Los Angeles, which premiered this week in back-to-back episodes to bring in the “Mad Men” audience. It’s off to a rocky start. The genre is ripe for parody to contemporary audiences, more used to irony and satire than drama bordering on melodrama.

Where “Mad Men” deftly maneuvered its era, “Mob City’s” direction is, at times, overwrought. It plays more like a movie from the 1980s or ’90s (think “L.A. Confidential”) than a 2013 take on vintage L.A. criminal underworld. It would be good to see a 1940’s LA crime drama about someone other than Bugsy Siegel. (Hint: Tony “the Hat” Cornero ran a gambling ship off the coast of Santa Monica, the Rex, when it was legal to take a water taxi three miles out to try your hand at lady luck. The Rex was financed by Siegel. I penned a script about Cornero and he’s never had his due onscreen yet.)

“Mob City” has a lot of work to do to show us something we haven’t seen before: the era, the milieu & characterizations, the storyline were all a bit hackneyed. Still, it’s all in good fun and the performances are strong. If vintage gowns, fast-talking dames, and shadowy Dutch angles featuring mob bosses from the seedy underworld of Los Angeles is your thing, then be sure to watch. I’ll hang in & keep watching because I’m a fan of the genre.

Watching “Mob City” just might put you in the mood for the real deal. Here are 5 classic film noirs circa 1940’s-50’s Los Angeles to get your LA noir fix:

#5) The Big Sleep
Based on Raymond Chandler’s novel, this is one of the best Bogart and Bacall films. The film is well-known for the fact that the meandering plot makes no sense. The bookstore scenes alone are enough to love this film (not to mention its witty banter). It has serious 1940’s flair: who doesn’t love a girl in glasses making double-entendres with Bogart over rare books? Or Bacall in a gambling house run by a shady character named Mars? Directed by Howard Hawks, it’s not for nothing that William Faulkner co-wrote the screenplay of this hardboiled Los Angeles PI – Philip Marlowe. Below is a classic “dame” Bacall moment, singing an impromptu lounge song in that sultry voice, about a down-and-out woman (“she’s a real sad tomato, she’s a busted valentine, knows her momma done told her, that a man is darned unkind”):

#4) Murder, My Sweet
Another Chandler classic (based on the novel entitled “Farewell, My Lovely”). This time Marlowe really experiences vintage 1940’s LA: nightclubs, tony homes behind gates, bungalows, and the inevitable beach house. Marlowe is even unconscious and coming-to in one scene. Dick Powell plays an understated Marlowe. Ed Dmytryk’s direction and nighttime LA exterior shots, all lit up in neon, are not to be missed. This is a classic first-person hard-boiled detective noir that is a taught thriller with good acting and features that great menace of LA at night, all is shrouded in shadow, classic film noir milieu. One of the best.

#3) Criss Cross
Hits all the classic Los Angeles noir landmarks such as Angel’s Flight and Bunker Hill. Love Lancaster as the sap who gets double-crossed. Features eerie shots and classic noir location Union Station. This should be on your list because it’s more than just a noir, it’s a heist noir.

#2) The Crooked Way
Stylistically, doesn’t have as much panache as other noirs but the plot is fascinating: a veteran has amnesia and must travel from San Francisco to L.A. to find out who he is. In the vein of other amnesic thrillers like D.O.A. Uses classic noir locations like “Union Station” (“Criss Cross”) and the Hall of Justice (“Mildred Pierce”).

#1) Kiss Me Deadly
One of my all-time favorite Los Angeles noirs can’t be missed, Kiss Me Deadly. Ironically it features Mike Hammer, a New York PI in the Spillane novels, but an Angeleno here. Hammer (Ralph Meeker) is the 1950’s equivalent of a yuppie: his apartment is outfitted with all the latest gadgets including an “answering machine.” Hammer is unlike the prototypical noir detective, he’s an anti-hero (and less hero and more brawler). The opening sequence is one of the best in noir history with Hammer driving his convertible down a dark country road at night when his headlights pick up an upset woman, barefoot, in nothing but a trench coat running down the road towards him (a young Cloris Leachman). Apparently, she just escaped from the loony bin and the dialogue between the two is classic with her choked sobs contrasted over the soothing sounds of Nat King Cole crooning. Hammer’s car is pushed off a cliff and he takes the case to avenge her death. This is also a rare noir / sci-fi mashup with the “great whatsit” a suitcase that contains something resembling an atomic bomb (purportedly the McGuffin that inspired the suitcase in Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction). The book has a totally different ending that seemed shocking and satisfying; that is, until you see the film. This noir reflects a hint of cold war paranoia, and is the end of the 1940’s noirs. It’s directed by Robert Aldrich is a cinephile’s delight, a late noir masterpiece.