Five essential British film noirs

From Young Scarface to The Third Man, head down the shadowy streets of film noir with these classic thrillers.

David Parkinson
Updated:

It Always Rains on Sunday (1947)

It Always Rains on Sunday (1947)

Centring on austerity housewife Googie Withers’s divided loyalties between a dull but decent husband and a fugitive ex-lover, Robert Hamer’s bustling but claustrophobically intense Ealing thriller is set in London’s East End and represents a noirish halfway house between 1930s French poetic fatalism and 1960s British kitchen sink realism.

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Young Scarface (1947)

Brighton Rock (1948)

Graham Greene might have disapproved of the sentimental ending the Boulting brothers devised for this adaptation of his seething crime novel Brighton Rock, but he always eulogised about Richard Attenborough’s vicious performance in the lead. He plays a juvenile gangster in the seaside city of Brighton who marries a waitress to prevent her from testifying against him in a murder case.

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The Third Man (1949)

The Third Man (1949)

Frequently voted the best British film, Carol Reed’s wittily sinister take on Graham Greene’s story about a penicillin racket in postwar Vienna is almost faultless, benefitting in equal measure from the performances of Orson Welles and the exceptional ensemble, Robert Krasker’s photography and Anton Karas’s famous zither score.

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The Blue Lamp (1950)

The Blue Lamp (1949)

Credit: STUDIOCANAL Films Ltd

Fans of the BBC police series Dixon of Dock Green were taken aback when first witnessing the moment of murderous violence that made Dirk Bogarde a star and drives this Ealing procedural thriller. Celebrated screenwriter T.E.B. Clarke was himself an ex-copper, which is what helps makes The Blue Lamp so grittily compelling.

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The Criminal (1960)

The Criminal (1960)

The British gangster movie came of age with this simmering study of the London underworld and it took Hollywood exile Joseph Losey to do it. Stanley Baker bristles with futile fury as he does time for a racetrack robbery knowing rival Sam Wanamaker will kill him for the buried loot.

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