Top 5 Film Noir Bad Guys

Posted by Brandy Dean February 22, 2013 15 Comments 26352 views

Film noir is famously murky when it comes to good versus evil. These are no westerns where the good guy wears a white hat and the bad guy wears a black hat. But is films noir, the good guy usually deeply flawed and the line between him and the bad guy. However, sometimes there comes along a bad guy who is so bad there’s no mistaking that you’re looking into the face of pure unadulterated bad. Here’s my list of guys you love to hate…

Who are your favorite film noir bad guys? Tell us in the comments!

Top 5 Film Noir Bad Guys

Hank Quinlan, Touch of Evil (1958)

Still image from "Touch of Evil"

As Police Captain Hank Quinlan, Orson Welles takes the fat corrupt sheriff cliche all the way to the wall. It didn’t hurt that Welles himself was pretty porcine by this point, but you can’t beat the sweaty, grizzled face of Hank Quinlan for sheer, gut clenching fear.

Arthur ‘Cody’ Jarrett in White Heat (1949)

Still image from "White Heat"

It’s almost tempting to feel some pit for Cody Jarrett – he had a sucky childhood, I think. However, Jimmy Cagney’s spitting, vitriolic performance offsets any warm and fuzzy feelings you may be able to develop. In truth, Cody Jarrett is completely BAT SHIT CRAZY and we’re all better off when he goes down in a literal blaze of glory.

Slim Dundee in Criss Cross (1949)

Still image from "Criss Cross"

This tale of obsessive love from from Richard Siodmak is one of the most cynical, and beautifully shot, films noir evah. Dan Duryea, with his almost good boy looks, is the perfect slithering snake as Slim Dundee. The moment he appears on screen, you know things are gonna go bad.

 Mr. Brown in The Big Combo (1955)

Still image from "The Big Combo"

Mr. Brown is a bad, bad man and Richard Conte just oozes evil from his pores in this role. This is the origin of the take-no-prisoners line “First is first and second is nobody,” which you may be familiar with if you’ve ever lost to me at backgammon.

Tommy Udo in Kiss of Death (1947)

Still image from "Kiss of Death"

Hands down, without question, the most heinous creature to claw its way out of the pit of film noir hell is giggling psychopath Tommy Udo. Richard Widmark will make your bowels turn icy with his angel faced utter disregard for human life, morals, or remorse. There’s no doubt that Tommy Udo is pure evil and then he does… that thing he does. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, go watch Kiss of Death and brace yourself for one of cinema’s truly shocking moments.

Who are your favorite film noir bad guys? Tell us in the comments!

About Brandy Dean

Social media consultant, blogger for hire, and lover of classic movies and silent films.

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There are 15 Comments

  1. - February 22, 2013
      -   Reply

    I would add William Tallman in the title role of Ida Lupino’s iconic noir THE HITCH-HIKER – as psychopathic and nasty as noir villains come. There’s also Lawrence Tierney, the title of whose noir, BORN TO KILL, describes his character perfectly. For good measure, I’d throw in Zachary Scott in THE MASK OF DIMITRIOS, playing another cold-hearted psychopath who lies, cheats, murders, and nearly manages to get away with it all – just a typical day for a noir bad guy.

  2. - February 23, 2013
      -   Reply

    This is a great list!

    I would add Kirk Douglas from “Out of the Past”. I find the character’s (fake) easy-going nature and easy smile makes him especially sinister.

  3. Richard
    - February 23, 2013
      -   Reply

    A worthy list, especially Hank Quinlan. And I put Criss Cross, which I strangely missed, at the top of my Netflix queue. But you left off my favorite film noir villain: Raymond Burr in Desperate, His Kind of Woman and, especially, Raw Deal. One scary dude. I cast a vote for Peter Lorre as the stranger in Stranger on the Third Floor,

  4. Ray
    - March 5, 2013
      -   Reply

    Absolutly cracking list. And top marks for going for the less obvious ‘Bad guys’ before the ‘been done loads of times’ femmes.

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  6. - May 15, 2013
      -   Reply

    Well done! Mr. Brown is my number one baddie from any type of movie.

    A vote here for William Talman in “Armored Car Robbery”, a cold bird if ever there was one.

    Also might have to make room for Jay C. Flippen in “They Live by Night” and Larry Gates in “The Brothers Rico”.

  7. Kerry Fristoe
    - May 22, 2013
      -   Reply

    I agree with Lawrence Tierney in Born To Kill. Psychopathically evil. Robert Mitchum does himself proud in Night of The Hunter and Cape Fear, too. I’m going to go another way here and say the most evil bad guy is a bad girl. Gene Tierney in Leave Her To Heaven kills her husband’s brother and her own baby, then frames Cornel Wilde for it! Pretty nasty stuff!

    • Brandy Dean
      - May 22, 2013
        -   Reply

      Doh! I’ve never seen Leave Her to Heaven. Imma pretend I didn’t read that.

  8. Kerry Fristoe (@echidnabot)
    - May 26, 2013
      -   Reply

    Sorry. I’ll hit you with the Men In Black memory eraser thingee. See it anyway. Erase my comment if you want to.

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  10. Joe Koffee
    - December 23, 2013
      -   Reply

    Perhaps not as salaciously evil as the excellent choices given, but I was disappointed not to see even an honorable mention to Sidney Greenstreet’s immortal Casper Gutman of The Maltese Falcon.

  11. hmmm
    - December 29, 2013
      -   Reply

    STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, DOUBLE INDEMNITY, SUNSET BLVD (for sheer creepiness), and NIGHT OF THE HUNTER are also sorely missing.

  12. Pingback Favorite Film Noir Bad Guys | Cogswell College Blog

  13. Jon
    - March 23, 2014
      -   Reply

    I’m coming late to this party. It’s an excellent list, and there are some excellent additions in comments. I’d add the Hank Quinlanesque Ed Cornell from I Wake Up Screaming, a fabulous Laird Cregar creation in an early noir gem. And though probably not technically a noir, Clu Gulager’s Lee in the remake of The Killers is great fun as a supporting bad guy. Have you done the top bad girls yet?

  14. - July 31, 2014
      -   Reply

    Good list and of course so many from which to choose. To this list I would add: Lee Marvin as Vince Stone in the Big Heat and on the other end of the character spectrum; Clifton Webb as Waldo Lydecker in Laura.

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