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10 Best R-Rated Film Noir Remakes

From The Long Goodbye to No Way Out and beyond, these are the 10 best R-rated film noir remakes of all-time.
R-Rated Film Noir Remakes: Sin City A Dame To Kill For
By  · Published on August 22nd, 2014

To celebrate the release of Sin City: A Fame to Kill For in 2014, Christopher Campbell assembled this list of the Best R-Rated Film Noir Remakes.

The Sin City movies are remakes. Not of other movies, but of the comic books they’re based on. Before you argue that this means they’re “adaptations,” not “remakes,” let me explain. More than perhaps any other comic book movies, these are so faithful in style to the source that they’re redundant. They’re just like the old cartoons we watched as kids that took children’s books, lifted the pictures right off the page and animated them. Now we see a lot of that done in documentaries about artists, such as the recent one on Ralph Steadman. The main difference is that Sin City and Sin City: A Dame to Kill For use actors in a sort of moving tableau vivant recreation of Frank Miller’s drawings, panel by panel – or shot-for-shot.

Another thing the Sin City movies are, of course, is a series of film-noir-influenced anthologies that are far more violent and explicitly sex-filled than any true entry into the classic film genre. Unless you want to count all the remakes of films noir that came about in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s, when Hollywood realized they could recycle a lot of golden age works for a new cinematic era, post-Hays Code, allowing for graphic violence and, more importantly, graphic sex and nudity. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is likewise noted for its nudity, nearly every review pointing out how naked Eva Green is in the movie – not a surprise given that the original, banned poster depicted the actress in a fairly revealing sheer gown.

In honor of what A Dame to Kill For does for the genre it’s heavily influenced by, I’ve selected a number of movies that also redid film noir as thrillers shot in color and filled with straightforward, uncensored eroticism in place of the innuendo and implicit sex of the original versions. In spite of their assumed redundancy outside of the injections of R-rated material, each is still worth seeing. Of course, I also insist on the originals being seen, too.

The Long Goodbye (1973) and Thieves Like Us (1974)

Robert Altman didn’t invent the neo-noir film, but he might be the first notable director to remake old films noir for the new R-rated times. He updated the time period of The Long Goodbye, which is based on a Philip Marlowe book by Raymond Chandler previously made into a live TV movie in 1955. But a year later, for his adaptation of Edward Anderson’s 1937 novel “Thieves Like Us,” which was formerly made into a film noir by Nicolas Ray titled The Live By Night, Altman went with for Depression-era period setting. And yes, both feature naked women.

Farewell, My Lovely (1975) and The Big Sleep (1978)

More Marlowe here, with a much older Robert Mitchum taking over the iconic hard-boiled detective role from Altman regular Elliot Gould for two very separate movies. Farewell, My Lovely is a decent period-set redo of Chandler’s novel, previously made into 1944’s Murder, My Sweet (starring the other multiple Marlowe portrayer, Dick Powell, who was in the earlier version of The Long Goodbye and also played the character on the radio). Three years later, Mitchum starred in a modernized take on “The Big Sleep” that is really only recommended for the comparison and for an example of why these remakes were deemed appropriate if not totally necessary, since the story involves pornography (so obviously you have to show some, right?). Yes, both feature naked women.

The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981)

Bob Rafelson’s steamy redo of the 1946 film adapted from the James M. Cain movie stars Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange, and it’s fine but nowhere near as vital. And I always think of this excerpt from Lana Turner’s 1982 autobiography: “When they remade Postman in 1981, with Jessica Lange as the star, they didn’t have to worry about the censors. I’d had to project a rather intense sexual presence, but always with my clothes on. I was amused to read that Vincent Canby considered the remake a pale, rather sexless imitation of my version. It always me that when Hollywood makes a really good movie, and some producer gets the bright idea to remake it, he comes up with something inferior to the original.” Yes, it features naked women.

Body Heat (1981)

The same year we got a remake of Postman, we also got this directorial debut from Lawrence Kasdan that is heavily inspired by Cain’s Double Indemnity and Out of the Past. While not exactly a remake, it’s often mistaken for being a redo of the former, yet it’s best recognized as one of the most accomplished takes on the film noir genre for a new era. He gets those old movies, and he also gets what he can do differently today (well, then) for a different sort of successful movie, one that couldn’t work in black and white for one thing. Yes, it does feature a naked woman.

Against All Odds (1984)

This movie from Taylor Hackford is actually a remake of Out of the Past, or at least it’s also based on Cain’s novel. And it acknowledges the earlier version enough to cast that movie’s femme fatale, Jane Greer, in a non-lead role. Strangely, original male lead Robert Mitchum wasn’t brought in for another role in spite of his significance to neo-noir films (see his two remakes above) and the way he pulled the same thing as Greer later for the Cape Fear redo. Against All Odds is another that fits the okay but barely in the same ballpark category, but at least it has that great Phil Collins song. And a naked woman.

No Way Out (1987)

One of the few remakes considered by some to be better than the original, Roger Donaldson’s adaptation of Kenneth Fearing’s “The Big Clock,” previously filmed with that title in 1948, is another smart reworking for modern audiences. The setting is updated and changed to Washington, D.C., for a romantic political thriller that looks and feels totally new. Don’t get too upset while watching, but the Phil Collins song “No Way Out” is not in this movie (it’s from Brother Bear). It does feature a naked woman, though.

D.O.A. (1988)

Also looking and feeling new is this remake of the 1950 classic of the same name based on a German play called “The Man in Search of His Murderer” (also turned into a 1931 film). Of course, it is very new, complete with a different plot and characters. But the premise of having a man in search of his own murderer – because he’s been poisoned and will shortly be dead – is the same. Don’t get too upset while watching, mourning the failed marriage of co-leads Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan. And don’t get too upset about the fact that this one features no naked women.

The Deep End (2001)

I’m skipping over the 1990s, which had its share of film noir remakes – Desperate Hours (1990), A Kiss Before Dying (1991), Guncrazy (1992), Night and the City (1992) – most of them with brief nudity and brief if any reason to be seen. And I’m closing things out with maybe the last worthy of recommendation, David Siegel and Scott McGehee’s drama based on the Elizabeth Sanxay Holding novel “The Blank Wall,” which was formerly adapted by Max Ophuls as The Reckless Moment. The big difference with the modernized version is that instead of involving a daughter suspected of murdering her male lover, it’s a son (Jonathan Tucker) who is thought to have killed his male lover (Josh Lucas). And most progressively distanced from the Hays Code is that there are no naked women here, just naked homosexual men.

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.