Marc Lawrence, James Flavin and Barry Kelley looked like characters out of central casting, and that’s exactly where they came from.  They were among film noir’s most prolific character actors.

Marc Lawrence got the call whenever a gangster or thugs was needed.  In a career that spanned 70 years Lawrence appeared in 181 films, usually as a hoodlum of some sort.   While most of his roles were small, he certainly had the ability to play more substantial parts.  The best of these would be in The Asphalt Jungle where he played Cobby, the smalltime bookie and fixer.  Lawrence even appeared in two James Bond films as what else but a gangster.

What Lawrence was to gangster roles, Flavin was to cop roles.  Flavin appeared in 384 feature films, invariably as a cop, be it uniform or detective.  Like Lawrence, most of Flavin's parts were small, but he too could carry himself in more substantial roles.  Such was the case in his co-starring role in the low budget RKO programmer, Destination Murder.

While he did not appear as often as Lawrence or Flavin,  Barry Kelley was certainly film noir’s most versatile character actor.  Kelley played judges, crooks. prosecutors, politicians, shyster lawyers and cops - both good and bad, all with equal credibility. For all their collective work, Lawrence and Flavin appeared in only two films together but never shared a scene.  Kelley appeared in several films with Lawrence including The Asphalt Jungle where in one lengthy scene just between the two of them, they showed just how good of actors they were.  

Father  (and mother) were killers

Four  All-American parents from television iconic family shows;  Fred MacMurray - My Three Sons, Brian Keith - Family Affair,  Hugh Beaumont - Leave It To Beaver and Jane Wyatt - Father Knows Best,  but each played a killer in film noir.

Fred MacMurray Borderline Hugh Beaumont Bury Me Dead Brian Keith Nightfall Jane Wyatt The Man Who Cheated Himself Jack Lord The True Story of Lynn Stuart Lorne Greene Tight Spot

As the studio system was changing in the 1950s, actors who no longer were considered stars found work in film noir.  These actresses who had been leading ladies in comedies and musicals of the 30s and 40s  now found themselves in the unglamorous world of noir.

Nancy Davis Shadow on the Wall Claudette Colbert The Secret Fury Dorothy Lamour Manhandled Paulette Goddard Vice Squad Ginger Rogers Tight Spot What are they doing in film noir?

A number of actors who appeared in film noir became well known for other things.  Lucille Ball became an icon of comedy but in the Dark Corner she was deadly serious.   Nancy Davis became Mrs. Ronald Reagan and First Lady.  Jack Lord, Lorne Greene and Angela Lansbury each played killers in film noir but went on to star on television in three of that medium’s most popular shows ever.  Doris Day, Marilyn Monroe and Yul Brynner became major film stars.

Lucille Ball The Dark Corner Noir Actors Raymond Burr F.B.I. Girl Berry Kroeger The Dark Past Dan Duryea Manhandled Neville Brand Kansas City Confidential


Jack Lambert The Unsuspected Thomas Gomez The Sellout George MacCready The Big Clock Mike Mazurki Man In The Vault Yul Brynner The Port of New York Marilyn Monroe The Asphalt Jungle Doris Day Julie Angela Lansbury Please Murder Me Thugs Schemers James Flavin Conflict Marc Lawrence The Asphalt Jungle James Flavin Conflict Barry Kelley The Undercover Man

Jack Web and Vince Edwards each played serious bad guys in film noir.  Yet they went on to star in popular television shows playing esteemed characters.   In a bit of irony, Webb murdered his future Dragnet partner, Harry Morgan in 1951’s Appointment With Danger.  Before saving lives as Doctor Ben Casey, Edwards was taking them,  playing vicious killers in three noirs.

Jack Webb Appointment With Danger Vince Edwards City of Fear Redemption on the small screen Cathy O’Donnell They Live By Night Jane Greer They Won’t Believe Me Jane Russell His Kind Of Women Cleo Moore Over-Exposed American Film Noir

James Cagney in Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye - one of only two film noirs in which he appeared.

Femme fatale Bette Davis in The Letter.  She was otherwise a no-show in film noir.

Joe Sawyer is a familiar character actor who appeared in 181 films but surprisingly only 4 true noirs.