The Sunday Dozen: Movies Set In New Orleans

Elia Kazan directs Karl Malden and Vivien Leigh.

This may be the first time I’ve written a post inspired by my own work. In 2019, I wrote an epic movie post for Bayou Brief,  Set In Louisiana: Top 40 Movies, 1938-Present. In 2023, I’m writing about Movies Set In New Orleans. It won’t be an expansive Top 40 but a tight Sunday Dozen.

In 2019, I did a Vulture-style list, going in reverse order of preference. In 2023, I start at the top and move through the Dozen, Adrastos-style.

I’ve messed with the order and grades some. I moved Panic In The Streets up a notch because of the pandemic. That means two Elia Kazan joints top the list. Have I told you lately that Eliza Kazan is my countryman? He was also the subject of The Dumbest Argument I Ever Had with my father.

The most notable omission is the dread Oliver Stone’s JFK. It was number-32 on my Louisiana list. Here’s what I said at the time:

Oliver Stone’s take on Orleans Parish District Attorney Jim Garrison’s investigation into the Kennedy assassination is beautifully made but heavy-handed and overloaded with every conspiracy theory known to Grassy Knoll obsessives. It’s cinematically exciting but gets so many things wrong: Jim Garrison was a hard-drinking D.A. suspected of being on the take from the Marcello family instead of a noble hero as portrayed by Kevin Costner.

 

I’m not going into all of Stone’s conclusion jumping because I’m writing a list, not a book. Suffice it to say, a fine cast is wasted in this epic mess. It was nominated for a raft of Oscars including Best Picture and Director but didn’t win any major awards.”

There’s a movie that didn’t make the Top 40 that made this list: Foxfire a fine neo-noir starring Clint Eastwood and Genevieve Bujold. I plum forgot it in 2019. I hope Clint doesn’t hold a grudge over that. He can speak to an empty chair in my house any time.

I stand by this comment about the number-40 movie on the BB listicle:

Cat People is a dog. I can hear it bark at my house upriver from the Zoo.”

This list reflects my own taste, which runs to crime fiction, film noir, and quirky comedy but longtime readers knew that already. I’m sure that many will disagree with my selections. That’s fine with me. The Dozens are meant to stimulate discussion.

On with the show, this is it.

There’s not much left to say about A Streetcar Named Desire. It’s a stone-cold classic with some of finest performances in film history.

The Kazan-Williams combo was dynamite even if Tennessee was vexed that Kazan turned Stanley Kowalski into the main character. It was hard not to given Brando’s groundbreaking performance.

Grading Time: 4 stars and an Adrastos Grade of A.

Panic In The Streets was filmed on the mean streets of New Orleans in 1950. It was a landmark in the career of Richard Widmark: he was the hero of the piece. not the villain. The plague is the real villain.

I used several images from this great Kazan film here at First Draft during the lockdown:

Grading Time: 4 stars and an Adrastos Grade of A.

Jim Jarmusch’s Down By Law is the quirkiest movie on the list. It starts off at Orleans Parish Prison and gets even grittier after that. It contains one of my all-time favorite malaprops. It comes from the lips of Roberto Benigni: WE ARE A GOOD EGG.

It’s become a catch phrase in my house. Repeat after me: WE ARE A GOOD EGG.

Grading Time: 4 stars and an Adrastos Grade of A.

By the time Suddenly, Last Summer came out, Tennessee Williams was boffo at the box office. That’s why his name is prominently featured. The screenplay was actually the work of my main man Gore Vidal.

The acting is fabulous and the movie features Liz Taylor at her hottest. No wonder they put her on the poster.

Grading Time: 4 stars and an Adrastos Grade of A-

I like playing poker but I’m mediocre at best. I can’t shuffle a deck of cards to save my life. No card tricks from me, y’all.

The cast of The Cincinnati Kid is to die for: Steven McQueen at his coolest; Edward G. Robinson at his most grizzled; Karl Malden at his most Karl Malden-ish, and the underrated Tuesday Weld. A fine actress who suffered from having a dopey screen first name. If it’s Tuesday, it must be Weld.

All that and a jazz funeral makes this a classic.

Grading Time: 4 stars and an Adrastos Grade of A-

Obsession was the first Brian DePalma film I ever saw. It was love at first screening.

It’s a thrilling thriller that was inspired by Hitchcock’s Vertigo, which I also find inspiring. Don’t worry: I have no plans to put on a suit and stalk anyone around New Orleans. Why would I be a stalker? I hate celery…

Obsession also set in Florence where something of a Firenze happens…

Grading Time: 4 stars and an Adrastos Grade of A-

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was one of the more obtrusive New Orleans film shoots. They were everywhere but I didn’t run into Cate Blanchett or Taraji J. Hanson, which would have made it all worthwhile. Sigh.

I was skeptical about this movie, so I skipped it on the big screen. I was wrong. The weirdo aging in reverse story worked thanks to a plethora of great performances and the skilled direction of David Fincher.

Grading Time: 3 1/2 stars and an Adrastos Grade of B+

Like my much missed friend Michael Homan, I’m a fervent Elvis Presley fan. King Creole is easily his finest film. It’s one of the few times Elvis worked with a first-rate director, Michael Curtiz. The result was a first-class rock movie musical.

Grading Time: 3 1/2 stars and an Adrastos Grade of B+

Johnny Angel is a nifty film noir in which the ladies steal the show, especially Claire Trevor who stole every movie she was in.

It was filmed on the RKO studio lot, not in the Crescent City.  But the dockside scenes look good. I almost said realistic, but film noir is inherently unrealistic.

Johnny Angel was a surprise hit in 1945. It’s a hit in our house as well. We watched it on Kitty Claire Trevor’s gotcha day.

Grading Time: 3 1/2 stars and an Adrastos Grade of B+

Heaven’s Prisoners is a gritty neo-noir based on the novel by James Lee Burke. JLB is one of the best writers to come out of the Gret Stet of Louisiana. He’s underrated because he writes crime fiction.

I thought Alec Baldwin was a good Dave Robicheaux. I hoped it would be the first in a series of Burke based movies, but it was not to be.

Heaven’s Prisoner’s starts off in Southwestern Louisiana then barrels down Interstate-10 to New Orleans where most of the action takes place.

Grading Time: 3 stars and an Adrastos Grade of B.

We remain in neo-noir land with 1984’s Tightrope. It’s a taut thriller starring Clint Eastwood and Genevieve Bujold who also appeared in Obsession.

Grading Time: 3 stars and an Adrastos Grade of B.

We take a final stroll down noir alley with 1956’s Nightmare. It was one of Emanuel Goldberg DBA Edward G. Robinson’s early post-blacklist movies.

It’s a swell little noir based on a novel by Cornell Woolrich DBA William Irish, which is always a sign of quality.

Kevin (Not The Speaker) McCarthy is excellent as a jazz clarinetist haunted by a murderous nightmare.

Grading Time: 3 stars and an Adrastos Grade of B.

That concludes the Movies Set In New Orleans Dozen except for this  list summary:

  1. A Streetcar Named Desire
  2. Panic In The Streets
  3. Down By Law
  4. Suddenly, Last Summer
  5. The Cincinnati Kid
  6. Obsession
  7. The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button 
  8. King Creole
  9. Johnny Angel
  10. Heaven’s Prisoners
  11. Tightrope
  12. Nightmare

It’s lagniappe time. I didn’t discuss teevee series but I’m fond of two shows set in New Orleans: Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story: Coven and David Simon’s Treme. When Treme was on the air, I wrote about it at the Back Of Town blog.

The last word goes to the John Lurie, Robert Benigni, and Tom Waits in Down By Law. Repeat after me: WE ARE A GOOD EGG.

 

3 thoughts on “The Sunday Dozen: Movies Set In New Orleans

  1. What about *The Big Easy* and *Angel Heart*? Also, *Bad Lieutenant*?

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