Classic New Orleans Movies
Depending upon who you listen to and believe these days, the city of New Orleans is either going to rise again and will never be the same after the Hurricane Katrina. Some have suggested rebuilding it somewhere else (preferably above sea level). Needless to say, there are parts of the Gulf Coast that we’ll never see again. So you might want to check out some of these classic films (through 1989 only) that are set partly or wholly in the Big Easy, just in case it’s the only way you’ll be able to see one of the great old cities of the world.
The movies are listed in alphabetical order, with links to pages where you can either learn more about them or purchase them on DVD or VHS. After the annotated list below you’ll find a separate listing of unreviewed films that you might also find interesting.
And while you’re watching one of these films, send out some good thoughts for the thousands of people who’ve lost everything as a result of this catastrophe, and be thankful for what you have. I know I am.
Abbott and Costello Go to Mars (1953) – The boys accidentally launch a rocket that is supposed to fly to Mars, but goes to New Orleans during Mardi Gras instead. Understandably enough, they think they’re on Mars, anyway. Then they go to Venus and think they’re in Hollywood, of course.
Angel Heart (1987) – Mickey Rourke and Robert De Niro star in the movie where Lisa Bonet of Cosby fame changed her image for good. It’s set partly in Algiers, Louisiana – near New Orleans and not as touristy, to put it delicately. For adults, despite the title.
Banjo on My Knee (1936) – Barbara Stanwyck and Joel McCrea star in a film that doesn’t quite make it in terms of plot, but offers nice glimpses of the Mississippi River and the city of New Orleans.
Belle of the Nineties (1934) – Mae West is a woman from St. Louis who moves to New Orleans to get away from a man. She sings a lot, and Duke Ellington makes some welcome appearances.
The Big Easy (1987) – A strong thriller starring Dennis Quaid and Ellen Barkin that is worth watching just for the interesting characters and the excellent New Orleans ambience.
Birth of the Blues (1941) – Though the title suggests a documentary about the blues, this is really a musical comedy vehicle for Bing Crosby which features an all-white band trying to introduce café society to Dixieland jazz in New Orleans in the 1890s. Look for Mantan Moreland, Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, and a host of jazz greats, including Louis Armstrong, some in archival footage.
Blaze (1989) – Based on the autobiography of stripper Blaze Starr, the film is set in New Orleans, and stars Paul Newman as the flamboyant governer of Louisiana in the 50s and Lolita Davidovitch as Starr.
The Buccaneer (1938) – The great Fredric March plays Jean Lafitte, in a mostly fictional but entertaining story of how the pirate and his men helped Andrew Jackson save New Orleans from the British during the War of 1812.
Buccaneer’s Girl (1950) – Fred de Cordova of Tonight Show famed directed this swashbuckling “B” movie starring Yvonne DeCarlo as a night club singer in New Orleans who falls for a pirate leading a double life.
The Cat and the Canary (1939) – A mansion in New Orleans is just the nominal setting for this haunted house comedy that has the distinction of introducing the typical Bob Hope lovable coward character that he used so effectively in films for the rest of his career. Co-starring Paulette Goddard.
The Cincinnati Kid (1965) – One of the great poker movies of all time, set in New Orleans in the 30s, and starring Steve McQueen and Edward G. Robinson.
Davy Crockett and the River Pirates (1956) – New Orleans is just the destination of this river race between Davy Crockett (Fess Parker) and his rival Mike Fink. A childhood favorite of mine, first broadcast on TV as a two-parter.
Docks of New Orleans (1948) – Charlie Chan in New Orleans, played by the decidedly inferior Roland Winters.
Easy Rider (1969) – The great 60s film starring Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda includes the famous LSD and hookers scene set in an old New Orleans cemetery during Mardi Gras.
The Flame of New Orleans (1941) – A French farce set in New Orleans in 1841 and starring Marlene Dietrich. Directed by Rene Clair.
Flesh and Fantasy(1943) – Starring Barbara Stanwyck. One of the three stories in the anthology is set in New Orleans. (Thanks to Jeff Tishman for the suggestion.)
French Quarter (1977) – Shot on location in New Orleans and spiced with elements of Voodoism and Creole culture, this little-seen film stars Virginia Mayo and the other cast members in dual roles, moving back and forth between the 1970s and the 19th century. For adults only in its unedited form.
Glory Alley (1952) – An unfocused effort, from Raoul Walsh, believe it or not. Damon Runyon meets New Orleans as seen through the eyes of MGM in the 1950s. Ralph Meeker plays a boxer and Leslie Caron is a dancer, while Louis Armstrong is around to say a few words and entertain with some music.
Hard Times (1975) – Charles Bronson and James Coburn in a fight movie set in New Orleans during the Depression. Directed by Walter Hill. An underrated gem.
Hotel (1967) – Karl Malden, Rod Taylor, Melvyn Douglas and other familiar faces are denizens of the French Quarter (with some scenes actually shot there) in this potboiler based on the Arthur Hailey novel.
The Iron Mistress (1952) – A fictionalized biopic about Jim Bowie, played by Alan Ladd, his dangerous Creole love interest, played by Virginia Mayo, and his knife, appearing as itself, all thrown together in New Orleans in a Western that doesn’t take place in the West.