Colin Farrell’s new Apple TV+ series “Sugar” might seem like a familiar L.A. noir: a private detective named John Sugar is hired by a legendary Hollywood producer to investigate the disappearance of his granddaughter, soon uncovering a web of family secrets. However, this is no simple protagonist. Farrell, who plays John Sugar, refers to himself as more of a “film addict.” Sugar frequently references classic movies, using them as source material to crack his case. Archival footage from these movies are scattered throughout Apple TV+’s hit series “Sugar,” giving viewers a glimpse into his mind and an education in the history of film noir and other Hollywood classics that have inspired our troubled sleuth.

Now that Season 1 of “Sugar” has ended with a finale that sets up another challenging case for John, we at High on Films thought it would be great to compile a list of all the movies mentioned in the series to better understand their significance. Director Fernando Meirelles and editor Fernando Stutz intercut scenes from classic films. Their use of archival footage adds depth to the narrative, creating a unique viewing experience.

Below is a breakdown of every film that appears in “Sugar,” including a description of how and where those scenes are used in the series. Some are blink-and-you’ll-miss-it flashes of classic films, while others draw direct connections between Sugar’s story and that of classic characters.

1. The Big Heat (1953)

Colin Farrell’s strange private investigator has an aversion to guns. So, in order to let him be secure because of the case that he has taken up, Ruby (Kirby) presents Sugar (Colin Farrell) with a special gift: the gun used by Glenn Ford in the classic film “The Big Heat.”

This is pretty early on in Episode 1, where Ruby hopes that Sugar’s passion for classic movies will eclipse this said aversion to firearms. The scene is woven with footage of Police Sgt. Dave Bannion (Ford) wielding the same gun during his quest for vengeance.

2. Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

Kiss Me Deadly is a movie that is referenced in Sugar multiple times. However, it first appears in Episode 1 when John sits in his Corvette and navigates the streets of L.A. The scene is intercut with footage of Detective Mike Hammer (Meeker) cruising through L.A.

The movie is also referenced in Episode 7 when a battered Sugar wakes up on the motel floor under Melanie’s watchful eye. The scene intercuts with a moment from “Kiss Me Deadly,” where Mike and Lily (Gaby Rogers) are driving. Lily remarks to Hammer, “When people are in trouble, they need to talk, but you know the old saying.” This line echoes Melanie’s frustration with Sugar’s secrecy and her demand for answers about the trouble he’s involved in. Later, as Sugar recounts his violent experiences to Henry Thorpe (Jason Butler Harner), the episode intercuts with Hammer’s own altercations.

3. Johnny Guitar (1954)

Sugar Movie References - Johnny Guitar

We learn in Episode 6 of Sugar that the series is a true genre-bender. However, as far as movie references in the series are concerned, Nicholas Ray’s (who I consider a true icon of classic noir cinema) gender-bending western “Johnny Guitar” shows up in Episode 1 when John tracks down Melanie (Amy Ryan) at the Steph-Hi Lounge. The bartender suggests a new whiskey, which Sugar decides to try. As he takes a sip, the scene is intercut with a brief flash of Johnny Guitar (Hayden) downing a shot.

4. Gilda (1946)

Glenn Ford makes another appearance in Episode 1 itself as Sugar drinks with Melanie. He confides why he enjoys alcohol despite his inability to get drunk. “It’s the romance of it, I guess. I get that from the movies,” he admits. The scene transitions to a classic film moment as Ford and Gilda (Rita Hayworth) make a toast.

5. The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)

Episode 1 of Sugar is loaded with movie references. When John brings a very drunk Melanie home and gently settles her on the couch, he turns on a classic movie channel before leaving. The television plays a scene with Barbara Stanwyck and Kirk Douglas from “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers.” Glancing at the screen, Sugar smiles and whispers to the unconscious Melanie, “You’re in for a treat.”

6. Sunset Boulevard (1950)

Sugar Movie References

Episode 2 of the show opens with the iconic image of screenwriter Joe Gillis (Holden) floating dead in a pool from ‘Sunset Boulevard.’ The scene is then cleverly juxtaposed with Sugar swimming laps in his hotel pool, contemplating the details of his own investigation.

7. Dead Reckoning (1946)

The second episode features ‘Dead Reckoning,’ which includes scenes of Rip Murdock (Bogart) delving into the past of his deceased war hero friend. This scene is interwoven with Sugar’s investigation into Olivia’s disappearance.

The film makes another appearance in Episode 6 after Sugar learns that Ruby has betrayed him. Rip Murdock’s dismay from Dead Reckoning on being betrayed by Coral is undercut by Sugar’s sad drive home.

8. Knock on Any Door (1949)

The scene where Sugar is interviewing Olivia’s friends is intercut with moments of Attorney Andrew Morton (Bogart) from ‘Knock on Any Door,’ employing unorthodox methods to defend his gangster client accused of murder.

9. Sherlock Jr. (1924)

While Melanie is addressing her Alcoholics Anonymous group in Episode 2 of Sugar John’’s mind becomes a whirlwind of recent events and nostalgic movie scenes. Amidst this subjective montage, the iconic shot from Sherlock Jr. – the one where Buster Keaton’s saddened face is seen, finds its way into the narrative.

10. In a Lonely Place (1950)

As mentioned above, this montage also features Sugar’s thoughts seguing to “In a Lonely Place.” The significance of the footage is layered as Laurel Gray (Grahame) watches helplessly as the alcoholic she loves (Bogart) spirals into despair.

11. Minnie and Moskowitz (1971)

In Episode 2 of Sugar, the series diverges from its usual repertoire of postwar black & white films to include a 1970s color indie by John Cassavetes. Gena Rowlands, his great leading lady and wife, delivers an unforgettable monologue as Minnie. “I believe movies are a conspiracy,” Minnie asserts. “They set you up from the time you’re a little kid. They make you believe in everything, from ideals and strength to the existence of good guys.”

12. Detour (1945)

Ulmer’s B-movie gem flickers on the TV in the background as Sugar makes a late-night visit to a Hollywood motel.

13. The Great Train Robbery (1903)

A silent film plays in the background over Sugar’s shoulder at his hotel. This early and successful genre movie from Porter’s film for the Edison Manufacturing Company depicts a thrilling heist in the Old West, where two bandits rob a steam engine. The story mirrors the real-life exploits of the infamous robber Butch Cassidy.

14. The Killers (1946)

During the final moments of Episode 3, Stallings (Eric Lange) demands the truth from Melanie and Teresa Vasquez (Cher Alvarez) about what happened to one of his men, threatening to put Teresa’s hand in a blender.

Consequently, John is trying to race desperately to Teresa’s apartment. His frantic efforts to break in are interwoven with images of The Swede (Lancaster) from the noir classic “The Killers,” based on Ernest Hemingway’s story.

15. Double Indemnity (1944)

If you are even remotely aware of the noir genre, you would be aware of this Hollywood classic. It’s obvious that John loves the movie, too. Because in Episdoe 3 we can see him trying to go out for the evening as Double Indemnity plays on the television. He briefly sits down with Wiley – the dog, remarks, “Oh man, it’s a good one,” and watches it with him for a while. Like me, Sugar loves movie references and would rather sit there and watch the classic than do things in the real world.

16. The Thing (1982)

The first clue of the genre shift in Sugar is seen through the movie references it makes to The Thing. In Episode 4 Sugar visits Dr. Vickers for a check-up. During the appointment, he references the iconic scene from “The Thing” where Dr. Copper (Richard Dysart) attempts to remove a thing from Norris’s (Charles Hallahan) chest.

17. The Third Man (1949)

In Episode 4, Sugar and Melanie head to Silver Lake to show Olivia’s photo around local businesses, following Melanie’s lead about seeing Olivia in an intense discussion with another woman. Their investigation is intercut with scenes from the noir classic “The Third Man,” mirroring Holly Martins’ (Joseph Cotten) relentless search for Harry Lime (Orson Welles).

18. TNT Jackson (1974)

In Episode 4, the 1974 blaxploitation film “TNT Jackson” plays on a TV in the background behind Stallings’ men, adding a gritty, retro atmosphere to the scene.

19. The Night of the Hunter (1955)

Episode 5 of Sugar works like a homage to Charles Laughton’s classic Noir-thriller “The Night of the Hunter.” When Sugar narrowly saves Melanie, who has barricaded herself in her bathroom to escape one of Stallings’ goons, Sugar not only disarms the intruder but also unleashes a barrage of punches. This violent flurry is intercut with iconic movie’s footage, beginning with a flash of Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum) delivering his famous “Love/Hate” speech. The actual speech though, is only teased and only appears in full when John brings Stallings to justice in Episode 6.

20. Touch of Evil (1958)

When Sugar repeatedly punches Stallings’ goon in Episode 5, the scene is intercut with extreme close-ups of Police Captain Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles) from “Touch of Evil.” Quinlan’s face, a mask of anger and loss driving him to evil deeds, parallels the intensity of Sugar’s actions.

Following Sugar’s outburst, the scene transitions to images of Susan (Janet Leigh) and Mike Vargas (Charlton Heston) confronting Quinlan, underscoring the complex interplay of justice and vengeance in Sugar’s world.

21. Sweet Smell of Success (1957)

Sugar Movie References - Sweet Smell

As Sugar regroups back at his bungalow in Episode 7, the scene is intercut with images of J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster) from “Sweet Smell of Success.” He delivers the line, “A lot of people tell me I’m a very gifted man, but I still can’t see around corners.” The scene undercuts the urgency of what is about to be revealed to John.

22. Vertigo (1958)

Would a list of references be complete without a Hitchcock placement? In the finale episode of Sugar, we see Vertigo playing on the television in the motel room where Melanie is waiting patiently for John to come back. The scene is undercut, with Sugar bringing Olivia back from death’s mouth.

23. The Lady from Shanghai (1947)

The Lady from Shanghai (1947)

Orsen Welles’ The Lady from Sanghai is also referenced in Episode 8 of Sugar. Since this episode is about endings, the movie is used to punctuate how John anticipates things coming to an end. His voiceover is self-aware of things coming to an end, much like Welles’ character in the film, but also aware that the story will continue after the credits roll.

Apart from the above-mentioned movie references, Sugar also drops half a dozen end credit title cards during the ending of Season 1. While I can’t pinpoint exactly which movies are those, I’m talking a calculated guess via Google images: Send for Paul Temple (1946) and Fling in the Ring (1955).

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