Film noir

Hey there Onlooker, CreativeCookie here and today’s post is about film noir.

What is film noir? Google’s definition: “A style or genre of cinematographic film marked by a mood of pessimism, fatalism, and menace.”

To me, film noir is a black and white film, focused on cinematography and narrative using heavy contrasts and abstract views of gender.

The success of film noir was created by Nino Frank. In 1946 he coined the term by describing a group of theater productions “nior filming”. Frank and Jean-Pierre (his writing partner) named Hollywood crime dramas to be a new criminal adventure. He said “These dark films, no longer have anything in common with ordinary run of detective movies”. This is why he coined them nior films, his only description was “dark” and noir means black in french. He also called them “crime psychology films”. His term became so perfect even famous authors at the time, Thomas Narcejac and Pierre Boileau, used it to describe their genre.

Early use of the term found in a news paper in 1938 shows the term was in use before Nino coined it. Charles O’Brian found it was really coined by the political right-wing in the 1930’s.

Is film noir a genre?

Here are some of the best noir films:

  • Touch of evil – 1958 – After crossing the border of Mexico to the United States of America, a bomb planted in the car of the wealthy businessman which blows up in Los Robles. The Mexican Chief of Narcotics, Miguel Vargas, is spending his honeymoon with his American wife, Susan Vargas, in the border town. He is to testify in the case of the drug dealer Grandi, arrested in Mexico City. The ex-alcoholic American Police Captain, Hank Quinlan, is in charge of the investigation as the murder happened on the American side of the border. However, Mike Vargas participates as observer because he finds out that the Mexican citizen Sanchez is the prime suspect. Meanwhile, Uncle Joe Grandi unsuccessfully presses Susie, trying to convince her husband to drop the case. When Hank plants dynamite in the house of Sanchez in a shoe box that Vargas had seen empty ten minutes before, he confronts Hanks.
  • Laura – 1944 – When the famous advertising executive, Laura Hunt, is found dead in her apartment killed by a shotgun on a Friday night, Detective Lieutenant Mark McPherson is in charge of the investigation. He interviews the prime suspects and friends of Laura: the snob and arrogant journalist Waldo Lydecker who promoted Laura at the beginning of her career and fell in love with her; and her fiancé, the playboy Shelby Carpenter. While investigating Laura’s past through her diary and personal letters, Detective McPherson falls in love with her.
  • The Maltese Falcon – 1941 – Sam Spade is a partner in a private-eye firm who finds himself wanted by police when his partner is killed whilst following an enemy. The girl who asked him to follow the man turns out not to be who she says she is, and is really involved in something to do with the ‘Maltese Falcon’, a gold-encrusted life-sized statue of a falcon, the only one of its kind.
  • Murder, my sweet – 1944 – In police custody and facing a possible murder charge, private investigator Philip Marlowe tells them his story. He was hired by Moose Malloy, who’s been in prison for a number years, to find his girl Velma Valento. Soon after, Lindsay Marriott hires him for protection when he’s to meet someone in a secluded area to buy back a lady’s jewelry. It doesn’t go well and the trouble really starts when Marriott is killed. Ann Grayle is next in line claiming that the missing jewelry belonged to her father and her stepmother Helen. The trail leads him to Jules Amthor – Moose works for him – someone well-known to the police who specializes in putting women in precarious situations and then blackmailing them. Helen Grayle appears to have been his latest victim. Not all is as it seems however.
  • Woman in the window – 1944 – Gotham College professor Wanley and his friends become obsessed with the portrait of a woman in the window next to the men’s club. Wanley happens to meet the woman while admiring her portrait, and ends up in her apartment for talk and a bit of champagne. Her boyfriend bursts in and misinterprets Wanley’s presence, whereupon a scuffle ensues and the boyfriend gets killed. In order to protect his reputation, the professor agrees to dump the body and help cover up the killing, but becomes increasingly suspect as the police uncover more and more clues and a blackmailer begins leaning on the woman.

Here are some directors who worked with noir film:

  • Anthony Mann – June 30 1906 – April 29 1967. He was an American actor and film director, most notably of noir films and Westerns. His films:
    Border Incident
    Raw Deal
    Reign of Terror
    Side Street
    The Furies
  • Fritz Lang – December 5 1890 – August 2 1976. He was an Austrian-German filmmaker, screenwriter, and occasional film producer and actor. He was dubbed the “Master of Darkness” by the British Film Institute. His films:
    Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
    Clash by Night
    House by the River
    Human Desire
    Ministry of Fear
    Scarlet Street
    Secret Beyond the Door…
    The Big Heat
    The Blue Gardenia
    The Woman in the Window
    While the City Sleeps
    You Only Live Once
  • John Brahm – August 17 1893 – October 13 1982. He was a film and television director. His films:
    The Brasher Doubloon
    Guest in the House
    Hangover Square
    The Locket
    The Lodger
  • John Farrow – 10 February 1904 – 27 January 1963. He was an Australian-American film director, producer and screenwriter. In 1957, he won the Academy Award for Best Writing/Best Screenplay for Around the world in 80 days. He was nominated as Best Director for Wake Island. His films:
    Alias Nick Beal
    His Kind of Woman
    Night Has a Thousand Eyes
    The Big Clock
    The Unholy Wife
    Where Danger Lives
  • Joseph H. Lewis – April 6 1907 – August 30 2000. He was an American B-movie (Low budget) film director. His films:
    A Lady Without Passport
    Cry of the Hunted
    Deadly Is the Female
    Gun Crazy
    My Name Is Julia Ross
    So Dark the Night
    The Big Combo
    The Undercover Man
  • Lewis Allen – 25 December 1905 – 3 May 2000. He was an English director. Allen worked mainly in the United States, working on Broadway and directing 18 feature films between 1944 and 1959. In 1950’s he worked on a number of the most popular shows of the time in the US. His films:
    A Bullet for Joey
    Appointment with Danger
    Chicago Deadline
    Desert Fury
    So Evil My Love
    The Unseen
  • John Alton – October 5 1901 – June 2 1996. He was an American cinematographer.  Alton won an Academy award, in 1951, for the cinematography of An American in Paris, becoming the first Hungarian-born person to do so in cinematography category. He has worked on over 100 films!

Modern use of noir film:

  • The best example of a modern noir film is ‘Pretty little liars’ episode. Ezra Fitz (Ian Harding) is the man in Alison’s journal, a pill-popping Spencer (Troian Bellisario) spirals into a dream-like state where she, her friends and her enemies are transported to a 1940’s crime-solving flick. From the hair, makeup, wardrobe with perfect verisimilitude, with the personality and even social issues, the episode’s writer and director Joseph Dougherty was tasked with making the episode accurate, interesting, beautiful and most importantly for the fans, plot-advancing.

Here are some characteristics of noir films:

  • The main thing to a great noir film is the ability to capture one part of the film an it to produce a stunning image.
  • Neon signs
  • Criminal activity
  • Chiaroscuro
  • Streets covered in rain
  • Guns
  • Male detectives
  • Dark alleys
  • Cigarettes
  • Heavy contrast
  • Lamp posts
  • Femme fatale

Femme Fatale:

  • Femme fatale in french means ‘fatal woman’ so just from the name, we can gather she is a dangerous person.
  • Basically femme fatale is when a woman character uses charms and mysteriousness to gain control of a man. She will often use them for dangerous acts, like to commit murder for her.

My film noir:

I have created my own film noir. We focused on the hand drop which is seen in most noir films. It was easy to add yet effective. I think overall it worked quite well, the only down side is my upload has made the video grainy. The camera I used didn’t have this effect last year so this means its the editing that has caused it. I will make sure to fix this for my real piece.

Overall, I think noir films were amazing for the 1930’s and 40’s, but I never see why people like to watch that sort of thing. They bore me and I don’t see myself using it for my short film. Bringing them back to life in short episodes is fun and unique, but as a whole they are not for me.


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