The term noir means ‘black’ or ‘dark’ and was applied in 1946 by several French critics who referenced the term towards several American films made during World War II. Much of the gloomy fatalistic style of the film noir derived from American hard-boiled detective novels from the 1920’s, involving gritty social themes such as moral corruption and masculine ideals, which were written by authors Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and James M. Cain. And yet the roots of the film noir began much earlier, with many theorists suggesting its birth began all the way from Europe, in German’s silent German Expressionism film period of the 1920’s with films such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919), Nosferatu (1922) and M (1931). The style of German Expressionism immigrated to Hollywood (along with several of their German filmmakers like Fritz Lang) when the Nazis gained power, ultimately incorporating itself into the Pre-code American gangster films of the 1930’s. Much of noir’s key elements like lighting, shadows and the tragic fatalism of its characters began with the American gangster films of Public Enemy (1931) Little Caesar (1931) and Scarface (1932); films which derived much of its social themes from the time like Prohibition, the Great Depression and organized crime. After the strict enforcement of the Production Code began to take hold in the late 30’s, the genre of the gangster film began to quickly taper off, allowing once again for its style to change and evolve. Finally the movement found its official mark with John Huston’s private eye classic the Maltese Falcon in 1941. Not only did the film establish and popularize many of the conventions of the film noir genre, it also made legendary actor Humphrey Bogart into a major star. The formulaic conventions of the film noir included various flawed male detectives or criminals, filled with conflicted, cynical feelings of self-doubt, pessimism and a cold, detached view of the world. The noir genre is famously known to include despicable and unlikable anti-heroes, characters who clearly have three things on their mind: sex, greed and murder. Most of the men nonchalantly strut through the formula of a routine murder plot or thrilling crime drama; constantly using cold sex play and stoic mannerisms while spurting out tough talk and arrogant macho attitude. The women in the films (femme-fatales) are usually sexually manipulative and treacherous characters, purposely luring the men into danger or death, all for their own selfish reasons. Most noir narratives are told nonlinear, either through a series of flashbacks or revealed unchronologically. Much of these iconic conventions spawned several noir films of the era; many looked at today as cinematic classics, most famously Double Indemnity (1944), Out of the Past (1947) and The Third Man (1949). Many critics believe the film-noir movement officially began with the Maltese Falcon and ultimately came to an end with Orson Welles’s Touch of Evil in 1958. Since Touch of Evil (1958) there have been various other films which many critics label as neo-noir, noir-like films that either pay homage or even parody the conventions of the film noir genre like Chinatown (1972), Blood Simple (1984) and L.A. Confidential (1997).
American director Jules Dassin has crafted one of the greatest French heist thrillers of all time with Rififi, creating a noir gangster story constructed around a 33 minute safe cracking sequence, which was duplicated and copied several times after and yet never surpassed. The story of veteran criminals that gather a group of specialists together to carry out […]
To watch F.W. Murnau’s 1922 horror masterpiece Nosferatu is to see the vampire movie before it became a trendy pop icon of commercials, jokes, skits, franchises, books and over 100 different films. Nosferatu is the greatest of all vampire films, and its surreal and haunting tone and intensity gives off the feeling as if its creators were truly in awe of […]
Legendary director Fritz Lang took a gamble when making M, which tells the story of a child murderer in Berlin, as the film has been credited with forming two different genres: the serial killer movie and the police procedural. Lang’s earlier silent films including Metropolis were all worldwide successes, and by the year 1931, the Nazi […]
“There is no greater solitude than that of a Samurai, unless it is that of the tiger in the jungle…” Bushido (Book of the Samurai) The film opens to an near empty room, along with the sound of a bird chirping in its cage. In the shadows we can barely see a man laying on […]
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