Film Noir — Evan Donahue

Origins

Originally coined by French film critic Nino Frank in 1946, Film Noir was the term used to describe the gritty, black and white crime dramas that emerged post WWII. Many of the films described as “noir” reflected the tensions of the time period, namely fear, distrust, and despair, with most of these insecurities coming from the looming Cold War. Film Noir is not technically a genre, but more of a time period, roughly ranging from the mid 1940s to the early 1960s. When film makers set out to create their movie, they most likely weren’t consciously trying to create a Noir. Film Noir was rooted in the German Expressionist movement of the 1920s and 1930s which included films like “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” (1920) and “M” (1931). Movies from this movement were known for their stark camera angles, use of light and shadow, and high contrast images. The most famous Film Noir directors include Orson Welles, John Huston, Billy Wilder, Edgar Ulmer, Fritz Lang, Otto Preminger, and Henry Hathaway.

Themes

Melancholy, bleakness, disillusionment, disenchantment, pessimism, ambiguity, moral corruption, evil, guilt, desperation and paranoia

Heroes (more commonly anti-heroes) were typically morally ambiguous characters, and their role as protagonists were often indistinguishable from classic villains

The most common role for women was that of the Femme Fatale. Mysterious, beautiful, two-faced, and predatory, these ‘Fatales’ were the most common source of the twisting story-lines and convoluted plot-twists

Popular Works

  • Stranger on the Third Floor (Boris Ingster, 1940)
  • High Sierra (Raoul Walsh, 1941)
  • The Maltese Falcon (John Houston, 1941)
  • Shadow of a Doubt (Alfred Hitchcock, 1943)
  • Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder, 1944)
  • The Woman in the Window (Fritz Lang, 1944)
  • The House on 92nd Street (Henry Hathaway, 1945)
  • Mildred Pierce (Michael Curtiz, 1945)
  • The Blue Dahlia (George Marshall, 1946)
  • The Lady from Shanghai (Orson Welles, 1947)
  • Where the Sidewalk Ends (Otto Preminger, 1950)
  • Strangers on a Train (Hitchcock, 1951)
  • The Killing (Stanley Kubrick, 1956)
  • Touch of Evil (Welles, 1958)
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