Film RadarFilm Radar


advertise with Film Radar
Karie (site owner) Written by Karie (site owner)
Mar. 30, 2005 | 2:29 PM

Email Print

The Hallmarks of Film Noir

... from those wonderful people out there in the dark.
Film Radar presents a series of thoughts and essays by esteemed members of the film community.

12 Shades of Black: Hallmarks of Classic Film Noir By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

1. Somebody Will Narrate. All the best ones have it: Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard, hell, in Raw Deal, it’s a broad’s voice you hear telling you how they screwed things up for themselves. This is usually the first thing that homages of the genre will copy (remember the theatrical release of the neo-noir Bladerunner with Harrison Ford’s voice-over narration?)
2. The words “Big” “Night” “Kiss” “Fear” “Dark” “House” “City” or “Street” Will Be in the Title. By themselves or in combinations.

3. The Hero Will Be a Loser. Noir protagonists (usually men) are liars, bullies, cowards, slobs, drunkards, sexual dysfunctionals, criminals, violent, desperate and have no ambition. Losers that keep on losing (even when they’re winning) and you love them anyway.
4. There Will Be a Strangely Ambivalent Female. She will be a man-eating femme fatale, a seductive murderer, a sexual predator or a vengeful victim. And sometimes she will be all of these things. She will be beautiful and she will turn on a man and destroy him and not think twice about it.
5. The Story Will Have a Literary Pedigree. The finest noir is adapted from trashy, violent yet wildly entertaining novels. A lot of it is dimestore pulp fiction to be sure, like Mickey Spillane, Jim Thompson or William P. McGivern, but many also have distinguished authors like James M. Cain, Theodore Dreiser and Ernest Hemingway.
6. There Will Be Betrayal. And it will be of the coldest, harshest, most desperate variety. The Blue Dahlia, Out of the Past, Notorious, The Naked Kiss, Criss Cross, Body and Soul.....need we say more?

7. There Will Be Obsessive Love. Like so much of modern crime, noir films will have folks who completely outdo themselves for love—only to get royally screwed in the end. Sometimes it’s what drives the story, like in Caught or The Lady from Shanghai, and other times it’s merely a sub-plot, like in The Killing. But it’s always there.
8. There Will Be Fatal Self-Delusion. Even though they are losers to the bone, noir heroes have this crazy idea that they can actually escape the film they are in.  In a classic noir, it never happens. Just ask Sterling Hayden or John Garfield.
9. It Will Have Barbara Stanwyck, Claire Trevor or Ida Lupino In It. Certainly gals like Marie Windsor and Ann Savage are great noir dishes, but the genre never loved any broads more than these three dames. And judging from the earnest performances they routinely deliver (not to mention the number of quality noir flicks they made), it appears they felt likewise.
10. It Will Be Set in Los Angeles or its Environs. Yes, there are plenty of East Coast noirs (Laura, Sweet Smell of Success, Fourteen Hours), but more often than not, noir winds up in the West like Detour, Sudden Fear, Mildred Pierce and The Maltese Falcon.  Even in films like Kiss Me Deadly, where the setting of the novel was New York - in the film, it’s good old L.A.
11. Someone Will Get Their Face Slapped. Usually more than once in the same film. The addition of face-slapping is one of the things made the 1964 version of The Killers a worthy remake. And it’s not only for women, either—men are just as likely to get backhanded in noir. The slapping, however, is always performed by a man. No doll in noir would dream of slapping a man—not unless she has a death wish.
12. It Will Be in Black & White. True, there is such a thing as color noir, like Leave Her to Heaven, Vertigo, Desert Fury, A Kiss Before Dying, etc. (Second Chance was even in 3-D!), but nothing makes a classic noir like dark, desperate, depraved, dirty, dissolute black-and-white chiaroscuro. Preferably by James Wong Howe or John F. Seitz.

First Comment: