Film Noir

Film noirs are arguably the most iconic genre of the classic film era. The camera work, the lighting, the music, and the stars build the foundation of this definitive film type. Largely overlapping with gangster films, they illustrate crime-dramas, which are fueled with sexual motivation and cynicism.

This genre exploded in popularity in the early 40s, directly referencing the post-Great Depression era of the United States. The plots are usually crime-driven, and describe the protagonists’ life of crime, anti-crime, or slowly being drawn into the lifestyle of crime.

Where the social order is upset by the noir protagonist, femme fatale, or noir couple, the films relate to genres of determinate space. At the same time, however, because the noir couple frequently struggles with a private concern, whether legitimate or illegal, they often face issues of social dis-integration or alienation (Renzi, 82).

Film noirs are similar to gangster films in their ability to fool the censorship board. During this era, the MPAA did not approve of films that advocated for the anti-hero. Crime, drugs, and sex were not appropriate themes for Hollywood films. The genius overlapping technique between film noir and gangster films created this ability to discuss these themes behind the power of suggestion.

Laura (1944)

While viewers would eventually sympathize for the anti-hero, may it be a gangster, femme fatale, or criminal, the films would never allow them a happy ending. This is Hollywood’s way of explaining what was the correct and incorrect approach to the American dream – that those hard-working, law-abiding, sexually absent individuals were the ones to rise to the top.

Noir couples often suffer an imbalance in their dispositions and their need to dominate, a disparity that produces the ongoing tension that leads, in many cases, to their ultimate demise (Renzi, 92).

Film noirs conform to the appropriate convention of technique, narrative, and star power. The film noir protagonist never truly succeeds, but if he/she does, it is only because they escape from the darkness and into the light.

Strangers on a Train (1951)


The Maltese Falcon (1941)

Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

Double Indemnity (1944)

Laura (1944)

Mildred Pierce (1945)

The Big Sleep (1946)

Gilda (1946)

Out of the Past (1947)

The Third Man (1949)

White Heat (1949)

Sunset Boulevard (1950)

The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

Strangers on a Train (1951)

The Big Heat (1953)

Touch of Evil (1958)


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