Research into the history of Film Noir

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“Film Noir”- means ‘black film’ in French and is a category of films that were produced primarily in post-war America. These films typically explore bleak subject matter whilst creating a dark atmosphere of pessimism or oppression.


Stock narratives of Noir films– A man is persuaded through sexual manipulation to commit a crime, crime is plotted and committed and often results in both the man and the woman being killed or imprisoned.

– Referred to as ‘seeker hero’ noir films a private eye investigates crimes involving a sexually manipulative woman who acts as the victim, the private eye falls for her but before they are killed or manipulated they come to their senses and solve the crime and survive.


Typical themes of Noir films:



Sexual obsession










Character types of Noir films:

Femme Fatale

Seeker Hero (Private eye/detective)

‘Fall guy’




Significant “Film noir” films:
Force of Evil-1948, MGM/Republic

Detour- 1945, DRC- released in post-war America, considered first film noir, initially critics refused to rate the film because it broke a rule of American cinema by not having a positive ending. Also established “fall guy” character type

Asphalt Jungle- 1950, MGM/Turner

Gun Crazy- 1950, UA/Warner Bros- first time button microphones were used

Kiss of Death- 1947, 20th century fox

Pick up on South Street- 1953, 20th Century fox

The Third Man- 1949, Lumiere Pictures

Night and the City- 1950, 20th Century Fox

Kiss me deadly- 1955, UE/MGM

Mean Streets- 1973, TPS/Universal- first film that tried to be a film noir in colour- directed by Martin Scorsese

Body Heat- 1981, Warner Bros

Quotes from documentary

“Sense of jeopardy and life which is what exists in all noir films”- Abraham Polonsky, director of Force of Evil

“He wrote with a meat cleaver… He wrote with a hatchet” Martin Goldsmith, writer of Detour, giving his opinion on James Cain

“The classic femme fatale for me is a woman that’s usually getting the man into bed and then into trouble” Marie Windsor, Actress


Important facts from documentary
More than a quarter of film noir films have a protagonist who identifies as a war veteran

Femme fatale was created as a result of a new breed of women who had worked during the war, creating a lack of need of a male in their lives as they’ve become independent. Very typical for a femme fatale to be filmed in a low angle before cutting to a man in a high angle, showcasing their dominance over the men

Because if the war and the development of faster film stocks, portable cameras, smaller dollies and contained lighting units made it possible to film at night and have precise control over light.

Venetian Blinds became very popular in the production of noir films as they were an effective and quick way to create an interesting and unusual lighting pattern. These had very interesting psychological effects depending on their application

After the war the German migrants who were cinematographers and writers brought with them traditional styles and techniques that were very different to those present in America at the time


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