The Reel Corner


A Tribute to Film Noir

As fall approaches, I reach out to noir mystery films. Strictly speaking, film noir is not a genre, but rather the mood, style, point-of-view, or tone of a film. Classic film noir was developed during and after World War II, taking advantage of the post-war mood of anxiety, pessimism, and suspicion. It was a style of black-and-white American films that first evolved in the 1940s, became prominent in the post-war era, and lasted in a classic sense until 1960 with Orson Wells' film Touch of Evil.

Film noir encompasses a range of plots-the central figure may be a private eye (The Big Sleep), a plainclothes policeman (The Big Heat), an aging boxer (The Set Up), a hapless grifter (Night and the City), a law abiding citizen lured into a life of crime (Gun Crazy), or simply a victim of circumstance (D.O.A.)

Story lines were often non-linear and twisting. Narratives were frequently complex and typically told with foreboding background music. Amnesia suffered by the protagonist was a common plot device, as was the downfall of an innocent everyman, who fell victim to temptation or was framed. Revelations regarding the hero were made to explain/justify the hero's own cynical perspective on life.

Film noir films were marked visually by expressionistic lighting, deep-focus camera work, ominous shadows, and skewed camera angles, with circling cigarette smoke. Settings were often interiors with low-key lighting, venetian-blinded windows and rooms, with dark, gloomy appearances. Exteriors were often urban night scenes with deep shadows, wet asphalt, dark alleyways, and flashing neon lights.

The females in film noir were either of two types: dutiful, reliable, trustworthy women; or femme fatales-mysterious, gorgeous, double-crossing, women. Usually the male protagonist in film noir wished to elude his past and had to choose between them.

The first detective film to use the shadowy, noir style in a definitive way was the mystery classic The Maltese Falcon, based on a novel by Dashiell Hammett. It was a perfect vehicle for Humphrey Bogart's cool, private-eye hero Sam Spade in pursuit of crooks, greedy for a jewel-encrusted statue, and Bogart's foil-Mary Astor was the deceptive femme fatale.
So if you are looking for something different for October.pass on the horror flicks and stream some Netflix film noir.

Film noir suggestions:
Sunset Blvd., Notorious, The Big Sleep, Night and the City, Key Largo, Mildred Pierce, D.O.A., and Double indemnity.

More recent noir you might have missed: Road to Perdition, The Departed, Collateral, No Way Out, Batman Begins, and Chinatown.

My favorite:

Kevin Spacey, Gabriel Byrne, Chazz Palminteri
Directed by Byron Singer
Rated R

Usual Suspects lures you in immediately
when a boat is destroyed, criminals are dead, and the key to this mystery lies with the only survivor, and his
twisted, convoluted story beginning with
five career crooks in a seemingly random police lineup.
Who is Keyser Soze?
Usual Suspects is worth renting to find out.
An excellent performance by all, especially Spacey.
(4 stars)

Donne Paine, film enthusiast, once lived around the corner from the Orson Wells Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where her strong interest in films, especially independent ones, began. She was a 12-year member of the Hilton Head Second Sunday Film Society, and frequent visitor to the Sundance Film Festival. To support her habit of frequent movie going, Donne is an executive recruiter and staff development consultant. Are you interested in joining a film club? Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Leave a comment

You are commenting as guest.