The basics of film noir

Orson Welles & Charlton Heston in Touch of Evil

More than crime drama, film noir is about the passion that drives men to murder and women to give up everything for a moment in their arms. The phrase was coined in 1946 by a French film critic to describe the gritty, black and white melodramas that dominated cinema double-features throughout the forties and fifties.

Bogie & Bacall in The Big Sleep

Robert Mitchum, Humphrey Bogart and Edward G Robinson starred as wise-cracking thugs or dime-store detectives, hard as nails and too easily foiled by a dame. The femme fatale could seduce any man – and had to do it with her clothes on: Lauren Bacall, Jane Russell and Veronica Lake brought them down, though they didn’t have much better luck than their male counterparts. Operating under the Hayes Code meant that crime could never ever pay.

A few suggestions for the beginner:

  • The Maltese Falcon (1941)
  • Double Indemnity (1944)
  • The Big Sleep (1946)
  • D.O.A. (1950)
  • The Wrong Man (1956)
  • A Touch of Evil (1958)

Film noir continues to evolve, especially in the low-budget, indy world, though Scorsese’s Oscar winner, The Departed (2006) could be considered an example of the genre. If you’re not quite ready to jump into the classics, try cutting your teeth on these:

  • Road to Perdition (2002)
  • The Cooler (2003)
  • Sin City (2005)
  • Hollywoodland (2006)
  • Lucky Number Slevin (2006)
  • Eastern Promises (2007)
Martin Scorsese directs Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon in The Departed

Published by Titirangi Storyteller

Telling tales from around the world

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