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A Guide to Film Noir Genre by Roger Ebert

Film noir is . . .

1. A French term meaning "black film," or film of the night, inspired by the Series Noir, a line of cheap paperbacks that translated hard-boiled American crime authors and found a popular audience in France.

2. A movie which at no time misleads you into thinking there is going to be a happy ending.

3. Locations that reek of the night, of shadows, of alleys, of the back doors of fancy places, of apartment buildings with a high turnover rate, of taxi drivers and bartenders who have seen it all.

4. Cigarettes. Everybody in film noir is always smoking, as if to say, "On top of everything else, I've been assigned to get through three packs today." The best smoking movie of all time is "Out of the Past," in which Robert Mitchum and Kirk Douglas smoke furiously at each other. At one point, Mitchum enters a room, Douglas extends a pack and says, "Cigarette?" and Mitchum, holding up his hand, says, "Smoking."

5. Women who would just as soon kill you as love you, and vice versa.

6. For women: low necklines, floppy hats, mascara, lipstick, dressing rooms, boudoirs, calling the doorman by his first name, high heels, red dresses, elbowlength gloves, mixing drinks, having gangsters as boyfriends, having soft spots for alcoholic private eyes, wanting a lot of someone else's women, sprawling dead on the floor with every limb meticulously arranged and every hair in place.

7. For men: fedoras, suits and ties, shabby residential hotels with a neon sign blinking through the window, buying yourself a drink out of the office bottle, cars with running boards, all-night diners, protecting kids who shouldn't be playing with the big guys, being on first-name terms with homicide cops, knowing a lot of people whose descriptions end in "ies," such as bookies, newsies, junkies, alkys, jockeys and cabbies.

8. Movies either shot in black and white, or feeling like they were.

9. Relationships in which love is only the final flop card in the poker game of death.

10. The most American film genre, because no society could have created a world so filled with doom, fate, fear and betrayal, unless it were essentially naive and optimistic.

 


Originally published: January 30, 1995 by Roger Ebert

Views: 290

Tags: Two Fisted Tuesdays, noir

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Comment by Gadget Girl on March 1, 2014 at 11:29pm

The last "film noir" of the era is said to be Touch of Evil, which starred Charleton Heston, and was directed by Orson Welles.

Some examples that I like-White Heat, The Big Sleep, and Sunset Boulevard. Though most people think of cynical detectives when they think of this type of film, not all noir movies are detective movies, and Sunset Boulevard is a great example, I think-though it does have crime and investigation involved, but they are peripheral instead of being the main focus.

Comment by Deven Science on March 1, 2014 at 8:59pm

I might consider the theatrical version of Blade Runner noir. The director may not like the narration, but I do.

Comment by Tome Wilson on February 26, 2014 at 2:24pm

It still won't make much sense, but at least you'll know the source material. ;-)

Imagine if one of those recent pop-culture movies like "Epic Movie" or "Scary Movie" used the actual footage from their sources and then used CGI to put the comedians into the scenes (e.g. Ghostbusters with The Wayans Brothers instead of Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis)

Comment by Brendan HollyKing Leber on February 26, 2014 at 1:15pm

Thank you, Tome!  I will check that site out.  I've seen Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid and I hope it will make more sense after seeing the noir films.  :)

Comment by Tome Wilson on February 26, 2014 at 9:58am

I've seen quite a few good noir movies, and quite a few stinkers. That being said, here are the ones I can watch over-and-over without ever tiring of them.

#1 - Out of the Past
#2 - Brick
#3 - Double Indemnity
#4 - Detour
#5 - Gun Crazy
#6 - The Asphalt Jungle

For some honest reviews from people who really love noir, I highly recommend Noir of the Week. They seek out the best and the highly obscure from the film noir genre, and they also fill in a lot of the background info about the studios and actors involved. This keeps things in perspective regarding the times these movies were made.

Also, if you've seen all the big ones, check out Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid from 1982. It's a spoof of the genre where they splice together scenes from all of the most famous noir film and insert Steve Martin as the hard boiled detective. It doesn't make sense by itself, but it's amusing to see how they splice the story together from other old movies.

Comment by Blake "Blakesby" Canham-Bennett on February 26, 2014 at 9:09am

This is brilliant. Bless you for posting it.

Comment by Brendan HollyKing Leber on February 25, 2014 at 4:38pm

Nice.  Any suggestions for undservedly unknown of noir flims?  I mean beyond The Maltese Falcon and other well known examples?

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