French for "black film" or "dark film", film noir is a term used describe a genre of film popular in America between 1940 and 1960. Strictly speaking this is not a genre but a description of the film's style and mood.
Film noir generally refers to the period between 1940 and 1960. Films made since then are sometimes referred to as film noir but some purists do not consider this appropriate. Recent films made in the style of film noir may be referred to as neo-noir or post-noir.
Film noir typically employs dark mood lighting, shadowy images, seedy locations, and crime/thriller plots with unhappy endings.
Corruption is a common theme, especially the downward moral slide of the anti-hero. Greed and sex feature frequently.
Film noir centres around unpleasant or destructive human emotion and behaviour. Protagonists experience feelings such as disillusionment, melancholy, hopelessness, pessimism, moral confusion, guilt, desperation, etc.
Narratives are often complex and convoluted.
Female characters tend to be either completely honest and trusting (perhaps naive), or evil femme fatales.
Film noir has roots in European films of the 1920s and 1930s, especially German Expressionism films. These films often employed daring camera angles with lots of shadows and contrast.
At the same time many American films were made based on books with dark themes such as detective and gangster novels.
What was to become known as Hollywood film noir originated in the post-WWII era. French film critics Nino Frank and Jean-Pierre Chartier first applied the term to Hollywood in 1946, although the term was not widely used in America until the 1970s.
Derivatives and Alternatives
Various genres have been influenced by film noir, for example:
- Film gris: "Gray film" — film noir with a happy ending.
- Post-noir, Neo-noir: Modern version of film noir. Examples include Dirty Harry (1971) and Fatal Attraction (1987).
- Tech-noir, Cyberpunk: Film noir blended with science fiction. Typically portrays a pessimistic, dystopic future. One of the best-known examples is Blade Runner (1982).
Examples of Film Noir
Stranger on the Third Floor (1940), The Maltese Falcon (1941), Murder, My Sweet (1944), Double Indemnity (1944), Dark Passage (1947), Fear in the Night (1947), Out of the Past (1947), The Naked City (1948), Kiss Me Deadly (1955), Touch of Evil (1958).