Media Essay on Film Noir

Compare how ‘Heat’ uses the conventions of Film Noir to establish atmosphere with another film of your choice

Film Noir covers a huge range of films, not just focusing on the 1940’s era where this category first began. This style has been used in even modern day films, all the way up to the 1990’s. Including hits such as Pulp Fiction (1994) and other famous films Heat (1995), both challenge the conventions used in film noir, including the lighting effects, the sound/music to create mood, character types such as the anti-hero, the mise en scene and camera angles all combine together to create atmosphere within the film.

 The film ‘Heat’ and ‘Pulp Fiction’ both use all the conventions of Film Noir to create an atmosphere while the audience are watching.

Both films begin by producing a dark screen in front of the audience, which creates the atmosphere of mystery while the viewers watch with anticipation. ‘Heat’ produces a black screen that is gradually filled as the credits fade in and fade out of the screen at the start of the film. While ‘Pulp Fiction’ has the same black screen but with narrative white text on which gives a definition of the film title’s meaning:

 Pulp a soft, moist, shapeless mass of matter

2. a magazine or book containing lurid subject matter and being characteristically printed on rough unfinished paper.

Whilst ‘Heat’ just goes straight into the film with the credits and the title of the film. This projects the two films differences in style, as one gives a more serious atmosphere with the printed text as the title compared with ‘Pulp Fiction’ where the font of the name is more playful, with a bold red and yellow colour scheme to the font, which stands out dramatically compared with the title of ‘Heat’ with its printed text produces an atmospheric feel that the film is going to be quite serious, with a moderately subtle soft music in the background it creates quite a serious atmospheric feel while the title sequence is being carried out compared to that of ‘Pulp Fiction’ as it has a more relaxed feel to it, with more modern music at the time by Dick Dale and His Del-Tones while half way through the title sequence the song is changed to a different song of the same era through the sense of a radio signal. Both of the films have increasingly different styles when it comes introducing the credits. ‘Heat’ just has the actors names fade in and fade out within the black screen which is quite a standard composition and creates a very serious feel to the film as the text is type-writer printed, while the title sequence music becomes louder when the name of the film is produced creating the atmospheric feel that the film is going to have some serious sense to it. While ‘Pulp Fiction’ has the title of the film appear at the start of the film slowing rolling up the screen the same way the ending credits would appear, before gradually descending  into the background getting increasingly smaller as the names of the actors appear on top of the title as it descents into the blacked out screen. The whole composition seems to have a more playful set out, than ‘Heat’ which has quite a simple title layout.

Throughout the two films of ‘Heat’ and ‘Pulp Fiction’ sound and lighting seemed to be a method that was used numerous times throughout the two movies; this technique can dramatically create feeling, emotion and tension within any film noir. ‘Heat’ opens with a darkened area with dimly lit street

lights, which establishes the atmospheric feel to the film to be quite dingy and dull while the steam effect moving across the track of the railway, produces a creepy feel to the area. There is a main source of light which is being projected through the darkness from the train; the dark atmosphere with the faint music creates a mysterious feel to the particular area. The light piercing through the darkness illuminates the surroundings of the tracks creating a shadow effect as the train passes generating a mysterious and dark feel to the vicinity. ‘Pulp Fiction’ has a different effect on lighting at the start of the film, it opens with a café scene with two characters, a man and a woman, the light is being projected through the blinds to the side of them illuminating their faces creating an atmospheric relaxed feel and making the audience believe that they seem trustable while at the same time the lighting creates shadows that are created on the table. The lighting in the whole building seems to be quite welcoming compared to the opening light sequence of ‘Heat’. The light from the blinds reflects off everything in the café illuminating every object and creating a relaxed atmosphere, leading the audience to believe that these two characters are harmless. Compared with that of ‘Heat’ when the male character is introduced out off the train at the station, the light’s from above the building enlightens the area introducing the audience to the whole region setting which due to the busy hustle and bustle of people creates quite a busy atmosphere to the audience that are watching. As the character steps off the train his face is in slight shadow, which gives the impression that he has some sort of dark distinctive feel to his personality which can be reinforced by his facial expression which is quite serious, while the music intensifies when the characters face is seen alerting the audience that this is the main character. Contrasting with ‘Pulp Fiction’ the character within the café have very different facial expression as they are smiling and chatting quite casually producing the jokey tone of robbing stores which to the audience creates the sense that they are just pretending this can be reflected by the bright light which is being projected through the blinds, along with the soft piano music within the background of the café produces quite a laid back feel. The way that they are dressed is quite informal as the man is wearing a Hawaiian shirt while the woman is wearing a plan strappy top both producing the impression of harmless characters giving the scene quite a relaxed atmosphere. While the two characters are sitting at the table the man is seen smoking a cigarette from the start of the film which generates the scene to just look and feel like any other café scene. However, when the gun is produced and placed on the table the whole mood of the scene changes when the camera shows an extreme close up of the gun. As soon as both of the characters within the café stand up and produce the guns the dialectic them changes from being soft and casual to threatening with a violent tone towards people within the café while the camera angle changes from being a medium close up to a low angle shot as they stand high on the table, gradually before the scene cuts to the opening credits.  People while the lighting produces shadows over their faces showing that they are not two innocent people just sitting in a café.

  The lighting within ‘Heat’ remains at the same brightness throughout however, when he travels down the escalator his character is put into darkness once again when he passes below an underpass while the music stays at the same tone from the opening train scene which gives the atmospheric feel to the audience that he may have some hidden traits, while the credits still appear behind him down the escalator. There seems to be a lit up city of some sort in front of him, as the audience watches his character from an over the shoulder shot, which gives the dark and mysterious feel to the scene. The shot follows the character to a low angle shot from the kerb as it slowing rises up his body to reveal the back of the character, the low lighting and dark surroundings creates a suspicious feel to the area while the music changes to darker tones giving the impression that he is not to be trusted. The camera angle changes to a medium close up of the characters face as they walk through a building with lots of people walking around creating a busy atmosphere. While the bright lighting from above reflects off the white walls creating a sanitary and clean atmosphere to be, the character seems to be travelling fast down the corridor through what seems to be a hospital while the scenery travelling fast past him creating the sense of a mission, there are sounds of bleeping machines and hustle and bustle as the character that the camera followed from the station passes through the building.  The over the shoulder shot carries on following him throughout the hospital until the exit doors, the illuminating light from the building creates shadows on the ambulance which produces the atmospheric feel that he has a dark secret to his actions, before he climbs into the vehicle and drives away.

However, the second scene of ‘Pulp Fiction’ is very different it opens with the two characters travelling in a car quite formally dressed with white shirts and black tie with the camera focusing on the medium close up from the left corner of the frame, while the music from the opening credits is heard to be playing in a more subtle muffled sound as it’s being projected from the car radio giving the atmosphere that the audience is involved with the film.  The angle at which the car is driving produces the natural light to be projected through the window creating dark shadows over their faces which can reflect the anti-hero within them even though to the audience they seem to be trustable, the dialectic of the two characters is quite calm and friendly which draws the audience to relate to them giving a friendly atmosphere. The camera produces a low angle shot from the boot of the two characters car giving the feel that the audience are in the boot, giving the atmospheric feel that the audience are inferior to the characters. When both of them reach into the boot of the car dark shadows are produced over their faces creating an untrustworthy approach to them, while the shadows produced on the walls behind them gives the feel that they are in somewhere sheltered away from the public eye. The use of guns that are removed from the boot gives the atmosphere of danger and changes the whole mood of the scene.

This film noir contrasts with ‘Heat’ as its second scene is completely different as the camera introduces the audience to two characters while in the background seems to be heavy machinery giving the atmospheric feel that its set on a building site. The subtle background music that was played in the opening credits carries on throughout the scene, while the lighting within the building puts the blond haired man’s face in darkness which gives the atmospheric feel that he might be a threat towards the stories layout. The tone in music intensifies when the parts of industrial machinery is seen the lighting illuminating the parts which seems to establish the atmospheric feel that the character and the bought parts are going to be of some significance showing the audience that these items have implication towards the storyline. Just like the scene within ‘Pulp Fiction’ both were set in the daytime which seems non-stereotypical of a film noir category, both also seem to show that certain items have reference to the film.  In the next scene within ‘Heat’ there is a  medium close up of a female character who seems to be smoking which gives a sexual icon towards the film, while there is an over the shoulder shot of a character in darkness while the audience can see the woman smoking which gives the darkened out character giving the feel he might have some importance towards the film, just before he leaves he picks up a gun off the side table which can link with his darkened out appearance at the start of the scene establishing the atmospheric feel that he may be some threat towards the storyline. The scene changes to two people

 There is a complete contrast between the two sets of characters, while in ‘Heat’ the characters are casually dressed in trousers and t-shirts while still carrying out the same sort of events portrays them just to be reckless vigilantes. While in ‘Pulp Fiction’ the two main characters do more or less the same events but wear formal suits which represents to the audience that this is their professional occupation with this in mind it completely alters the atmospheric feel between their job occupation. Within the storyline of ‘Heat’ the audience see a man climb into a large vehicle with another character, the lighting entering through the windows puts their faces in shadows creating the same effect of that in ‘Pulp Fiction’ and giving them the anti-hero status, while the sound in the background reflects the characters actions creating the atmosphere of mystery about what this will lead to.

The two characters in ‘Pulp Fiction’ are seen walking, while the lighting becomes quite dim creating shadows over the characters only letting slits of light through the over head canopy creating the atmospheric feel that these two characters may be in somewhere with danger linked to it due to the guns and dimmed lighting. This can contrast with ‘Heat’ as it too has the same lighting effect to show danger and the character types. Within ‘Heat’ the violent heist scene is in the daytime which contrasts the same with ‘Pulp Fiction’ as both films have violence in the day which seems non-stereotypical of a brutal gun scene. As ‘Heat’ moves into the heist scene the audience see’s a group of characters from all different parts of the film some from the beginning and others in scenes just before the actual crime each of them wearing a hockey mask whereas the two characters in ‘Pulp Fiction’ wear nothing to cover up their identity which seems to change the atmosphere that one film has more serious implications than the other.

 The dialectic between these groups of characters within ‘Heat’ is quite violent and commanding as they take certain people as hostages and stealing the good but the two characters within ‘Pulp Fiction’ have quite a casual dialectic as they speak in a jokey manner of past experiences which again contrasts the atmosphere between the two film noir storylines.  Once the characters in ‘Heat’ begin to carry out their mission of following and intercepting cars the music starts to play again but this time with more dramatic drums and violins as the camera follows them, with the music becoming increasingly louder in volume when one of the hostages are shot which dramatically shows the fear within the atmosphere. This is a complete contrast with that of ‘Pulp Fiction’ as when the two characters are on their mission there is no music except the natural background sound of traffic and people within the flat which shows the two differences between atmospheres while ‘Heat’ is serious with more of a violent heist with hostages, gun fights and killings whereas ‘Pulp Fiction’ has more of a mellow relaxed feel with the violence not shown only the sound of guns shots are witnessed, while ‘Heat’ shows the audience the killings of the hostages which establishes the difference in mood that the films wanted to portray. Within the heist scene the characters shadows are elongated due to the angle of the light which creates the sense of suspense as they approach the hostages with guns it produces the mood of fear. The same lighting effect is used in ‘Pulp Fiction’ when they enter what appears to be a lobby of a hotel the light illuminating from the entrance of the door elongates their shadows over the floor as they approach the elevator generating the atmosphere of fear as they approach the flat to the people they are going to see. This effect is used again when they are walking along the corridor towards the desired room, the two characters are constantly placed into shadowed parts of the corridor which emphasises the impression that they might not be as trustable as they were first portrayed out to be. This shadow effect can be contrasted with the hockey masks that the robbers in ‘Heat’ wore the shadowed effect acts in some respect as their mask, which gives both of the films the same sort of atmospheric approach, and shows the audience that they are the anti-heroes within the film.

Both ‘Heat’ and ‘Pulp Fiction’ have combined all of these conventions to create atmosphere and to portray the character types towards the audience. Lighting was a key convention used within the films as it shaped the mood of the atmosphere producing the characters feelings. Combined with the music both generated a powerful atmospheric feel that formed the individual differences between the films. While one used the conventions to create an extremely serious violent storyline, the other made violence look acceptable due to the trust that was formed from the audience at the start of the film.


Case Study: Heat/Pulp Fiction


Director: Michael Mann


Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Val Kilmer, Jon Voight



  • There is a medium close up of a characters face as they walk off the train
  • This character feels that he maybe the centre of the film
  • As the character is travelling down the escalator the camera picks up his face through the metal bars
  • Low angle shot of his feet gradually travelling up his body this low camera angle to the audience portrays that he is a more important character and creates an atmosphere of levels
  • High angle shot of the character walking past, only a couple of people in the same shot which creates an atmosphere of creepy.
  • Medium close up of the characters face as he walks through the hospital building, with the location travelling fast behind him creating the atmosphere of
  • When he is outside of the building over the shoulder shot there are shadows cast on the vehicle outside
  • Character on building site creates shadows on the ground
  • When the male character is standing in the bedroom there is a shadow cast against the camera which creates a mysterious atmosphere to who he may be
  • Woman smoking on the bed creates a sexy icon which is portrayed frequently in film noir femme fatale?
  • Man climbs into a truck giving a secret password which portrays the typical gangster feel which creates atmosphere and mystery about what it will lead to
  • Changes back to the character in the ambulance that was seen at the start of the film using walkie talkies  to another character in a different vehicle as he is following another car
  • All of the characters in all of the car have some sort of link with each other through the walkie talkies

Mise en scene

  • Man is wearing a jumpsuit which can reflect his occupation not the normal suit costume that is shown in film noir
  • Travelling down escalator lots of other people creates a busy atmosphere
  • Set in a busy train station which adds to the atmosphere
  • Seems to be a hospital scene with people walking around with stethoscopes  while the camera angle is and over the shoulder shot
  • Sound of hustle and bustle with many talking at once creates the busy atmosphere.
  • Scene changes to what appears to be a building site of some sort wearing scruffy clothes which gives the impression
  • Dusty and busy location reflects a building site
  • Woman in bed smoking cigarette creates quite a sexy icon.
  • The man in the bedroom is dressing in a suit which is creating the atmosphere of sophisticated
  • The camera focuses on the character that was seen at the building site dressed in a similar outfit as the character at the start of the film
  • The blond haired character has a black mask on compared to the other who have white ones which could reflect his characters role in the film.
  •  All of the characters in the cars wear an ice hockey mask which is to cover their faces which creates to the audience that some sort of violence is going to happen.
  • Character pull out machine guns which is a typical weapon type for film noir which creates  an apprehension of killing
  • Hostages wearing police uniforms
  • The use of machine guns and killing shows the amount of violence used however it does show the killings unlike film noir.


Sound music composed

By Elliot Goldenthal

  • While credits are slowing appearing and fading there is subtle music in the background which adds tension and mystery to the films content.
  • The music increases in volume as the title of the film is revealed.
  • The music continues to increase in volume as the audience is revealed to the train station, the increase in volume is a popular convention used in film noir to create tension to the audience.
  • When first character is seen getting off the train, the camera focuses on his face and the music intensifies informing the audience that this is a main character off the film
  • The music changes in tone as there is a medium long shot of him travelling down the elevator.
  • When the camera is at his feet travelling up his body the music uses darker tones which gives the atmosphere of that this character isn’t trustable.
  • The bleeping of machines and hustle and bustle and people are trying to get past
  • When in the building site there is a close up of Val Kilmner  face as he is showing ID the close up on his face the music starts to play creating dark tones creating a tense atmosphere
  • When the man climbs into the truck as soon as they shake hands and establishes their names the music begins to play with subtle tones which creates atmosphere that something is up.
  • The car following scene has a dramatic drum  sound and other subtle tones which adds to the chase
  • The blond haired guy who is in the ambulance as soon as he turns off the radio the camera focuses on his face as the dramatic drums and violins begin to play which creates a tense atmosphere as it gives the impression that this is the anti-hero.
  • The music continues to play the dramatic tones as the characters begin to enter their ‘mission’ with drums and violin tones
  • The same music continues throughout the scene.
  • Dramatic music continues to play and becomes louder when the hostages are shot which adds to the tension amongst the audience.


  • The start of the film the screen is in darkness creating at tense and mysterious atmosphere.
  • The scene opens up set in a dark night showing what appears to be a train station with the only light source being that of the train and the various street lamps
  •  The scene has steam flowing across the tracks which dramatically
  • Camera angle changes to the back off the train as it leaves away into the distance
  •  As the camera changes to the back off the character walking down the stairs the city infront of him is lit up which is a popular convention
  • The dark night creates a dark and scary feel as not many people are out.
  • When he comes through the door lighting is much brighter not the usual film noir content.
  • On the building site bright day which is not the typical
  • The light shining through the windows cast shadows of the characters creating atmosphere.
  • The man in the truck (blond haired guy) there is a shadow cast on his face which portrays that he is a bad character
  • The idea of shadows being created by the robbers, heist being set in the open day when in film noir would be set at night


Pulp Fiction

Director: Quientin Tarentino

Stories: Roger Avary

Cast: John Travolta, Samuel. L. Jackson, Uma Thurma

Pulp Fiction Poster


Jules Winnfield and Vincent Vega are two hitmen who are out to retrieve a suitcase stolen from their employer, mob boss Marsellus Wallace. Wallace has also asked Vincent to take his wife Mia out a few days later when Wallace himself will be out of town. Butch Coolidge is an aging boxer who is paid by Wallace to lose his next fight. The lives of these seemingly unrelated people are woven together comprising of a series of funny, bizarre and uncalled-for incidents.


Vincent Vega

Vincent Vega is a character in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, portrayed by John Travolta. Vincent is a hitman working for mob boss Marsellus Wallace. He is usually partnered with Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson) when he is ordered to kill someone. Vincent is an “Elvis man”. He wears a bola tie with his suit, he has long hair pulled back into a ponytai. Despite being a hitman, Vincent shows some signs of humanity, such as scrupulous loyalty and a general concern for the few people he cares about. He is also a heroin user.

Jules Winnfield

Whether he was working for gang boss Marsellus Wallace or not, for years one thing that gangster Jules Winnfield is known for is his constant reciting of the Biblical chapter Ezekiel 25:17 to his victims before he killed them. Jules Winnfield is recognisable for his white shirt, black suit and thick black tie.

Mia Wallace

This character is the typical femme fatale that Vincent is ordered to protect over her while his boss is away. She has the classic features of this type of character, the bright red lipstick, the tight clothing in this case a tight fitting white blouse along with the feature of her smoking adds to the whole femme fatale image.



The film begins with it being set within a cafe with the the illuminating through the blinds putting the male and female character in a lit environment which can show the audience that they look inoccent. Its strange as the cafe scene is in a lit area when usually it would be in a darknened area, this lit theme seems to carry on all the way throughout the scene. After the cafe scene it cuts to darkness when the credits come rolling up.



When the credits end the scene cuts straight to a lit scene where we see two characters driving in a car, in daylight which again is non-stereotypical for this sort of film genre. The daylight lighting illuminates their faces giving them the impression that they are trustable towards the audience. Once the car pulls up to its destination it shows a low angle shot from the car’s boot as it is opened showing the characters in darkness due to the angle of the lighting, it creates shadows against the back wall that the car has been parked up against. This dark shadows effect can give the impression towards the audience that they might not be the innocent characters that the audience thought that they were before. Once the character start to approach the building/apartment the walkthrough is shadowed out with small beams of light shining through the overhead canopy of plants and bushes, this type of lighting effect gives the scenes somewhat a tense feeling that this place may be dangerous towards the characters thst the audience have been lead to believe are trustable. Once inside the building, the long corridors that the characters walk down is put into darkness apart from the small amount of beams illuminating the floor from the side windows creating another shadow effect on the back wall of the building. The camera changes to a medium long shot as the character walk up the corridor but this time they are placed into darkness due to the limited source of sunlight form the windows placing the characters in darkness and creating a tense atmospheric feel.


At the beginning of the film there is the café scene with a man and a woman sat at the table, in the background there is a light piano music which fits perfectly with the light subtle light beaming in through the window creating a very relaxed feel. The dialogue of the two characters is very relax calm as they talk about robbing a store, but with the impression that they are only joking due to the fact that the woman is always laughing as she is talking.

However, their dialogue suddenly changes when the man and woman starts shouting at the people within the café and then the audience are shocked when the realised that they were actually telling the truth all along. The frame freezes as the dramatic music starts from the composers ‘Dick Dale & His Del Tones’ as the screen changes to darkness and the credits start to roll up. Halfway through the opening credits the music changes to ‘Jungle Boogie’ by ‘Kool & The Gang’ to a more upbeat 70’s music.

Yet when the music alters it switches as if someone was changing the radio channel which links up well when it changes to the scene within the car as the sound carries on as if it was on the radio. The music continues to play throughout the car scene with the two characters giving it a relaxed feel and along with the characters dialogue which is quite jokey adds to the trust that the audience feels, with the slight sound effects of the traffic outside. Once the two characters enter the apartment building the dialogue and tone of their voices remains quite jokey and comical, while there is subtle music playing that dies down into the background as the characters pass the room.

Mise en scene

  • Guns
  • Cigarette
  • Hawaiian shirt and black t-shirt
  • Woman has plain brown top with short blond hair with silver necklace.
  • Plate and food
  • Coffee
  • People walking around
  • Blinds and plants
  • Quite a fancy house with fancy wall detail
  • Lobby with fancy chairs and furniture.



Film Noir Research

Within the typical film noir there seems to be a lot of Jazz music in the bars with piano music playing in the background in some of the films. Within the bars many of the characters were gambling, playing dirty with bad language. Giving the impression that life as one big game, this was the area where most of the sinners were found with no goodness. The classic Film Noir developed during and after the World War II, taking advantage of the post-war ambience of anxiety, pessimism and suspicion.

Film noir is a cinematic term used primarily to describe stylish Hollywood crime dramas, particularly those that emphasize cynical attitudes and sexual motivations. Hollywood’s classic film noir period is generally regarded as stretching from the early 1940s to the late 1950s. Film noir of this era is associated with a low-key black-and-white visual style that evloved in America during the 1940’s, and lasted in a classic ‘Golden Age’ period until about 1960.  Many of the prototypical stories and much of the attitude of classic noir derive from the hardboiled school of crime fiction that emerged in the United States during the Depression.

The term film noir (French for “black film”), first applied to Hollywood movies by French critic Nino Frank in 1946, was unknown to most American film industry professionals of the classic era. Many defined the noir canon in retrospect; before the notion was widely adopted in the 1970s, many of the classic film noirs were referred to as melodramas.

The main drink that the characters were seen to order was bourbon, the feeling that they would drink away their sorrows wanting to escape the world, as they were always had some sort of drink in their hands. Along with the obsessive alcohol addiction, was the compulsive smoking which seemed to be a popular trait in every Film Noir. There was never a film within this category not to have a character that was smoking, every person ended up lighting a cigarette which seemed to be a popular trait in these films.

A 1940s Pontiac In the busy streets of the film noir environment were a lot of black 1940’s Pontiac cars (gangster cars), which reflected the era of gangster groups in the 1940’s. The cars created the busy streets which were always set at night and illuminated by the light from the city. The dark and creepy area which was created had a lot of shadow effects which generated a tense mood showing the approaching characters down a darkened alleyway which seems to be a typical setting in the Film Noir category. The stereotypical Film Noir has some kind of murder or killing which the audience never witnesses or sees the violence, only hearing the guns shots or screams of the person being murdered.

Many of the male characters always wore a suit, long duffle coat and hat with the added edition of a gun in their possession as violence and the wanting to kill was key in this sort of motion picture.  The Film Noir class has some sort of detective character using the typical photos and evidence to frame the suspected character. Very often a Film Noir story was developed around a cynical, hard-hearted, disillusioned  male character.

Typical Film Noir characters

Within a Film Noir setting there would be characters such as a corrupt cop, an alienated protagonist, misogynistic men and of course the most famous femme fatale.

Visual style

  • low key lighting
  • shadows cast by blinds
  • dutch angles
  • low angle shots
  • wide angle lenses
  • shots of characters reflection in one or more mirrors.
  • night for night filming


  • dark sidewalks
  • rain drenched streets
  • flashing neon signs
  • alcoholics
  • cigarettes
  • guns
  • trench coats


  • transgression of social norms
  • someone turning evil against what they are expected to act
  • Taboo


  • urban settings
  • sense of a labyrinth
  • Bars
  • Lounges
  • Night clubs
  • gambling dens
  • industrial settings

narrative devices

  • convoluted story lines
  • flashbacks
  • voice over narration
  • first person narration


Music plays a dramatic impact on Film Noir, as it adds suspense and tension to the scene. The music seems to intensify in volume when the characters are in a dark alley or some sort of darkened area. It adds tension to scenes when a character has been shot or stabbed with loud and shocking tones which grab the audience’s attention. Sultry songs usually sung in small, smoky nightclubs dominate the film noir music landscape. The music supplied are the heart and soul of the theme of the film. They often speak volumes more of subplot and character than the rest of the script. Besides the nightclub songs, which were usually jazz, there are the theme songs in film noir music, with or without lyrics. These tend to have a bittersweet, melancholy or moody quality more often than not. The film scores and their composers aren’t covered here; this is more about the individual songs.

Song Types that were usually used

Within the 1940 – 1950’s there were iconic songs that shaped the whole style of what Film Noir stood for.


    “C’est Mon Coeur (Chagrin d’amour)”, “Three Little Words” — Harry Ruby & Bert Kalmar


    “Spring Will Be A Little Late This Year” — Frank Loesser
    “Always” — Irving Berlin
    “Chick-ee-Chick” — lyric by Eddie Cherkose, music by Jacques PressSung by Aurora (in the film)
    “Laura” — lyric by Johnny Mercer, music by David Raskin


    “Tango Of Love” — Curtis Bernhardt
    “Memphis In June” — Hoagy Carmichael & Paul Webster (Hoagy is in the film)
    “Gimme A Little Kiss, Will Ya, Huh?” — Turk, Smith & Pinkhard
  • “Silent Night” — Collier
    “Night And Day” — Cole Porter


    “Heartbreak”, “I Wanted To Talk About”, “Time Will Tell”, “Continental Gentleman” — Edgar Fairchild & Jack Brooks
    Sung by June Vincent (who also acts in the film)
    “Slowly” — David Raskin & Kermit Goell
    “Put The Blame On Mame”,
  • “Amado Mio” — Doris Fisher & Allan Roberts
    “Nocturne” — lyric by Mort Greene, music by Leigh Harlie
    “Why Pretend”, “A Little Bit Is Better Than None” — Eleanor Rudolph
    “Strange Love” — Haynes & Lyons


    “Body And Soul” — lyric by Edward Hewman, Robert Sour, Frank Eyton, music by Johnny Green
    “This Is Madness” — Bernie Wayne & Ben Raleigh
    “Either It’s Love Or It Isn’t” –Allan Roberts & Doris Fisher
    “Paradise” — Gordon Clifford & Nacio Herb Brown
    “Would You Like A Souvenir?’, “Who Cares What People Say?” — lyric by Jack Scholl, music by Moe K. Jerome


    “The Big Clock” — Ray Evans & Jay Livingston
    Performed by the Ernie Filice Quartet
    “Don’t Call It Love” — Ned Washington & Allie Wrubel
    “Isn’t It Romantic?”, “It’s Easy To Remember” — Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart
    “My Ideal” — Leon Robin, Richard Whiting, J. Newell Chase
    “Heart And Soul”, “Two Sleepy People” — Frank Loesser & Hoagy Carmichael
    “I’m Yours” — E.Y. Harburg & Johnny Green
    “You Leave Me Breathless” — Fred Hollander & Ralph Freed
    Performed by the Regency Three
    “Moanin’ Low” — Howard Dietz & Ralph Rainger
    “Please Don’t Kiss Me” — Allan Roberts & Doris Fisher
    “Your Red Wagon” — Richard M. Jones, Don Raye, Gene de Paul


    “Situation Wanted” — Nacio Herb Brown & William Katz
    “It Just Dawned On Me” — William Lava & Harry Tobias
    “Lonesome” — William Lava & Theodore Strauss
    Sung by David Street


  • “If I Didn’t Have You” — Jack Elliott & Harold Spina
    “That Old Black Magic” — Harold Arlen & Johnny Mercer
    “I Wish I didn’t Love You So” — Frank Loesser
    “I’m In The Mood For Love” — Jimmy McHugh & Dorothy Fields
  • SOUTHSIDE 1-1000
    “Je T’Aime” — Fritz Rotter & Harold Stern
    Sung by Kippee Valez
    “The Paramount Don’t Want Me Blues” — Jay Livingston & Ray Evans


    “We’re Coming Leo” — Ray Evans & Jay Livingston
    “Cry Danger” — lyric by Leon Pober, music by Hugo Friedhofer
    “Baby” — Lyn Murray

“A Lovely Way To Spend An Evening” — lyric by Harold Adamson, music by Jimmy McHugh, sung by Lizabeth Scott


    “I Hear A Rhapsody” — Joe Gasparre, Jack Baker, George Fragos
    Sung by Tony Martin
    “One For My Baby” — Johnny Mercer & Harold Arlen
  • “You Kill Me” — Julie Styne & Leo Robin
    “Ocean Breeze” — Lerios-Jenkins
    Sung by Jane Russell (who also has an album full of what could be called film noir music)
    “Afraid” — Elmer Bernstein & Jack Brooke
    “Sudden Fear” — Irving Taylor & Arthur Altman


    “The Blue Gardenia” — by Bob Russell & Lester Lee, arranged by Nelson Riddle
    Sung by Nat King Cole (who also plays himself in the film)
    “Vicki” — Ken Darby & Max Showalter


    “Once” — Harold Spina & Bob Russell
    “Didn’t You Know?” — John Franco
    Sung by Ida Lupino
    “Too Soon” — Walter Samuels


    “Rather Have The Blues” — lyrics and music by Frank DeVol
    Sung by Nat King Cole 

    “Kiss” — Lionel Newman & Haven Gillespie
    Sung by Marilyn Monroe


    “Beyond A Reasonable Doubt” — lyric by Alfred Perry, music by Herschel Burke Gilbert
    Sung by The Hi-Lo’s
    “What’s Your Sad Story?” — Dick Sherman
    “The Last I Ever Saw Of My Heart” — lyric by Doris Houck, music by Herschel Burke


    “You Are Mine” — Bob Marucchi & Pete Deangelo
    Sung by Vince Carson
    “Nightfall” — lyric by Sam M. Lewis, music by Peter deRose & Charles Harold
    Sung by Al Hibbler


    “Party Girl” — Nicholas Brodszky & Sammy Cahn
    Sung by Tony Martin


    “Someday You’ll Be Sorry” — Louis Armstrong


A typical Film Noir has scenes where the audience can hear the characters narrated voice over the top of the scene. This technique shows the audience the softer side of a tough character without them acting it out. Narration can have a positive impact on Film Noir as it gives body and mood to a scene; it’s a subtle way of making a certain storyline clear to the audience if it becomes unclear to understand.  This method can be used when the camera focuses on the character speaking while changing to a different scene with the speaking over the top.





Femme Fatale

These character types are always found in Film Noir settings; it was the era where women wore make up creating a beautiful image to look at. They wore bright red lipstick; their eyes were big and bright with a slight cold tint in their look. Woman would wear tight skimpy clothing which would be quite sleazy, but underneath the façade would be a very dangerous and deadly character which would always seem to cause trouble.

Women were seen more as a sex icon that a person and come across to be relatively sensuous with tight clothing and smoking a cigarette. Within the picture on the left we see a woman smoking with a glass of what looks like whiskey. The fact that she is partly in the dark may signify that she is an evil character. In the bar scenes there was the typical woman singer as the entertainment who would be wearing a tight long dress. Very often a Film Noir story was developed around a cynical, hard-hearted, disillusioned  male character who encountered a beautiful but promiscuous, amoral, double-dealing and seductive femme fatale.

She would use her feminine wiles and come-hither sexuality to manipulate him into becoming the fall guy – often following a murder. After a betrayal or double-cross, she was frequently destroyed as well, often at the cost of the hero’s life. As women during the war period were given new-found independence and better job-earning power in the homeland during the war, they would suffer — on the screen — in these films of the 40





Examples of Film Noir

  • Red Harvest
  • Maltese Falkon
  • Double Idenity
  • Sunset Boulevard
  • Murder My Sweet
  • Lady From Shanghi
  • Killers
  • Nosferia
  • On Dangerous Ground
  • The Big Combo
  • The Big Heart
  • GunCrazy
  • Kiss Me Sweetly

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