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

iconography

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

themes

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

settings

  • 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

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.

1943

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

1944

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

1945

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

1946

  • BLACK ANGEL
    “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)
  • FALLEN ANGEL
    “Slowly” — David Raskin & Kermit Goell
  • GILDA
    “Put The Blame On Mame”,
  • “Amado Mio” — Doris Fisher & Allan Roberts
  • NOCTURNE
    “Nocturne” — lyric by Mort Greene, music by Leigh Harlie
    “Why Pretend”, “A Little Bit Is Better Than None” — Eleanor Rudolph
  • THE STRANGE LOVE OF MARTHA IVERS
    “Strange Love” — Haynes & Lyons

1947

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

1948

  • THE BIG CLOCK
    “The Big Clock” — Ray Evans & Jay Livingston
    Performed by the Ernie Filice Quartet
  • I WALK ALONE
    “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
  • KEY LARGO
    “Moanin’ Low” — Howard Dietz & Ralph Rainger
  • LADY FROM SHANGHAI
    “Please Don’t Kiss Me” — Allan Roberts & Doris Fisher
  • THEY LIVE BY NIGHT
    “Your Red Wagon” — Richard M. Jones, Don Raye, Gene de Paul

1949

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

1950

  • DARK CITY
  • “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
  • SUNSET BOULEVARD
    “The Paramount Don’t Want Me Blues” — Jay Livingston & Ray Evans

1951

  • THE BIG CARNIVAL/ACE IN THE HOLE
    “We’re Coming Leo” — Ray Evans & Jay Livingston
  • CRY DANGER
    “Cry Danger” — lyric by Leon Pober, music by Hugo Friedhofer
  • THE PROWLER
    “Baby” — Lyn Murray

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

1952

  • CLASH BY NIGHT
    “I Hear A Rhapsody” — Joe Gasparre, Jack Baker, George Fragos
    Sung by Tony Martin
  • MACAO
    “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)
  • SUDDEN FEAR
    “Afraid” — Elmer Bernstein & Jack Brooke
    “Sudden Fear” — Irving Taylor & Arthur Altman

1953

  • THE BLUE GARDENIA
    “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
    “Vicki” — Ken Darby & Max Showalter

1954

  • THE LONG WAIT
    “Once” — Harold Spina & Bob Russell
  • PRIVATE HELL 36
    “Didn’t You Know?” — John Franco
    Sung by Ida Lupino
  • WORLD FOR RANSOM
    “Too Soon” — Walter Samuels

1955

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

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

1956

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

1957

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

1958

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

1959

  • THE BEAT GENERATION
    “Someday You’ll Be Sorry” — Louis Armstrong
 

Narration

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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