Case Studies Film Noir:ChinaTown, BladeRunner & and Usual Suspects

 Various Film Noir Example Films


Directed by Roman Polanski

 Produced by Robert Evans

The original story for ChinaTown was written by Robert Towne

 Music composed by Jerry Goldsmith


JJ Gittes, aka, “Jake”, is a Los Angeles private detective. Though most of Jake’s business involves spying on disloyal spouses, he is actually an honest man trying to earn a living in a crooked world. Jake used to be a police officer working in LA’s Chinatown but presumably he quit when he realized he was essentially powerless to stop the rampant corruption on his beat. Jake becomes involved in an intricate plot of deception and murder when LA’s water control commissioner is found dead during a persistent drought. Jake discovers through his sleuthing that the dead man’s estranged wife, Evelyn Mulwray and her father, a corrupt and sleazy businessman, Noah Cross, are involved in the plot as well. All the events of the story end with a spectacular finale in Jake’s old neighborhood, Chinatown.

Evelyn Mulwray plays the typical femme fatale that has some dark secrets about herself as she is involved in a plot with evil characters within the film. She is shown to be the ‘damsel in distress’ character as she uses her sexuallity with her bright red lipstick, tight fitting clothing and delicate features. She also has a very demanding tone to her voice as she feels that what she wants she gets. However, when Gittes’s finally hits paydirt when he photographs Mulwray with his young mistress. When the photos hit the front page of the paper the next day, Gittes is confronted by the real Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway), who serves him with a lawsuit. Gittes realizes he had been duped by a phony Mrs. Mulwray, and to repair his reputation, he must figure out who was behind the hiring, and why. There is another referance to a femme fatale, of the office secretary who also has the tight fitting clothing.


Most of the music used within ChinaTown is quite instrumental with the use of violins and trumpets which causes the effect of suspense in various parts of the scene or even when characters approach towards the camera. Uses of piano tones are also used and increases in volume when a suspected character approaches which shows the tension within the film. There has been referances of 1940’s style music which sets the era of which the film is meant to be set in. In various parts of the film the music changes a piano with louder tones when a suspected character approaches, this same technique is used again but the music is played quite subtly, when the audience see’s the character in the darkness creating a tense atmospheric feel.  The piano tones are used throughout the film especially whenever Gittes is investigating a death.  Within the busy street areas of the film, the sounds of cars and busy hustling streets are heard within the scenes background. When Gittes enters the fenced off area of the damn, that is mentioned numerous times throught the film, the music becomes darker in tones signalling to the audience that something major is going to happen. This is quickly followed with the revealing of a body being pulled up from the damn, the music intensifying in tones as the body is dragged closer up to the surface.  The scenes cuts back to an office area were it has the constant background sound of ringing phones, which gives the impression towards the audience that this is an office. Knowing that this is a typical Film Noir it uses the sound effects of gun shots.


Throughout the film is a constant usage of dark lighting which reflects the genre of the film, the women who are playing the femme fatale are placed in semi-darkness which can portray her dark side of her character. However, there are some parts within the film where it doesn’t use this dark lighting at all which is non-stereotypical of this type of film. Certain areas of the film are illuminated by light that is being shone through windows. The darkened out lighting is used again but when a death has taken place which shows to the audience the tense and evil atmosphere. In most points throughout the film only uses dark lighting which can really show the feeling of the film.

Mise en scene

Chinatown uses a lot of mise en scene which can help the audience identify where the scene is set, this can be helpful within scenes such as the office. Within this scene there are paperwork, desks, chairs, pictures and certificates pn the walls and various other furniture which resembles an office environment. Other office scenes, such as Mr Mulwray’s is quite neat and tidy which can show the wealth and power. The desert scenary is very baron which can show the danger of the environment due to the beaming sunlight and dry land. With the busy sounds of the streets, there are old style cars which can give evidence to what era the film is set in. Most of the characters within the film are wearing suits, ties and hats giving the impression of film noir with all the characters constantly smoking within any situation.


Director: Ridley Scott

Writers: Hampton Fancher (screenplay), David Webb

Basic storyline

The film Bladerunner is a Cyberpunk version of the future, man has developed the technology to create replicants, human clones used to serve in the colonies outside Earth but with fixed lifespans. In Los Angeles, 2019,Rick Deckard is a Blade Runner (Harrison Ford), a cop who specialises in terminating replicants. Originally in retirement, he is forced to re-enter the force when six replicants escape from an offworld colony to Earth.


Bladerunner consists of a main character, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), who works with the poilce force to hunt down out of control repilcants. As he hunts down and systematically executes each member of a group of androids, Deckard is confronted with the limitations of his fleeting mortality. His character’s transformation is two-fold; Roy Batty is the ultimate replicant, smart and strong, and in him Deckard may have met his match. Batty’s drive to kill Deckard comes from his desire to live. Rachel Tyrell, who Deckard suspects of being a replicant herself, presents our protagonist with an emotional conundrum he has never battled before: love.

Some of these replicants include Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) who was the intelligent one and the noutourious leader of the renegade Nexus-6 replicant group.  However, he is absolutely ruthless when it comes to getting what he needs for him and his friends, even killing to do so. The question of whether or not he is justified resonates with the question of the moralities of giving a fake human a four-year lifespan.

Another one of his followers is a character called Pris, she to is another out of control repilcant who also shows the femme fatale side as she wears quite provocitive clothing.

One of the main female characters Rachael (Sean  Young) is the femme fatale of the film, eventhough she appears to look human throughout the film, it does eventually become apprarent that she is to a repilcant. She is the typical femme fatale as she wears tight fitting clothing to show her sexuality, while wearing bright red lipstick. The fact thats she smokes in parts of the film can reflect her sensenous side of her.


The lighting within Bladerunner is mainly standard throughout the entire film, it begins with a darkened out city which is only luminated by the surrounding buldings and moving cars which fills the frame. At some points within the film, it will produce shadows of characters againist the back walls which helps to create the sense of mystery and give the scene a tense atmosphere. When Deckard enters the buliding where he finally meet Rachael for the first time, there is only a small amount of light luminating over the large open space before the room is plunged into semi-darkness when Deckard starts to carry out the experiment on Rachael. Later on within the film we see Deckard again within what appears to be a market town, again it is set in the darkness with only the lights form the resturants and bulidings lighting the area. In various office scenes within Bladerunner the lighting is beaming through the blinds which gives the atmosphere of suspence and mystery. The film hardly presents any lit scenes which is typical for this sort of Film Noir.


Sound within Bladerunner is quite dark and dingy which matches well with the sort of lighting used,  the music gets quite dramatic  at the start of the film as it moves in towards the opening credits. The film has a plot layout explaining to the audeince what year it is and what has happened during this era while the background music fits into the suspence feel of the textual intiraty. The music becomes quite dark and frighting as it follows the writing on the screen. At the beginning there are two characters seen sitting in an experiemental office before of of these men shoots the other with a gun, the sound of the weapon is extremely loud with the intension of shocking the audeince into what has just happened along with the fact it is quite a graphic death.  The music changes to more sci-fi tones when the futuristic looking car is seen flying over the illuminated city. The film uses the technique of narration when the car is seen flying over the city to give the audience the feel of what the character is thinking, this method is used often throughout the film while echoed voices can create the sense of suspense. The music becomes quite dark with a feeling of fear when the characters are seen either raiding through houses or the music becomes louder with sci-fi tones when the characters are going on a mission of some sort. Whenever threatening dialogue is used throughout the film the music becomes darker in tone which reflects the tense atmospheric feel to the scene which links perfectly with the darkened lighting. When Deckard is met with Rachael for the first time, emotional music is played when she is made to believe that she actually is a ‘repilcant’ when she has believed all this time that she is human. Dark tones are once again played when the camera focuses on the character Pris which the audience later discovers to be a repilcant later on within the film, the dark music portrays her dark secret of what she really is. When Deckard is asleep there is a dream sequence when he sees other characters dreams.

Mise en scene

At the start of the film the audience sees an experiemental office with various equipment laid out on the table which gives the impression to the audeince that this is a scientific experiement of some sort. The type of clothing that the characters are wearing distingishes which one is the patient and which one is the esperiementor. The the area being quite dark and the office having a large industrial fan on the wall can show the audience that this may be taking place not in a fancy instiution. When we see Deckard, he is wearing a large drenchcoat which gives the essence of mystery and the feel that he is some sort of detective.   Many of the male characters are seen wearing a suit giving the formal  look to their appearence, while the women would be wearing tightly fitting clothing or clothing that was very loosely fitted. The background outside area of the film seems to be set in Japan/China due to the amount of large electronical screen advertising in the language while all of the resturants are the same nationality. When Deckard is within the large buliding, where he meets Rachael, it has anopen floor space can show the type of authority that the owner of the house has, he is offered alcohol which always seem to be present in most of the Film Noir types along with the fact that cigarettes are often a common feature within the film as well with many of the characters seen smoking.  The use of weaponary is seen constantly throughout the film mostly being occupied by men which seems to be the typical key theme in many Film Noir’s. The guns and technology seems to be very futuristic which reflects the era and masculinity of the characters.

The Usual Suspects

Director: Brian Singer

Writer: Christopher McQuarrie 

Original Music by: John Ottman

 The Usual Suspects Poster

Basic Storyline

Following a truck hijack in New York, five conmen are arrested and brought together for questioning. As none of them is guilty, they plan a revenge operation against the police. The operation goes well, but then the influence of a legendary mastermind criminal called Keyser Söze is felt. It becomes clear that each one of them has wronged Söze at some point and must pay back now. The payback job leaves 27 men dead in a boat explosion, but the real question arises now.


Within the film The Usual Suspects there are potentially five main conmen there is Michael McManus (Stephen Baldwin), Dean Keaton (Gabriel Byrne), Fred Fenster (Benicio Del Toro) and Todd Hockney (Kevin Pollak).Mnay of these character within the film are seen smoking which again is a very similar element to many of these sort of films. In one particular scene one of these conmen is seen with a gun to kill someone but the gunshot is heard but the violence is never shown which is very popular within many of the Film Noir styles. All of the characters are seen in suits while appearing in darkened areas which reflects the idea of suspicion, the characters do show a softer side to the audience by having the technique of narration shows the audience what they feel without having to tell the remaining characters. Many of the characters involved within the film are constantly silohetted which shows the darkened element of their character. Most of the characters are seen to be dealing drugs and handing out masses of money with the referance of Hungarian mobs giving the feel of a typical gangster feel which is shown in many of these types of films. There is also a referance to a femme fatale in The Usual Suspects, with the apprance of a female lawyer/detective who becomes a main character has a relationship with one of the conmen. While a woman who is sat at the bar seems to be a french translator which can reflect the idea that the language is quite sensuous.


The film begins in darkness with a bright light reflecting off the water, with the only light source being the fire trail that has been light throughout the entire area. With the slight lighting produces a shadow effect giving the scene a tense feel within the complete darkness. Unlike most Film Noir’s this film has lit scenes that are set in the daytime, completely changing the atmosphere to a more relaxed feel. However, within scenes such as the bars and areas where the men are being spoken to, again it changes back to the darkened lit area which gives the feel of danger. The same feel of danger is used again when the lighting is darkened again within the prison scene. The part in the film which is quite odd is the fact when dead bodies are seen its set out in the daytime which is unstereotypical as most of the brutal scenes are witnessed in the darkness. The office scenes are illuminated by the light beaming through the slits in the blinds along with the office lamps lighting up the office environment giving the whole room a sense of fear and suspense. When the characters are back outside again in the darkness the streets are lit up by the cars headlights which beam through the darkness, along with certain streets illuminated by the apartment windows which are lit up this with the cars helps ot project the shadow effect once again which seems to be extremely popular in this type of film.


The sound in The Usual Suspects uses dark instrumental music with starting credits which continues to play in the beginning scenes of the darkened environment adding to the dangerous feel. As the audience see the fire trail for the fist time the music begins to intensify as it spreads faster through the buildings. The music dramatically changes when within the prison scene with the edited narration as soft subtle tones are played which reflects the the characters feelings. Within the part os the film a boat is seen to be smoking as if it is on fire while the music gets increasinglt louder in volume as it continues to smoke out violently. In various parts of the film the sound dramatically changes form being soft and subtle to heavy tones which straight away causes tension within the audience. The technique of narration is used again when the conmen lay out a plan which gives the feeling that the audience are also involved. When the characters approach a ‘temple’ of some sort in their car the music has cultural tones which seems to reflect the religion of the surrounding.  

Mise en Scene

Within the film there are the same features of mise en scene that have been seen in many of the past Film Noir theme, most of the conmen are seen to be smoking with many of them in possesstion of weaponary. Each of the characters are dressed in suits and drench-coats with ties and shirts. In one of the scenes with a bar where the french translator is found there is the sound of a piano playing eventhough the camera never shows a piano within the bar. It has tables and chairs with a large counter at the front of the room which gives the impression that it is a bar of some sort seeling alcohol which again is a key feature towards the Film Noir type. The office scenes seem to have paperwork all over the table with illuminated lamps giving the impression that it is an office with the presence of what looks like a police officer gives more evidence that it may be a detective office. Within the room is quite old technology which reflects the era of the film. Many of the criminals seen within the film have guns and again meets the gangster feel with the obsession with weapons and cash. In various scenes there are referances to gambling rooms and cases of drugs giving the evidence that they are criminals/conmen.


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