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Film noir (/nwɑːr/; French: [film nwaʁ]) is a cinematic term used primarily to describe stylish Hollywood crime dramas, particularly those that emphasize cynical attitudes and sexual motivations. The 1940s and 1950s are generally regarded as the "classic period" of American film noir. Film noir of this era is associated with a low-key, black-and-white visual style that has roots in German Expressionist cinematography. 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 Great Depression.

The term film noir, French for 'black film' (literal) or 'dark film' (closer meaning),[1] was first applied to Hollywood films by French critic Nino Frank in 1946, but was unrecognized by most American film industry professionals of that era.[2] Cinema historians and critics defined the category retrospectively. Before the notion was widely adopted in the 1970s, many of the classic films noir[a] were referred to as "melodramas". Whether film noir qualifies as a distinct genre is a matter of ongoing debate among scholars.

Film noir encompasses a range of plots: the central figure may be a private investigator (The Big Sleep), a plainclothes policeman (The Big Heat), an aging boxer (The Set-Up), a hapless grifter (Night and the City), a law-abiding citizen lured into a life of crime (Gun Crazy), or simply a victim of circumstance (D.O.A.). Although film noir was originally associated with American productions, the term has been used to describe films from around the world. Many films released from the 1960s onward share attributes with film noirs of the classical period, and often treat its conventions self-referentially. Some refer to such latter-day works as neo-noir. The clichés of film noir have inspired parody since the mid-1940s.

Problems of definition

[1] was first applied to Hollywood films by French critic Nino Frank in 1946, but was unrecognized by most American film industry professionals of that era.[2] Cinema historians and critics defined the category retrospectively. Before the notion was widely adopted in the 1970s, many of the classic films noir[a] were referred to as "melodramas". Whether film noir qualifies as a distinct genre is a matter of ongoing debate among scholars.

Film noir encompasses a range of plots: the central figure may be a private investigator (The Big Sleep), a plainclothes policeman (The Big Heat), an aging boxer (The Set-Up), a hapless grifter (Night and the City), a law-abiding citizen lured into a life of crime (Gun Crazy), or simply a victim of circumstance (D.O.A.). Although film noir was originally associated with American productions, the term has been used to describe films from around the world. Many films released from the 1960s onward share attributes with film noirs of the classical period, and often treat its conventions self-referentially. Some refer to such latter-day works as neo-noir. The clichés of film noir have inspired parody since the mid-1940s.

The questions of what defines film noir, and what sort of category it is, provoke continuing debate.[3] "We'd be oversimplifying things in calling film noir oneiric, strange, erotic, ambivalent, and cruel ..."—this set of attributes constitutes the first of many attempts to define film noir made by French critics Raymond Borde and Étienne Chaumeton in their 1955 book Panorama du film noir américain 1941–1953 (A Panorama of American Film Noir), the original and seminal extended treatment of the subject.[4] They emphasize that not every film noir embodies all five attributes in equal measure—one might be more dreamlike; another, particularly brutal.[5] The authors' caveats and repeated efforts at alternative definition have been echoed in subsequent scholarship: in the more than five decades since, there have been innumerable further attempts at definition, yet in the words of cinema historian Mark Bould, film noir remains an "elusive phenomenon ... always just out of reach".[6]

Though film noir is often identified with a visual style, unconventional within a Hollywood context, that emphasizes low-key lighting and unbalanced compositions,[7] films commonly identified as noir evidence a variety of visual approaches, including ones that fit comfortably within the Hollywood mainstream.[8] Film noir similarly embraces a variety of genres, from the gangster film to the police procedural to the gothic romance to the social problem picture—any example of which from the 1940s and 1950s, now seen as noir's classical era, was likely to be described as a melodrama at the time.[9]

While many critics refer to film noir as a genre itself, others argue that it can be no such thing.[10] Foster Hirsch defines a genre as determined by "conventions of narrative structure, characterization, theme, and visual design". Hirsch, as one who has taken the position that film noir is a genre, argues that these elements are present "in abundance". Hirsch notes that there are unifying features of tone, visual style and narrative sufficient to classify noir as a distinct genre.[11]

Others argue that film noir is not a genre. Film noir is often associated with an urban setting, but many classic noirs take place in small towns, suburbia, rural areas, or on the open road; setting, therefore, cannot be its genre determinant, as with the Western. Similarly, while the private eye and the femme fatale are stock character types conventionally identified with noir, the majority of film noirs feature neither; so there is no character basis for genre designation as with the gangster film. Nor does film noir rely on anything as evident as the monstrous or supernatural elements of the horror film, the speculative leaps of the science fiction film, or the song-and-dance routines of the musical.[12]

An analogous case is that of the screwball comedy, widely accepted by film historians as constituting a "genre": the screwball is defined not by a fundamental attribute, but by a general disposition and a group of elements, some—but rarely and perhaps never all—of which are found in each of the genre's films.[13] Because of the diversity of noir (much greater than that of the screwball comedy), certain scholars in the field, such as film historian Thomas Schatz, treat it as not a genre but a "style".[14] Alain Silver, the most widely published American critic specializing in film noir studies, refers to film noir as a "cycle"[15] and a "phenomenon",[16] even as he argues that it has—like certain genres—a consistent set of visual and thematic codes.[17] Screenwriter Eric R. Williams labels both film noir and screwball comedy as a "pathway" in his screenwriters taxonomy; explaining that a pathway has two parts: 1) the way the audience connects with the protagonist and 2) the trajectory the audience expects the story to follow.[18] Other critics treat film noir as a "mood",[19] characterize it as a "series",[20] or simply address a chosen set of films they regard as belonging to the noir "canon".[21] There is no consensus on the matter.[22]

Background

Cinematic sources

Marlene Dietrich, an actress frequently called upon to play a femme fatale

The aesthetics of film noir are influenced by German Expressionism, an artistic movement of the 1910s and 1920s that involved theater, photography, painting, sculpture and architecture, as well as cinema. The opportunities offered by the booming Hollywood film industry and then the threat of Nazism, led to the emigration of many film artists working in Germany who had been involved in the Expressionist movement or studied with its practitioners.[23] M (1931), shot only a few years before director Fritz Lang's departure from Germany, is among the first crime films of the sound era to join a characteristically noirish visual style with a noir-type plot, in which the protagonist is a criminal (as are his most successful pursuers). Directors such as Lang, Jacques Tourneur, Robert Siodmak and Michael Curtiz brought a dramatically shadowed lighting style and a psychologically expressive approach to visual composition (mise-en-scène), with them to Hollywood, where they made some of the most famous classic noirs.[24]

By 1931, Curtiz had already been in Hollywood for half a decade, making as many as six films a year. Movies of his such as 20,000 Years in Sing Sing (1932) and Private Detective 62 (1933) are among the early Hollywood sound films arguably classifiable as noir—scholar Marc Vernet offers the latter as evidence that dating the initiation of film noir to 1940 or any other year is "arbitrary".[25] Expressionism-orientated filmmakers had free stylistic rein in Universal horror pictures such as Dracula (1931), The Mummy (1932)—the former photographed and the latter directed by the Berlin-trained Karl Freund—and The Black Cat (1934), directed by Austrian émigré low-key lighting and unbalanced compositions,[7] films commonly identified as noir evidence a variety of visual approaches, including ones that fit comfortably within the Hollywood mainstream.[8] Film noir similarly embraces a variety of genres, from the gangster film to the police procedural to the gothic romance to the social problem picture—any example of which from the 1940s and 1950s, now seen as noir's classical era, was likely to be described as a melodrama at the time.[9]

While many critics refer to film noir as a genre itself, others argue that it can be no such thing.[10] Foster Hirsch defines a genre as determined by "conventions of narrative structure, characterization, theme, and visual design". Hirsch, as one who has taken the position that film noir is a genre, argues that these elements are present "in abundance". Hirsch notes that there are unifying features of tone, visual style and narrative sufficient to classify noir as a distinct genre.[11]

Others argue that film noir is not a genre. Film noir is often associated with an urban setting, but many classic noirs take place in small towns, suburbia, rural areas, or on the open road; setting, therefore, cannot be its genre determinant, as with the Western. Similarly, while the private eye and the femme fatale are stock character types conventionally identified with noir, the majority of film noirs feature neither; so there is no character basis for genre designation as with the gangster film. Nor does film noir rely on anything as evident as the monstrous or supernatural elements of the horror film, the speculative leaps of the science fiction film, or the song-and-dance routines of the musical.[12]

An analogous case is that of the screwball comedy, widely accepted by film historians as constituting a "genre": the screwball is defined not by a fundamental attribute, but by a general disposition and a group of elements, some—but rarely and perhaps never all—of which are found in each of the genre's films.[13] Because of the diversity of noir (much greater than that of the screwball comedy), certain scholars in the field, such as film historian Thomas Schatz, treat it as not a genre but a "style".[14] Alain Silver, the most widely published American critic specializing in film noir studies, refers to film noir as a "cycle"[15] and a "phenomenon",[16] even as he argues that it has—like certain genres—a consistent set of visual and thematic codes.[17] Screenwriter Eric R. Williams labels both film noir and screwball comedy as a "pathway" in his screenwriters taxonomy; explaining that a pathway has two parts: 1) the way the audience connects with the protagonist and 2) the trajectory the audience expects the story to follow.[18] Other critics treat film noir as a "mood",[19] characterize it as a "series",[20] or simply address a chosen set of films they regard as belonging to the noir "canon".[21] There is no consensus on the matter.[22]

The aesthetics of film noir are influenced by German Expressionism, an artistic movement of the 1910s and 1920s that involved theater, photography, painting, sculpture and architecture, as well as cinema. The opportunities offered by the booming Hollywood film industry and then the threat of Nazism, led to the emigration of many film artists working in Germany who had been involved in the Expressionist movement or studied with its practitioners.[23] M (1931), shot only a few years before director Fritz Lang's departure from Germany, is among the first crime films of the sound era to join a characteristically noirish visual style with a noir-type plot, in which the protagonist is a criminal (as are his most successful pursuers). Directors such as Lang, Jacques Tourneur, Robert Siodmak and Michael Curtiz brought a dramatically shadowed lighting style and a psychologically expressive approach to visual composition (mise-en-scène), with them to Hollywood, where they made some of the most famous classic noirs.[24]

By 1931, Curtiz had already been in Hollywood for half a decade, making as many as six films a year. Movies of his such as 20,000 Years in Sing Sing (1932) and Private Detective 62 (1933) are among the early Hollywood sound films arguably classifiable as noir—scholar Marc Vernet offers the latter as evidence that dating the initiation of film noir to 1940 or any other year is "arbitrary".[25] Expressionism-orientated filmmakers had free stylistic rein in Universal horror pictures such as Dracula (1931), The Mummy (1932)—the former photographed and the latter directed by the Berlin-trained Karl Freund—and The Black Cat (1934), directed by Austrian émigré Edgar G. Ulmer.[26] The Universal horror film that comes closest to noir, in story and sensibility, is By 1931, Curtiz had already been in Hollywood for half a decade, making as many as six films a year. Movies of his such as 20,000 Years in Sing Sing (1932) and Private Detective 62 (1933) are among the early Hollywood sound films arguably classifiable as noir—scholar Marc Vernet offers the latter as evidence that dating the initiation of film noir to 1940 or any other year is "arbitrary".[25] Expressionism-orientated filmmakers had free stylistic rein in Universal horror pictures such as Dracula (1931), The Mummy (1932)—the former photographed and the latter directed by the Berlin-trained Karl Freund—and The Black Cat (1934), directed by Austrian émigré Edgar G. Ulmer.[26] The Universal horror film that comes closest to noir, in story and sensibility, is The Invisible Man (1933), directed by Englishman James Whale and photographed by American Arthur Edeson. Edeson later photographed The Maltese Falcon (1941), widely regarded as the first major film noir of the classic era.[27]

Josef von Sternberg was directing in Hollywood during the same period. Films of his such as Shanghai Express (1932) and The Devil Is a Woman (1935), with their hothouse eroticism and baroque visual style, anticipated central elements of classic noir. The commercial and critical success of Sternberg's silent Underworld (1927) was largely responsible for spurring a trend of Hollywood gangster films.[28] Successful films in that genre such as Little Caesar (1931), The Public Enemy (1931) and Scarface (1932) demonstrated that there was an audience for crime dramas with morally reprehensible protagonists.[29] An important, possibly influential, cinematic antecedent to classic noir was 1930s French poetic realism, with its romantic, fatalistic attitude and celebration of doomed heroes.[30] The movement's sensibility is mirrored in the Warner Bros. drama I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932), a forerunner of noir.[31] Among films not considered film noirs, perhaps none had a greater effect on the development of the genre than Citizen Kane (1941), directed by Orson Welles. Its visual intricacy and complex, voiceover narrative structure are echoed in dozens of classic film noirs.[32]

Italian neorealism of the 1940s, with its emphasis on quasi-documentary authenticity, was an acknowledged influence on trends that emerged in American noir. The Lost Weekend (1945), directed by Billy Wilder, another Vienna-born, Berlin-trained American auteur, tells the story of an alcoholic in a manner evocative of neorealism.[33] It also exemplifies the problem of classification: one of the first American films to be described as a film noir, it has largely disappeared from considerations of the field.[34] Director Jules Dassin of The Naked City (1948) pointed to the neorealists as inspiring his use of location photography with non-professional extras. This semidocumentary approach characterized a substantial number of noirs in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Along with neorealism, the style had an American precedent cited by Dassin, in director Henry Hathaway's The House on 92nd Street (1945), which demonstrated the parallel influence of the cinematic newsreel.[35]

The primary literary influence on film noir was the hardboiled school of American detective and crime fiction, led in its early years by such writers as Dashiell Hammett (whose first novel, Red Harvest, was published in 1929) and James M. Cain (whose The Postman Always Rings Twice appeared five years later), and popularized in pulp magazines such as Black Mask. The classic film noirs The Maltese Falcon (1941) and The Glass Key (1942) were based on novels by Hammett; Cain's novels provided the basis for Double Indemnity (1944), Mildred Pierce (1945), The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), and Slightly Scarlet (1956; adapted from Love's Lovely Counterfeit). A decade before the classic era, a story by Hammett was the source for the gangster melodrama City Streets (1931), directed by Rouben Mamoulian and photographed by Lee Garmes, who worked regularly with Sternberg. Released the month before Lang's M, City Streets has a claim to being the first major film noir; both its style and story had many noir characteristics.[37]

Raymond Chandler, who debuted as a novelist with The Big Sleep in 1939, soon became the most famous author of the hardboiled school. Not only were Chandler's novels turned into major noirs—Murder, My Sweet (1944; adapted from Farewell, My Lovely), The Big Sleep (1946), and Lady in the Lake (1947)—he was an important screenwriter in the genre as well, producing the scripts for Double Indemnity, The Blue Dahlia (1946), and Strangers on a Train (1951). Where Chandler, like Hammett, centered most of his novels and stories on the character of the private eye, Cain featured less heroic protagonists and focused more on psychological exposition than on crime solving;[38] the Cain approach has come to be identified with a subset of the hardboiled genre dubbed "noir fiction". For much of the 1940s, one of the most prolific and successful authors of this often downbeat brand of suspense tale was Cornell Woolrich (sometimes under the pseudonym George Hopley or William Irish). No writer's published work provided the bas

Raymond Chandler, who debuted as a novelist with The Big Sleep in 1939, soon became the most famous author of the hardboiled school. Not only were Chandler's novels turned into major noirs—Murder, My Sweet (1944; adapted from Farewell, My Lovely), The Big Sleep (1946), and Lady in the Lake (1947)—he was an important screenwriter in the genre as well, producing the scripts for Double Indemnity, The Blue Dahlia (1946), and Strangers on a Train (1951). Where Chandler, like Hammett, centered most of his novels and stories on the character of the private eye, Cain featured less heroic protagonists and focused more on psychological exposition than on crime solving;[38] the Cain approach has come to be identified with a subset of the hardboiled genre dubbed "noir fiction". For much of the 1940s, one of the most prolific and successful authors of this often downbeat brand of suspense tale was Cornell Woolrich (sometimes under the pseudonym George Hopley or William Irish). No writer's published work provided the basis for more film noirs of the classic period than Woolrich's: thirteen in all, including Black Angel (1946), Deadline at Dawn (1946), and Fear in the Night (1947).[39]

Another crucial literary source for film noir was W. R. Burnett, whose first novel to be published was Little Caesar, in 1929. It was turned into a hit for Warner Bros. in 1931; the following year, Burnett was hired to write dialogue for Scarface, while The Beast of the City (1932) was adapted from one of his stories. At least one important reference work identifies the latter as a film noir despite its early date.[40] Burnett's characteristic narrative approach fell somewhere between that of the quintessential hardboiled writers and their noir fiction compatriots—his protagonists were often heroic in their own way, which happened to be that of the gangster. During the classic era, his work, either as author or screenwriter, was the basis for seven films now widely regarded as film noirs, including three of the most famous: High Sierra (1941), This Gun for Hire (1942), and The Asphalt Jungle (1950).[41]

The 1940s and 1950s are generally regarded as the "classic period" of American film noir. While City Streets and other pre-WWII crime melodramas such as Fury (1936) and You Only Live Once (1937), both directed by Fritz Lang, are categorized as full-fledged noir in Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward's film noir encyclopedia, other critics tend to describe them as "proto-noir" or in similar terms.[42]

The film now most commonly cited as the first "true" film noir is Stranger on the Third Floor (1940), directed by Latvian-born, Soviet-trained Boris Ingster.[43] Hungarian émigré Peter Lorre—who had starred in Lang's M—was top-billed, although he di

The film now most commonly cited as the first "true" film noir is Stranger on the Third Floor (1940), directed by Latvian-born, Soviet-trained Boris Ingster.[43] Hungarian émigré Peter Lorre—who had starred in Lang's M—was top-billed, although he did not play the primary lead. He later played secondary roles in several other formative American noirs. Although modestly budgeted, at the high end of the B movie scale, Stranger on the Third Floor still lost its studio, RKO, US$56,000 (equivalent to $1,021,967 in 2019), almost a third of its total cost.[44] Variety magazine found Ingster's work: "...too studied and when original, lacks the flare to hold attention. It's a film too arty for average audiences, and too humdrum for others."[45] Stranger on the Third Floor was not recognized as the beginning of a trend, let alone a new genre, for many decades.[43]

Donald Marshman, Life (August 25, 1947)[46]

Most film noirs of the classic period were similarly low- and modestly-budgeted features without major stars—B movies either literally or in spirit. In this production context, writers, directors, cinematographers, and other craftsmen were relatively free from typical big-picture constraints. There was more visual experimentation than in Hollywood filmmaking as a whole: the Expressionism now closely associated with noir and the semi-documentary style that later emerged represent two very different tendencies. Narrative structures sometimes involved convoluted flashbacks uncommon in non-noir commercial productions. In terms of content, enforcement of the Production Code ensured that no film character could literally get away with murder or be seen sharing a bed with anyone but a spouse; within those bounds, however, many films now identified as noir feature plot elements and dialogue that were very risqué for the time.[47]

Black-and-white image of a man and a woman sitting side by side on a couch, viewed at an angle. The man, in profile in the left foreground, stares off to the right of frame. He wears a trenchcoat, and his face is shadowed by a fedora. He holds a cigarette in his left hand. The woman, to the right and rear, stares at him. She wears a dark dress and lipstick of a deeply saturated hue.Production Code ensured that no film character could literally get away with murder or be seen sharing a bed with anyone but a spouse; within those bounds, however, many films now identified as noir feature plot elements and dialogue that were very risqué for the time.[47]

Thematically, film noirs were most exceptional for the relative frequency with which they centered on portrayals of women of questionable virtue—a focus that had become rare in Hollywood films after the mid-1930s and the end of the pre-Code era. The signal film in this vein was Double Indemnity, directed by Billy Wilder; setting the mold was Barbara Stanwyck's unforgettable femme fatale, Phyllis Dietrichson—an apparent nod to Marlene Dietrich, who had built her extraordinary career playing such characters for Sternberg. An A-level feature all the way, the film's commercial success and seven Oscar nominations made it probably the most influential of the early noirs.[48] A slew of now-renowned noir "bad girls" followed, such as those played by Rita Hayworth in Gilda (1946), Lana Turner in The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), Ava Gardner in The Killers (1946), and Jane Greer in Out of the Past (1947). The iconic noir counterpart to the femme fatale, the private eye, came to the fore in films such as The Maltese Falcon (1941), with Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade, and Murder, My Sweet (1944), with Dick Powell as Philip Marlowe.

The prevalence of the private eye as a lead character declined in film noir of the 1950s, a period during which several critics describe the form as becoming more focused on extreme psychologies and more exaggerated in general.[49] A prime example is Kiss Me Deadly (1955); based on a novel by Mickey Spillane, the best-selling of all the hardboiled authors, here the protagonist is a private eye, Mike Hammer. As described by Paul Schrader, "Robert Aldrich's teasing direction carries noir to its sleaziest and most perversely erotic. Hammer overturns the underworld in search of the 'great whatsit' [which] turns out to be—joke of jokes—an exploding atomic bomb."[50] Orson Welles's baroquely styled Touch of Evil (1958) is frequently cited as the last noir of the classic period.[51] Some scholars believe film noir never really ended, but continued to transform even as the characteristic noir visual style began to seem dated and changing production conditions led Hollywood in different directions—in this view, post-1950s films in the noir tradition are seen as part of a continuity with classic noir.[52] A majority of critics, however, regard comparable films made outside the classic era to be something other than genuine film noirs. They regard true film noir as belonging to a temporally and geographically limited cycle or period, treating subsequent films that evoke the classics as fundamentally different due to general shifts in filmmaking style and

The prevalence of the private eye as a lead character declined in film noir of the 1950s, a period during which several critics describe the form as becoming more focused on extreme psychologies and more exaggerated in general.[49] A prime example is Kiss Me Deadly (1955); based on a novel by Mickey Spillane, the best-selling of all the hardboiled authors, here the protagonist is a private eye, Mike Hammer. As described by Paul Schrader, "Robert Aldrich's teasing direction carries noir to its sleaziest and most perversely erotic. Hammer overturns the underworld in search of the 'great whatsit' [which] turns out to be—joke of jokes—an exploding atomic bomb."[50] Orson Welles's baroquely styled Touch of Evil (1958) is frequently cited as the last noir of the classic period.[51] Some scholars believe film noir never really ended, but continued to transform even as the characteristic noir visual style began to seem dated and changing production conditions led Hollywood in different directions—in this view, post-1950s films in the noir tradition are seen as part of a continuity with classic noir.[52] A majority of critics, however, regard comparable films made outside the classic era to be something other than genuine film noirs. They regard true film noir as belonging to a temporally and geographically limited cycle or period, treating subsequent films that evoke the classics as fundamentally different due to general shifts in filmmaking style and latter-day awareness of noir as a historical source for allusion.[53]

While the inceptive noir, Stranger on the Third Floor, was a B picture directed by a virtual unknown, many of the film noirs still remembered were A-list productions by well-known film makers. Debuting as a director with The Maltese Falcon (1941), John Huston followed with Key Largo (1948) and The Asphalt Jungle (1950), Circle of Danger (1951). Opinion is divided on the noir status of several Alfred Hitchcock thrillers from the era; at least four qualify by consensus: Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Notorious (1946), Strangers on a Train (1951) and The Wrong Man (1956),[54] Otto Preminger's success with Laura (1944) made his name and helped demonstrate noir's adaptability to a high-gloss 20th Century-Fox presentation.[55] Among Hollywood's most celebrated directors of the era, arguably none worked more often in a noir mode than Preminger; his other noirs include Fallen Angel (1945), Whirlpool (1949), Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950) (all for Fox) and Angel Face (1952). A half-decade after Double Indemnity and The Lost Weekend, Billy Wilder made Sunset Boulevard (1950) and Ace in the Hole (1951), noirs that were not so much crime dramas as satires on Hollywood and the news media. In a Lonely Place (1950) was Nicholas Ray's breakthrough; his other noirs include his debut, They Live by Night (1948) and On Dangerous Ground (1952), noted for their unusually sympathetic treatment of characters alienated from the social mainstream.[56]

Rita Hayworth in the trailer for The Lady from Shanghai (1947)

Orson Welles had notorious problems with financing but his three film noirs were well budgeted: The Lady from Shanghai (1947) received top-level, "prestige" backing, while The Stranger (1946), his most conventional film, and Touch of Evil (1958), an unmistakably personal work, were funded at levels lower but still commensurate with headlining releases.[57] Like The Stranger, Fritz Lang's The Woman in the Window

Orson Welles had notorious problems with financing but his three film noirs were well budgeted: The Lady from Shanghai (1947) received top-level, "prestige" backing, while The Stranger (1946), his most conventional film, and Touch of Evil (1958), an unmistakably personal work, were funded at levels lower but still commensurate with headlining releases.[57] Like The Stranger, Fritz Lang's The Woman in the Window (1945) was a production of the independent International Pictures. Lang's follow-up, Scarlet Street (1945), was one of the few classic noirs to be officially censored: filled with erotic innuendo, it was temporarily banned in Milwaukee, Atlanta and New York State.[58] Scarlet Street was a semi-independent, cosponsored by Universal and Lang's Diana Productions, of which the film's co-star, Joan Bennett, was the second biggest shareholder. Lang, Bennett and her husband, the Universal veteran and Diana production head Walter Wanger, made Secret Beyond the Door (1948) in similar fashion.[59]

Before leaving the United States while subject to the Hollywood blacklist, Jules Dassin made two classic noirs that also straddled the major–independent line: Brute Force (1947) and the influential documentary-style The Naked City (1948) were developed by producer Mark Hellinger, who had an "inside/outside" contract with Universal similar to Wanger's.[60] Years earlier, working at Warner Bros., Hellinger had produced three films for Raoul Walsh, the proto-noirs They Drive by Night (1940), Manpower (1941) and Hollywood blacklist, Jules Dassin made two classic noirs that also straddled the major–independent line: Brute Force (1947) and the influential documentary-style The Naked City (1948) were developed by producer Mark Hellinger, who had an "inside/outside" contract with Universal similar to Wanger's.[60] Years earlier, working at Warner Bros., Hellinger had produced three films for Raoul Walsh, the proto-noirs They Drive by Night (1940), Manpower (1941) and High Sierra (1941), now regarded as a seminal work in noir's development.[61] Walsh had no great name during his half-century as a director but his noirs White Heat (1949) and The Enforcer (1951) had A-list stars and are seen as important examples of the cycle.[62] Other directors associated with top-of-the-bill Hollywood film noirs include Edward Dmytryk (Murder, My Sweet (1944), Crossfire (1947))—the first important noir director to fall prey to the industry blacklist—as well as Henry Hathaway (The Dark Corner (1946), Kiss of Death (1947)) and John Farrow (The Big Clock (1948), Night Has a Thousand Eyes (1948)).

Most of the Hollywood films considered to be classic noirs fall into the category of the "B movie".[63] Some were Bs in the most precise sense, produced to run on the bottom of double bills by a low-budget unit of one of the major studios or by one of the smaller Poverty Row outfits, from the relatively well-off Monogram to shakier ventures such as Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC). Jacques Tourneur had made over thirty Hollywood Bs (a few now highly regarded, most forgotten) before directing the A-level Out of the Past, described by scholar Robert Ottoson as "the ne plus ultra of forties film noir".[64] Movies with budgets a step up the ladder, known as "intermediates" by the industry, might be treated as A or B pictures depending on the circumstances. Monogram created Allied Artists in the late 1940s to focus on this sort of production. Robert Wise (Born to Kill [1947], The Set-Up [1949]) and Anthony Mann (T-Men [1947] and Raw Deal [1948]) each made a series of impressive intermediates, many of them noirs, before graduating to steady work on big-budget productions. Mann did some of his most celebrated work with cinematographer John Alton, a specialist in what James Naremore called "hypnotic moments of light-in-darkness".[65] He Walked by Night (1948), shot by Alton and though credited solely to Alfred Werker, directed in large part by Mann, demonstrates their technical mastery and exemplifies the late 1940s trend of "police procedural" crime dramas. It was released, like other Mann-Alton noirs, by the small Eagle-Lion company; it was the inspiration for the Dragnet series, which debuted on radio in 1949 and television in 1951.[66]

Several directors associated with noir built well-respected oeuvres largely at the B-movie/intermediate level. Samuel Fuller's brutal, visually energetic films such as Pickup on South Street (1953) and Underworld U.S.A. (1961) earned him a unique reputation; his advocates praise him as "primitive" and "barbarous".[68][69] Joseph H. Lewis directed noirs as diverse as Gun Crazy (1950) and The Big Combo (1955). The former—whose screenplay was written by the blacklisted Dalton Trumbo, disguised by a front—features a bank hold-up sequence shown in an unbroken take of over three minutes that was influential.[70] The Big Combo was shot by John Alton and took the shadowy noir style to its outer limits.[71] The most distinctive films of Phil Karlson (The Phenix City Story [1955] and The Brothers Rico [1957]) tell stories of vice organized on a monstrous scale.[72] The work of other directors in this tier of the industry, such as Felix E. Feist (The Devil Thumbs a Ride [1947], Tomorrow Is Another Day [1951]), has become obscure. Edgar G. Ulmer spent most of his Hollywood career working at B studios and once in a while on projects that achieved intermediate status; for the most part, on unmistakable Bs. In 1945, while at PRC, he directed a noir cult classic, Detour.[73] Ulmer's other noirs include Strange Illusion (1945), also for PRC; Ruthless (1948), for Eagle-Lion, which had acquired PRC the previous year and Murder Is My Beat (1955), for Allied Artists.

A number of low- and modestly-budgeted noirs were made by independent, often actor-owned, companies contracting with larger studios for distribution. Serving as producer, writer, director and top-billed performer, Hugo Haas made films like Pickup (1951), The Other Woman (1954) and Jacques Tourneur, The Fearmakers (1958)). It was in this way that accomplished noir actress Ida Lupino established herself as the sole female director in Hollywood during the late 1940s and much of the 1950s. She does not appear in the best-known film she directed, The Hitch-Hiker (1953), developed by her company, The Filmakers, with support and distribution by RKO.[74] It is one of the seven classic film noirs produced largely outside of the major studios that have been chosen for the United States National Film Registry. Of the others, one was a small-studio release: Detour. Four were independent productions distributed by United Artists, the "studio without a studio": Gun Crazy; Kiss Me Deadly; D.O.A. (1950), directed by Rudolph Maté and Sweet Smell of Success (1957), directed

A number of low- and modestly-budgeted noirs were made by independent, often actor-owned, companies contracting with larger studios for distribution. Serving as producer, writer, director and top-billed performer, Hugo Haas made films like Pickup (1951), The Other Woman (1954) and Jacques Tourneur, The Fearmakers (1958)). It was in this way that accomplished noir actress Ida Lupino established herself as the sole female director in Hollywood during the late 1940s and much of the 1950s. She does not appear in the best-known film she directed, The Hitch-Hiker (1953), developed by her company, The Filmakers, with support and distribution by RKO.[74] It is one of the seven classic film noirs produced largely outside of the major studios that have been chosen for the United States National Film Registry. Of the others, one was a small-studio release: Detour. Four were independent productions distributed by United Artists, the "studio without a studio": Gun Crazy; Kiss Me Deadly; D.O.A. (1950), directed by Rudolph Maté and Sweet Smell of Success (1957), directed by Alexander Mackendrick. One was an independent distributed by MGM, the industry leader: Force of Evil (1948), directed by Abraham Polonsky and starring John Garfield, both of whom were blacklisted in the 1950s.[75] Independent production usually meant restricted circumstances but Sweet Smell of Success, despite the plans of the production team, was clearly not made on the cheap, though like many other cherished A-budget noirs, it might be said to have a B-movie soul.[76]

Perhaps no director better displayed that spirit than the German-born Robert Siodmak, who had already made a score of films before his 1940 arrival in Hollywood. Working mostly on A features, he made eight films now regarded as classic-era film noirs (a figure matched only by Lang and Mann).[77] In addition to The Killers, Burt Lancaster's debut and a Hellinger/Universal co-production, Siodmak's other important contributions to the genre include 1944's Phantom Lady (a top-of-the-line B and Woolrich adaptation), the ironically titled Christmas Holiday (1944), and Cry of the City (1948). Criss Cross (1949), with Lancaster again the lead, exemplifies how Siodmak brought the virtues of the B-movie to the A noir. In addition to the relatively looser constraints on character and message at lower budgets, the nature of B production lent itself to the noir style for economic reasons: dim lighting saved on electricity and helped cloak cheap sets (mist and smoke also served the cause); night shooting was often compelled by hurried production schedules; plots with obscure motivations and intriguingly elliptical transitions were sometimes the consequence of hastily written scripts, of which there was not always enough time or money to shoot every scene. In Criss Cross, Siodmak achieved these effects with purpose, wrapping them around Yvonne De Carlo, playing the most understandable of femme fatales; Dan Duryea, in one of his many charismatic villain roles; and Lancaster as an ordinary laborer turned armed robber, doomed by a romantic obsession.[78]

Some critics regard classic film noir as a cycle exclusive to the United States; Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward, for example, argue, "With the Western, film noir shares the distinction of being an indigenous American form ... a wholly American film style."[80] However, although the term "film noir" was originally coined to describe Hollywood movies, it was an international phenomenon.[81] Even before the beginning of the generally accepted classic period, there were films made far from Hollywood that can be seen in retrospect as film noirs, for example, the French productions Pépé le Moko (1937), directed by Julien Duvivier, and Le Jour se lève (1939), directed by Marcel Carné.[82] In addition, Mexico experienced a vibrant film noir period from roughly 1946 to 1952, which was around the same time film noir was blossoming in the United States.[83]

During the classic period, there were many films produced in Europe, particularly in France, that share elements of style, theme, and sensibility with American film noirs and may themselves be included in the genre's canon. In certain cases, the interrelationship with Hollywood noir is obvious: American-born director Jules Dassin moved to France in the early 1950s as a result of the Hollywood blacklist, and made one of the most famous French film noirs, Rififi (1955). Other well-known French films often classified as noir include Quai des Orfèvres (1947) and Les Diaboliques (1955), both directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot. Casque d'Or (1952), Touchez pas au grisbi (1954), and Le Trou (1960) directed by Jacques Becker; and Ascenseur pour l'échafaud (1958), directed by Louis Malle. French director Jean-Pierre Melville is widely recognized for his tragic, minimalist film noirs—Bob le flambeur (1955), from the classic period, was followed by Le Doulos (1962), Le deuxième souffle (1966), Le Samouraï (1967), and Le Cercle rouge (1970).[84]

Black-and-white image of two men facing the left of frame, walking in front of a brick wall. A bold series of vertically striped shadows covers the entire image. The middle-aged man to the right wears a white fedora, a medium-dark suit, and an open-collared white shirt. In front of him, to the left of the image, a younger, taller man wears a cream-toned suit, a white beret and shirt, and a light striped tie. Each man holds a pistol in his right hand.
Stray Dog (1949), directed and cowritten by Akira Kurosawa, contains many cinematographic and narrative elements associated with classic American film noir.

Scholar Andrew Spicer argues that British film noir evidences a greater debt to French poetic realism than to the expressionistic American mode of noir.[85] Examples of British noir from the classic period include Brighton Rock (1947), directed by John Boulting; They Made Me a Fugitive (1947), directed by Alberto Cavalcanti; The Small Back Room (1948), directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger; The October Man (1950), directed by Roy Ward Baker; and Cast a Dark Shadow (1955), directed by Lewis Gilbert. Terence Fisher directed several low-budget thrillers in a noir mode for Hammer Film Productions, including The Last Page (a.k.a. Man Bait; 1952), Stolen Face (1952), and Murder by Proxy (a.k.a. Blackout; 1954). Before leaving for France, Jules Dassin had been obliged by political pressure to shoot his last English-language film of the classic noir period in Great Britain: Night and the City (1950). Though it was conceived in the United States and was not only directed by an American but also stars two American actors—Richard Widmark and Gene Tierney—it is technically a UK production, financed by 20th Century-Fox's British subsidiary. The most famous of classic British noirs is director Carol Reed's Jules Dassin moved to France in the early 1950s as a result of the Hollywood blacklist, and made one of the most famous French film noirs, Rififi (1955). Other well-known French films often classified as noir include Quai des Orfèvres (1947) and Les Diaboliques (1955), both directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot. Casque d'Or (1952), Touchez pas au grisbi (1954), and Le Trou (1960) directed by Jacques Becker; and Ascenseur pour l'échafaud (1958), directed by Louis Malle. French director Jean-Pierre Melville is widely recognized for his tragic, minimalist film noirs—Bob le flambeur (1955), from the classic period, was followed by Le Doulos (1962), Le deuxième souffle (1966), Le Samouraï (1967), and Le Cercle rouge (1970).[84]

Scholar Andrew Spicer argues that British film noir evidences a greater debt to French poetic realism than to the expressionistic American mode of noir.[85] Examples of British noir from the classic period include Brighton Rock (1947), directed by John Boulting; They Made Me a Fugitive (1947), directed by Alberto Cavalcanti; The Small Back Room (1948), directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger; The October Man (1950), directed by Roy Ward Baker; and Cast a Dark Shadow (1955), directed by Lewis Gilbert. Terence Fisher directed several low-budget thrillers in a noir mode for Hammer Film Productions, including The Last Page (a.k.a. Man Bait; 1952), Stolen Face (1952), and Murder by Proxy (a.k.a. Blackout; 1954). Before leaving for France, Jules Dassin had been obliged by political pressure to shoot his last English-language film of the classic noir period in Great Britain: Night and the City (1950). Though it was conceived in the United States and was not only directed by an American but also stars two American actors—Richard Widmark and Gene Tierney—it is technically a UK production, financed by 20th Century-Fox's British subsidiary. The most famous of classic British noirs is director Carol Reed's The Third Man (1949), from a screenplay by Graham Greene. Set in Vienna immediately after World War II, it also stars two American actors, Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles, who had appeared together in Citizen Kane.[86]

Elsewhere, Italian director Luchino Visconti adapted Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice as Ossessione (1943), regarded both as one of the great noirs and a seminal film in the development of neorealism.[87] (This was not even the first screen version of Cain's novel, having been preceded by the French Le Dernier Tournant in 1939.)[88] In Japan, the celebrated Akira Kurosawa directed several films recognizable as film noirs, including Drunken Angel (1948), Stray Dog (1949), The Bad Sleep Well (1960), and High and Low (1963).Elsewhere, Italian director Luchino Visconti adapted Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice as Ossessione (1943), regarded both as one of the great noirs and a seminal film in the development of neorealism.[87] (This was not even the first screen version of Cain's novel, having been preceded by the French Le Dernier Tournant in 1939.)[88] In Japan, the celebrated Akira Kurosawa directed several films recognizable as film noirs, including Drunken Angel (1948), Stray Dog (1949), The Bad Sleep Well (1960), and High and Low (1963).[89] Spanish author Mercedes Formica's novel La ciudad perdida (The Lost City) was adapted into film in 1960.[90]

Among the first major neo-noir films—the term often applied to films that consciously refer back to the classic noir tradition—was the French Tirez sur le pianiste (1960), directed by François Truffaut from a novel by one of the gloomiest of American noir fiction writers, David Goodis.[91] Noir crime films and melodramas have been produced in many countries in the post-classic area. Some of these are quintessentially self-aware neo-noirs—for example, Il Conformista (1969; Italy), Der Amerikanische Freund (1977; Germany), The Element of Crime (1984; Denmark), and El Aura (2005; Argentina). Others simply share narrative elements and a version of the hardboiled sensibility associated with classic noir, such as Castle of Sand (1974; Japan), Insomnia (1997; Norway), Croupier (1998; UK), and Blind Shaft (2003; China).[92]

The neo-noir film genre developed mid-way into the Cold War. This cinematological trend reflected much of the cynicism and the possibility of nuclear annihilation of the era. This new genre introduced innovations that were not available with the earlier noir films. The violence was also more potent.[93]

1960s and 1970s

While it is hard to draw a line between some of the noir films of the early 1960s such as Blast of Silence (1961) and While it is hard to draw a line between some of the noir films of the early 1960s such as Blast of Silence (1961) and Cape Fear (1962) and the noirs of the late 1950s, new trends emerged in the post-classic era. The Manchurian Candidate (1962), directed by John Frankenheimer, Shock Corridor (1963), directed by Samuel Fuller, and Brainstorm (1965), directed by experienced noir character actor William Conrad, all treat the theme of mental dispossession within stylistic and tonal frameworks derived from classic film noir.[94] The Manchurian Candidate examined the situation of American prisoners of war (POWs) during the Korean War. Incidents that occurred during the war as well as those post-war, functioned as an inspiration for a "Cold War Noir" subgenre.[95][96] The television series The Fugitive (1963–67) brought classic noir themes and mood to the small screen for an extended run.[94]

Black-and-white image of a man seen from mid-chest up, wearing a fedora and a jacket with a houndstooth-like pattern. He holds a cigarette between the middle and index fingers of his <p>In a different vein, films began to appear that self-consciously acknowledged the conventions of classic film noir as historical <a style=archetypes to be revived, rejected, or reimagined. These efforts typify what came to be known as neo-noir.[98] Though several late classic noirs, Kiss Me Deadly in particular, were deeply self-knowing and post-traditional in conception, none tipped its hand so evidently as to be remarked on by American critics at the time.[99] The first major film to overtly work this angle was French director Jean-Luc Godard's À bout de souffle (Breathless; 1960), which pays its literal respects to Bogart and his crime films while brandishing a bold new style for a new day.[100] In the United States, Arthur Penn (1965's Mickey One, drawing inspiration from Truffaut's Tirez sur le pianiste and other French New Wave films), John Boorman (1967's Point Blank, similarly caught up, though in the Nouvelle vague's deeper waters), and Alan J. Pakula (1971's Klute) directed films that knowingly related themselves to the original film noirs, inviting audiences in on the game.[101]

A manifest affiliation with noir traditions—which, by its nature, allows different sorts of commentary on them to be inferred—can also provide the basis for explicit critiques of those traditions. In 1973, director Robert Altman flipped off noir piety with The Long Goodbye. Based on the novel by Raymond Chandler, it features one of Bogart's most famous characters, but in iconoclastic fashion: Philip Marlowe, the prototypical hardboiled detective, is replayed as a hapless misfit, almost laughably out of touch with contemporary mores and morality.[102] Where Altman's subversion of the film noir mythos was so irreverent as to outrage some contemporary critics,[103] around the same time Woody Allen was paying affectionate, at points idolatrous homage to the classic mode with Play It Again, Sam (1972). The "blaxploitation" film Robert Altman flipped off noir piety with The Long Goodbye. Based on the novel by Raymond Chandler, it features one of Bogart's most famous characters, but in iconoclastic fashion: Philip Marlowe, the prototypical hardboiled detective, is replayed as a hapless misfit, almost laughably out of touch with contemporary mores and morality.[102] Where Altman's subversion of the film noir mythos was so irreverent as to outrage some contemporary critics,[103] around the same time Woody Allen was paying affectionate, at points idolatrous homage to the classic mode with Play It Again, Sam (1972). The "blaxploitation" film Shaft (1971), wherein Richard Roundtree plays the titular African-American private eye, John Shaft, takes conventions from classic noir.

The most acclaimed of the neo-noirs of the era was director Roman Polanski's 1974 Chinatown.[104] Written by Robert Towne, it is set in 1930s Los Angeles, an accustomed noir locale nudged back some few years in a way that makes the pivotal loss of innocence in the story even crueler. Where Polanski and Towne raised noir to a black apogee by turning rearward, director Martin Scorsese and screenwriter Paul Schrader brought the noir attitude crashing into the present day with Taxi Driver (1976), a crackling, bloody-minded gloss on bicentennial America.[105] In 1978, Walter Hill wrote and directed The Driver, a chase film as might have been imagined by Jean-Pierre Melville in an especially abstract mood.[106]

Hill was already a central figure in 1970s noir of a more straightforward manner, having written the script for director Sam Peckinpah's The Getaway (1972), adapting a novel by pulp master Jim Thompson, as well as for two tough private eye films: an original screenplay for Hickey & Boggs (1972) and an adaptation of a novel by Ross Macdonald, the leading literary descendant of Hammett and Chandler, for The Drowning Pool (1975). Some of the strongest 1970s noirs, in fact, were unwinking remakes of the classics, "neo" mostly by default: the heartbreaking Thieves Like Us (1974), directed by Altman from the same source as Ray's They Live by Night, and Farewell, My Lovely (1975), the Chandler tale made classically as Murder, My Sweet, remade here with Robert Mitchum in his last notable noir role.[107] Detective series, prevalent on American television during the period, updated the hardboiled tradition in different ways, but the show conjuring the most noir tone was a horror crossover touched with shaggy, Long Goodbye-style humor: Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974–75), featuring a Chicago newspaper reporter investigating strange, usually supernatural occurrences.[108]

The turn of the decade brought Scorsese's black-and-white Raging Bull (cowritten by Schrader); an acknowledged masterpiece—the American Film Institute ranks it as the greatest American film of the 1980s and the fourth greatest of all time—it is also a retreat, telling a story of a boxer's moral self-destruction that recalls in both theme and visual ambience noir dramas such as Body and Soul (1947) and Champion (1949).[110] From 1981, the popular Body Heat, written and directed by Lawrence Kasdan, invokes a different set of classic noir elements, this time in a humid, erotically charged Florida setting; its success confirmed the commercial viability of neo-noir, at a time when the major Hollywood studios were becoming increasingly risk averse. The mainstreaming of neo-noir is evident in such films as Black Widow (1987), Shattered (1991), and Final Analysis (1992).[111] Few neo-noirs have made more money or more wittily updated the tradition of the noir double-entendre than Basic Instinct (1992), directed by Paul Verhoeven and written by Joe Eszterhas.[112] The film also demonstrates how neo-noir's polychrome palette can reproduce many of the expressionistic effects of classic black-and-white noir.[109]

Like Chinatown, its more complex predecessor, Curtis Hanson's Oscar-winning L.A. Confidential (1997), based on the James Ellroy novel, demonstrates an opposite tendency—the deliberately retro film noir; its tale of corrupt cops and femmes fatales is seemingly lifted straight from a film of 1953, the year in which it is set.[113] Director David Fincher followed the immensely successful neo-noir Seven (1995) with a film that developed into a cult favorite after its original, disappointing release: Fight Club (1999) is a sui generis mix of noir aesthetic, perverse comedy, speculative content, and satiric intent.[114]