How to Title Your Film Noir

Some of these pictures I'm watching might be film noirs.  It's all in the title.

Certainly there are thematic areas that are undubitably gloomy, paranoiac and criminal.  And I think that yes, there are some pictures out there that you can tell are going to be film noir just because of how the title sounds.

For example, in film noir titles we often find the recurrence of one of several key words, such as street, dark and night.  Often such titles feature a reference to roads, or travel, or simply to the dead-end and paranoiac suburban streets where they are set.

The Dark Corner
The Night Has 1000 Eyes
So Dark The Night
Street of Chance
Man in the Dark
Night Without Sleep
The Night of the Hunter
Crime in the Streets
Clash by Night
A Cry in the Night
The Midnight Story
Drive a Crooked Road
Side Street
Scarlet Street
Sometimes, in the titles of film noirs, we find an expression from the lingo familiar from hard-boiled school of fiction writing of the day.  Examples might be:

Raw Deal
The Set-up

At other times, film noir titles are constructed from a general combination of death, sexuality and violence.

Murder, My Sweet
Kiss of Death
Kiss the Blood Off My Hands

There are also film noir thrillers with titles suggestive of fatalism, or somehow containing a mood of anguish or despair. These titles sum up in a couple of words some of the great themes of noir, which are hopelessness, paranoia, and fate grabbing you by the scruff of your suit and calling you a heel.  Examples of this type of title would include:

They Won’t Believe Me
I Walk Alone
Blind Alley
Sudden Fear
No Questions Asked
Without Warning

Good film noir titles are suggestive, and not always explicit.  There has to be something in the title alone that is going to pull you in, something that would have alerted the subconscious minds of the cinema-goers of the 1940s and 1950s.  

This was an era when an American may have gone to the cinema three or four times a week and in most cases the title and a couple of images on the poster would have been enough to demonstrate what was going to be on offer.  

And some of the film noir titles I've seen, seem to repeat certain keywords, which definitely alert a viewer what was up.  Regard these titles which riff on the word strange which are all from 1946:

Strange Impersonation
The Strange Love of Martha Ivers
Strange Triangle
The Strange Woman
The Stranger

Love from a Stranger 

Finally, there is a paradigm in film noir titles which uses the confessional first person, promising much degradation of morality, and the plumbing of certain criminal depths.  

This is probably my favorite title combination as it attempts in one pithy phrase, to capture the whole dangerous shebang with one lurid image:

I Love Trouble
I Walk Alone
I Was a Communist for the FBI
I Wouldn't be in Your Shoes
I Married a Communist
The Man with My Face
I Confess
One Girl's Confession
I, the Jury
Please Murder Me
I Want to Live!
Possibly one of the bluntest of all film noir titles is that of the 1952 Warner Brothers film noir THIS WOMAN IS DANGEROUS.  

I've not seen it but I think I get the picture . . .some guy is going to fall for the wrong person and end up neck deep in a murder rap.  That's usually the story in film noir.

IMAGE ATTRIBUTION: "Posterthiswomanx". Via Wikipedia.

No comments:

Post a Comment