What is Film Noir?

The list of film noirs varies substantially. The lowest estimate is that there are actually ZERO films noir. This is based on the argument that there is no such genre, and all the words film noir captures is a less coherent set of trends, with anything based on any of the following (and more): 

  • Lighting technique
  • Writing technique
  • Gender issues
  • Post-War problems
  • Psychoanalytic influence
  • Criminals and crime
  • and a generally ill-fated bunch of guys in hats, usually involved with a dangerous woman.

Wikipedia’s list of what’s noir and what is as a consequence non-noir, lists 52 titles even before 1940 . . .  and film noir isn’t really said to start until about 1943, or as is quite often said Stranger on the Third Flooor (1940).

For the 1940s the same article lists in the region of 260 film noirs — that’s from 1940 – 1949. And that is just the American noir — there is plenty from elsewhere, although noir is an American idea, driven by American trends. 

There are roughly 260 noirs listed for the 1950s as well — again minus the many ‘world’ noirs out there.

On the 1940s list I spotted Key Largo on my way down and I think this inclusion highlights a few of the difficulties.  Key Largo is a film we all know  quite well, but I do not necessarily think of Key Largo as a film noir, and never have — although I suppose applying noir criteria, in a way it obviously is.

So film noir exists where you find it. Take for example a few of these random categories:

The Espionage Thriller

Foreign Correspondent (1940)
Manhunt (1941)
The Fallen Sparrow (1943)
Journey Into Fear (1943)
The Mask of Dimitrios (1944)
The Ministry of Fear (1944)
Cloak and Dagger (1946)

The Period Crime Thriller

The Lodger (1944)
Hangover Square (1944)
Bedlam (1946)

The Boxing Thriller

The Personality Kid (1934)
Kid Galahad (1937)
Kid Nightingale (1939)
Knockout (1941)
Body and Soul (1947)
Champion (1949)
The Set-up (1949)

The Rogue Cop

The Bribe (1949)
Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950)
The Man Who Cheated Himself (1950)
Detective Story (1951)
Rogue Cop (1954)
Shield for Murder (1954)
Touch of Evil (1958)

Ella Raines in Phantom Lady (1944) - 'Wifelet Seeker Hero'

The Wifelet Seeker Hero

The Stranger on the Third Floor
Phantom Lady
Black Angel

The Paranoid Woman

Rebecca (1940)
Suspicion (1941)
Gaslight (1944)
Experiment Perilous (1944)
Dark Waters (1944)
The Secret Beyond the Door (1947)
Sleep My Love (1948)
Caught (1948)

The Female Lawbreaker

The Letter (1940)
Leave Her to Heaven (1945)
Temptation (1946)
Ivy (1947)
The Velvet Touch (1948)
Too Late for Tears (1949)
Beyond the Forest (1949)
I feel that this list could be added to indefinitely. For all those 500 plus films classed as noir from the 1940s and 1950s, further classification is possible — quite fun actually.

Jean-Luc Godard said all you needed for a film was a girl and a gun, and remember he was brought up on the stuff.  I'd add an ill-fated guy in a hat and a guarantee from the off that the woman is bad, bad news.



  2. Surprised to find Hitchcock movies included. I tend to think of them as a genre of their own. But it the color fits .......