Film Noir Comedy

Noir isn't a genre, at least it wasn't in the 1940s and 1950s. 


No studio exec had to hear a pitch that began with the lines: 


"This is a film noir about ..."

Film noir is more of a style, or a mood. And it refers to the fact that certain films of the 40s or 50s started exhibiting these strange styles and tones.

These movies made a virtue of the losers, the femmes fatales, and of unhappy endings. There were lost men, strong women, sharp lighting and themes of jealousy, passion and fate playing a hard hand. Psychopaths were common, as were conmen and the alienation created by the city,.

These remain the markers of noir, and they cut through every genre.

But those two words. Comedy and noir. They don't automatically segue.

Certainly, there is a well defined place in the movies for what is known as dark comedy, but in terms of comedy and film noir, that is not what we are talking about.

Most film noir of the era is either a crime film, or a melodrama, but police procedurals, women in peril and other types of film adopted noir styles. There are even film noir westerns, and colour film noirs, but there are not so many film noir comedies.

The only comedy that comes to mind in fact is Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, but it is a spoof of noir, not noir itself.

Of the few period film noir comedies, probably the most obvious Beat The Devil. It's one of two noirs also that directly reference the most defining global thought of the era: The A-Bomb. The other one is Kiss Me Deadly (1955). Beat The Devil sounds like it is going to be great. Look at this cast: Humphrey Bogart, Gina Lollobrigida, Jennifer Jones, Peter Lorre, and Robert Morley. On top of that it is directed by John Houston.

For the film, which most people see for curiosty value,  illy (Humphrey Bogart) and Maria Dannreuther (Gina Lollobrigida) are among a number of travelers stranded in Italy en route to Africa. 

While the Dannreuthers seem like an average couple, they have the same goal as Mrs. Gwendolen Chelm (Jennifer Jones) and some of their other shifty companions - to lay claim to property that is supposedly rich with uranium.

It isn't a great success as a movie, and this may be one of the reasons it remains out of copyright, and freely watchable on YouTube, for those with sufficient inquisitiveness.

Beat The Devil (1953)

Other films which might contend to be in this collection might include Some Like It Hot (1959), which is certainly by a director, Billy Wilder, known to have contributed to the film noir style, and the juty shall remain out on other good crime comedies from that period, which include:
  • Arsenic and Old Lace
  • Ball of Fire
  • Whisky Galore!
  • Larceny, Inc.
  • Lady on a Train
  • The Lady in Question
  • Black Magic
  • The Thin Man films

Finally, my general criteria for a film noir comedy might be one-such noir which has a happy ending, and that would include an ending in which the guilty party does not die, but is allowed to reflect instead.

Bob le Flambeur (1956)
Such would be the case with Bob le Flambeur (1956), which is certainly a film noir comedy. I say this because if this were a full on standard noir, Bob would die in the end. Instead, sure, he doesn't get away with his crime. 

But we're allowed so much light relief nonetheless, as Bob is not only pursued by a policeman who really cares for his well-being (weird) but the cops stuff the stolen money in the police car, while Bob raises a sanguine eyebrow, not bothered at the inevitably short prison sentence he faces. And all this despite the drama beforehand, including the death of the young accomplice.

Bob's last gamble LOL

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