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I won’t try to give you any scholarly insights or definitions of what elements determine “Film Noir”.  I will tell you this.  Film Noir is filled with shadowy characters, depicted through characterization and illustrated by Low-Key lighting, which is used throughout the movie. The characters are duplicitous and complex.  The hero is usually a detective (thus, he is able to work outside of the law.  Often times this character is the narrator of the story (which is another element that is unique to the genre.)  The actual story usually begins at the end, but the narrator reveals the beginning, the middle, the climax and the denouement of the story itself.

 Also important is the female, who is often referred to as the femme-fatal.  This woman is beautiful and deadly.  Throughout the movie, the audience assumes that she is bad, but there is often the question, “Is she or isn’t she?”  One of my favorite movies (though not the best example of film noir) is Gilda.  The first time the camera zooms in on her and her husband asks the question, “Are you decent?”  And Gilda makes a mockery of the question, “Sure!  I’m decent.”  Once the audience realizes that there is something between Gilda and Johnny, they side with Johnny, believing that Gilda cannot be innocent. More about the characters:  The hero/anti-hero is often confused; although he appears to be confident and self-assured, his cockiness won’t allow him to recognize this flaw.  He’s thrown off of his game by the femme-fatal because he buys into whatever she’s selling; that commodity is usually of the sexual nature.  The forties films usually dealt with sexual tension through the rapid fire dialogue and the use of double entendre.  This is exhibited in Double Indemnity.   In Chinatown, we see the main character, Jake unravel as his nose bandage unravels.  Jake’s flaw is that he cannot see what is right in front of him.  Eyes, eye-glasses and lack of vision are  dominating themes that run throughout the movie.

Click the play buttons to see scenes from Double Indemnity, Gilda, Sunset Boulevard, Mildred Pierce, Chinatown, L.A. Confidential and Body Heat .

Double Indemnity, Starring Barbara Stanwyck and Fred Mc Murray -1944 

Gilda, Starring Rita Hayworth and Glenn Ford - 1946

Sunset Boulevard, Starring Gloria Swanson and William Holder - 1950 

Mildred Pierce, Starring Joan Crawford, Ann Blyth and Jack Carson - 1945

Chinatown, Starring Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway - 1974

L.A. Confidential, Starring Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe and Kim Basinger - 1997

Body Heat, Starring William Hurt and Kathleen Turner 1981

Form Object