Adam Rehrig Mr. Gardner TV 151 Term Paper Film Noir It is world of dark rooms with light slicing through venetian blinds, alleys cluttered with garbage, abandoned warehouses where dust hangs in the air, rain-slickened streets with water still running in the gutters, dark detective officers overlooking busy streets. These are the qualities that makes film noir a perfect blend of form and content, where the desperation and hopelessness of situations is reflected in the visual style, which drenches the world in shadows and has only a few occasional bursts of sunlight. Film noir, occasionally acerbic, usually cynical, often enthralling, gives us characters trying to elude some kind of mysterious past that continues to haunt them, hunting them down with a fatalism that taunts and teases before delivering a final, definitive blow. Unlike other forms of cinema, the film noir has no paraphernalia that it can truly call its own.
Unlike the western, with cattle drives, lonely towns on the prairie, homesteading farmers, Winchester rifles, and Colt 45s, the film noir borrows its paraphernalia from other forms, usually from the crime and detective genres, but often overlapping into thrillers, horror, and even science fiction. An example of science fiction would be the box from Kiss Me Deadly. The visual style echoes German expressionism, painting shafts of light that temporarily illuminate small chucks of an ominous and overbearing universe that limits a persons chances to slim and none. As Paul Schrader said in his essay Notes of Film Noir, No character can speak authoritatively from a space which is continually being cut into ribbons of light. Film noir first appeared in the early 40s in the movies such as Stranger on the Third Floor and This Gun For Hire.
While soldiers went to war, film noir exposed a darker side of life, balancing the optimism of Hollywood musicals and comedies by supplying seedy, two-bit criminals and doom-laden atmospheres. While Hollywood strove to help keep public morale high, film noir gave us a peek into the alleys and backrooms of a world filled with corruption. And film noir remained an important form in Hollywood until the 50s. The first film to be considered film noir is John Hustons The Maltese Falcon. Huston wrote the screenplay from Dashiell Hammets novel for this his directorial debut.
In the film Humphrey Bogart plays Sam Spade, a private detective that is partners in an agency with Miles Archer, played by Jerome Cowan. Miss Wonderly, betrayed by Mary Astor hires the two to a shadow her business associate Floyd Thursby, who is never shown on camera. Later that same night Miles is killed and Sam is determined to find the murder. Near the end of the film Sam reasons, When a mans partner is killed hes suppose to do something about it. Miss Wonderly, the femme fatale of the picture, confesses that her real name is Brigid O Shaughnessy and informs him that her life is in danger and implores him to help her. He agrees to keep her name out of the case, her beauty and money having something to do with it.
Spade is visited Joel Cairo, played by Peter Lorre, who offers him $5,000 to find a black statue of a falcon. Sam reports the offer to Brigid, who asks for a meeting with Cairo. Here Sam learns of a third person, Casper Gutman, played by Sydney Greenstreet who is also interested in the falcon. Sam is taken to Gutman and professes to know the falcons whereabouts. Gutman refuses to reveal any information about the black bird, and Sam storms out. Other examples of film noir are Out of the Past, which is one of the archetypal noirs, giving us a protagonist who has tried to escape from his past but fate wont let him.
In the movie he betrayed his buy running away with his girlfriend. He inhabits a world that constantly pulls people back into morass of existence that is bound to suffocate them. Jeff, played by Robert Mitchum is a seemingly good guy, but one bad turn has made his life a living hell that he can never escape completely escape. Kirk Douglas plays a racketeer who needs to use Jeff and he does so by planting one of the greatest femme fatales, Jane Greer, within Jeffs easy reach. And she consumes him.
The femme fatale plays a crucial role in the film noir, whether it be the guise of Jane Greer in Out of the Past, Rita Hayworth in Lady From Shanghai, Peggy Cummins in Gun Crazy, Gloria Grahame in Human Desire, Elizabeth Scott in Dead Reckoning, Ava Gardner in The Killers, or Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity. These women were black widows who slowly drew in the heroes with unbelievable looks and a breathless voice. They communicated a danger of sex that is worthy of the 90s AIDS epidemic. The femme fatale knew how to use men to get whatever she wanted, whether it was just murder between lovers, like in Double Indemnity or a wild, on the run life lifestyle as in Gun Crazy. The femme fatale was always there to help pull the hero down. And in the case of Mildred Pierce, we even get a femme fatale in the form of a daughter who threatens to destroy her mothers life. Heroes in the world of film noir would forever struggle just to survive the place that they inhabit.
Some of the heroes learned to play by the rules of film noir and survived by exposing the corruption that threatened their very lives, such as Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep and Dick Powell in Murder, My Sweet. But more than not, they were the saps destroyed by love, like Fred MacMurray in Double Indemnity and Edward G. Robinson in Scarlet Street or a past transgression, as is with Robert Mitchum in Out of the Past and lastly, over ambitious goals like Richard Widmark in Night and the City and Sterling Hayden in The Killing. Titles like Pitfall, Nightmare, Kiss of Death and Edge of Doom describe what youll find in film noir. And titles like Night and the City, Side Street, Hells Island and The Asphalt Jungle convey the terrain.
But maybe its such titles as The Big Heat and The Big Sleep that most simply convey the film noir essence, an overpowering force that cant be avoided.