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Film noir is a cinematic term used primarily to describe stylish Hollywood crime dramas, particularly those that emphasize cynical attitudes and sexual motivations. Hollywood's classic film noir period is generally regarded as stretching from the early 1940s to the late 1950s. Film noir of this era is associated with a low-key black-and-white visual style that has roots in German Expressionist cinematography, while many of the prototypical stories and much of the attitude of classic noir derive from the hardboiled school of crime fiction that emerged in the United States during the Depression.

The term film noir (French for "black film"), first applied to Hollywood movies by French critic Nino Frank in 1946, was unknown to most American film industry professionals of the classic era. Cinema historians and critics defined the noir canon in retrospect; before the notion was widely adopted in the 1970s, many of the classic film noirs were referred to as melodramas. The question of whether film noir qualifies as a distinct genre is a matter of on-going debate among scholars.

Film noirs encompass a range of plots—the central figure may be a private eye (The Big Sleep), a plainclothes policeman (The Big Heat), an aging boxer (The Set-Up), a hapless grifter (Night and the City), a law-abiding citizen lured into a life of crime (Gun Crazy), or simply a victim of circumstance (D.O.A.) Though the noir mode was originally identified among American productions, films now customarily described as noir have been made around the world. From the 1960s onward, many pictures have come out that share attributes with film noirs of the classic period, often treating noir conventions in a self-reflexive manner. Such latter-day works in a noir mode are often referred to as neo-noirs.

Problems of definition

"We'd be oversimplifying things in calling film noir oneiric, strange, erotic, ambivalent, and cruel...". This is the first of many attempts to define film noir made by the French critics Raymond Borde and Etienne Chaumeton in their 1955 book Panorama du film noir américain 1941–1953 (A Panorama of American Film Noir), the original and seminal extended treatment of the subject. They take pains to point out that not every film noir embodies all five attributes in equal measure—this one is more dreamlike, while this other is particularly brutal. The authors' caveats and repeated efforts at alternative definition have proved telling about noir's reliability as a label: in the more than five decades since, there have been innumerable further attempts at definition, yet in the words of scholar Mark Bould, film noir remains an "elusive phenomenon...always just out of reach".

Though film noir is often identified with a visual style, unconventional within a Hollywood context, that emphasizes low-key lighting and unbalanced compositions, movies commonly identified as noir evidence a variety of visual approaches, including ones that fit comfortably within the Hollywood mainstream. Film noirs similarly embrace a variety of genres, from the gangster film to the police procedural to the gothic romance to the social problem picture—any example of which from the 1940s and 1950s was likely to be described as a "melodrama" at the time. While many critics refer to film noir as a genre itself, others argue that it can be no such thing. While noir is often associated with an urban setting, many classic noirs take place in small towns, suburbia, rural areas, or on the open road; so setting cannot be its genre determinant, as with the Western. Similarly, while the private eye and the femme fatale are character types conventionally identified with noir, the majority of film noirs feature neither; so there is no character basis for genre designation as with the gangster film. Nor does film noir rely on anything as evident as the monstrous or supernatural elements of the horror film, the speculative leaps of the science fiction film, or the song-and-dance routines of the musical.

A more analogous case is that of the screwball comedy, widely accepted by film historians as constituting a "genre": the screwball is defined not by a fundamental attribute, but by a general disposition and a group of elements, some—but rarely and perhaps never all—of which are found in each of the genre's films. However, because of the diversity of noir (much greater than that of the screwball comedy), certain scholars in the field, such as film historian Thomas Schatz, treat it as not a genre but a "style". Alain Silver, the most widely published American critic specializing in film noir studies, refers to film noir as a "cycle" and a "phenomenon", even as he argues that it has—like certain genres—a consistent set of visual and thematic codes. Other critics treat film noir as a "mood", characterize it as a "series", or simply address a chosen set of movies they regard as belonging to the noir "canon". There is no consensus on the matter.


Film noir's aesthetics are deeply influenced by German Expressionism, a cinematic movement of the 1910s and 1920s closely related to contemporaneous developments in theater, photography, painting, sculpture, and architecture. The opportunities offered by the booming Hollywood film industry and, later, the threat of growing Nazi power led to the emigration of many important film artists working in Germany who had either been directly involved in the Expressionist movement or studied with its practitioners. Directors such as Fritz Lang, Robert Siodmak, and Michael Curtiz brought dramatic chiaroscuro lighting techniques and a psychologically expressive approach to mise-en-scène with them to Hollywood, where they would make some of the most famous of classic noirs. Lang's magnum opus, M—released in 1931, two years before his departure from Germany—is among the first major crime films of the sound era to join a characteristically noirish visual style with a noir-type plot, one in which the protagonist is a criminal (as are his most successful pursuers). M was also the occasion for the first star performance by Peter Lorre, who would go on to act in several formative American noirs of the classic era.

By 1931, Curtiz had already been in Hollywood for half a decade, making as many as six films a year. Movies of his such as 20,000 Years in Sing Sing (1932) and Private Detective 62 (1933) are among the early Hollywood sound films arguably classifiable as noir—scholar Marc Vernet offers the latter as evidence that dating the initiation of film noir to 1940 or any other year is "arbitrary". Giving Expressionist-affiliated moviemakers particularly free stylistic rein were Universal horror pictures such as Dracula (1931), The Mummy (1932)—the former photographed and the latter directed by the Berlin-trained Karl Freund—and The Black Cat (1934), directed by Austrian émigré Edgar G. Ulmer. The Universal horror that comes closest to noir, both in story and sensibility, however, is The Invisible Man (1933), directed by Englishman James Whale and photographed by American Arthur Edeson. Edeson would subsequently photograph The Maltese Falcon (1941), widely regarded as the first major film noir of the classic era.

The Vienna-born but largely American-raised Josef von Sternberg was directing in Hollywood at the same time. Films of his such as Shanghai Express (1932) and The Devil Is a Woman (1935), with their hothouse eroticism and baroque visual style, specifically anticipate central elements of classic noir. The commercial and critical success of Sternberg's silent Underworld in 1927 was largely responsible for spurring a trend of Hollywood gangster films. Popular movies in the genre such as Little Caesar (1931), The Public Enemy (1931), and Scarface (1932) demonstrated that there was an audience for crime dramas with morally reprehensible protagonists. An important, and possibly influential, cinematic antecedent to classic noir was 1930s French poetic realism, with its romantic, fatalistic attitude and celebration of doomed heroes. (The movement's sensibility is mirrored in the Warner Bros. drama I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang [1932], a key forerunner of noir.) Among those movies not themselves considered film noirs, perhaps none had a greater effect on the development of the genre than America's own Citizen Kane (1941), the landmark motion picture directed by Orson Welles. Its visual intricacy and complex, voiceover-driven narrative structure are echoed in dozens of classic film noirs.

Italian neorealism of the 1940s, with its emphasis on quasi-documentary authenticity, was an acknowledged influence on trends that emerged in American noir. Director Jules Dassin of The Naked City (1948) pointed to the neorealists as inspiring his use of on-location photography with nonprofessional extras. He also allowed that his semi-documentary approach had a homegrown precedent in director Henry Hathaway's The House on 92nd Street (1945), which demonstrated the parallel influence of the cinematic newsreel. The Lost Weekend (1945), directed by Billy Wilder, yet another Vienna-born, Berlin-trained American auteur, tells the story of an alcoholic in a manner evocative of neorealism. It also exemplifies the problem of classification: one of the first American movies to be described as a film noir, it has largely disappeared from considerations of the field.

Literary sources

The primary literary influence on film noir was the hardboiled school of American detective and crime fiction, led in its early years by such writers as Dashiell Hammett (whose first novel, Red Harvest, was published in 1929) and James M. Cain (whose The Postman Always Rings Twice appeared five years later), and popularized in pulp magazines such as Black Mask. The classic film noirs The Maltese Falcon and The Glass Key (1942) were based on novels by Hammett; Cain's novels provided the basis for Double Indemnity (1944), Mildred Pierce (1945), The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), and Slightly Scarlet (1956; adapted from Love's Lovely Counterfeit). A decade before the classic era, a story of Hammett's was the source for the gangster melodrama City Streets (1931), directed by Rouben Mamoulian and photographed by Lee Garmes, who worked regularly with Sternberg. Wedding a style and story both with many noir characteristics, released the month before Lang's M, City Streets has a claim to being the first major film noir.

Raymond Chandler, who debuted as a novelist with The Big Sleep in 1939, soon became the most famous author of the hardboiled school. Not only were Chandler's novels turned into major noirs—Murder, My Sweet (1944; adapted from Farewell, My Lovely), The Big Sleep (1946), and Lady in the Lake (1947)—he was an important screenwriter in the genre as well, producing the scripts for Double Indemnity, The Blue Dahlia (1946), and Strangers on a Train (1951). Where Chandler, like Hammett, centered most of his novels and stories on the character of the private eye, Cain featured less heroic protagonists and focused more on psychological exposition than on crime solving; the Cain approach has come to be identified with a subset of the hardboiled genre dubbed "noir fiction". For much of the 1940s, one of the most prolific and successful authors of this often downbeat brand of suspense tale was Cornell Woolrich (sometimes using the pseudonyms George Hopley or William Irish). No writer's published work provided the basis for more film noirs of the classic period than Woolrich's: thirteen in all, including Black Angel (1946), Deadline at Dawn (1946), and Fear in the Night (1947).

Another crucial literary source for film noir was W. R. Burnett, whose first novel to be published was Little Caesar, in 1929. It would be turned into a hit for Warner Bros. in 1931; the following year, Burnett was hired to write dialogue for Scarface, while Beast of the City was adapted from one of his stories. At least one important reference work identifies the latter as a film noir despite its early date. Burnett's characteristic narrative approach fell somewhere between that of the quintessential hardboiled writers and their noir fiction compatriots—his protagonists were often heroic in their way, a way just happening to be that of the gangster. During the classic era, his work, either as author or screenwriter, was the basis for seven movies now widely regarded as film noirs, including three of the most famous: High Sierra (1941), This Gun for Hire (1942), and The Asphalt Jungle (1950).

Classic period

The 1940s and 1950s are generally regarded as the "classic period" of American film noir. While City Streets and other pre-WWII crime melodramas such as Fury (1936) and You Only Live Once (1937)—both directed by Fritz Lang—are categorized as full-fledged noir in Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward's film noir encyclopedia, other critics tend to describe them as "proto-noir" or in similar terms. The movie now most commonly cited as the first "true" film noir is Stranger on the Third Floor (1940), directed by Latvian-born, Soviet-trained Boris Ingster. Hungarian émigré Peter Lorre, who played secondary roles in bigger-budgeted movies, was top-billed, though here too he did not play the lead. Stranger on the Third Floor was not recognized as the beginning of a trend, let alone a new genre, for many decades. Indeed, even though modestly budgeted—at the high end of the B movie scale—it still lost its studio, RKO, $56,000, almost a third of its total cost. Variety magazine found Ingster's work "too studied and when original, lacks the flare to hold attention. It's a film too arty for average audiences, and too humdrum for others."
Most of the film noirs of the classic period were similarly low- and modestly budgeted features without major stars—B movies either literally or in spirit. In this production context, writers, directors, cinematographers, and other craftsmen were relatively free from typical big-picture constraints. There was more visual experimentation than in Hollywood filmmaking as a whole: the Expressionism now closely associated with noir and the semidocumentary style that later emerged represent two very different tendencies. Narrative structures also tended to be more pliable, sometimes involving convoluted flashbacks uncommon in non-noir commercial productions. In terms of content, enforcement of the Production Code ensured that no movie character could literally get away with murder or be seen sharing a bed with anyone but a spouse; within those bounds, however, many films now identified as noir feature plot elements and dialogue that were—in some cases, still are—risqué.

Thematically, film noirs were most exceptional for the relative frequency with which they centered on women of questionable virtue—a focus that had become rare in Hollywood films after the mid-1930s and the end of the pre-Code era. The signal movie in this vein was Double Indemnity (1944), directed by Billy Wilder; setting the mold was Barbara Stanwyck's unforgettable femme fatale, Phyllis Dietrichson—an apparent nod to Marlene Dietrich, who had built her extraordinary career playing such characters for Sternberg. An A-level feature all the way, the movie's commercial success and seven Oscar nominations made it probably the most influential of the early noirs. A slew of now-renowned noir "bad girls" would follow, such as those played by Rita Hayworth in Gilda (1946), Lana Turner in The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), Ava Gardner in The Killers (1946), and Jane Greer in Out of the Past (1947). The iconic noir counterpart to the femme fatale, the private eye, came to the fore in movies such as The Maltese Falcon (1941), with Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade, and Murder, My Sweet (1944), with Dick Powell as Philip Marlowe. Other seminal noir sleuths served larger institutions, such as Dana Andrews's police detective in Laura (1944), Edmond O'Brien's insurance investigator in The Killers, and Edward G. Robinson's government agent in The Stranger (1946).

The prevalence of the private eye as a lead character declined in film noir of the 1950s, a period during which several critics describe the form as becoming more focused on extreme psychologies and more exaggerated in general. A prime example is Kiss Me Deadly (1955); based on a novel by Mickey Spillane, the best-selling of all the hardboiled authors, here the protagonist is a private eye, Mike Hammer. As described by Paul Schrader, "Robert Aldrich's teasing direction carries noir to its sleaziest and most perversely erotic. Hammer overturns the underworld in search of the 'great whatsit'...[which] turns out to be—joke of jokes—an exploding atomic bomb." Orson Welles's baroquely styled Touch of Evil (1958) is frequently cited as the last noir of the classic period. Some scholars believe film noir never really ended, but continued to transform even as the characteristic noir visual style began to seem dated and changing production conditions led Hollywood in different directions—in this view, post-1950s films in the noir tradition are seen as part of a continuity with classic noir. A majority of critics, however, regard comparable movies made outside the classic era to be something other than genuine film noirs. They regard true film noir as belonging to a temporally and geographically limited cycle or period, treating subsequent films that evoke the classics as fundamentally different due to general shifts in moviemaking style and latter-day awareness of noir as a historical source for allusion.

Directors and the business of noir

While the inceptive noir, Stranger on the Third Floor, was a B picture directed by a virtual unknown, many of the film noirs that have earned enduring fame were A-list productions by name-brand moviemakers. Debuting as a director with The Maltese Falcon (1941), John Huston followed with the major noirs Key Largo (1948) and The Asphalt Jungle (1950). Opinion is divided on the noir status of several of Alfred Hitchcock's thrillers from the era; at least four qualify by consensus: Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Notorious (1946), Strangers on a Train (1951), and The Wrong Man (1956). Otto Preminger's success with Laura (1944) made his name and helped demonstrate noir's adaptability to a high-gloss 20th Century-Fox presentation. Among Hollywood's most celebrated directors of the era, arguably none worked more often in a noir mode than Preminger—his other classic noirs include Fallen Angel (1945), Whirlpool (1949), Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950) (all for Fox) and Angel Face (1952). A half-decade after Double Indemnity and The Lost Weekend, Billy Wilder made Sunset Boulevard (1950) and Ace in the Hole (1951), noirs that were not so much crime dramas as satires on, respectively, Hollywood and the news media. In a Lonely Place (1950) was Nicholas Ray's breakthrough; his other noirs include his debut, They Live by Night (1948), and On Dangerous Ground (1952).

Orson Welles had notorious problems with financing, but his three film noirs were reasonably well budgeted: The Lady from Shanghai (1947) received top-level, "prestige" backing, while both The Stranger—his most conventional film—and Touch of Evil —an unmistakably personal work—were funded at levels lower but still commensurate with headlining releases. Like The Stranger, Fritz Lang's The Woman in the Window (1945) was a production of the independent International Pictures. Lang's follow-up, Scarlet Street (1945), was one of the few classic noirs to be officially censored: filled with erotic innuendo, it was temporarily banned in Milwaukee, Atlanta, and New York State. Scarlet Street was a semi-independent—cosponsored by Universal and Lang's own Diana Productions, of which the movie's costar, Joan Bennett, was the second biggest shareholder. Lang, Bennett, and her husband, Universal veteran and Diana production head Walter Wanger, would make Secret Beyond the Door (1948) in similar fashion.

Before he was forced abroad for political reasons, director Jules Dassin made two classic noirs that also straddled the major/independent line: Brute Force (1947) and the influential documentary-style The Naked City were developed by producer Mark Hellinger, who had an "inside/outside" contract with Universal similar to Wanger's. Years earlier, working at Warner Bros., Hellinger had produced three films for Raoul Walsh, the proto-noirs They Drive by Night (1940) and Manpower (1941), and High Sierra (1941), now regarded as a key work in noir's development. Walsh had no great name recognition during his half-century as a working director, but his noirs—White Heat (1949) and The Enforcer (1951) would follow—had A-list stars and are seen as important examples of the cycle. In addition to the aforementioned, other directors associated with top-of-the-bill Hollywood film noirs include Edward Dmytryk (Murder, My Sweet [1944], Crossfire [1947])—the first important noir director to fall prey to the industry blacklist—as well as Henry Hathaway (The Dark Corner [1946], Kiss of Death [1947]) and John Farrow (The Big Clock [1948], Night Has a Thousand Eyes [1948]).

As noted above, however, most of the Hollywood films now considered classic noirs fall into the broad category of the "B movie". Some were Bs in the most precise sense, produced to run on the bottom of double bills by a low-budget unit of one of the major studios or by one of the smaller, so-called Poverty Row outfits, from the relatively well-off Monogram to shakier ventures such as Producers Releasing Corporation . Jacques Tourneur had made over thirty Hollywood Bs (a few now highly regarded, most completely forgotten) before directing the A-level Out of the Past, described by scholar Robert Ottoson, in a representative characterization, as "the ne plus ultra of forties film noir". Movies with budgets a step up the ladder, known as "intermediates" within the industry, might be treated as A or B pictures depending on the circumstance—Monogram created a new unit, Allied Artists, in the late 1940s to focus on this sort of production. Such films have long colloquially been referred to as B movies. Robert Wise (Born to Kill [1947], The Set-Up [1949]) and Anthony Mann (T-Men [1947], Raw Deal [1948]) each made a series of impressive intermediates, many of them noirs, before graduating to steady work on big-budget productions. Mann did some of his most celebrated work with cinematographer John Alton, a specialist in what critic James Naremore describes as "hypnotic moments of light-in-darkness". He Walked by Night (1948), shot by Alton and, though credited solely to Alfred Werker, directed in large part by Mann, demonstrates their technical mastery and exemplifies the late 1940s trend of "police procedural" crime dramas. Put out, like other Mann–Alton noirs, by the small Eagle-Lion company, it was the direct inspiration for the Dragnet series, which debuted on radio in 1949 and television in 1951.
Directors such as Samuel Fuller (Pickup on South Street [1953], Underworld U.S.A. [1961]), Joseph H. Lewis (Gun Crazy [1950], The Big Combo [1955]), and Phil Karlson (Kansas City Confidential [1952], The Brothers Rico [1957]) built now well-respected oeuvres largely at the B-movie/intermediate level. (Dalton Trumbo—like Dmytryk, one of the Hollywood Ten—wrote the Gun Crazy screenplay disguised by a front while still blacklisted.) The work of others such as Felix E. Feist (The Devil Thumbs a Ride [1947], Tomorrow Is Another Day [1951]) await critical rediscovery. Edgar G. Ulmer spent almost his entire Hollywood career working at B studios—once in a while on projects that achieved intermediate status; for the most part, on unmistakable Bs. In 1945, while at PRC, he directed one of the all-time noir cult classics, Detour. Ulmer's other noirs include Strange Illusion (1945), also for PRC; Blonde Ice (1948), distributed by tiny Film Classics; and Murder Is My Beat (1955), for Allied Artists.

A number of low- and modestly budgeted noirs were made by independent, often actor-owned, companies contracting with one of the larger outfits for distribution. Serving as producer, writer, director, and top-billed performer, Hugo Haas made several such films, including Pickup (1951) and The Other Woman (1954). It was in this way that accomplished noir actress Ida Lupino became the sole female director in Hollywood during the late 1940s and much of the 1950s. She does not appear in the best-known film she directed, The Hitch-Hiker (1953), developed by her company, The Filmakers, with support and distribution by RKO. It is one of the seven classic film noirs produced largely outside of the major studios that have been chosen to date for the United States National Film Registry. Of the others, one was a small-studio release: Detour. Four were independent productions distributed by United Artists, the "studio without a studio": Gun Crazy; Kiss Me Deadly; D.O.A. (1950), directed by Rudolph Maté; and Sweet Smell of Success (1957), directed by Alexander Mackendrick. One was an independent distributed by MGM, the industry leader: Force of Evil (1948), directed by Abraham Polonsky and starring John Garfield, both of whom would be blacklisted in the 1950s. Independent production usually meant restricted circumstances, but not always—Sweet Smell of Success, for instance, despite the original plans of the production team, was clearly not made on the cheap, though like many other cherished A-budget noirs it might be said to have a B-movie soul.

Perhaps no director better displayed that spirit than the German-born Robert Siodmak, who had already made a score of films before his 1940 arrival in Hollywood. Working mostly on A features, he made no fewer than eight movies now regarded as classic-era film noirs (a figure matched only by Lang and Mann). In addition to The Killers, Burt Lancaster's debut and a Hellinger/Universal coproduction, Siodmak's other important contributions to the genre include 1944's Phantom Lady (a top-of-the-line B and Woolrich adaptation), the ironically titled Christmas Holiday (1944), and Cry of the City (1948). Criss Cross (1949), with Lancaster again the lead, exemplifies how Siodmak brought the virtues of the B-movie to the A noir. In addition to the relatively looser constraints on character and message at lower budgets, the nature of B production lent itself to the noir style for directly economic reasons: dim lighting not only saved on electrical costs but helped cloak cheap sets (mist and smoke also served the cause); night shooting was often compelled by hurried production schedules; plots with obscure motivations and intriguingly elliptical transitions were sometimes the consequence of hastily written scripts, of which there was not always enough time or money to shoot every scene. In Criss Cross, Siodmak achieves all these effects with purpose, wrapping them around Yvonne De Carlo, playing the most understandable of femme fatales, Dan Duryea, in one of his many charismatic villain roles, and Lancaster—already an established star—as an ordinary laborer turned armed robber, a romantic obsessive on a one-way road to ruin.

Classic-era film noirs in the National Film Registry
1940-49 The Maltese Falcon |Shadow of a Doubt |Laura |Double Indemnity |Mildred Pierce |Detour

The Big Sleep |The Killers |Notorious |Out of the Past |Force of Evil |The Naked City |White Heat
1950-58 The Asphalt Jungle |D.O.A. |Gun Crazy |Sunset Boulevard |In a Lonely Place

The Hitch-Hiker |Kiss Me Deadly |The Night of the Hunter |Sweet Smell of Success |Touch of Evil

Film noir outside the United States

Some critics regard classic film noir as a cycle exclusive to the United States; Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward, for example, argue, "With the Western, film noir shares the distinction of being an indigenous American form...a wholly American film style." Others, however, regard noir as an international phenomenon. Even before the beginning of the generally accepted classic period, there were movies made far from Hollywood that can be seen in retrospect as film noirs, for example, the French productions Pépé le Moko (1937), directed by Julien Duvivier, and Le Jour se lève (1939), directed by Marcel Carné.

During the classic period, there were many films produced outside the United States, particularly in France, that share elements of style, theme, and sensibility with American film noirs and may themselves be included in the genre's canon. In certain cases, the interrelationship with Hollywood noir is obvious: American-born director Jules Dassin moved to France in the early 1950s as a result of the Hollywood blacklist, and made one of the most famous French film noirs, Rififi (1955). Other well-known French films often classified as noir include Quai des Orfèvres (1947), Le Salaire de la peur (released in English-speaking countries as The Wages of Fear) (1953) and Les Diaboliques (1955), all directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot; Casque d'or (1952) and Touchez pas au grisbi (1954), both directed by Jacques Becker; and Ascenseur pour l'échafaud (1958), directed by Louis Malle. French director Jean-Pierre Melville is widely recognized for his tragic, minimalist film noirs—Bob le flambeur (1955), from the classic period, was followed by Le Doulos (1962), Le Deuxième souffle (1966), Le Samouraï (1967), and Le Cercle rouge (1970).

Scholar Andrew Spicer argues that British film noir evidences a greater debt to French poetic realism than to the expressionistic American mode of noir. Examples of British noir from the classic period include Brighton Rock (1947), directed by John Boulting; They Made Me a Fugitive (1947), directed by Alberto Cavalcanti; The Small Back Room (1948), directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger; The October Man (1950), directed by Roy Ward Baker; and Cast a Dark Shadow (1955), directed by Lewis Gilbert. Terence Fisher directed several low-budget thrillers in a noir mode for Hammer Film Productions, including The Last Page (aka Man Bait; 1952), Stolen Face (1952), and Murder by Proxy (aka Blackout; 1954). Before leaving for France, Jules Dassin had been obliged by political pressure to shoot his last English-language film of the classic noir period in Great Britain: Night and the City (1950). Though it was conceived in the United States and was not only directed by an American but also stars two American actors—Richard Widmark and Gene Tierney—it is technically a UK production, financed by 20th Century-Fox's British subsidiary. The most famous of classic British noirs is director Carol Reed's The Third Man (1949), like Brighton Rock based on a Graham Greene novel. Set in Vienna immediately after World War II, it also stars two American actors, Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles, who had appeared together in Citizen Kane.
Elsewhere, Italian director Luchino Visconti adapted Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice as Ossessione (1943), regarded both as one of the great noirs and a seminal film in the development of neorealism. (This was not even the first screen version of Cain's novel, having been preceded by the French Le Dernier tournant in 1939.) In Japan, the celebrated Akira Kurosawa directed several movies recognizable as film noirs, including Drunken Angel (1948), Stray Dog (1949), The Bad Sleep Well (1960), and High and Low (1963).

Among the first major neo-noir films—the term often applied to movies that consciously refer back to the classic noir tradition—was the French Tirez sur le pianiste (1960), directed by François Truffaut from a novel by one of the gloomiest of American noir fiction writers, David Goodis. Noir crime films and melodramas have been produced in many countries in the post-classic area, some of them quintessentially self-aware neo-noirs—for example, Il Conformista (1969; Italy), Der Amerikanische Freund (1977; Germany), The Element of Crime (1984; Denmark), El Aura (2005; Argentina)—others simply sharing narrative elements and a version of the hardboiled sensibility associated with classic noir—The Castle of Sand (1974; Japan), Insomnia (1997; Norway), Croupier (1998; UK), Blind Shaft (2003; China).

Neo-noir and echoes of the classic mode

1960s and 1970s

While it is hard to draw a line between some of the noir films of the early 1960s such as Blast of Silence (1961) and Cape Fear (1962) and the noirs of the late 1950s, new trends emerged in the post-classic era. The Manchurian Candidate (1962), directed by John Frankenheimer, Shock Corridor (1962), directed by Samuel Fuller, and Brainstorm (1965), directed by experienced noir character actor William Conrad, all treat the theme of mental dispossession within stylistic and tonal frameworks derived from classic film noir. The Fugitive (1963–67) brought classic noir themes and mood to television for an extended run.

In a different vein, films began to appear that self-consciously acknowledged the conventions of classic film noir as historical archetypes to be revived, rejected, or reimagined. These efforts typify what came to be known as neo-noir. Though several late classic noirs, Kiss Me Deadly in particular, were deeply self-knowing and post-traditional in conception, none tipped its hand so evidently as to be remarked on by American critics at the time. The first major film to overtly work this angle was French director Jean-Luc Godard's À bout de souffle (Breathless; 1960), which pays its literal respects to Bogart and his crime films while brandishing a bold new style for a new day. In the United States, Arthur Penn (Mickey One [1964], drawing inspiration from Truffaut's Tirez sur le pianiste and other French New Wave films), John Boorman (Point Blank [1967], similarly caught up, though in the Nouvelle vague's deeper waters), and Alan J. Pakula (Klute [1971]) directed movies that knowingly related themselves to the original film noirs, inviting audiences in on the game.

A manifest affiliation with noir traditions—which, by its nature, allows for different sorts of commentary on them to be inferred—can also provide the basis for explicit critiques of those traditions. In 1973, director Robert Altman flipped off noir piety with The Long Goodbye. Based on the novel by Raymond Chandler, it features one of Bogart's most famous characters, but in iconoclastic fashion: Philip Marlowe, the prototypical hardboiled detective, is replayed as a hapless misfit, almost laughably out of touch with contemporary mores and morality. Where Altman's subversion of the film noir mythos was so irreverent as to outrage some contemporary critics, around the same time Woody Allen was paying affectionate, at points idolatrous homage to the classic mode with Play It Again, Sam (1972).

The most acclaimed of the neo-noirs of the era was director Roman Polanski's 1974 Chinatown. Written by Robert Towne, it is set in 1930s Los Angeles, an accustomed noir locale nudged back some few years in a way that makes the pivotal loss of innocence in the story even crueler. Where Polanski and Towne raised noir to a black apogee by turning rearward, director Martin Scorsese and screenwriter Paul Schrader brought the noir attitude crashing into the present day with Taxi Driver (1976), a cackling, bloody-minded gloss on bicentennial America. In 1978, Walter Hill wrote and directed the The Driver, a chase movie as might have been imagined by Jean-Pierre Melville in an especially abstract mood.

Hill was already a central figure in 1970s noir of a more straightforward manner, having written the script for director Sam Peckinpah's The Getaway (1972), adapting a novel by pulp master Jim Thompson, as well as for two tough private eye films: an original screenplay for Hickey & Boggs (1972) and an adaptation of a novel by Ross Macdonald, the leading literary descendant of Hammett and Chandler, for The Drowning Pool (1975). Some of the strongest 1970s noirs, in fact, were unwinking remakes of the classics, "neo" mostly be default: the heartbreaking Thieves Like Us (1973), directed by Altman from the same source as Ray's They Live by Night, and Farewell, My Lovely (1975), the Chandler tale made classically as Murder, My Sweet, remade here with Robert Mitchum in his last notable noir role. Detective series, prevalent on American television during the period, updated the hardboiled tradition in different ways, but the show conjuring the most noir tone was a horror crossover touched with shaggy, Long Goodbye–style humor: Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974–75), featuring a Chicago newspaper reporter investigating strange, usually supernatural occurrences.

1980s and 1990s

The turn of the decade brought Scorsese's black-and-white Raging Bull (cowritten by Schrader); an acknowledged masterpiece—the American Film Institute ranks it as the greatest American film of the 1980s and the fourth greatest of all time—it is also a retreat, telling a story of a boxer's moral self-destruction that recalls in both theme and visual ambience noir dramas such as Body and Soul (1947) and Champion (1949). From 1981, the popular Body Heat, written and directed by Lawrence Kasdan, invokes a different set of classic noir elements, this time in a humid, erotically charged Florida setting; its success confirmed the commercial viability of neo-noir, at a time when the major Hollywood studios were becoming increasingly risk averse. The mainstreaming of neo-noir is evident in such films as Black Widow (1987), Shattered (1991), and Final Analysis (1992). Few neo-noirs have made more money or more wittily updated the tradition of the noir double-entendre than Basic Instinct (1992), directed by Paul Verhoeven and written by Joe Eszterhas. The film also demonstrates how neo-noir's polychrome palette can reproduce many of the expressionistic effects of classic black-and-white noir.

Among big-budget auteurs, Michael Mann has worked frequently in a neo-noir mode, with such films as Thief (1981) and Heat (1995) and the TV series Miami Vice (1984–89) and Crime Story (1986–88). Mann's output exemplifies a primary strain of neo-noir, in which classic themes and tropes are revisited in a contemporary setting with an up-to-date visual style and rock- or hip hop–based musical soundtrack. Like Chinatown, its more complex predecessor, Curtis Hanson's Oscar-winning L.A. Confidential (1997), based on the James Ellroy novel, demonstrates an opposite tendency—the deliberately retro film noir; its tale of corrupt cops and femme fatales is seemingly lifted straight from a movie of 1953, the year in which it is set. Director David Fincher followed the immensely successful neo-noir Se7en (1995) with a film that developed into a cult favorite after its original, disappointing release: Fight Club (1999) is a sui generis mix of noir aesthetic, perverse comedy, speculative content, and satiric intention.

Working generally with much smaller budgets, brothers Joel and Ethan Coen have created one of the most extensive film oeuvres influenced by classic noir, with movies such as Blood Simple (1984) and Fargo (1996), considered by some a supreme work in the neo-noir mode. The Coens cross noir with other generic lines in the gangster drama Miller's Crossing (1990)—loosely based on the Dashiell Hammett novels Red Harvest and The Glass Key—and the comedy The Big Lebowski (1998), a tribute to Chandler and an homage to Altman's version of The Long Goodbye. The characteristic work of David Lynch combines film noir tropes with scenarios driven by disturbed characters such as the sociopathic criminal played by Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet (1986) and the delusionary protagonist of Lost Highway (1996). The Twin Peaks cycle, both TV series (1990–91) and movie, Fire Walk with Me (1992), puts a detective plot through a succession of bizarro spasms. David Cronenberg also mixes surrealism and noir in Naked Lunch (1991), inspired by the William S. Burroughs novel.

Perhaps no American neo-noirs better reflect the classic noir A-movie-with-a-B-movie-soul than those of director-writer Quentin Tarantino; neo-noirs of his such as Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Pulp Fiction (1994) display a relentlessly self-reflexive, sometimes tongue-in-cheek sensibility, similar to the work of the New Wave directors and the Coens. Other movies from the era readily identifiable as neo-noir (some retro, some more au courant) include director John Dahl's Kill Me Again (1989), Red Rock West (1992), and The Last Seduction (1993); four adaptations of novels by Jim Thompson—The Kill-Off (1989), After Dark, My Sweet (1990), The Grifters (1990), and the remake of The Getaway (1994); and many more, including adaptations of the work of other major noir fiction writers: The Hot Spot (1990), from Hell Hath No Fury, by Charles Williams; Miami Blues (1990), from the novel by Charles Willeford; and Out of Sight (1998), from the novel by Elmore Leonard. On television, the series Moonlighting (1985–89) paid homage to classic noir while demonstrating an unusual appreciation of the sense of humor often found in the original cycle. Between 1983 and 1989, Mickey Spillane's hardboiled private eye Mike Hammer was played with wry gusto by Stacy Keach in a series and several stand-alone TV movies (an unsuccessful revival followed in 1997–98). The British miniseries The Singing Detective (1986), written by Dennis Potter, tells the story of a mystery writer named Philip Marlow; widely considered one of the finest neo-noirs in any medium, some critics rank it among the greatest television productions of all time.


The Coens' most recent nod to the noir tradition is The Man Who Wasn't There (2001); a black-and-white crime melodrama set in 1949, it features a scene apparently staged to mirror the one from Out of the Past pictured above. Lynch's Mulholland Drive (2001) continued in his characteristic vein, making the classic noir setting of Los Angeles the venue for a noir-inflected psychological jigsaw puzzle. Among the leading Hollywood directors of noir during the current decade has been the British-born Christopher Nolan, with the acclaimed Memento (2000), the remake of Insomnia (2002), and his dark-toned superhero films, Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008).

Director Sean Penn's The Pledge (2001), though adapted from a very self-reflexive novel by Friedrich Dürrenmatt, plays noir comparatively straight, to devastating effect. Screenwriter David Ayer updated the classic noir bad-cop tale, typified by Shield for Murder (1954) and Rogue Cop (1954), with his scripts for Training Day (2001) and, adapting a story by James Ellroy, Dark Blue (2002); he later wrote and directed the even darker Harsh Times (2006). Michael Mann's Collateral (2004) features a performance by Tom Cruise as an assassin in the lineage of Le Samouraï. The torments of The Machinist (2004), directed by Brad Anderson, evoke both Fight Club and Memento. In 2005, Shane Black directed Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, basing his screenplay in part on a crime novel by Brett Halliday, who published his first stories back in the 1920s. The film plays with an awareness not only of classic noir but also of neo-noir reflexivity itself, making it a model neo²-noir.

With ultra-violent films such as Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) and Thirst (2009), Park Chan-wook of South Korea has been the most prominent director outside of the United States to work regularly in a noir mode in the new millennium. The most commercially successful of recent neo-noirs is Sin City (2005), directed by Robert Rodriguez in extravagantly stylized black and white with the odd bit of color. The film is based on a series of comic books created by Frank Miller (credited as the movie's codirector), which are in turn openly indebted to the works of Spillane and other pulp mystery authors. Similarly, graphic novels provide the basis for Road to Perdition (2002), directed by Sam Mendes, and A History of Violence (2005), directed by David Cronenberg; the latter was voted best film of the year in the Village Voice poll. Writer-director Rian Johnson's Brick (2005), featuring present-day high schoolers speaking a version of 1930s hardboiled argot, won the Special Jury Prize for Originality of Vision at the Sundance Film Festival. The television series Veronica Mars (2004–7) also brought a youth-oriented twist to film noir.

Science fiction noir

In the post-classic era, the most significant trend in noir crossovers has involved science fiction. In Jean-Luc Godard's Alphaville (1965), Lemmy Caution is the name of the old-school private eye in the city of tomorrow. The Groundstar Conspiracy (1972) centers on another implacable investigator and an amnesiac named Welles. Soylent Green (1973), the first major American example, portrays a dystopian, near-future world via a self-evidently noir detection plot; starring Charlton Heston (the lead in Touch of Evil), it also features classic noir standbys Joseph Cotten, Edward G. Robinson, and Whit Bissell. The movie was directed by Richard Fleischer, who two decades before had directed several strong B noirs, including Armored Car Robbery (1950) and The Narrow Margin (1952).

The cynical and stylish perspective of classic film noir had a formative effect on the cyberpunk genre of science fiction that emerged in the early 1980s; the movie most directly influential on cyberpunk was Blade Runner (1982), directed by Ridley Scott, which pays evocative homage to the classic noir mode (Scott would subsequently direct the poignant noir crime melodrama Someone to Watch Over Me [1987]). Scholar Jamaluddin Bin Aziz has observed how "the shadow of Philip Marlowe lingers on" in such other "future noir" films as Twelve Monkeys (1995), Dark City (1998), and Minority Report (2002). Fincher's feature debut was Alien 3 (1992), which evoked the classic noir jail movie Brute Force.

Cronenberg's Crash (1996), an adaptation of the speculative novel by J. G. Ballard, has been described as a "film noir in bruise tones". The hero is the target of investigation in Gattaca (1997), which fuses film noir motifs with a scenario indebted to Brave New World. The Thirteenth Floor (1999), like Blade Runner, is an explicit homage to classic noir, in this case involving speculations about virtual reality. Science fiction, noir, and anime are brought together in the Japanese films Ghost in the Shell (1995) and Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2004), both directed by Mamoru Oshii, and the television series Noir (2001).

Film noir parodies

Film noir has been parodied many times, in many manners. In 1945, Danny Kaye starred in what appears to be the first intentional film noir parody, Wonder Man.Silver and Ward (1992), p. 332. That same year, Deanna Durbin was the singing lead in the comedic noir Lady on a Train, which makes fun of Woolrich-brand wistful miserablism. Bob Hope inaugurated the private-eye noir parody with My Favorite Brunette (1947), playing a baby photographer who is mistaken for an ironfisted detective. In 1947 as well, The Bowery Boys appeared in Hard Boiled Mahoney, which had a similar mistaken-identity plot; they spoofed the genre once more in 1953's Private Eyes (1953). Two RKO productions starring Robert Mitchum take film noir over the border into self-parody: The Big Steal (1949), directed by Don Siegel, and His Kind of Woman (1951), originally directed by John Farrow, then largely reshot under Richard Fleischer after studio owner Howard Hughes demanded rewrites (only Farrow was credited). The "Girl Hunt" ballet in Vincente Minnelli's The Band Wagon (1953) is a ten-minute distillation of—and play on—noir in dance. The Cheap Detective (1978), starring Peter Falk, is a broad spoof of several films, including the Bogart classics The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca. Carl Reiner's black-and-white Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982) appropriates clips of classic noirs for a farcical pastiche. Robert Zemeckis's Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988) develops a noir plot set in 1940s L.A. around a host of cartoon characters.

Noir parodies come in darker tones as well. Murder by Contract (1958), directed by Irving Lerner, is an eighty-one-minute-long deadpan joke on noir, with a denouement as bleak as any of the movies it kids. An ultra-low-budget Columbia Pictures production, it may qualify as the first intentional example of what is now called a neo-noir film; it certainly seems to have been a source of inspiration for Melville's Le Samouraï and Scorsese's Taxi Driver. Belying its parodic strain, The Long Goodbye s final act is seriously grave. Taxi Driver caustically deconstructs the "dark" crime film, taking it to an absurd extreme and then offering a conclusion that manages to mock every possible anticipated ending—triumphant, tragic, artfully ambivalent—while being each, all at once. Flirting with splatter status even more brazenly, the Coens' Blood Simple is both an exacting pastiche and a gross exaggeration of classic noir. Adapted by director Robinson Devor from a novel by Charles Willeford, The Woman Chaser (1999) sends up not just the noir mode but the entire Hollywood filmmaking process, with seemingly each shot staged as the visual equivalent of a Marlowe wisecrack—funny, but it smarts.

In other media, the television series Sledge Hammer! (1986–88) lampoons noir, along with Dirty Harry, capital punishment, and anything else available. Sesame Street (1969–curr.) occasionally casts Kermit the Frog as a private eye; the sketches refer to some of the typical motifs of noir movies, in particular the voiceover. Garrison Keillor's radio program A Prairie Home Companion features the recurring character Guy Noir, a hardboiled detective whose adventures always wander into farce (Guy also appears in the Altman-directed film based on Keillor's show). Firesign Theatre's Nick Danger has trod the same not-so-mean streets, both on radio and in comedy albums. Cartoons such as Garfield's Babes and Bullets (1989) and comic strip characters such as Tracer Bullet of Calvin and Hobbes have parodied both film noir and the kindred hardboiled tradition—one of the sources from which film noir sprang and which it now overshadows.

Approaches to defining noir

The history of film noir criticism has seen fundamental questions become matters of controversy unusually intense for such a field. Where aesthetic debates tend to concentrate on the quality and meaning of specific artworks and the intentions and influences of their creators, in film noir, the debates are regularly much broader. Four large questions may be identified, two of them addressed at the beginning of this article:
  • What defines film noir?
  • What sort of category is it?
A third question applies at a more specific level, but is sweeping:
  • Which movies qualify as film noirs?
This article refers to movies from the classic period as "film noir" if there is a critical consensus supporting that designation. That consensus is far from complete, even in the case of well-known films: The Night of the Hunter (1955), starring Robert Mitchum in an acclaimed performance, is treated as a film noir by some critics, but not by others. Some critics include Suspicion (1941), directed by Alfred Hitchcock, in their noir canons; others ignore it. Outside of the classic period, consensus is much rarer—movies are considered as noir herein if a substantial number of critics have discussed them as such. In order to decide which films are noir (and which are not), many critics refer to a set of elements they see as marking examples of the mode. This leads to a fourth major point of controversy in the field, one that overlaps with all those noted above:
  • What are the identifying characteristics of film noirs?
For instance, critics tend to define the model film noir as having a tragic or bleak conclusion, but many acknowledged classics of the genre have clearly happy endings (e.g., Stranger on the Third Floor, The Big Sleep, Dark Passage, and The Dark Corner), while the tone of many other noir denouements is ambivalent, in a variety of ways. The ambition of this section, then, can be no more than modest: it is an attempt to survey those characteristics most often cited by critics as representative of classic film noirs. As diverse as that set of movies is, the diversity of films from outside the classic period that have been discussed as noir is so great that any similar survey would be impractical; however, those classic noir identifying marks often referenced in neo-noirs—however frequently or seldom they actually appeared in the original films—are noted as are certain signal trends of the latter-day mode.

Visual style

Film noirs tended to use low-key lighting schemes producing stark light/dark contrasts and dramatic shadow patterning. The shadows of Venetian blinds or banister rods, cast upon an actor, a wall, or an entire set, are an iconic visual in film noir and had already become a cliché well before the neo-noir era. Characters' faces may be partially or wholly obscured by darkness—a relative rarity in conventional Hollywood moviemaking. While black-and-white cinematography is considered by many to be one of the essential attributes of classic noir, the color films Leave Her to Heaven (1945) and Niagara (1953) are routinely included in noir filmographies, while Slightly Scarlet (1956), Party Girl (1958), and Vertigo (1958) are classified as noir by varying numbers of critics.

Film noir is also known for its use of Dutch angles, low-angle shots, and wide-angle lenses. Other devices of disorientation relatively common in film noir include shots of people reflected in one or more mirrors, shots through curved or frosted glass or other distorting objects (such as during the strangulation scene in Strangers on a Train), and special effects sequences of a sometimes bizarre nature. Night-for-night shooting, as opposed to the Hollywood norm of day-for-night, was often employed. From the mid-1940s forward, location shooting became increasingly frequent in noir.

In an analysis of the visual approach of Kiss Me Deadly, a late and self-consciously stylized example of classic noir, critic Alain Silver describes how cinematographic choices emphasize the story's themes and mood. In one scene, the characters, seen through a "confusion of angular shapes", thus appear "caught in a tangible vortex or enclosed in a trap." Silver makes a case for how "[s]ide light is reflect character ambivalence", while shots of characters in which they are lit from below "conform to a convention of visual expression which associates shadows cast upward of the face with the unnatural and ominous".

Structure and narrational devices

Film noirs tend to have unusually convoluted story lines, frequently involving flashbacks and other editing techniques that disrupt and sometimes obscure the narrative sequence. Framing the entire primary narrative as a flashback is also a standard device. Voiceover narration, sometimes used as a structuring device, came to be seen as a noir hallmark; while classic noir is generally associated with first-person narration (i.e., by the protagonist), Stephen Neale notes that third-person narration is common among noirs of the semidocumentary style. Neo-noirs as varied as The Element of Crime (surrealist); After Dark, My Sweet (retro); and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (meta) have employed the flashback/voiceover combination.

Bold experiments in cinematic storytelling were sometimes attempted during the classic era: Lady in the Lake, for example, is shot entirely from the point of view of protagonist Philip Marlowe; the face of star (and director) Robert Montgomery is seen only in mirrors. The Chase (1946) takes oneirism and fatalism as the basis for its fantastical narrative system, redolent of certain horror stories, but with little precedent in the context of a putatively realistic genre. In their different ways, both Sunset Boulevard and D.O.A. are tales told by dead men. Latter-day noir has been in the forefront of structural experimentation in popular cinema, as exemplified by such films as Pulp Fiction, Fight Club, and Memento.

Plots, characters, and settings

Crime, usually murder, is an element of almost all film noirs; in addition to standard-issue greed, jealousy is frequently the criminal motivation. A crime investigation—by a private eye, a police detective (sometimes acting alone), or a concerned amateur—is the most prevalent, but far from dominant, basic plot. In other common plots the protagonists are implicated in heists or con games, or in murderous conspiracies often involving adulterous affairs. False suspicions and accusations of crime are frequent plot elements, as are betrayals and double-crosses. According to J. David Slocum, "protagonists assume the literal identities of dead men in nearly fifteen percent of all noir." Amnesia is fairly epidemic—"noir's version of the common cold", in the words of film historian Lee Server.
Film noirs tend to revolve around heroes who are more flawed and morally questionable than the norm, often fall guys of one sort or another. The characteristic protagonists of noir are described by many critics as "alienated"; in the words of Silver and Ward, "filled with existential bitterness". Certain archetypal characters appear in many film noirs—hardboiled detectives, femme fatales, corrupt policemen, jealous husbands, intrepid claims adjusters, and down-and-out writers. For characters of every stripe, cigarette smoking may seem virtually mandatory. As can be observed in many movies of an overtly neo-noir nature, the private eye and the femme fatale are the character types with which film noir has come to be most identified, but only a minority of movies now regarded as classic noir feature either. For example, of the nineteen National Film Registry noirs, in only four does the star play a private eye: The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, Out of the Past, and Kiss Me Deadly. Just two others readily qualify as detective stories: Laura and Touch of Evil.

Film noir is often associated with an urban setting, and a few cities—Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, and Chicago, in particular—are the location of many of the classic films. In the eyes of many critics, the city is presented in noir as a "labyrinth" or "maze". Bars, lounges, nightclubs, and gambling dens are frequently the scene of action. The climaxes of a substantial number of film noirs take place in visually complex, often industrial settings, such as refineries, factories, trainyards, power plants—most famously the explosive conclusion of White Heat. In the popular (and, frequently enough, critical) imagination, in noir it is always night and it always rains.

A substantial trend within latter-day noir—dubbed "film soleil" by critic D. K. Holm—heads in precisely the opposite direction, with tales of deception, seduction, and corruption exploiting bright, sun-baked settings, stereotypically the desert or open water, to corrosive effect. Significant predecessors from the classic and early post-classic eras include The Lady from Shanghai; the Robert Ryan vehicle Inferno (1953); the French adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley; Plein soleil (Purple Noon in the U.S., better rendered elsewhere as Blazing Sun or Full Sun; 1960); and director Don Siegel's version of The Killers (1964). The tendency was at its peak during the late 1980s and 1990s, with films such as Dead Calm (1989); After Dark, My Sweet; The Hot Spot; Delusion (1991); and Red Rock West, and TV's Miami Vice.

Worldview, morality, and tone

Film noir is often described as essentially pessimistic. The noir stories that are regarded as most characteristic tell of people trapped in unwanted situations (which, in general, they did not cause but are responsible for exacerbating), striving against random, uncaring fate, and frequently doomed. The movies are seen as depicting a world that is inherently corrupt. Classic film noir has been associated by many critics with the American social landscape of the era—in particular, with a sense of heightened anxiety and alienation that is said to have followed World War II. Nicholas Christopher's opinion is representative: "it is as if the war, and the social eruptions in its aftermath, unleashed demons that had been bottled up in the national psyche." Film noirs, especially those of the 1950s and the height of the Red Scare, are often said to reflect cultural paranoia; Kiss Me Deadly is the noir most frequently marshaled as evidence for this claim.

Film noir is often said to be defined by "moral ambiguity", yet the Production Code obliged almost all classic noirs to see that steadfast virtue was ultimately rewarded and vice, in the absence of shame and redemption, severely punished (however dramatically incredible the final rendering of mandatory justice might be). A substantial number of latter-day noirs flout such conventions—the conclusions of Chinatown and The Hot Spot provide two very different examples.

The tone of film noir is generally regarded as downbeat; some critics experience it as darker still—"overwhelmingly black", according to Robert Ottoson. Influential critic (and filmmaker) Paul Schrader wrote in a seminal 1972 essay that "film noir is defined by tone", a tone he seems to perceive as "hopeless". In describing the adaptation of Double Indemnity, leading noir analyst Foster Hirsch describes the "requisite hopeless tone" achieved by the filmmakers, which appears to characterize his view of noir as a whole. On the other hand, definitive film noirs such as The Big Sleep, The Lady from Shanghai, and Double Indemnity itself are famed for their hardboiled repartee, often imbued with sexual innuendo and self-reflexive humor—notes of another tone.

See also


  1. Opinion is divided on the English plural of film noir.
  2. In the French from which the term derives, the plural is films noirs.
  3. Some English speakers prefer films noir, while film noirs is the most common formulation.
  4. The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary acknowledges all three styles as acceptable, but gives as the preferred spelling film noirs.
  5. In Academic Dictionary of Arts (2005), Rakesh Chopra notes that the cinematic lighting schemes commonly referred to as "chiaroscuro" are more specifically representative of tenebrism, involving high contrasts of light and dark, whose first great exponent was the Italian painter Caravaggio (p.
  6. 73).
  7. See also Ballinger and Graydon (2007), p.
  8. 16.


  1. See, e.g., Biesen (2005), p. 1; Hirsch (2001), p. 9; Lyons (2001), p. 2; Silver and Ward (1992), p. 1; Schatz (1981), p. 112. Outside the field of noir scholarship, "dark film" is also offered on occasion; see, e.g., Block, Bruce A., The Visual Story: Seeing the Structure of Film, TV, and New Media (2001), p. 94; Klarer, Mario, An Introduction to Literary Studies (1999), p. 59.
  2. Naremore (2008), pp. 4, 15–16, 18, 41; Ballinger and Graydon (2007), pp. 4–5, 22, 255.
  3. Greenspun (1973), p. 32.
  4. Borde and Chaumeton (2002), p. 2.
  5. Bould (2005), p. 13.
  6. See, e.g, Ballinger and Graydon (2007), p. 4; Bould (2005), p. 12; Place and Peterson (1974).
  7. See, e.g., Naremore (2008), p. 167–68; Irwin (2006), p. 210.
  8. Neale (2000), p. 166; Vernet (1993), p. 2; Naremore (2008), pp. 17, 122, 124, 140; Bould (2005), p. 19.
  9. For overview of debate, see, e.g., Bould (2005), pp. 13–23; Telotte (1989), pp. 9–10. For description of noir as a genre, see, e.g., Bould (2005), p. 2; Hirsch (2001), pp. 71–72; Tuska (1984), p. xxiii. For the opposing viewpoint, see, e.g., Neale (2000), p. 164; Ottoson (1981), p. 2; Schrader (1972); Durgnat (1970).
  10. See Dancyger, Ken, and Jeff Rush, Alternative Scriptwriting: Successfully Breaking the Rules (2002), p. 68, for a detailed comparison of screwball comedy and film noir.
  11. Schatz (1981), pp. 111–15.
  12. Silver (1996), pp. 4, 6 passim. See also Bould (2005), pp. 3, 4; Hirsch (2001), p. 11.
  13. Silver (1996), pp. 3, 6 passim. See also Place and Peterson (1974).
  14. Silver (1996), pp. 7–10.
  15. See, e.g., Jones (2009).
  16. See, e.g., Borde and Chaumeton (2002), pp. 1–7 passim.
  17. See, e.g., Telotte (1989), pp. 10–11, 15 passim.
  18. For survey of the lexical variety, see Naremore (2008), pp. 9, 311–12n.
  19. Ballinger and Graydon (2007), pp. 9–11; Bould (2005), pp. 24–33.
  20. Vernet (1993), p. 15.
  21. Ballinger and Graydon (2007), pp. 11–13.
  22. Hantke, Steffen, Horror Film: Creating and Marketing Fear (2004), p. 194. See also Ballinger and Graydon (2007), p. 133; Ottoson (1981), pp. 110–111. Vernet (1993) notes that the sort of techniques now associated with Expressionism were evident in the American cinema from the mid-1910s forward (pp. 9–12).
  23. Ballinger and Graydon (2007), pp. 6–9; Silver and Ward (1992), pp. 323–24.
  24. Spicer (2007), pp. 26, 28; Ballinger and Graydon (2007), pp. 13–15; Bould (2005), pp. 33–40.
  25. McGarry (1980), p. 139.
  26. Ballinger and Graydon (2007), p. 20; Schatz (1981), pp. 116–22; Ottoson (1981), p. 2.
  27. Krutnik, Neale, and Neve (2008), pp. 147–148; Macek and Silver (1980), p. 135.
  28. Biesen (2005), p. 207.
  29. Naremore (2008), pp. 13–14.
  30. See Jim Doherty's essay on Carmady at the Thrilling Detective website for a detailed analysis of the private eye character who appears in "The Finger Man".
  31. See, e.g., Ballinger and Graydon (2007), p. 6; Macek (1980), pp. 59–60.
  32. Irwin (2006), pp. 71, 95–96.
  33. Irwin (2006), pp. 123–24, 129–30.
  34. White (1980), p. 17.
  35. Irwin (2006), pp. 97–98, 188–89.
  36. Silver and Ward (1992), p. 333, as well as entries on individual films, pp. 59–60, 109–10, 320–21. For description of City Streets as "proto-noir", see Turan (2008). For description of Fury as "proto-noir", see Machura, Stefan, and Peter Robson, Law and Film (2001), p. 13. For description of You Only Live Once as "pre-noir", see Ballinger and Graydon (2007), p. 9.
  37. See, e.g., Ballinger and Graydon (2007), p. 19; Irwin (2006), p. 210; Lyons (2000), p. 36; Porfirio (1980), p. 269.
  38. Biesen (2005), p. 33.
  39. Variety (1940).
  40. Ballinger and Graydon (2007), p. 4, 19–26, 28–33; Hirsch (2001), pp. 1–21; Schatz (1981), pp. 111–16.
  41. See, e.g., Naremore (2008), pp. 81, 319n13; Ballinger and Graydon (2007), pp. 86–88.
  42. See, e.g., Ballinger and Graydon (2007), p. 30; Hirsch (2001), pp. 12, 202; Schrader (1972), pp. 59–61 [in Silver and Ursini].
  43. Schrader (1972), p. 61.
  44. See, e.g., Silver (1996), p. 11; Ottoson (1981), pp. 182–183; Schrader (1972), p. 61.
  45. See, e.g., Ballinger and Graydon (2007), pp. 19–53.
  46. See, e.g., Hirsch (2001), pp. 10, 202–7; Silver and Ward (1992), p. 6 (though they phrase their position more ambiguously on p. 398); Ottoson (1981), p. 1.
  47. See, e.g., entries on individual films in Ballinger and Graydon (2007), pp. 34, 190–92; Silver and Ward (1992), pp. 214–15; 253–54, 269–70, 318–19.
  48. Biesen (2005), p. 162.
  49. For overview of Welles's noirs, see, e.g., Ballinger and Graydon (2007), pp. 210–11. For specific production circumstances, see Brady, Frank, Citizen Welles: A Biography of Orson Welles (1989), pp. 395–404, 378–81, 496–512.
  50. Bernstein (1995).
  51. McGilligan (1997), pp. 314–17.
  52. Schatz (1998), pp. 354–58.
  53. See, e.g., Schatz (1981), pp. 103, 112.
  54. See, e.g., entries on individual films in Silver and Ward (1992), pp. 97–98, 125–26, 311–12.
  55. See Naremore (2008), pp. 140–55, on "B Pictures versus Intermediates".
  56. Ottoson (1981), p. 132.
  57. Naremore (2008), p. 173.
  58. Hayde, Michael J., My Name's Friday: The Unauthorized But True Story of Dragnet and the Films of Jack Webb (2001), pp. 3–4, 15–21, 37.
  59. Erickson (2004), p. 26.
  60. See, e.g., Ballinger and Graydon (2007), pp. 83–85; Ottoson (1981), pp. 60–61.
  61. Muller (1998), pp. 176–77.
  62. Krutnik, Neale, and Neve (2008), pp. 259–60, 262–63.
  63. See Mackendrick, Alexander, On Film-making: An Introduction to the Craft of the Director (2006), pp. 119–20.
  64. See, e.g., Silver and Ward (1992), pp. 338–39. Ottoson (1981) additionally lists two period pieces directed by Siodmak (The Suspect [1944] and The Spiral Staircase [1946]) for a total of ten (pp. 173–74, 164–65). Silver and Ward list nine classic-era film noirs by Lang, plus two from the 1930s (pp. 338, 396). Ottoson lists eight (excluding Beyond a Reasonable Doubt [1956]), plus the same two from the 1930s (passim). Silver and Ward list seven by Mann (p. 338). Ottoson additionally lists Reign of Terror (aka The Black Book; 1949), set during the French Revolution, for a total of eight (passim). See also Ballinger and Graydon (2007), p. 241.
  65. Clarens (1980), pp. 200–2; Walker (1992), pp. 139–45; Ballinger and Graydon (2007), pp. 77–79.
  66. Silver and Ward (1992), p. 1.
  67. See Palmer (2004), pp. 267–68, for a representative discussion of film noir as an international phenomenon.
  68. Spicer (2007), pp. 5–6, 26, 28, 59; Ballinger and Graydon (2007), pp. 14–15.
  69. Spicer (2007), pp. 32–39, 43; Ballinger and Graydon (2007), pp. 255–61.
  70. Spicer (2007), p. 9.
  71. Spicer (2007), pp. 16, 91–94, 96, 100; Ballinger and Graydon (2007), pp. 144, 249–55; Lyons (2000), p. 74, 81, 114–15.
  72. Spicer (2007), pp. 13, 28, 241; Ballinger and Graydon (2007), pp. 264, 266.
  73. Spicer (2007), pp. 19n36, 28.
  74. Ballinger and Graydon (2007), pp. 266–68.
  75. Spicer (2007), p. 241; Ballinger and Graydon (2007), p. 257.
  76. Ballinger and Graydon (2007), pp. 253, 255, 263–64, 266, 267, 270–74.
  77. Ursini (1995), pp. 284–86; Ballinger and Graydon (2007), p. 278.
  78. Ballinger and Graydon (2007), p. 41.
  79. See, e.g., Variety (1955). For a latter-day analysis of the film's self-consciousness, see Naremore (2008), pp. 151–55. See also Kolker (2000), p. 364.
  80. For Mickey One, see Kolker (2000), pp. 21–22, 26–30. For Point Blank, see Ballinger and Graydon (2007), pp. 36, 38, 41, 257. For Klute, see Ballinger and Graydon (2007), pp. 114–15.
  81. Kolker (2000), pp. 344, 363–73; Naremore (2008), pp. 203–5; Ballinger and Graydon (2007), pp. 36, 39, 130–33.
  82. Kolker (2000), p. 364; Ballinger and Graydon (2007), p. 132.
  83. Kolker (2000), pp. 207–44; Silver and Ward (1992), pp. 282–83; Naremore (1998), pp. 34–37, 192.
  84. Silver and Ward (1992), pp. 398–99.
  85. For Thieves Like Us, see Kolker (2000), pp. 358–63. For Farewell, My Lovely, see Kirgo (1980), pp. 101–2.
  86. Ursini (1995), pp. 287.
  87. Williams (2005), p. 229.
  88. For AFI ranking, see For kinship to classic noir boxing films, see Muller (1998), pp. 26–27.
  89. Silver and Ward (1992), pp. 408, 400–401.
  90. See, e.g., Grothe, Mardy, Viva la Repartee: Clever Comebacks and Witty Retorts from History's Great Wits & Wordsmiths (2005), p. 84.
  91. Ballinger and Graydon (2007), pp. 44, 47, 279–80.
  92. Naremore (2008), p. 275; Wager (2005), p. 83; Hanson (2008), p. 141.
  93. Wager (2005), p. 101–14.
  94. Hirsch (1999), pp. 245–247; Maslin (1996).
  95. For Miller's Crossing, see Naremore (2008), p. 214–15; For The Big Lebowski, see Tyree and Walters (2007), pp. 40, 43–44, 48, 51, 65, 111; Ballinger and Graydon (2007), p. 237.
  96. James (2000), pp. xviii–xix.
  97. Ballinger and Graydon (2007), p. 279.
  98. Creeber, (2007), p. 3. The Singing Detective is the sole TV production cited in
  99. Ballinger and Graydon (2007), pp. 49, 51, 53, 235.
  100. Ballinger and Graydon (2007), p. 50.
  101. Ballinger and Graydon (2007), pp. 107–109.
  102. Naremore (2008), p. 256, 295–96; Ballinger and Graydon (2007), p. 52.
  103. Downs (2002), pp. 171, 173.
  104. Ballinger and Graydon (2007), p. 242.
  105. Aziz (2005), section "Future Noir and Postmodernism: The Irony Begins". Ballinger and Graydon note "future noir" synonyms: "'cyber noir' but predominantly 'tech noir'" (p. 242).
  106. Dargis (2004); Ballinger and Graydon (2007), p. 234.
  107. Server (2002), pp. 182–98, 209–16; Downs (2002), p. 171; Ottoson (1981), pp. 82–83.
  108. Richardson (1992), p. 120.
  109. Naremore (2008), p. 158.
  110. See, e.g., Kolker (2000), pp. 238–241.
  111. Silver and Ward (1992), p. 419.
  112. Holden (1999).
  113. Irwin (2006), p. xii.
  114. Bould (2005), p. 18.
  115. Treated as noir: Ballinger and Graydon (2007), p. 34; Hirsch (2001), pp. 59, 163–64, 168. Excluded from canon: Silver and Ward (1992), p. 330. Ignored: Bould (2005); Christopher (1998); Ottoson (1981).
  116. Included: Bould (2005), p. 126; Ottoson (1981), p. 174. Ignored: Ballinger and Graydon (2007); Hirsch (2001); Christopher (1998). Also see Silver and Ward (1992): ignored in 1980; included in 1988 (pp. 392, 396).
  117. See, e.g., Ballinger and Graydon (2007), p. 4; Christopher (1998), p. 8.
  118. See Ballinger and Graydon (2007), p. 31, on general issue. Christopher (1998) and Silver and Ward (1992), for instance, include Slightly Scarlet and Party Girl, but not Vertigo, in their filmographies. By contrast, Hirsch (2001) describes Vertigo as among those Hitchcock films that are "richly, demonstrably noir" (p. 139) and ignores both Slightly Scarlet and Party Girl; Bould (2005) similarly includes Vertigo in his filmography, but not the other two. Ottoson (1981) includes none of the three in his canon.
  119. Place and Peterson (1974), p. 67.
  120. Hirsch (2001), p. 67.
  121. Silver (1995), pp. 219, 222.
  122. Neale (2000), pp. 166–67n5.
  123. Rombes, Nicholas, New Punk Cinema (2005), pp. 131–36.
  124. Slocum (2001), p. 160.
  125. Server (2006), p. 149.
  126. See, e.g., Naremore (2008), p. 25; Lyons (2000), p. 10.
  127. Silver and Ward (1992), p. 6.
  128. See, e.g., Hirsch (2001), pp. 128, 150, 160, 213; Christopher (1998), pp. 4, 32, 75, 83, 116, 118, 128, 155.
  129. See, e.g., Hirsch (2001), p. 17; Christopher (1998), p. 17; Telotte (1989), p. 148.
  130. See, e.g., Bould (2005), p. 18, on the critical establishment of this iconography, as well as p. 35; Hirsch (2001), p. 213; Christopher (1998), p. 7.
  131. Holm (2005), pp. 13–25 passim.
  132. See, e.g., Naremore (2008), p. 37, on the development of this viewpoint, and p. 103, on contributors to Silver and Ward encyclopedia; Ottoson (1981), p. 1.
  133. See, e.g., Ballinger and Graydon (2007), p. 4; Christopher (1998), pp. 7–8.
  134. Christopher (1998), p. 37.
  135. See, e.g., Muller (1998), p. 81, on analyses of the film; Silver and Ward (1992), p. 2.
  136. See, e.g., Naremore (2008), p. 163, on critical claims of moral ambiguity; Lyons (2000), pp. 14, 32.
  137. See Skoble (2006), pp. 41–48, for a survey of noir morality.
  138. Ottoson (1981), p. 1.
  139. Schrader (1972), p. 54 [in Silver and Ursini]. For characterization of definitive tone as "hopeless", see pp. 53 ("the tone more hopeless") and 57 ("a fatalistic, hopeless mood").
  140. Hirsch (2001), p. 7. Hirsch subsequently states, "In character types, mood [emphasis added], themes, and visual composition, Double Indemnity offer[s] a lexicon of noir stylistics" (p. 8).


  • Aziz, Jamaluddin Bin (2005). "Future Noir", chap. in "Transgressing Women: Investigating Space and the Body in Contemporary Noir Thrillers". Ph. D. dissertation, Department of English and Creative Writing, Lancaster University (chapter available online).
  • Ballinger, Alexander, and Danny Graydon (2007). The Rough Guide to Film Noir. London: Rough Guides. ISBN 1843534746
  • Bernstein, Matthew (1995). “A Tale of Three Cities: The Banning of Scarlet Street”, Cinema Journal 35, no. 1.
  • Biesen, Sheri Chinen (2005). Blackout: World War II and the Origins of Film Noir. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0801882176
  • Borde, Raymond, and Etienne Chaumeton (2002 [1955]). A Panorama of American Film Noir, 1941–1953, trans. Paul Hammond. San Francisco: City Lights Books. ISBN 087286412X
  • Bould, Mark (2005). Film Noir: From Berlin to Sin City. London and New York: Wallflower. ISBN 1904764509
  • Cameron, Ian, ed. (1993). The Book of Film Noir. New York: Continuum. ISBN 0826405894
  • Christopher, Nicholas (1998 [1997]). Somewhere in the Night: Film Noir and the American City, 1st paperback ed. New York: Owl/Henry Holt. ISBN 0805056998
  • Clarens, Carlos (1980). Crime Movies: An Illustrated History. New York: W.W. Norton. ISBN 039301262X
  • Conard, Mark T. (2007). The Philosophy of Neo-Noir. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 0813124220
  • Copjec, Joan, ed. (1993). Shades of Noir. London and New York: Verso. ISBN 0860916251
  • Creeber, Glen (2007). The Singing Detective. London: BFI Publishing. ISBN 184457198X
  • Dargis, Manohla (2004). "Philosophizing Sex Dolls amid Film Noir Intrigue", New York Times, September 17 (available online).
  • Downs, Jacqueline (2002). "Richard Fleischer", collected in Yoram Allon, Del Cullen, and Hannah Patterson, eds., Contemporary North American Film Directors: A Wallflower Critical Guide, 2d ed. London and New York: Wallflower. ISBN 1903364523
  • Durgnat, Raymond (1970). "Paint It Black: The Family Tree of the Film Noir", Cinema 6/7 (collected in Gorman et al., The Big Book of Noir, and Silver and Ursini, Film Noir Reader [1]).
  • Erickson, Glenn (2004). "Fate Seeks the Loser: Edgar G. Ulmer's Detour" (collected in Silver and Ursini, Film Noir Reader 4).
  • Gorman, Ed, Lee Server, and Martin H. Greenberg, eds. (1998). The Big Book of Noir. New York: Carroll & Graf. ISBN 0786705744
  • Greenspun, Roger (1973). "Mike Hodges's 'Pulp' Opens; A Private Eye Parody Is Parody of Itself", New York Times, February 9.
  • Hanson, Helen (2008). Hollywood Heroines: Women in Film Noir and the Female Gothic Film. London and New York: I.B. Tauris. ISBN 1845115619
  • Hirsch, Foster (1999). Detours and Lost Highways: A Map of Neo-Noir. Pompton Plains, N.J.: Limelight. ISBN 0879102888
  • Hirsch, Foster (2001 [1981]). The Dark Side of the Screen: Film Noir. New York: Da Capo. ISBN 0306810395
  • Holden, Stephen (1999). "Hard-Boiled as a Two-Day-Old Egg at a Two-Bit Diner", New York Times, October 8 (available online).
  • Holm, D. K. (2005). Film Soleil. Harpenden, UK: Pocket Essentials. ISBN 1904048501
  • Irwin, John T. (2006). Unless the Threat of Death is Behind Them: Hard-Boiled Fiction and Film Noir. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0801884357
  • James, Nick (2002). "Back to the Brats", in Contemporary North American Film Directors, 2d ed., ed. Yoram Allon, Del Cullen, and Hannah Patterson (pp. xvi–xx). London: Wallflower. ISBN 1903364523
  • Jones, Kristin M. (2009). "Dark Cynicism, British Style", Wall Street Journal, August 18 (available online).
  • Kirgo, Julie (1980). "Farewell, My Lovely (1975)" (collected in Silver and Ward, Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference).
  • Kolker, Robert (2000). A Cinema of Loneliness, 3d ed. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195123506
  • Krutnik, Frank, Steve Neale, and Brian Neve (2008). "Un-American" Hollywood: Politics and Film in the Blacklist Era. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press. ISBN 0813541980
  • Lyons, Arthur (2000). Death on the Cheap: The Lost B Movies of Film Noir. New York: Da Capo. ISBN 0306809966
  • Macek, Carl (1980). "City Streets (1931)" (collected in Silver and Ward, Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference).
  • Macek, Carl, and Alain Silver (1980). "House on 92nd Street (1945)" (collected in Silver and Ward, Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference).
  • Maslin, Janet (1996). "Deadly Plot by a Milquetoast Villain", New York Times, March 8 (available online).
  • McGilligan, Patrick (1997). Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast. New York and London: Faber and Faber. ISBN 0571193757
  • Muller, Eddie (1998). Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir. New York: St. Martin's. ISBN 0312180764
  • Naremore, James (2008). More Than Night: Film Noir in Its Contexts, 2d ed. Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press. ISBN 0520254023
  • Neale, Steve (2000). Genre and Hollywood. London and New York: Routledge. ISBN 0415026067
  • Ottoson, Robert (1981). A Reference Guide to the American Film Noir: 1940–1958. Metuchen, N.J., and London: Scarecrow Press. ISBN 0810813637
  • Palmer, R. Barton (2004). "The Sociological Turn of Adaptation Studies: The Example of Film Noir", in A Companion To Literature And Film, ed. Robert Stam and Alessandra Raengo (pp. 258–277). Maiden, Mass., Oxford, and Carlton, Australia: Blackwell. ISBN 063123053X
  • Place, Janey, and Lowell Peterson (1974). "Some Visual Motifs of Film Noir", Film Comment 10, no. 1 (collected in Silver and Ursini, Film Noir Reader [1]).
  • Porfirio, Robert (1980). "Stranger on the Third Floor (1940)" (collected in Silver and Ward, Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference).
  • Richardson, Carl (1992). Autopsy: An Element of Realism in Film Noir. Metuchen, N.J., and London: Scarecrow Press. ISBN 0810824965
  • Schatz, Thomas (1981). Hollywood Genres: Formulas, Filmmaking, and the Studio System. New York: Random House. ISBN 39432255X
  • Schatz, Thomas (1998 [1996]). The Genius of the System: Hollywood Filmmaking in the Studio Era, new ed. London: Faber and Faber. ISBN 0571195962
  • Schrader, Paul (1972). "Notes on Film Noir", Film Comment 8, no. 1 (collected in Silver and Ursini, Film Noir Reader [1]).
  • Server, Lee (2002). Robert Mitchum: "Baby I Don't Care". New York: Macmillan. ISBN 0312285434
  • Server, Lee (2006). Ava Gardner: "Love Is Nothing". New York: Macmillan. ISBN 0312312091
  • Silver, Alain (1995). "Kiss Me Deadly: Evidence of a Style", rev. ver. (collected in Silver and Ursini, Film Noir Reader [1]).
  • Silver, Alain (1996), "Introduction" (to Silver and Ursini, Film Noir Reader [1]).
  • Silver, Alain, and James Ursini (and Robert Porfirio—vol. 3), eds. (2004 [1996–2004]). Film Noir Reader, vols. 1–4. Pompton Plains, N.J.: Limelight.
  • Silver, Alain, and Elizabeth Ward (1992). Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style, 3d ed. Woodstock, N.Y.: Overlook Press. ISBN 0879514795
  • Slocum, J. David (2001). Violence and American Cinema. London and New York: Routledge. ISBN 0415928109
  • Spicer, Andrew (2007). European Film Noir. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press. ISBN 071906791X
  • Telotte, J. P. (1989). Voices in the Dark: The Narrative Patterns of Film Noir. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0252060563
  • Turan, Kenneth (2008). "UCLA's Pre-Code Series", Los Angeles Times, January 27 (available online).
  • Tuska, Jon (1984). Dark Cinema: American Film Noir in Cultural Perspective. Westport, Conn., and London: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0313230455
  • Tyree, J. M., and Ben Walters (2007). The Big Lebowski. London: BFI Publishing. ISBN 1844571734
  • Ursini, James (1995). "Angst at Sixty Fields per Second" (collected in Silver and Ursini, Film Noir Reader [1]).
  • "Variety staff" (anon.) (1940). "Stranger on the Third Floor" [review], Variety (excerpted online).
  • "Variety staff" (anon.) (1955). "Kiss Me Deadly" [review], Variety (excerpted online).
  • Vernet, Marc (1993). "Film Noir on the Edge of Doom" (collected in Copjec, Shades of Noir).
  • Wager, Jans B. (2005). Dames in the Driver's Seat: Rereading Film Noir. Austin: University of Texas Press. ISBN 0292709668
  • Walker, Michael (1992). "Robert Siodmak" (collected in Cameron, The Book of Film Noir).
  • White, Dennis L. (1980). "Beast of the City (1932)" (collected in Silver and Ward, Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference).
  • Williams, Linda Ruth (2005). The Erotic Thriller in Contemporary Cinema. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. ISBN 0253347130

Further reading

  • Chopra-Gant, Mike (2005). Hollywood Genres and Postwar America: Masculinity, Family and Nation in Popular Movies and Film Noir. London: IB Tauris. ISBN 1850438382
  • Cochran, David (2000). America Noir: Underground Writers and Filmmakers of the Postwar Era. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press. ISBN 1560988134
  • Dickos, Andrew (2002). Street with No Name: A History of the Classic American Film Noir. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 0813122430
  • Dimendberg, Edward (2004). Film Noir and the Spaces of Modernity. Cambridge, Mass., and London: Harvard University Press. ISBN 067401314X
  • Dixon, Wheeler W. (2009). Film Noir and the Cinema of Paranoia. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press. ISBN 0813545218
  • Hannsberry, Karen Burroughs (1998). Femme Noir: Bad Girls of Film. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland. ISBN 0786404299
  • Hannsberry, Karen Burroughs (2003). Bad Boys: The Actors of Film Noir. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland. ISBN 0786414847
  • Hare, William (2003). Early Film Noir: Greed, Lust, and Murder Hollywood Style. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland. ISBN 0786416297
  • Kaplan, E. Ann, ed. (1998). Women in Film Noir, new ed. London: British Film Institute. ISBN 0851706665
  • Keaney, Michael F. (2003). Film Noir Guide: 745 Films of the Classic Era, 1940–1959. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland. ISBN 0786415479
  • Martin, Richard (1999). Mean Streets and Raging Bulls: The Legacy of Film Noir in Contemporary American Cinema. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow. ISBN 0810836424
  • Mason, Fran (2002). American Gangster Cinema: From Little Caesar to Pulp Fiction. Houndmills, UK: Palgrave. ISBN 0333674529
  • Mayer, Geoff, and Brian McDonnell (2007). Encyclopedia of Film Noir. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0313333068
  • McArthur, Colin (1972). Underworld U.S.A. New York: Viking. ISBN 0670019534
  • Palmer, R. Barton (1994). Hollywood's Dark Cinema: The American Film Noir. New York: Twayne. ISBN 0805793356
  • Palmer, R. Barton, ed. (1996). Perspectives on Film Noir. New York: G.K. Hall. ISBN 0816116016
  • Pappas, Charles (2005). It's a Bitter Little World: The Smartest, Toughest, Nastiest Quotes from Film Noir. Iola, Wisc.: Writer's Digest Books. ISBN 1582973873
  • Rabinowitz, Paula (2002). Black & White & Noir: America's Pulp Modernism. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0231114818
  • Schatz, Thomas (1997). Boom and Bust: American Cinema in the 1940s. Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press. ISBN 0684191512
  • Selby, Spencer (1984). Dark City: The Film Noir. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland. ISBN 0899501036
  • Shadoian, Jack (2003). Dreams and Dead Ends: The American Gangster Film, 2d ed. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195142918
  • Silver, Alain, and James Ursini (1999). The Noir Style. Woodstock, N.Y.: Overlook Press. ISBN 0879517220
  • Spicer, Andrew (2002). Film Noir. Harlow, UK: Pearson Education. ISBN 0582437121

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