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The Color Noir

14 Dec

Sounds like a contradiction in terms, doesn’t it? There are those who have deep reservations about applying the noir label to any film not shot in black and white. Personally, I don’t share that feeling but I can understand where those who hold the view are coming from. In purely visual terms, film noir inhabits a landscape of shadows and high contrast photography. Effects such as those are much more difficult to achieve when shooting on color stock, although it’s certainly not impossible.

Of course this also raises the question of whether or not one ought to define film noir in visual terms alone. I don’t see how such a narrow definition can be applied to so amorphous a style of filmmaking. For me, film noir must have an essential darkness, a bleak view of humanity and human relations, at its heart. I guess the point I’m leading into here is that there are a good many movies that utilize classic noir imagery and visuals yet couldn’t, by virtue of their theme, be considered true film noir. The 1940s in particular boast an abundance of movies, especially although not exclusively crime thrillers, which look like typical examples of film noir, but clearly they are not. As such, is the reverse not also true? Can’t a movie be shot in vibrant color but still contain that dark core that is unmistakably noir?

Wikipedia offers a list of movies which it claims are films noir shot in color:

  • Accused of Murder
  • Bad Day at Black Rock
  • Black Widow
  • Dangerous Mission
  • Desert Fury
  • Hell on Frisco Bay
  • Hell’s Island
  • House of Bamboo
  • I Died a Thousand Times
  • Inferno
  • A Kiss Before Dying
  • Leave Her to Heaven
  • Niagara
  • Party Girl
  • Rope
  • Second Chance
  • Slightly Scarlet
  • The Trap
  • The Unholy Wife
  • Vertigo
  • A Woman’s Devotion

While I haven’t viewed every one of these, I have seen the majority. I suppose I would have a few quibbles but I reckon the list is a reasonable one overall. How do others feel about this? Would you exclude the above titles on the basis of their being shot in color? Or, neo-noir excepted, should that list be expanded?

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61 Comments

Posted by on December 14, 2013 in Film Noir

 

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61 responses to “The Color Noir

  1. Jerry Entract

    December 14, 2013 at 10:55 am

    That’s a really interesting concept, Colin. Of course the term ‘Film Noir’ refers to the tone and mood of the screenplay actually and so it could be said that whether it is shot in monochrome or colour is irrelevant. However, the ambience in the classic noir films is often dark, shot on rain-swept city streets and so monochrome is perhaps the most ideal. It’s interesting that the term ‘Film Noir’ was used in France after WW2 but the term was not used really in the US and Britain until 1970. That recent!
    It is a genre of films that I absolutely love, not too far behind the western. There are some fine examples of colour ‘Noirs’ on your list and I am thinking particularly of “Niagara” and “Slightly Scarlet”. I will be interested to hear the thoughts of some of your other, more eloquent than me, correspondents.

     
    • Colin

      December 14, 2013 at 3:42 pm

      Jerry, from a technical standpoint, it’s much easier to light and shoot a film noir in monochrome. Color stock obviously brings out different textures and makes it a lot more difficult to achieve the archetypical look of noir. However, I just feel that the mood or tone of the picture plays a significant part too and should therefore encompass at least some of those titles listed.
      BTW, just to be clear – that’s not my list. It’s simply a summary of the movies cited on the Wikipedia page I linked to.

       
  2. Prashant C. Trikannad

    December 14, 2013 at 11:37 am

    Colin, I always thought “noir” meant black and white films, so thanks for the explanation and the list of noir films in colour. I have seen very few of them including “Vertigo” and “Niagara.”

     
    • Colin

      December 14, 2013 at 3:45 pm

      Hi Prashant. I haven’t seen all of those myself – there are about half a dozen I need to catch up with – but the ones I am familiar with are all quality movies, regardless of how one chooses to define or categorize them.

       
  3. Cavershamragu

    December 14, 2013 at 12:20 pm

    This one is always a toughie for me Colin. I certainly think LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN, NIAGARA and SLIGHTLY SCARLET deserve to be in every proper Noir list – HOUSE OF BAMBOO maybe but on the other hand I could never really make the likes of VERTIGO, which has many of the salient themes but not really the dark look unlike say I CONFESS or THE WRONG MAN, fit in to my conception of the style and certainly not ROPE which is a psychological suspense movie but I don’t think otherwise really fits the parameters in the classical mould.

     
    • Colin

      December 14, 2013 at 3:51 pm

      It’s a tricky one, isn’t it Sergio? I share your reservations about the Hitchcock titles; his movies could almost be said to constitute a separate sub-genre in themselves.

       
      • Cavershamragu

        December 15, 2013 at 8:34 am

        Mind you, half the point of the style is supposed to be its comparative elasticity (contemporary, period, BW and colour, different genres). STRANGERS ON A TRAIN would count but not DIAL M FOR MURDER certainly! Are you going to publish a rationalised ‘consensus’ list at the end?

         
        • Colin

          December 15, 2013 at 9:07 am

          I’d argue Shadow of a Doubt is a strong contender too.

          …a rationalised consensus list? That probably depends on how rational it all stays! :)

           
  4. jennifromrollamo

    December 14, 2013 at 5:10 pm

    I am not a purist as to noir films only being shot in black and white medium. When I saw the title of your post this am, my first thought was of Niagara, a definite noir film shot in gorgeous color. When Cotten’s character is hunting down MM at the Carillion tower, the shadows all make it tense and it works.

     
    • Colin

      December 14, 2013 at 5:42 pm

      I quite agree there Jenni. Niagara is a very stylish movie all round, and it’s a bona fide film noir as far as I’m concerned.

       
  5. Vienna

    December 14, 2013 at 6:15 pm

    Great idea for a post, Colin. I gave up trying to figure what’s noir and what isn’t. But reading your post made me think about it again and made me realise that the word noir meaning black need not just mean black and white films . As you say, it is a tone, a style which can be well captured in the light and dark of B&W film, but is not necessarily confined to B &W.
    I checked the origins of the term on Wikipedia and apparently a French journalist back in 1946 wrote….”these dark films,these films noir no longer have anything in common with the ordinary run of detective movies.”
    Also, the term ,Film Noir, had even been used as far back as 1938 in French film reviews of ,for example, La Bête Humaine.
    So maybe there has been confusion, thinking that Noir has to be B&W simply because the Frenchmen who first used the term were talking about films of the 40s which were by definition in B&W.
    I must admit my favorite thrillers are B&W but I like quite a few of that color list.

     
    • Colin

      December 14, 2013 at 6:36 pm

      I have a feeling too that part of the reason noir is associated only with monochrome photography is the sense the French word conveys, and the fact the term was originally applied to B&W movies.
      Like you, I’d say my favorites are to be found mainly among the B&W examples – still, that doesn’t mean I have a dislike for the color ones. It’s probably down to weight of numbers as much as anything.

       
  6. le0pard13

    December 14, 2013 at 6:35 pm

    I’m with you, Colin. I have no problem with color within this genre. I’ve stated before that the sun-baked neo-noirs from the 70s certainly fit this scheme. The mood is there, and figuratively the shadows, too.

     
    • Colin

      December 14, 2013 at 6:45 pm

      Thanks for adding to this Michael. I’m certainly a fan of neo-noir too. Those films are a different beast of course due to their appearing so long after the end of the classic period. The era in which neo-noir sprang up naturally meant they were going to be shot in color so any arguments about their credentials on that score don’t apply. Having said that, I think the fact they do work, and evoke a noir atmosphere, represents at least a partial rebuttal of the case against color noir.

       
  7. Jerry Entract

    December 14, 2013 at 6:43 pm

    It’s funny, isn’t it? Most of us seem to prefer our ‘Noirs’ in B&W but our 50s ‘westerns’ in colour. Actually though, I like a number of colour ‘noirs’ (as mentioned above) and I definitely like a lot of B&W westerns. Sort that one out!

     
    • Colin

      December 14, 2013 at 6:49 pm

      Fair point Jerry. I guess, if anything, it just goes to show how flawed the whole notion of pigeonholing movies of any genre or style really is.

       
      • Jerry Entract

        December 14, 2013 at 6:58 pm

        Yes, Colin, I rather agree. I guess I like what I like and the absolute joy of these blogs is that I have discovered a whole group of nice folks out there who like a lot of the same ones I like too.

         
        • Colin

          December 14, 2013 at 7:08 pm

          Quite. There are plenty of kind and knowledgeable people buzzing round the blogosphere.

           
  8. vinnieh

    December 14, 2013 at 8:34 pm

    Interesting article as always.

     
    • Colin

      December 14, 2013 at 8:58 pm

      Thanks Vinnie. It’s something that’s always puzzled me – why we feel the need to fence these art forms in, to seek rigid definitions for the almost indefinable.

       
  9. Rezhasan

    December 15, 2013 at 7:25 am

    I’d add a few more movies in colour that are definitely noir to that list – Dennis Hopper’s The Hot Spot (1990) for one – shot in saturated colours but a noir through and through. Good write-up.

     
    • Colin

      December 15, 2013 at 9:04 am

      True enough. But that’s why I didn’t want to veer into neo-noir territory – it’s a later development, still noir but operating in a different landscape and generation.

       
  10. john k

    December 16, 2013 at 2:26 pm

    One possible film on the missing list is Jack Webb’s very fine PETE KELLY’S BLUES at any rate the climatic shoot out in a dark deserted ballroom is very Noirish.
    There was quiet a Noir revival in the Eighties with films like TIGHTROPE, SOMEONE TO WATCH
    OVER ME and AGAINST ALL ODDS. Of course the latter title totally flunked it because the original version is a classic of the genre.
    In the Seventies, perhaps earlier, writers started a new genre definition “Noir Westerns” I am guilty of using this term myself.
    Films like BLOOD ON THE MOON,PURSUED and RAMROD seemed to fit this reference very well. Other “Noir” Westerns are THE DOOLINS OF OKLAHOMA,YELLOW SKY,REBEL IN TOWN and JACK SLADE. The latter title is a forerunner of the later revisionist, warts and all, Westerns.
    One could go on and on in fact Tourneur’s very fine STARS IN MY CROWN (NOT a Western BTW) could fit into it’s own genre Noir Americana…

     
    • Colin

      December 16, 2013 at 8:14 pm

      John, I certainly use the term “noir western” too. There are plenty of examples of that particular offshoot in addition to those you mentioned – I like it a lot, but I don’t suppose that’s going to surprise anyone.

      There are a number of variations on the noir theme – Gothic noir, rural noir for example.

       
  11. kristina

    December 17, 2013 at 12:43 am

    lots to think about from your post and the comments, noir as a “feel” (which is how I usually end up seeing the genre) certainly must include color films. but the last few comments make me smile because as someone who loves both noir & western, I’ve often been puzzled by friends who love noir but don’t get westerns. To me, so many westerns seem perfect for the gateway for noir fans, a few in the offshoot you mention, are straight noirs with cowboy hats!

     
    • Colin

      December 17, 2013 at 7:13 am

      I agree – the two types of movies always appealed to me, and there is a crossover at some points. Overall, I think noir has had a better press from critics and writers and thus had a bit of a helping hand. Conversely, westerns have not been written about to the same extent, and there are some fairly negative perceptions of the genre out there. I think this does have an impact on the way viewers approach the two types of film.

       
  12. Rod Croft

    December 18, 2013 at 1:54 am

    The term “Film Noir” remains itself, a conundrum, with the “experts” unable to agree on whether it is a genre or not and a definitive definition of the term as elusive as the shadows that inhabit the films, themselves.

    In the mid 1920′s to 1930′s authors such as Dashiell Hammett, (“The Maltese Falcon”) and Raymond Chandler ( “Farewell, My Lovely”), among others, tapped into the disillusionment and cynicism of the American public, their confidence shaken by the Great Depression, high unemployment, and the rise of organised crime; the result of the work they produced, became what is termed as, the popular “Hardboiled” tradition of detective novel and short-story.

    When introducing “The Simple Art of Murder” (1950), a collection of Chandler’s early short-stories and essay, he wrote, ” Most of the plots were rather ordinary, and most of the characters, rather primitive types of people. Possibly it was the smell of fear which the stories managed to generate. The characters lived in a world gone wrong. The Law was something to be manipulated for profit or power. The streets were dark with something more than night”. Perhaps this is a definition that could be applied to the Noir films, themselves.

    The film industry was “interested”, (sensing a profit), and, coupled with the influx of directors from Europe skilled in the Germanic expressionistic style (e.g Fritz Lang, Billy Wilder, Robert Siodmak, as well as Michael Curtiz and others), crime melodramas ( later known as “Films Noir”) became a popular entertainment with cinemagoers from the 1940′s to the late 1950′s..

    According to the American Film Noir Movement these films are “… characterized by deep moody shadows, violent death, moral uncertainty, determined women and conflicted male heroes….”. Over the years, I have seen most of the films you have listed, and do not feel aggrieved at the use of colour even though it is sounds like a ” contradiction in terms”. One must remember that the public became enamoured with colour film, and for commercial reasons, the studios, when funds permitted, believed they would attract more audiences by using the various colour stock available.

    To me, it is the “feel” of the film that counts and generally agree, but with some reservations, that the films listed could be categorised as “film noir’.

    “Leave Her To Heaven”, a film noir that choose to use the brilliance of Technicolor, to tell its “dark” tale, complies with much of what the AMF has mentioned . This film, no doubt, surprised audiences with it’s disarmingly pleasant appearance while exploring the story of a femme fatale who, because of her insane jealousy, was trapped in a web of paranoia and fear, and unable to tell right from wrong. it became a critical and commercial success and encouraged other studios to follow suit. Unfortunately, some of these “noir films” used colour to disguise a less than satisfactory product.

    Where I do take issue, are the Hitchcock films, “Rope” and the exceptional “Vertigo” which I prefer to list under the term, ” Psychological Thrillers” . In my opinion, his theme of “obsession” is stronger than the “film noir” aspects of these films.

    “I Died 1000 Time is a re-make of “High Sierra” a noted film noir, while “House of Bamboo” was, of sorts, a re-make of Sam Fuller’s “The Street With No Name” also a respected film noir. How could one claim that they were not film noir despite the colour photography?

    Additions to the list ? I would nominate John Boorman’s “Point Blank” (1967) filmed in Metrocolor, just prior to the demise of the Motion Picture Production Code in 1968 which ushered in the era of the “neo noir” film.

    Colin, I have “waffled on” too long and apologise for such a lengthy comment, but the thoughts kept coming. I would like to wish you the Compliments of the Season as well as a Safe and Healthy New Year and Many More Years of Success with RTHC.

    Regards,
    Rod

     
    • Colin

      December 18, 2013 at 8:20 am

      Thanks for the detailed reply Rod. I think you and I see eye to eye on this issue for the most part. I’m glad too that you pointed out the strong connections between both I Died a Thousand Times & House of Bamboo and the earlier “consensus” film noir versions.

      Can I take the opportunity to wish you and yours all the best too over the coming holiday season.

       
  13. Chris

    December 18, 2013 at 6:25 am

    Mate, I only saw Bad Day at Black Rock recently and it had me wringing my brain out trying to decide if it was Noir. I ended up figuring it was more a Western, based purely on the motifs involved, redemption, honour etc.

    I also have trouble with Rope, but I’ll happily let Vertigo in, mostly because I’m not a huge fan of Rope but adore Vertigo! Pleased to see House of Bamboo and Slightly Scarlet with its great John Alton cinematography.

    Can I throw another one in there? Violent Saturday, a borderline case I know, but what a great Noir cast – with Lee Marvin taking it over the line all by himself!

    Merry Christmas and Best Wishes from Sunny North Queensland,
    Chris

     
    • Colin

      December 18, 2013 at 8:32 am

      Hello Chris. I have the same problem with Bad Day at Black Rock – it’s almost equal parts modern western and film noir, isn’t it?

      As others have mentioned, those two Hitchcock movies are problematic, Rope most of all. You know, not that it has anything to do with the question of classifying it as a possible noir, I always found Rope difficult too. I think it’s a combination of the experimental, and not entirely successful, shooting technique and the collection of (Cedric Hardwicke aside) frankly unpleasant characters.

      Violent Saturday
      is a curious one. The first half of the movie is borderline soap opera but the second part takes it into far darker territory. Ultimately, I don’t think it is noir though. And yes, Lee Marvin takes a small part and achieves something quite marvelous with it – a terrific performer.

      And Merry Christmas to you too from an equally sunny but chilly Athens.

       
  14. Jerry Entract

    December 18, 2013 at 3:34 pm

    Congrats on your LAMB membership, Colin, and here’s wishing you a Merry Christmas from “sunny” Bedfordshire!

     
    • Colin

      December 18, 2013 at 8:45 pm

      Seasonal best wishes to you too Jerry – it’s extremely cold here at the moment!

       
  15. Jerry Entract

    December 18, 2013 at 3:35 pm

    I would also like to commend Rod on his searching and spot-on examination of the Film Noir above. For me, that pretty-well nails it.

     
    • Colin

      December 18, 2013 at 8:46 pm

      Yes, a nice succinct summation in my opinion.

       
  16. Rod Croft

    December 18, 2013 at 10:02 pm

    Colin, with your indulgence, may I thank Jerry for his kind words. I though I might stir some controversy and discussion by nominating “Point Blank” (1967) as a colour film noir, when it and others of that era have been included under the neo-noir category.

    While the films of the 1960′s became increasingly more liberal and the M.P.P.C. more tolerant of films “pushing the limits” of the Code, I contend that it is only with the demise of the Code in 1968, that film noir entered into a new era – “neo-noir”. Prior to this time, the film noir was limited to “suggesting” situations and subject to other limitations; this was achieved by the splendid writing, direction, and cinema photography of the time.

    With replacement of the Code, such films as “Clockwork Orange” (1971 neo-noir) were able to be released to/on the public – a situation that would not have formerly been tolerated. Many have applauded the newfound “freedom” of film; however, I must confess, in general, I prefer the film noir days.

     
    • Colin

      December 18, 2013 at 10:25 pm

      I seem to remember the question of neo-noir, and the era it belongs to popping up in discussion before – can’t recall if it was on this site or elsewhere.
      Anyway, I wonder how accurate it is to refer to those 60s films as proper neo-noir; once we hit the 70s the label seems to fit just fine, but the earlier films still feel like works in transition to me. Post-noir isn’t a bad description.

       
  17. bjbradford

    December 24, 2013 at 2:45 am

    Very interesting Colin, appreciate your point of view, I do look at things from a slightly different angle when it comes to film noir, having seen just about all of the movies listed above by Wilkipedia as film noirs, and like you, quibble with the choices. It springs from this premise- if I was introducing someone to film noir, what would I show them? Would I show them a supposed ‘color’ one, and if I did, would they really see noir for what it truly looked like, along with the dark storylines? I go into this a little bit more in my blog filmgeek101.wordpress.com under the post “To Be Or Not to Be-Film Noir-That Is the Question” from July of this year. If you get a chance please check it out. Enjoyed your post and thanks.

     
    • Colin

      December 24, 2013 at 8:55 am

      Now that is an interesting way to approach the matter. I guess I wouldn’t choose a color noir if I wanted to introduce a newcomer to the style/genre. Mind you, I’m not sure what I would choose – that’s another big question right there.

      I’m heading over to your place now – your series on noir can be found here, if anyone else would like to take a look.

       
      • Jerry Entract

        December 24, 2013 at 9:33 am

        I rather like this idea too. I think my introduction to a novice would probably be “Out Of The Past” which ticks all the “noir” boxes for me and contains great noir performances from Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer.

         
        • Colin

          December 24, 2013 at 9:38 am

          Good pick Jerry, and a choice that’s hard to argue with. You should follow the link to BJ’s site that I added – he makes some solid arguments over the course of three well constructed posts.

           
          • Jerry Entract

            December 24, 2013 at 10:15 am

            Thanks, Colin. I’ll pick up on that.

             
            • Colin

              December 24, 2013 at 10:20 am

              Do, it’s worth a read.

               
    • Chris

      December 27, 2013 at 11:14 am

      Hi BJ, a very well thought out article and compelling case. The “What Noir would I show as an introduction” question is a fascinating one, and as Colin also says, I’d have a lot of trouble deciding – maybe almost as much as I would with Science Fiction films (Forbidden Planet, Planet of the Apes, Space Odyssey, Solaris, Blade Runner, Inception? All worthy, all offer something unique).

      The thing is, unlike SF or Westerns for that matter, Noir isn’t actually a genre, it’s a style, and like all great art it is a gradually evolving body of work where one piece informs another across a span of time.

      There are certainly films that are patently more Noirish than others but I see serious problems in imposing quantifiable or empirical values while attempting to identify what is or is not Film Noir.

      My own solution (having also watched quite a few) is if it feels like Film Noir then it probably is. I simply use four distinct but overlapping phases or subsections, Proto, Classic, Post and Neo, all under the main heading of Film Noir.

      Proto Noir, the progenitors includes M, You Only Live Once, and Stranger on the Third Floor

      The classic period officially starts with The Maltese Falcon, but I tend to go with I Wake Up Screaming which predates Falcon and is visually a much stronger Noir.

      The arrival of the Post Noir period is signified by films like The Sniper (1952), even while the same year saw classic entries Crime Wave, Narrow Margin, and On Dangerous Ground. Thanks to Rod’s comment above (using the end of MPPC in 1968 as the official start of Neo Noir is pure genius) I’m now inclined to let the Post Noir period run all the way through to 1967s Point Blank, a superb film but one I’ve always had trouble positioning.

      Early Neo Noir obviously includes Chinatown, The Conversation, Taxi Driver and The Yakuza although to me it doesn’t really kick off til the 80s with Thief, Body Heat and To Live and Die in LA – latest examples being Drive and Ridley Scott’s The Counselor.

      Best
      Chris

       
      • Colin

        December 27, 2013 at 11:35 am

        Chris, I think dividing up the phases of noir is an easier task than attempting to define it. Even so, there are tricky parts too. For example, while I feel your perspective is essentially solid in this case, I’d differ on the beginning of the post-noir period. I see where you’re coming from here; the early 50s do show a shift away from the themes and style that prevailed in the previous decade, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable actually classifying those movies as post-noir. In this respect I tend to be more orthodox than yourself – I feel the classic period runs up to Touch of Evil or, at a stretch, Odds Against Tomorrow.

         
        • Chris

          December 28, 2013 at 4:22 am

          Thanks Colin. I don’t think anyone would argue with Touch of Evil not being the official close of the Classic period (and what a beauty to finish on!), but there’s no hard edges, trends and techniques overlap, especially in Post Noir which is more a bridge between Classic and Neo, compact cameras and changing audience tastes contributing to abandoning controlled environments and visual stylisation in favour of location shooting. And that flatness we sometimes talk about, especially in regard to the later Fritz Lang’s, surely more intentional mimicry of the look of television than a director who’d finally given up the fight – Lang was far too much of a consummate professional for that.
          Best
          Chris

           
          • Colin

            December 28, 2013 at 10:52 am

            Quite right Chris. When it comes to noir, more than any other movement, style or genre, there are indeed no hard edges – nicely put.

            Regarding Lang (and it doesn’t take much to get me into a chat about that great director!) I always took it that his last noir pictures – While the City Sleeps & Beyond a Reasonable Doubt – had that slightly flat look at least partly as a result of the limited budgets he was operating with. But, now that you bring it up, there is something of the early TV look about those films.

             
            • Chris

              December 29, 2013 at 2:04 am

              I’d add The Blue Gardenia too Colin. I love the film but visually a lot of it looks like an extended episode of I Love Lucy, incongruously sitting between the visually splendid Big Heat and Human Desire.

              A smart artist will tailor his cloth to suit the budget – we know creative interference and budget cuts were nothing new during Lang’s American experience.

              Maybe he was watching the burgeoning popularity of television, anticipating that this is where his films would eventually be viewed the most.

              Could he not have been trying to consciously tone down his visual flare believing it wouldn’t convey as well on TV? He may have even taken a fancy to the look as a faster, less fussy (and cheaper) way of conveying his stories. Experimenting with Blue Gardenia between films operating more within his comfort zone.

              For a contemporary comparison look at the exquisite beauty of films by two of my favourite modern directors, David Lynch and Michael Mann – until they embraced the “benefits” of HD video.

              Best from a fellow Lang Lubber!
              Chris

               
              • Colin

                December 29, 2013 at 10:42 am

                That’s all quite possible Chris; I’ve no way of knowing for sure so I certainly don’t dismiss the theory.

                You know, I’d totally forgotten about The Blue Gardenia. It’s ages since I watched that film (although I did feature it on this site here) and my memory of the shooting style is consequently a little fuzzy. I seem to have noted that Musuraca provided some atmospheric sequences, but I’d really need to watch it again.

                 
      • bjbradford

        December 28, 2013 at 4:45 am

        This is in response to Chris’ comments above, first of all thanks for reading my articles and appreciate all your thoughts. In actuality, your putting film noir in phases or categories as you did actually backs up my original point. By stating that the Post Noir period began in 1952, while not commonly accepted, does cement the idea that what is considered classic film noir in look and style did change significantly and thus became less identifiable as such. However, I am not of the thought that there was a complete sea change, as it were, thematically or visually of true noir in the 50′s.

        Example number one: The Big Combo from 1955. No less an authority than the book “Film Noir-An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style” which many use as a reference, states that The Big Combo is a “wholly defined film noir”, which is an interesting way of putting it, due to its outstanding black and white visuals and storyline, which reflected the same look of film noirs during what is referred to as the Classic Period. That leaves no doubt that that in addition to an attitude, a defined look was also held as the standard. Example number two is Kiss Me Deadly, also from 1955. The odd camera angles along with other identifying characteristics, including a femme fatale, make it another example of the classic style of film noir that was still in existence. If anything, both films stand out as strikingly different than other examples of what now is called noir during that same period, making clear that a true noir still had some identifiable factors that distinguished it from just another crime melodrama of the time which now might be called ‘noir’ due primarily to when it was made.

        This is not to dismiss all of what was made during that time, but rather highlight what has always stood out so both the aficionado and particularly the uninitiated can see and truly appreciate real noir in its purest form. Thanks again.

         
        • Colin

          December 28, 2013 at 11:08 am

          I know this is directed at Chris, but I hope you don’t mind me adding a brief comment too BJ.

          There was a degree of change discernible as noir moved into the 50s, although a reasonably subtle one. In visual terms, the adoption of widescreen filming altered the shape of the image but I wouldn’t say that had a huge effect – most directors had the spatial awareness to maintain the essentially claustrophobic feel of noir. As for theme, there was a greater focus on faceless organizations and syndicates, an increased remoteness if you like. It’s a change but, like yourself, I wouldn’t call it a sea change either.

           
        • Chris

          December 28, 2013 at 3:43 pm

          Thanks BJ. I wasn’t actually stating that the Post Noir period started in 52, rather that the aesthetics of The Sniper are more in line with where the style was ultimately headed (I probably should’ve thrown in an “impending arrival” somewhere).
          We’re not really disagreeing, I just don’t think you can apply hard and fixed rules when defining art – what I try to see are the blending points as well as influences, both on and from Noir.
          Best
          Chris

           
          • bjbradford

            December 29, 2013 at 4:22 am

            Thanks for your thoughts both Colin and Chris, I think one thing we can agree on is that noir influences abound, which in my view has muddied the waters somewhat for some time, causing the varying points of view we see today, but at least has heightened an appreciation of noir, which is definitely a good thing. Thanks again.

             
            • Colin

              December 29, 2013 at 10:51 am

              Good point. While we can sometimes end up lamenting the way films get labelled as noir when they’re patently not, the fact is this allows discussions such as the one we’ve been enjoying here to flourish and, perhaps more importantly, helps raise awareness of the filmmaking style.

               
  18. Jerry Entract

    December 27, 2013 at 1:20 pm

    A rather interesting book was published in 1981 by Robert Ottoson called “A Reference Guide To The American Film Noir: 1940-58 which shows where he believes the “Noir” period runs from and to. I probably would tend to agree with that assertion roughly.
    As to later examples (Neo-Noir?), nobody has mentioned “Klute” from 1971 but I feel it is a perfect fit.

     
    • Colin

      December 27, 2013 at 1:25 pm

      I haven’t read that book Jerry, but I think the general consensus does tend to favor those dates with minor variations.

      As for Klute, I feel comfortable referring to it as a neo-noir.

       
  19. Rod Croft

    December 29, 2013 at 2:56 am

    Hi Colin,
    I have enjoyed reading the interesting thoughts expressed by Jerry, Chris, bjb and others. When you stated, “….most directors had the spatial awareness to maintain the essential claustrophobic feel of noir”, I thought of John Sturges’ , “Bad Day At Black Rock” (M,G.M – 1955) filmed in colour and CinemaScope.

    Here the Director Sturges, assisted by his Cinematographer, William C. Mellor, have cleverly used both colour and the ‘scope-screen to film the wide-open spaces surrounding a tiny, almost deserted town, situate on the edge of the desert, and, at the same time, invoke a sense of claustrophobia, (certainly in the sometimes “crowded” studio-filmed internal scenes), as well as feelings of loneliness, isolation, mystery and fear.

    Sturges, in his interview for the laserdisc described the film as “essentially a mystery story” but I like Wikipeda’s description – ” a 1955 thriller film….that combines an element of Westerns and Film-Noir. ” – a description that will probably satisfy both yourself and maybe, Chris.

    While perhaps not fully complying with all of the usual requirements of a Film Noir it certain boasts

    (1) A “conflicted” protagonist, (Tracy) – a reluctant hero who feels “mutilated, unneeded, defective and leading a pointless existence” – a stranger who, on this fateful day, dismounts from a train that seldom stops in Black Rock, and whose personal mission is one that may redeem his sense of worth;

    (2) A simple but intriguing story, (supported by an excellent script);

    (3) Characters that live in a world ‘gone wrong” where the “Law has been manipulated”;

    (4) A degree of violence and sudden death.

    The sole female in the cast, Anne Francis, could not be described as a “femme fatale”, but certainly impresses.

    Colin, at first, the inclusion of “Bad Day At Black Rock” in the list seemed problematic, but when I looked further into the film, I agreed with Wikipedia.

     
    • Colin

      December 29, 2013 at 10:47 am

      Rod, Sturges was such a master of composition. I love the way he uses the camera in Bad Day at Black Rock; the story, as you say is fairly simple but Sturges gives it real power with his shooting style.
      I’ve approached it before as a modern western, but it is arguably a highly successful mash-up of western, noir and thriller.

       
  20. Jerry Entract

    December 30, 2013 at 7:33 pm

    I’m probably stating the obvious here (and I think this blog is on Colin’s List) but I am really enjoying http://www.noiroftheweek.com/2008/06/abandoned-1949.html which discusses all those wonderful films we have been referring to.

     
    • Colin

      December 30, 2013 at 8:06 pm

      Yes Jerry, that a fine site, and one I have linked to on my blogroll. Well worth visiting.

       
    • Chris

      December 31, 2013 at 3:29 am

      It’s a great site, Jerry – Not as awesome as Colin’s but along with RTHC it’s been invaluable while building my Film Noir collection. This one too…

      http://www.dvdbeaver.com/film-noir_essential.htm

      …They often do side by side comparisons with different editions of the same film. Tremendously helpful since many have sadly fallen into public domain and picture quality and even cuts vary from country to country. It’s also a bit of a treasure trove of gorgeous large scans of Noir poster art.
      Best
      Chris

       
      • Jerry Entract

        January 1, 2014 at 12:26 pm

        Thanks for the useful tip, Chris. I shall explore further. This is all quite new to me – not the films but the blogging. Film Noir is my other great favourite film strand (Westerns is the other).
        Best
        Jerry

         

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