Noir is a trend in American cinema of the 1940s – early 1950s, which captures the atmosphere of pessimism, mistrust, frustration and cynicism, which were characteristic to the period in American society during World War II and the early years of the Cold War. Classic film noir era began with the film “The Maltese Falcon” (1941). Among the filmmakers who created famous films noir are Robert Sodmak, Otto Preminger and Fritz Lang, also Billy Wilder and Alfred Hitchcock contributed to the development of that genre.
There is no consensus about the nature of film noir between cinema historians and experts, but a broad overview of different perspectives on this issue were made by John Belton in “Knight Rider film noir” for the magazine “Bright Lights Film.”
Films in the noir style are characterized by a criminal plot, gloomy atmosphere of cynical fatalism and pessimism, and erasing the boundaries between hero and antihero, the relative realism of the scenes and dark lighting, usually nocturnal. The main heroes are usually men, while women tend to act as characters, which can not be trusted, but on the other hand, they motivate the main characters to action. The subject line of noir films is always complicated and confusing. Also such films are characterized by complex, confusing the chronology of actions, creating the impression of “being lost in time”, disorientation.
Films in the noir style were based, as a rule, on detective stories, borrowed from the authors of detectives – such as Richard Chandler (series of films about Philip Marlowe), D. Hammett (“The Glass Key”), D. M. Cain (“The Postman Always Rings Twice”), K. Woolrich (“Black Angel”), as well as the world’s masterpieces as William Faulkner (“The Big Sleep”), Ernest Hemingway (“Assassins”), K. Odets (“The term expires at dawn”) etc. “The Postman Always Rings Twice” takes a special place among them, as one of the classic film noir, released on American cinema screens in 1946. This film was based on classic noir novel by classic of American detective James M. Cain about a couple who committed the murder for the sake of love. The atmosphere of the American heartland of 1930s, the Great Depression and general pessimism are the backdrop for stories of dangerous adventures of Frank and Cora Smith. The “Postman Always Rings Twice” is considered one of the earliest prototypes of today’s “erotic thrillers.”
In 1944, the American Film Academy recognized the rightful place of noir in the Hollywood hierarchy of genres, awarding top prizes Billy Wilder’s film “Double Indemnity”.
“Double Indemnity” is a fine example of the genre “film noir”, made in 1944 by Billy Wilder on the story by James Kane, who is one of the founders of the so-called American tough detective. This is a very strong psychological drama with overtones and action-detective character, while Wilder made the film “without any trace of love or pity.” The plot is about a woman who deceives her lover to get rid of a rich husband, while the hero and antihero are combined in one person, and the combination of cynicism and pessimism was unprecedented for that time.
Silver, A. and Ward, E. (1992). Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style. Woodstock, New York: The Overlook Press.