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Classic Hollywood Movies Film Noir 1940s to 1950's

Updated on September 5, 2011

Film Noir 1941-1958

The most prolific period of time in which film noir was produced starts with The Maltese Falcon in 1941 and ends with Touch of Evil in 1958. During this period and for quite a while afterward, the films were not taken serious by the critics. Noir films are generally thought to be about crime associated with gangsters or thrillers dealing with murder. But many films of the time including melodramas, horror and detective films show the noir influence. These films, like the gangster stories had the recurring themes of violence, crime and a strong psychological element. Noir films also shared visual similarities: dark rainy streets, an ominous narration, action replaced by tension, and startling sets using fragmented light. The stories often took place in small towns, rural areas or on the open road giving them an intimate feel.

Film Noir
Film Noir
Film Noir
Film Noir

Double Indemnity 1944

Billy Wilder adapted the screenplay for Double Indemnity from a novel by James M. Cain. The tagline for the film was "It's love and murder at first sight." In this classic film noir movie, insurance salesman, Fred MacMurray schemes with the wife, played by Barbara Stanwyck of one of his insured. The plan to kill the husband for the insurance money goes awry when insurance investigator, Edward G. Robinson, suspects foul play.

Eras of Film Noir

The film noir era can be generally divided into three periods, each marked by the type of movies produced.

Wartime Flm Noir 1941 - 1946

This era produced movies about the solitary private eye with scenes played out in stylized sets. These films substituted clever banter between its characters for action. Films from this period The Maltese Falcon,Gilda and Mildred Pierce.

Post-War Realistic Film Noir 1945 - 1949

During this period the heroes became less romantic. The films were about crime in the streets and corruption among city officials. Examples from this time would be The Killers and Brute Force.

Psychotic Action and Suicidal Impulse Film Noir 1949 - 1953

These films concentrated on despair and disintegration. The protagonists were often psychotic killers. Films from this period are Gun Crazy, D.O.A. and Sunset Boulevard.

Detective Novels

Many of the well-known film noir movies were adapted from best-selling novels. Raymond Chandler was the author of The Big Sleep, Murder My Sweet, and Lady In The Lake. He also wrote the screenplays for Strangers On A Train, The Blue Dahlia and Double Indemnity. Likewise Dashiell Hammett's novels were the inspiration for The Maltese Falcon and The Glass Key.

Film Noir
Film Noir

The Maltese Falcon 1941

John Huston wrote the screenplay from Dashiell Hammett's novel.  The tagline for this film was, "A guy without a conscience! A dame without a heart!"  Private investigator, Sam Spade played by Humphrey Bogart, has his hands full while investigating his partner's murder.  The investigation soon turns into a search for treasure, the life-sized gold statue of a falcon.

Lady in the Lake 1947

Adapted from Raymond Chandler's novel, Lady in the Lake stars Robert Montgomery as Philip Marlow. Shot from Phillip Marlowe's point of view, the audience is invited to share in solving the murder. The case of a missing person gets complicated when people start dying.

Memorable of Film Noir

Film noir left us with many memorable characters, most notably the hard boiled private eye such as Sam Spade in the Maltese Falcon and Phillip Marlowe in Murder My Sweet. The noir films also opened the way for the introduction of the 'bad girl', famously played by Lana Turner, Rita Hayworth and Ava Gardner.

Film Noir
Film Noir

Touch of Evil 1958

Charlton Heston as Mike Vargas, is Mexico's chief narcotics agent.  On his border town  honeymoon with new American wife, Janet Leigh, he becomes embroiled in the investigation of the death of a prominent U.S. developer.  Things get hairy when crooked U.S. detective, Hank Quinlan, Orson Welles gets involved.

IMDB's Top Ten Film Noir Movies

Sunset Boulevard 1950

M 1931

Double Imdemnity 1944

The Third Man 1949

Touch of Evil 1958

Stranger on a Train 1951

Notorious 1946

The Big Sleep 1946

Les diaboliques 1955


Submit a Comment

  • CinemaScope profile image


    6 years ago from Toronto, CA

    Good Stuff!

  • profile image


    7 years ago

    Download old classic movies for free go to -

    Our mission is to provide cinephiles of classic, independent, rare and outlandish films a friendly location to discuss and share their own interests with current members of this ever-growing community.

    Singup now !

  • The Jet profile image

    The Jet 

    7 years ago from The Bay

    I've seen Notorious. I thought it was splendid.

  • Gunsnroses profile image


    7 years ago

    If there is a finer example then Sunset Blvd., then I am missing something in life. Double Indemnity is definitely one of my favorites. Did you catch the original Cat People?

  • DarleneMarie profile image


    9 years ago from USA

    These movies were made way before my time; however, I enjoyed watching them with my grandmother.  They had it all - drama, suspense and intrigue. Very entertaining - more so than movies today.

    Great Hub!

  • Cris A profile image

    Cris A 

    9 years ago from Manila, Philippines

    I love film noirs and I love this hub! I think the most current noir I did see was Memento - and that threw me in for a loop! That was some ride and talk about dark! Thanks for sharing, I enjoyed reading :D


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