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How To Know If It's Film Noir

Updated on September 4, 2017
Dan W Miller profile image

The Vanilla Godzilla was raised in Simi Valley/Thousand Oaks, CA. Veteran, divorced in 1996, kids, grandkids. Lived in Phoenix since 2000.

The Golden Era of Film Noir was generally from the beginning of WWII 1942 to the Korean War 1955

One of the first, true movies oozing with film noir was "This Gun For Hire." Unique because the lead (Alan Ladd with Veronica Lake) is a hitman, having gunned down a woman witness and a policeman. Yet you're STILL rooting for him!
One of the first, true movies oozing with film noir was "This Gun For Hire." Unique because the lead (Alan Ladd with Veronica Lake) is a hitman, having gunned down a woman witness and a policeman. Yet you're STILL rooting for him! | Source

Post WWII France was fascinated by a style of certain American crime and detective movies which they called Film Noir which literally means "black cinema."

Here are the props, the attitude and the feeling you get from these type of movies while we're IN one. So instead of scientific analysis let me tell you in plain English what you'll find in nearly every plot. You'd better roll up the sleeves of your starched bright white shirt, loosen your tie and you best not try anything cute, fella or I'll blast ya! Got it, smart guy? Good. (Pats your face twice a little extra firm.)

This could take all night if we have to or if you cooperate, we can be out of here in two shakes of a lamb's tail, bub. Cigarette? Yeah, that's right. The non-filtered type. It's either Chesterfields, Lucky Strike or Pall Malls.

I'm gonna fix us both a drink because you look like I could use one. Hope you like scotch on the rocks because that's all there is. I'm saving the bourbon for when I run out of scotch. Oh, and I don't have any ice. So, I hope you like it straight up. I don't trust a man who doesn't drink and I have never had a drink with an umbrella in it. Think I'll make mine a double, right after I finish this double.

Say, you're the strong, silent type aren't you? Or you just clammin' up? Well try a couple of belts from this cheap "truth serum" and I'll probably be beggin' ya to shut up in no time. So, you wanted to know what Film Noir is, eh? It's not hard to explain and even easier to figure out once I draw up some images for ya.


Our Story Begins

It's a feeling of impending doom and despair hanging over every character in the story like a dark cloud filled with detachment, alienation, disillusionment, lethargy, ambiguity, and corruption. It's a guy who was awarded a Silver Star or Medal of Valor in "the big war" and together with two bits he might be able to buy a cup of coffee.

It's standing in the pouring rain cascading down like Niagara Falls as you watch two figures in the window of that second floor suite. Even though the rain doesn't let up, neither do you on your stake out, not even batting an eyelash as your light brown fedora hat and beige trench coat don't keep you from getting soaked to the bone anyway.

You do it because you've got a job to do and someone is paying you. Tonight it's to keep an eye on those two lovebirds as they cavort about drinking, playing records, laughing and eventually they embrace in a passionate kiss while he grabs the shade and pulls it down. You light another cigarette. Your night's over.

End of Act I.


Gathering More Clues

Then, and only then, can you call it a night. But not before you stop off for a nightcap or two or three at Pete's or Harry's Hideaway or The Blue Oyster or whatever that gin joint is called downstairs and around the corner from your flat in that rented dive of a hotel room, Mexican themed motel or city bungalow that you call home. You split time spent equally with your high rise office that has your name on the frosted, bumpy glass window on the front door

HA! Yeah. "Home." It's not even a home but a place to drop off your dry cleaning after it's pressed at the "chink laundry" that's been run by the same family for generations for as long as you can remember. They're always good for a lead, a ticket with an address, a description of what the guy looked like. You keep each other in business.

It's ALWAYS raining or "pea soup" foggy and always a starless night you can barely see amid the towering stone, mortar and brick buildings all around you. It's around midnight or after two a.m. or closing time in some nameless, filthy metropolitan city as you slosh through the streets head down, hands buried into the pockets of your Burberry trench coat. Not even a taxi would be out on a night like this.

There's always a femme fatal you'd like to trust

How many elements of Film Noir can you spot in this still from a long forgotten movie? Hint: don't stop at a dozen.
How many elements of Film Noir can you spot in this still from a long forgotten movie? Hint: don't stop at a dozen. | Source

Everything Turns To Black

And there, you can feel it. The cold steel of a black snub-nosed handgun in your coat pocket or in your holster strapped to your chest or the one shoved into your back. Hey, easy there, junior.

It's lighting two cigarettes and giving one to her, it's two short glasses and one bottle of scotch. It's a "tail," a dame, a kiss, ("How 'bout another one, baby?") A slap in the face, a sock on the jaw, a blackjack to the back of the head and then everything went black, officer. It's a moll, an ex-girlfriend or a broad you wouldn't trust to tie your own shoe laces.

It's a "gum-shoe," it's always a leather shoe, it's a wing-tip (if you're a bad guy,) it's high heeled shoes for the girl, it's spike heeled shoes for the bad girl. It's shadows, it's blood red lipstick, it's red brick buildings, it's shining wet black as night asphalt and it's a lump on your noggin. Ouch! Now how did THAT get there? Oh yeah. From HIM, "The Ape." The guy hovering over you in the tight fitting cheap suit.

"Mornin', sweetheart" he says. *SMASH!!* His big balled up mitt does a wreckin' ball number to the side of your nose and what do you say to him? "Is that the best ya got, King Kong? Your stinkin' cologne hits harder!"

It's lights out for you. It's someone drugged, it's someone slipping you a "Mickey Finn" in your drink, it's someone beat up, someone dead, someone left for dead, someone I had to kill him, eventually, someone “on the take,” someone did an “inside job,” someone's headed for a fall, someone is cruisin' for a bruisin', someone got what they deserved, someone was double-crossed, someone better watch their back, someone won't talk and someone was just here. I can feel it! Look! Two cigarette's still burning!

End of Act II.

The face, the dame, the smoke, the shadows, the trench coat...

If ever there was a "film noir face" it was Robert Mitchum. He had "The Look." He didn't even have to act. Naturally cool, hard, tough, bemused and dares ya to hit him.
If ever there was a "film noir face" it was Robert Mitchum. He had "The Look." He didn't even have to act. Naturally cool, hard, tough, bemused and dares ya to hit him. | Source

Someone Is Bound To Get Hurt

It's waking up in an alley or next to a dead body or if it’s in your bed you’re still in your dark suit and always hungover. Finally "snapping out of it" only to find yourself on a rat-infested hotel bed with needle marks in your arm or tied to a chair and some gorilla of a guy making hamburger meat of your face.

"My mother hits harder," you say with a smile while spittin' blood into "Moose's" face. Maybe if you're lucky you'll pass out from being beaten unconscious because you can never let on to these weasels that you hurt or that you're gonna break or that you know something (even if you know nothing.) You mustn't let them know where she is or where "the book" is hidden or where the diamonds are stashed.

Hope for surviving the night looks pretty bleak when "The Big Boss," who ironically is skinny as a flag pole with a dark striped suit on a hanger, shows no regard for anyone but himself. Or he could be fat as a hippo with a face like one too sweating profusely from his pink skin that resembles uncooked poultry or some weasel barely above a jockey's height smoking a cigar to make him lose that initial little kid appearance.

"So just where did you get the big idea that you could just walk out of here, sir? Continue, Moose" he orders, through bored looking coal black eyes.

It's a smart remark, a number on a matchbook, a lamp in your eyes, a car skidding out of control, a trusted pal posting bail, a woman screaming in the night, a cigarette’s smoke curling into your eyes, a side glance, a whistle for a cabbie, a "wolf whistle," a twinkle in a woman's eye and a world that scowls back at you.

I don't know why, but a feeling just came over me like a worried mother, a little brother with braces on his legs looking up to the wrong kind of guy, a sis so naive to the real world, a corpse telling more information than you ever got from the living, a bullet hole, a knife wound, an ice pick hole barely visible at the base of the skull, a fatal blow to the head or the smell of almonds on the corpse's breath. "Hey! This guy's been poisoned!"


The Women Want You, The Men Want To Be You

It's telling a meddling cop to, "Butt out!" It's a fat cat boss saying calmly, "Aw, we don't wanna get Johnny Law involved, now do we, Mr. (Spade or Marlow or Spillane or Hammer?)"

Why do they always have an odd way of speaking? Why does The Boss always seem to be the calmest fellow in the room... well, besides you, of course? Is that a German, Austrian or a British accent he has as he carries a long haired cat around on his lap, or grips a studded walking stick or a flower in his lapel that he's constantly smelling.

It's getting clues from an informant, a punk, a paperboy, a mechanic, a snitch, a jailbird, a cellmate, a doorman, a hitman, a patsy, a soda jerk, a cheap whore, a high priced call girl, a Daddy's Girl, a spinster, a drunk, a liar and a cheat, a perp, a private dick who used to be a cop, a dead partner and a grieving widow that you "vow to get revenge for and bust whoever did this."

Or it's a dame who's name you'll never forget. It was Sadie, Blondie, Red, Ivana, Carol, Ginger, or Elsa. Yeah, that was it. She was a real gold digger, a part-time model, a reluctant hooker, a high priced call girl, a down on her luck stripper (who always winds up dead it seems,) a cute hat check girl, a sassy cigarette girl, a sexy secretary, a struggling nickel a dance girl who used to be a pretty good actress, because those are the only jobs available for young girls in the big city. At least in this movie. End of Act III.

The author knows a thing or two about film noir.

Be relentless, be fearless, be on your toes and let your gun or your fists do your talking for you and try to "get over her" because there's "plenty of fish in the sea."
Be relentless, be fearless, be on your toes and let your gun or your fists do your talking for you and try to "get over her" because there's "plenty of fish in the sea." | Source

They Told Me About Guys Like You

The guy who was driven to do this used to be a swell guy until he drank himself into becoming a desperate play writer, a washed up thespian, a drug addict, a dealer, a shady character, a hack for the local rag, a victim of the city, a loan shark's collector because a guy on the take will do almost anything to survive. Even if it means taking someone's life. What a shame. What a waste. What a palooka. What a pair o' gams on that dame, eh?

Because now he's just a bum, a real thug, a guy "on the take," a remorseful guy telling a kid brother not to end up like him, a con, an ex-con, a canary and now a squealer who's about to sing to the cops so ya better go "take care of him." If you know what I mean.


Now It's Time To Payup

Take him "for a drive," take him to the top of a building and show him the fastest way down, take him into the countryside and "ventilate him," take him around back to see the boss, take a shovel with ya too, just take him out of here and shut him up - for good.

Maybe you can "persuade him" by "suggesting" you take a little stroll with you and Rocco, Tony, Whitey, Jinx or Bruno. Try a finger in a cigar cutter or a hand placed on a table that needs working on - with a hammer or maybe just break something like a thumb if he's an athlete, a kneecap if he stands all day on the assembly line or an eye socket so he can see your point of view.

Because we don't want "guys like him" or "his kind" to become one of the thousand stories in the naked city. The ones that ONLY take place in a city like post-war Los Angeles, San Francisco or New York City.


THE END

Epilogue

This article was banged out by me. Yeah, that's right. Me, Dan W. Miller in a 48 hour sleepless stretch, on a Royal brand typewriter with a non-filter cigarette permanently dangling out of the side of my mouth.

My only "meal" was from a bottle of Ol' Rot Gut and I'm wearing the same dark wool suit I'd worn the day before. So what? Here's my card. Call me. Now get the Hell out of here before I change my mind. Beat it, kid!

_________________________________________________

Here are some classic Noir movie titles as seen in their movies. Link: http://www.filmsite.org/titles-filmnoir.html

http://www.filmsite.org/titles-filmnoir.html
http://www.filmsite.org/titles-filmnoir.html | Source

POINT BLANK (1967) is a perfect example of an updated version of film noir.

© 2016 Dan W Miller

Do You Have a Favorite Film Noir Movie?

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    • Dan W Miller profile image
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      Dan W Miller 10 months ago from the beaches of Southern California now living in Phoenix since 2000

      Oh, thanks. Yes, it always gets me when someone will review a recent or recent enough movie and claim it's full of "film noir" when you and I know the REAL TRUE film noir movies are from the '40s and to a lesser degree a few years into the '50s. It was extremely fun to write. Could be even longer if I chose to be.

    • profile image

      Edward Diprose 10 months ago from King's Lynn, Norfolk, England

      I like the old 1940s noir. You've captured the dialogue and the social habits in your article. I think that the fast yappy streetwise dialogue is the main feature of those vintage noir movies.

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 16 months ago

      Thank you. I figured if wanted to make money on HubPages I would have to up my submission tempo. My topics aren't the type that have much popular appeal. So definitely quantity is important.

    • Dan W Miller profile image
      Author

      Dan W Miller 16 months ago from the beaches of Southern California now living in Phoenix since 2000

      Both not required to be a good soul. No need to respond, my friend. You just might be too busy as one of the "maniac writers" I referred to in The Forum. Two years on HubPages and already 70+ articles. A-mazing!

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 16 months ago

      My grandfather smoked Camels without filters, aka coffin nails. I use to follow baseball. I wasn't good at sports myself.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 16 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Sport, not Aussie Rules (that's for the southerners). We Queenslanders call it "aerial ping pong". The sports I played RUGBY LEAGUE football (the greatest game of all), tennis, volleyball, athletics especially sprinting. Still like to play tennis, table tennis, pool/snooker etc if I can find opponents :)...was always too short for basketball. I like to watch horse racing and it, Baseball and golf seem to make the best movies though.

    • Dan W Miller profile image
      Author

      Dan W Miller 16 months ago from the beaches of Southern California now living in Phoenix since 2000

      Hammer/Spillane are pretty cut and dried predictable. Oh, I LOVE the less obvious ones. Maybe The Treasure Of Sierra Madre may even border on noir. Cape Fear & Night Of The Hunter.

      Not sure your age, Bob but J and I are quite familiar with those old straight up cigarettes. Seemed, as a kid, the filtered smokes in the '60's were just getting an introduction into that type. I'm 58 soon.

      Mom puffed her Tareyton 100's while I SAT NEXT TO HER at a very young age.

      I was such an uncoordinated lad (skipped a grade but still the tallest) that I decided to NOT go the route of probably 75-90% of my immediate friends who smoked. I figured it would give me an edge and I'll be the klutz with endurance.

      On high school teams I rode the bench but made the teams. Kept me in shape and I continued on to sponsored traveling teams until my late 30's. I attribute it to not getting hooked on nicotine.

      Any favorite sports of your's, you two? I'm thinking Jonah does or did a bit of Aussie Rules Footie. Kind of a combined futbol and football, I'd say. Not sure if "girl watching" is considered a sport. But I'd be a hall of famer.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 16 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Dan, love the changes and extra text. I was also a Mike Hammer fan, especially of the TV series starring Stacey Keach. Good work, Pal. Go easy on those filterless cigarettes though, they can put you into a hole in the ground too damn quick :)

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 16 months ago

      I take it you prefer the Mike Hammer type detective stories over the Double Indemnity type stories.

    • Dan W Miller profile image
      Author

      Dan W Miller 16 months ago from the beaches of Southern California now living in Phoenix since 2000

      By the way everyone. I IMPROVED ON IT by making the paragraphs end by tying into the beginning of each one and adding maybe 100 more words to give it more GRIT, MORE TOUGHNESS and a whimsical approach. Thank you, Robert and J.

      Maybe the film noir YOU watched but if you read or watch a Mike Hammer novel, the women are more of a distraction and maybe A KEY (not THE KEY) aspect to the cause, the crime or the solution.

      Oh, they're scattered all over the movie but many end up dead while our hero relentlessly pursues the bad guy who has made it all throughout the entire script.

      Sorry, the woman CAN BE the main block in the pyramid scheme.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 16 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Great hub, Dan. Your writing certainly captured the Film Noir genre perfectly. Robert Mitchum was always one of my favourite actors too. Much better than Bogart in my opinion.

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 16 months ago

      I enjoyed the article. It is so true and so amusing. Isn't the main element of Film Noir though, the woman? The woman who is driving a railroad train to destruction and the men who go along for the ride?