Genres: a French word meaning category or type is our key to the kind of film that gives us the greatest pleasures. From time to time, we will be itemizing some of these films and their genres just for the fun of it.
Among our favorites is the one referred to as Film Noir. Unfortunately, this term has become so corrupted that it is presently used to describe virtually any film that has some element of crime in its plot, but here is its classic definition.
Film Noir. Literally it means black film, a generic term for a type of film set in a sordid urban atmosphere that deals with dark passions and violent crime. Many American thrillers of the 1940’s and 50’s were of this genre.
General ingredients common to Film Noir:
-A moody atmosphere
-Characters whose basic natures are deceptive, cunning, dishonest, and downright criminal.
-Sex or sexual passion, mostly of an illicit nature
-Individuals who are murderously desperate about some aspect of their lives
-Violence and cold-blooded cruelty are very much part of the atmosphere.
-Music, especially the blues and jazz, influence who the characters are, where they live, and how they behave.
-Reversals and unexpected twists in the story and the events are common place.
-Aspirations for a big payoff (in money from insurance, robbery, murder, etc.) fuels the ruthlessness of the characters’ behavior. -New and sudden alliances as well as betrayals, lies, and reversals in loyalty occur with dizzying swiftness among the characters of Film Noir.
Roger Ebert probably put it best when he said, The difference between “a crime film” and a “noir film” is that the bad guys in a crime film know they are bad and want to be, while the noir hero thinks he’s a good guy who has been ambushed by life.
-From Roger Ebert’s book The Great Movies, under his appreciation of Edgar Ulmer’s Detour (1945)
We concur that Detour is probably the greatest noir film made, more about this later.