The film noir is above all the transfer of the atmosphere of detective novels and novels from the 20s and 30s to the cinema. The first traces of the movement are drawn before the Second World War, but it is especially in the late 40s and during the 50s that the genre explodes in popularity and marks a whole generation of artists, writers and filmmakers. In free movies online you will be able to watch all the films of these filmmakers.
In terms of substance, or rather intrigues and characters, the movement is a cinematic materialization of the detective news atmosphere of the 1920s and 1930s. Dashiell Hammett (1894 – 1961) and his 65 novels is often cited as the first source of inspiration. The writer will eventually become a scriptwriter for Hollywood. Raymond Chandler (1888 – 1959), author of crime novels and known for his private detective hero Philip Marlowe. Hollywood will also open its doors to the writer so that he can script works close to his writings.
- These two literary sources were themselves inspired by naturalism, where reality is accurately described, and emphasizes the relationship between a character’s environment and the effect it has on him. Detective novels are therefore naturally an extension of this. As for the form, the cinema of the black film borrows the techniques of the German expressionist cinema which knows its apogee in the 20s in Berlin. In any case, we are in black and white images, in dark alleys, smoke-filled streets, femme fatales, private detectives and a reflection of both the Great Depression and the attitude of the cynicism of the time that follows.
- But if the movement is inspired by American novelists and German cinema, why does it carry a French name? Because it’s a Frenchman, Nino Frank, who uses the expression noir to describe the Hollywood genre, in reference to the Black Series collection of Gallimard released in 1946. And if we say black, it’s because these films all rely on a black and white aesthetic to talk about the corruption of American society. The first big film of its kind is The Maltese Falcon of 1941 where Humphrey Bogart plays Sam Spade. Shortly after, he plays the character of Chandler, Philip Marlowe, who shares the same characteristics: raincoat and hat, cigarette and cynicism, solitary and taciturn.
Image of the Detective
This is where the image of the private detective comes from. In these films we find camera angles at the limit of the claustrophobic as in Nosferatu, a constant play of light with the shadows to accentuate the features of the characters during the fixed shots. Female characters are particularly subject to this technique, whose expressions seem colder, but also more beautiful. This effect mixed with the writing of dangerous women gives rise to the archetype of the femme fatale. But beyond the detective and the dangerous woman, it is the city itself that is at the center of the plot and which, through the places used, often acts as a metaphor for the social problems of the time or echoes those of the characters.
While this incredible movement of cinema was first inspired by American literature and the treatment of the German image, the film noir manages to forge an image of its own and that characterizes an era. Since then, it is this genre that has returned to the literary world to inspire many writers, whether for the crime genre, fantasy or even science fiction.