Film Noir was a reaction to a nation reeling from war overseas and upheaval at home. When men went off to fight, women stepped into the public sector with newfound independence. Soldiers returning home found their jobs gone, the social order upended and the world they had fought to preserve vanished.
Studio chiefs turned to the fast-and-cheap pulp mysteries of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and James M. Cain for stories that captured the dark malaise buried beneath the surface of the outwardly victorious and prosperous nation, and Film Noir was born.
With the current political and social upheaval the country is once again reeling—tales of corruption, greed and selfish behavior once again resonate with the national mood.
Tom Ford’s latest film, Nocturnal Animals takes a page from the world of Film Noir with its immoral characters and senseless violence.
Tom Ford’s latest film is a “story inside a story,” with the first part following a woman named Susan (Amy Adams) who receives a book manuscript from her ex-husband (Jake Gyllenhaal), a man whom she left 20 years earlier, asking for her opinion.
The second part of the story follows the actual manuscript, called “Nocturnal Animals,” which revolves around a man whose family vacation turns violent and deadly in the plains of Texas. The callousness and indifference shown by the perpetrators is chillingly reminiscent of film noir, where morals and laws were meant to be broken.
The film also continues to follow the story of Susan, who finds herself recalling her first marriage and confronting her own dark truths. The mood is stylish and cool with a detached take on cause and effect.
Joseph Losey’s The Prowler out-Hitchcocks the master himself. It’s morbid and dark, cut from the cloth of pulp comics.
The film is about what happens when obsession takes hold and you slowly begin to morph into the worst version of yourself, desperately grasping for the things in life you proudly believe you deserve.
After being frightened by a peeping Tom at her mansion, the stunning Susan Gilvray (Evelyn Keyes) calls the police for help. Webb Garwood (Van Heflin) arrives and becomes infatuated with Susan, and the two engage in a short-lived affair. There’s a life lesson in there about greed, but you might be too caught up in the film’s grimy sheen for it to sink in.
Alexander Mackendrick’s masterpiece of blind items and blind ambition follows NYC gossip columnist J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster) who commands fear from politicians and celebrities alike. One of his followers is Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis) a hustling publicist who’ll do anything to get in Hunsecker’s good graces, even going as far to set up Hunsecker’s younger sisters boyfriend as a pot-smoking commie.
Witch-hunts and blackmail are the only agenda—this is not a film for those looking for ethics or principles. The film is a ruthless portrait of New York nightlife and an eerily prescient nod to media sensationalism more than a half century before Facebook and Twitter. No one is left unscathed in this sinister tale of greed and corruption.
The master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock combines docudrama with the melodrama of film noir. Based on a true story, The Wrong Man is a powerful portrait of a man, Manny Balestrero (Henry Fonda) who is falsely convicted for robberies he never committed.
Naturally, Hitchcock is every bit as interested in the effects of the outrageous miscarriage of justice that befalls Manny Balestrero as he is in the lasting trauma his detention inflicts on him and his family.
The film relies a lot on claustrophobic camerawork—we feel like we’re as confined as Manny—but the film’s greatest impression is left in its wake.
Billy Wilder’s film is a vicious and cynical satire of America’s press core. Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas) is a ladder-climbing journalist who views every opportunity as golden —no matter how grim the circumstance. A cave collapse in New Mexico traps a man, and all eyes turn toward the tragedy—Chuck becomes the self-anointed mastermind behind what soon becomes a national media sensation – and he’s determined to milk it for all it is worth.
This is an outlaw America, an indifferent postwar America where rules of decency come a very distant third to getting the story and the addiction of sleaze entertainment. It’s an ugly vision that eerily predicted the current state of media culture more than half a century ago.
One of the most celebrated films from this genre, The Big Sleep fully embodies every identifying feature of Raymond Chandler’s writing—dialogue that burns itself into our brains, strong men, femme fatales, violence, a respectable body count, and enough plot twists to give even the most accomplished noirs envy.
You will want to watch it more than once for Howard Hawks’ direction and Chandler’s spikey exchanges, not to mention the chemistry and magnetism of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.
Production codes at the time of The Big Sleep’s release prohibited it from being as graphic as Chandler’s novel, but maybe thrillers of today can learn a valuable lesson from the restrictions: less can so often mean much, much more.