FILM NOIR


Part 4


Film Noir
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Examples


Derivatives of Film Noir, and Post-Noirs:

Oftentimes, noir could also branch out into other genre-categories, such as the following:

It has been noted that a sub-category of film gris (or 'gray film') exists, according to writer Jon Tuska, meaning film noirs that have happy denouements.

So-called post-noirs (modern tech-noirs, neo-noirs, or cyberpunk) appeared after the classic period with an attempt to revive the themes of classic noir, although they portrayed contemporary times and were often filmed in color. Tech-noir (also known as 'cyberpunk') refers specifically to a hybrid of high-tech science-fiction and film noirs portraying a decayed, grungy, unpromising, dark and dystopic future - similar to what was found in the low-life, underworld environments of hard-boiled 'pulp fiction' made popular by Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett.

Modern Film Noirs: Neo-Noirs (or Post-Noirs)

Film noirs have recently been released in the modern era and have been refashioned for present-day sensibilities. A number of them in the 60s-70s were hard-boiled policeman-hero films that contained film noirish characteristics. Most neo-noirs attempted to re-establish the moods and themes of classic noirs. Some examples follow (also see the Tech-Noir section below):

The 60s:

  • writer/director Sam Fuller's grim revenge noir-thriller Underworld USA (1961) starred Cliff Robertson as Tolly Devlin, who as a 14 year-old saw his father beaten to death by four gangsters; 20 years later, the ex-con sought uncompromising, nihilistic revenge
  • in J. Lee Thompson's Cape Fear (1962), Robert Mitchum - in a memorable villainous role - starred as a sadistic, sordid ex-con named Max Cady exacting revenge on family-man lawyer Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck) that sent him to prison, by assailing his wife and daughter [The film was remade by Martin Scorsese as Cape Fear (1991) with Robert De Niro]
  • director John Frankenheimer's Cold War-era The Manchurian Candidate (1962) was a complex, realistic depiction of brainwashing in a frightening, satirical psychological, noirish thriller; Korean war hero and Congressional Medal of Honor winner Sgt. Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey), controlled and manipulated by his spy-agent "Queen of Diamonds" ambitious femme fatale mother (Angela Lansbury) (the wife of right-wing, McCarthyite demagogue Senator John Iselin (James Gregory)), was behind the sinister plot to assassinate political enemies; the mind-controlled operative Shaw murdered his own wife Jocie (Leslie Parrish) and his father-in-law, liberal Senator Thomas Jordon (John McGiver); in the tense climax, Major Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra) uncovered the programmed killer's fiendish plans to assassinate the presidential nominee [The film was remade by director Jonathan Demme in 2004, starring Denzel Washington as the Frank Sinatra character, updated as a Gulf War veteran, and Liev Schreiber as the Laurence Harvey character]
  • director Sam Fuller's unorthodox, bold and raw, feminist B-film The Naked Kiss (1964), a treatise about the abuse and exploitation of women by perverse men, told about a reformed call-girl (Constance Towers) who learned of the hypocrisy of her fiancee - the most respected citizen of the community
  • director Arthur Penn's groundbreaking, controversial, stylish crime drama/romance, and road film Bonnie And Clyde (1967), similar to the earlier noir Gun Crazy (1949) (aka Deadly Is the Female), told about a 1930s Depression-Era bank-robbing couple Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow (Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty) and gang with easy-going, folksy flavor and bloody, graphically-violent shoot-outs; controversial when released because of its bullet-riddled ending, it marked the coming increase in visceral cinematic violence
  • director John Boorman's Point Blank (1967), a brutal and violent crime classic neo-noir based on the pulp crime novel The Hunter by Richard Stark (Donald E. Westlake), starred Lee Marvin as Walker, a double-crossed criminal on the path of relentless revenge to collect $93,000 due to him ("Somebody's gotta pay"); the film featured virtuoso, artsy, avant-garde editing techniques (i.e., flashbacks, time lapses, dream motifs, etc) in its elliptical tale

The 70s:

  • Alan J. Pakula's Klute (1971) starred Oscar-winning Jane Fonda as Bree Daniels, a victimized NYC streetwalker who became romantically involved with cop/detective Klute (Donald Sutherland) during his investigation of various murders in the noirish city
  • William Friedkin's Best Picture-winning crime thriller The French Connection (1971) was a realistic story of the obsessive pursuit of French drug kingpins (led by Fernando Ray) and a shipment of heroin by two unorthodox New York City police detectives (Gene Hackman as out-of-control, anti-bureaucratic, porkpie hat-wearing "Popeye" Doyle and Roy Scheider)
  • in Don Siegel's violent action film Dirty Harry (1971), Clint Eastwood starred as the intolerant, fascistic, magnum-packing, vigilante SF cop Harry Callahan on the trail of the elusive 'Scorpio killer' (Andy Robinson)
  • Terrence Malick's directorial debut film Badlands (1973), similar in plot to earlier "amour fou" (doomed lovers-on-the-run) noir films, was inspired and based on the murder spree of a killing, loving couple, Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate, in the late 1950's in Nebraska and bordering states; social outcast and misfit, James Dean look-alike ex-garbage collector Kit Carruthers (Martin Sheen) romanced a naive, lackadaisical, starry-eyed, celebrity magazine-addicted 15 year old teenager Holly Sargis (Sissy Spacek) (who narrated the film in a deadpan tone), killed her disapproving father (Warren Oates), and then embarked on a state-wide flight - and shocking, emotionally-apathetic and casual, homicidal, and image-conscious binge - into the badlands of South Dakota and Montana
  • maverick Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye (1973) was a revisionistic update of Raymond Chandler's 1954 detective novel, with Elliott Gould as worn-out, ineffectual private eye Philip Marlowe in 1970s Los Angeles
  • Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets (1973) with a rock and roll soundtrack explored the grim world of Little Italy in New York through the eyes of four small-time Italian hoodlums, including irresponsibly-violent Johnny Boy (Robert De Niro) and his ambitious punk cousin Charlie Calla (Harvey Keitel)
  • Roman Polanski's noirish detective thriller Chinatown (1974) was a masterful homage to noirs of the past; it starred Jack Nicholson as J.J. Gittes - an ex-LA cop turned Bogart-style PI, who became embroiled in a true-to-life land and water scandal and conspiracy, crimes including incest and murder, with a bleak and despairing climax on the streets of Chinatown; followed by the sequel The Two Jakes (1990)
  • Francis Ford Coppola's noirish conspiracy thriller The Conversation (1974) was the slowly-gripping, bleak study of electronic surveillance and threat of new technologies that was examined through the private, internalized life of a lonely and detached expert surveillance 'bugger' named Harry Caul (Gene Hackman)
  • director Robert Altman's remake Thieves Like Us (1974), based upon the same source as Nicholas Ray's They Live By Night (1949), was set in Depression-era Mississippi, and starred Keith Carradine (as Bowie) and Shelley Duvall (as Keechie) - an outlaw couple brought together during a series of bank robberies
  • director Dick Richards' retro-noir Farewell, My Lovely (1975), the third film adaptation of Chandler's 1940 novel Farewell, My Lovely, filmed with Chinatown's cinematographer, starred Robert Mitchum as Philip Marlowe
  • Arthur Penn's noirish mystery-thriller Night Moves (1975) featured Gene Hackman as doomed LA private eye Harry Moseby searching in the Florida Keys for a runaway teenaged nymphet step-daughter (a young Melanie Griffith) - and encountering lethal circumstances
  • Peter Hyam's little-seen and forgotten Peeper (1975) (aka Fat Chance), a semi-serious spoof of the 40s detective films, starred Michael Caine as Leslie C. Tucker - a trench-coated detective in LA commissioned to find a wealthy man's long-lost missing daughter (either Natalie Wood or Kitty Winn); the tagline stated: "Back in '47, a gun was a roscoe, a private-eye was a Peeper, and murder was okay as long as nobody got hurt. In fact, anything was okay with this Peeper on the case because he wouldn't know who-done-it even if he done it himself"
  • Martin Scorsese's bleak and violent Taxi Driver (1976), one of his greatest films, examined the character of a volatile, alienated, unfocused, psychotic NYC taxi driver named Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) who was fatalistically disturbed by the squalid, hellish urban underbelly of pimps, whores, winos, and junkies; his fantasized one-man campaign/mission to clean up the streets focused on saving prepubescent child prostitute Iris (Jodie Foster); the film ended with a failed political assassination attempt, and a rage-filled, pent-up blood-bath massacre, including the killing of Iris' pimp "Sport" (Harvey Keitel)
  • Michael Winner's The Big Sleep (1978), the second film adaptation of Chandler's 1939 novel of the same name, starred Robert Mitchum as Philip Marlowe

The 80s:

  • writer/director Paul Schrader's stylish and hip early 80s film American Gigolo (1980) starred baring-all Richard Gere as Julian Kaye - a high-priced, vain, and cocky-arrogant Beverly Hills hustler and gigolo, who was framed for the Palm Springs murder of a wealthy and sadistic client's (Tom Stewart) wife named Judy Rheiman (Patricia Carr)
  • Martin Scorsese's noirish biopic Raging Bull (1980) was a magnificently visceral, vivid and real, black and white bio/docu-drama of the rise and fall of a violent, suicidally-macho prize-fighter; it told how hard-headed, animalistic, unlovable slum kid Jake LaMotta (Robert De Niro), based on the real-life LaMotta's autobiography, became a middle-weight champ, but also experienced bouts of domestic violence with brother Joey (Joe Pesci) and second, beautiful teenage wife Vikki (Cathy Moriarty), and slowly but predictably descended into fat, self-pitying slobbishness
  • Lawrence Kasden's twisted, steamy, and sexy noirish Body Heat (1981), his directorial debut film, bore a marked resemblance to Double Indemnity (1944) and to The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) - it told about a short-sighted lawyer (William Hurt) who was enticed to murder a sultry femme fatale's (Kathleen Turner) husband (Richard Crenna)
  • in Czech filmmaker Ivan Passer's twisting crime thriller and murder mystery Cutter's Way (1981), John Heard (as embittered, self-righteous, drunken, one-eyed, one-armed, one-legged, crazed and angry Vietnam vet Alexander Cutter) found a purpose in his life when his laconic yacht-salesman-beach-bum friend Richard Bone (Jeff Bridges) witnessed the dumping of a female corpse, compelling Cutter to ride heroically (and tragically) on a white stallion to his death to confront the killer
  • Bob Rafelson's The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981), a sexed-up version of the 1946 original, starred Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange
  • Ridley Scott's film noirish sci-fi thriller Blade Runner (1982) was set in a decaying, tech-noir LA society of the future (in the year 2019), with Harrison Ford as a futuristic, LA 'blade-running' private-eye detective intent on killing replicant-androids; the voice-over narration replicated the world-weary tone of many early noirs
  • Taylor Hackford's Against All Odds (1984) attempted to loosely remake the classic Out of the Past (1947) with Rachel Ward as spoiled heroine Jessie (the Jane Greer role), Jeff Bridges as ex-football star Terry Brogan (the Robert Mitchum role), and James Woods as gambler/businessman Jake (the Kirk Douglas role); cast members from the original film in the remake included Jane Greer (now as the mother), and Paul Valentine (as a two-bit hood in the original, but now as Councilman Weinberg)
  • Blood Simple - 1984the feverish, low-budget debut film of the Coen Brothers' was the neo-noir Blood Simple (1984) which told about a murder plot gone awry; with M. Emmett Walsh as an amoral PI hired to kill a honky-tonk bar owner's (Dan Hedaya) unfaithful wife (Frances McDormand) and her bartender lover (John Getz); the film featured sleazy characters, an endless murder scene, and double-crosses - all characteristics of classic film noir
  • David Lynch's disturbing, absorbing and brilliant Blue Velvet (1986) told about the seedy and corrupt under-side of suburban Americana through the voyeuristic findings of college student Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) and his girlfriend (Laura Dern) regarding sexual blackmail, drugs, immorality, sado-masochistic singer Dorothy Valens (Isabella Rosselini) and psychotic underworld sadist Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper); the unique film visualized the repulsive and twisted horrors that lurked behind ordinary small-town life - all stemming from the mysterious discovery of a severed human ear in a field by the naive college student
  • Michael Mann's gripping thriller Manhunter (1986) marked the first film appearance of serial killer Hannibal Lecter (played by Brian Cox) (later appearing in The Silence of the Lambs (1991) and Ridley Scott's Hannibal (2001)); it starred William Petersen as coming-out-of-retirement FBI agent "profiler" Will Graham on the trail of the killer "The Tooth Fairy" (Tom Noonan)
  • Neil Jordan's Mona Lisa (1986), set in a depraved London, was a gritty tale about a high-priced call girl (Cathy Tyson) and her ex-con chauffeur-bodyguard (Bob Hoskins)
  • Alan Parker's stylistic, occult post-noir Angel Heart (1987) (originally X-rated), based on William Hjortsberg's novel Fallen Angel - was a religious-themed film noir/supernatural horror mixture set in the world of New Orleans voodoo, corruption, and other devilish circumstances; it starred Mickey Rourke as a seedy, Mickey Spillane-type of 1950's Brooklyn private eye who was hired by a Satanic client Louis Cyphre (Robert De Niro) to search for a missing singer in New Orleans; it was more remembered for its notorious sex scene between Rourke and The Cosby Show star Lisa Bonet (in her film debut) than the plot
  • Bob Rafelson's Black Widow (1987) featured a murderous, psychotic but charming gold-digger femme fatale (Theresa Russell) who was pursued by federal sleuth Alexandra (Debra Winger)
  • Adrian Lyne's Fatal Attraction (1987) was a suspenseful, melodramatic, erotic thriller about one-night stands, sexual games, and obsessive love (with Glenn Close as femme fatale Alex Forrest - a murderous jilted, stalking woman who terrorized her married man partner Dan (Michael Douglas) and his family)
  • writer/director David Mamet's first feature film, the moody House of Games (1987) dealt with the surreal world (a gambling den called "The House of Games") of con artists (Joe Mantegna as Mike) and its victims (including psychiatrist Margaret Ford, portrayed by Lindsay Crouse)
  • Roger Donaldson's No Way Out (1987) was based on John Farrow's classic The Big Clock (1948)



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