For cinema lovers and movie buffs, the horror-thon of October will be followed by another month-long celebration of genre, Noirvember. November, kicked off with the end of daylight saving time, sets the perfect moody atmosphere for indulging in the world of film noir with its short days, chilled air, cloudy skies and dropping of the remaining turned leaves.
Film noir is one of the defining genres of American cinema, often caricatured in typical depictions of Hollywood film. The fedoras, the femme fatales, the black and white cinematography marked by the harsh shadows of Venetian blinds – it’s a signature style of classic cinema. Although noir did emerge in the 1940s during the later half of Hollywood’s classic period, it was actually much more reflective, brooding and subversive than the dreamy and fantastic productions that had typified the glamour of Hollywood before it.
That isn’t to say Hollywood hadn’t produced some films with dark content by that point. Some of America’s most popular gangster films had been released in the ’30s and ’40s, before noir came into full form. The notable shift that demarcates noir is a psychological one. The despondent melodramas that would come to be classified as film noir started to develop during and after WWII.
Post-war America was marked with a period of cynicism after the hype of WWII victories settled into the unnerving Cold War era. Films began to reflect themes of guilt, paranoia, immorality, distrust and fate. The national mood had shifted from assured optimism to a skeptical dejection and audiences flocked to the films that characterized this atmosphere in their narrative.
Notable German and Austrian filmmakers, producers, cinematographers and actors like Fritz Lang, Peter Lorre, Marlene Dietrich, Erich Pommer, Karl Freund, Robert Siodmak and Edgar G. Ulmer would emigrate to the United States in order to escape the Nazi state as it took control of Germany’s film industry and would subsequently bring the style of German Expressionism with them. The highly stylized, high-contrast and low-key lighting and hyperexpressive performances that came to define the film noir genre is indebted to the artists of that movement.
As noir became established in America, its influence would spread across the world and continue to evolve over time, making it one of the most influential and at times amorphous genres in cinema history.
Kanopy has a broad selection of film noir. Here are a few classic film noirs to help you get started – free to stream with a local library card.
“He Walked by Night” – Police are on the hunt for a resourceful criminal who shot and killed a cop. Directed by Alfred Werker and Anthony Mann (uncredited). 1948. 79 minutes.
“Kansas City Confidential” – An ex-con is framed for armored car robbery. Directed by Phil Karlson. 1952. 99 minutes.
“Detour” – A hitchhiker gets trapped in a doomed fate after the gambler he is riding with unexpectedly dies. Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer. 1945. 68 minutes.
“The Big Combo” – Police Lt. Leonard Diamond becomes entangled with a gangster’s girlfriend as he obsessively searches for evidence to indict him. Directed by Joseph Lewis. 1955. 87 minutes.
“The Stranger” – An investigator from the War Crimes Commission travels to Connecticut where he suspects an infamous Nazi official to be hiding. Directed by Orson Welles. 1946. 95 minutes.
“The Hitch-Hiker” – A fishing trip takes a terrifying turn after two men pick up a hitchhiker who turns out to be a sociopath on the run. Directed by Ida Lupino. 1953. 71 minutes.
“The Man Who Cheated Himself” – A veteran homicide detective witnessed his girlfriend kill her husband. He assigns the investigation to his inexperienced brother. Directed by Felix E. Feist. 1950. 81 minutes.
“Too Late for Tears” – A speeding car tosses a satchel of money meant for somebody else into the backseat of Jane and Alan Palmer’s car. Alan wants to turn it into the police but Jane persuades him to hang onto it. Directed by Byron Haskin. 1949. 99 minutes.
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