The history of cinema is a cavalcade of genres and tropes. Many of these reflect, although not exclusive to, the eras in which they were made. One such genre is Film Noir, which instantly brings to mind moody atmospheric outdoor lighting and shady interiors of the 1940s.
Here are six classic movies that show show how Film Noir was shaped and influenced.
The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920)
This silent movie tells the tale of murder and mystery, which begins with a the foretelling of a man’s death at an annual fair. The story came about after the writer, Hans Janowitz attended a carnival, where he noticed a strange man hiding in the shadows. The next day, he learned that a woman had been killed at the carnival. Janowitz attended the funeral, and noticed the strange man was also there. While there was no evidence the man was the killer, it gave the writer the basis of the plot of The Cabinet of Dr Caligari.
M is a film about the pursuit of a child killer, played particularly sinisterly by Peter Lorre, and its affect on the population of Berlin. The city’s police embark on an intensive manhunt, as do the local criminals, frustrated at the tight grip the police have on Berlin since the murders. Directed by Fritz Lang, it is a chilling and atmospheric film full of striking images and powerful undertones. Lang was known for his stylish silent movies, and this was his first ‘talkie’.
The Maltese Falcon (1941)
The blueprint for many private investigators, The Maltese Falcon stars Humphrey Bogart played the irrepressible Sam Spade. Perhaps the epitome of the Film Noir genre, it has everything; femme fatales, the criminal underworld and even hidden treasure. The Maltese Falcon was actor/director John Huston’s directorial debut, going on to direct a further 47 movies.
This Gun For Hire (1942)
Following the story of hitman Philip Raven (Alan Ladd), the film explores the change of relationship between the killer and his assigned victim, Ellen Graham, played by the stunning Veronica Lake. Alan Ladd was not well known as an actor at the time of production, so received fourth billing. The release of the movie made him a star.
Double Indemnity (1944)
Barbara Stanwyck plays Phyllis Dietrichson, who discusses the possibility of taking out an insurance policy on her husband, without him knowing, to insurance salesman, Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray). He soon realises that she is planning her husband’s murder. In the original script, Walter Neff was originally called ‘Ness’, however writer/director Billy Wilder found out that a Walter Ness already existed, living and working in Beverly Hills – as an insurance salesman.
Key Largo (1948)
Set in a run down hotel in Key Largo, Florida, Humphrey Bogart plays Frank McCloud, who has come to honour the memory of an old comrade whom he met in World War II. The hotel is soon beset by gangsters, who have sought shelter from an oncoming hurricane. Key Largo was the fourth and final time Lauren Bacall would work together with Humphrey Bogart as Hollywoods on-screen ‘golden couple’. The pair were due to work together some years later, but sadly Bogart died before the project could be started.
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