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*** Official Film Noir Discussion Thread


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#1 of 437 Robert Crawford

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Posted July 06 2004 - 02:35 PM

This Discussion thread was started due to some interesting comments made in another thread in Software about the recent dvd releases of some "Film Noir" titles from Warner and Universal. Hopefully, we can have a more in-depth discussion regarding "Film Noir" in which we can share our various ideas and thoughts about this very interesting and unique film genre.

I'm sure many of us will differ in our opinions regarding this genre and the fine films made over the years that have been classified as "Film Noir". So let's respect the opinions of all participants, particularly those opinions that might be in the minority. There is no right or wrong opinion about film since such opinions are mainly based on subjective and individual interpretation.







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#2 of 437 Steve Tannehill

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Posted July 06 2004 - 04:06 PM

What is Film Noir? Seriously, some of us really don't know.

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#3 of 437 David_Blackwell

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Posted July 06 2004 - 04:43 PM

I want to get THIS GUN FOR HIRE and MURDER, MY SWEET on DVD. Both of them are fine movies. MURDER, MY SWEET is one of the best Phillip Marlowe movies. It is defintely better than MARLOWE starring James Gardner. One of my favorite film noirs is KISS ME DEADLY as Mike Hammer goes after the big Whatsit. THE BIG SLEEP and THE MALTESE FALCON are classic film noirs.
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#4 of 437 Herb Kane

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Posted July 06 2004 - 05:40 PM

Okay.... Steve - just in case you're not pulling our leg, I'll cut and paste part of my review which gives a rather brief overview of what many consider to be common elements of noir - and there are plenty that I haven't even included.

Quote:
“Film Noir” (meaning black or dark film) is a term that was coined by French film critics who noticed a trend of how dark and black the themes were of many American crime and detective films released in France following the war. Generally, these films became prominent during the post war era and are generally thought to have lasted up and until 1960. Having said that, you’ll find many who classify true film noir titles between the timeframe of 1940 through to 1960 having evolved from the crime/gangster genre of the 30’s with such films as Public Enemy (1931), Scarface (1932) and I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932). Asking somebody for a specific definition of “film noir” is similar to asking ten different people about buying a computer – you’ll get ten different responses. Generally, you won’t get any wrong answers as to what the genre is, but you will get differing views and opinions as what elements should be inclusive and whether or not a specific film fits that criterion. Film noir might be the only genre that is defined by the mood or the atmosphere of the film rather than the specific plot itself.

The principle mood of classic film noir is generally that of bleakness, pessimism, disillusionment, morally corrupt, and generally contain characters that are corrupt themselves, in some facet of life i.e. hard-boiled detectives or private eyes, small time criminals, and murderers. These protagonists (usually “chumps”) are quite often smitten and usually lack morals leading to theft, quick-get-rich schemes, extortion and even murder. Another common element is the presence of femme fatales who frequently possess one of two traits; the dutiful, reliable, trustworthy and loving women or the mysterious, duplicitous, double-crossing, gorgeous vixens.

More often than not, the protagonist in the film makes a decision based on his feelings for the female character, which inevitably is a fatal error. The overall appearance of a film noir usually possesses characteristics of dark lighting rendering various shadowy images, off center camera angles, low rent/flop house/seedier type accommodations and plumes of cigarette smoke. Many of these stories are told by way of a series of flashbacks or reflective voice-over narration and tend to contain repartee of sharp witted barbs, heavy on sarcasm.

Some don’t consider color films to be true examples of film noir. If such were the case, films like Slightly Scarlet, Niagara, Leave Her To Heaven, House of Bamboo and A Kiss Before Dying would all be wrongly excluded. While the biggest ingredient in common with the genre seems to be the element of crime, even that quality can be noticeably absent from time to time. There are a number of modern day titles that possess many of the qualities found in classic noirs such as Blade Runner, Chinatown, L.A. Confidential and The Man Who Wasn’t There, these are usually referred to as neo-noirs. There is often discussion as to whether certain western films classify as noir. Films such as Pursued, The Return Of Frank James and even Winchester ‘73 often find their way onto various noir lists. However, I have a hard time buying into a western being noir, but that’s just me. Don’t get me wrong, I love westerns I just have a hard time thinking of them as noir.

A couple of years ago, I started working on a Film Noir list of titles as I became more interested in the genre. It became increasingly clear that regardless of how many books I read or sites I visited, there was no clear cut definitive definition as to what film noir is or how it is defined. In fact on one of the sites was a list that another enthusiast had compiled where he stated that "none of the films came with certificates of authenticity", which is so true when trying to describe the genre.

Using my own list for example which consists of almost 1000 titles, probably only half of those are considered true classic films noir. My reason for their inclusion was to (hopefully) mention or bring attention to films that do indeed contain elements of the genre itself. Chances are if you are a fan of noir, you'll have an appreciation for the vast majority of what is listed. Two really good examples are On The Waterfront and The Lost Weekend. Both are great films and both have many elements common with the genre, but rarely do they make the "final cut" of true film noir lists. However, more often than not, you will see them both listed on lengthy noir lists. Personally I have included The Lost Weekend, but I have been undecided as to whether I want to include OTW on my list.

Looking over these lists certainly reinforces my thoughts on the picks of the WB boxed set. I have to wonder if the five choices were merely examples of elements that were in great shape (thus, an inexpensive package for WB to sell since major restoration wouldn't be required - and I have no idea what the elements were like), or if somebody on the ball thought to go through the library and pick out 5 excellent, yet varying styles of the genre. In both cases, they succeeded, which is why this boxed set is so special. You have a clear cut heist film, a noir with a rather impulsive and almost comedic protagonist in MMS’s Marlowe, one of the best (if not the best) “B” pictures ever made in GC, a femme fatale that is every bit an equal (Greer) to the oft compared performance of Stanwyck’s Dietrichson in Double Indemnity, and a film with little to no criminal activity and a fight film in TS-U. Truly brilliant choices.

As for the dates of true film noir, quite often (if not most of the time) you’ll see a span from 1940 through 1960. It seems as though most of the experts consider The Maltese Falcon (1941) to be the first true film noir, while Welles’ Touch Of Evil (1958) was considered the last true noir to have been made, thus the dates spanning from ‘40 to ’60. Sure, there are quite a few good films that I consider to be true noirs that were made in the late 30’s and some in the early 60’s, but personally I don’t feel (literally and figuratively) anything made after that period to be true film noir. That’s not to say films can’t have many of the elements or even all of the elements i.e. Chinatown, but when I watch that classic specifically (and I love that film), I’m not left with the same inner feelings as I would be if I were to watch The Killers or The Maltese Falcon. So personally I would prefer to refer to the contemporaries as neo-noirs. I firmly believe the feeling or mood of the film is every bit as important as the list of so-called elements it should contain. Films that were produced after the early to mid 60’s (at least while describing noir), fail to evoke that specific feeling or emotion. To look at things from the opposite end, The Night Of The Hunter and Kiss Me Deadly are two films you’ll see listed on every single noir list in the history of film – neither of which did it for me. While I really enjoy TNotH as a film (Mitchum is one of my favs), I personally just don’t feel it’s that nourish. KMD on the other hand was truly noir but one I really didn’t care for.

The truth of the matter is that many of the purists or staunch diehards exclude many great titles for a number of reasons i.e. films with happy endings, films with no criminal element, films that lack a femme fatale, color films, films that lack shadowy images. If we were to stick to the strictest so-called definitions of the genre, we’d have a list that consisted of about 25 films, and frankly, there are far too many great films that hit the target for fans to exclude.

Time for bed… I just got in from F911 and my head is still spinning…
My Top 25 Noirs:

25. 711 Ocean Drive (1950), 24. Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), 23. Desperate (1947), 22. Pushover (1954), 21. The Blue Dahlia (1946), 20. The File on Thelma Jordon (1949), 19. He Ran All the Way (1951), 18. The Asphalt Jungle (1950), 17. The Killing (1956), 16. I Walk Alone (1948),...

#5 of 437 george kaplan

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Posted July 07 2004 - 12:28 AM

Well part of the impetus for this thread was my 'questioning' whether or not The Set-Up was a film noir. I called it more of a boxing drama, not a noir.

So, let me begin by suggesting that there are certain elements that make a film noir. We won't all agree on what those elements are, or which are most important, or how many are necessary, but I suspect we could agree on most of the elements themselves.

For me they fall into two basic categories - Visual and Story.

Visual contains things such as a certain Black & White cinematography, with lots of use of shadow.

Story contains certain elements including:

a femme fatale
a murder or other mystery
voiceover
a hard-boiled detective or other protagonist
an unhappy ending

One other element is the time frame. For some the film needs to have been made in the 40s or 50s. For others the action in the film needs to take place in the 40s or 50s (hence the inclusion of films such as Chinatown and L.A. Confidential), and for others the time frame is irrelevant (leading to the inclusion of films such as Blade Runner).

I'm sure I've left out some things that others will add. Posted Image

For myself, film noir is the way a film 'feels'. How it looks is part of that, but I'm pretty broad in that regard. Chinatown isn't black & white, but it still looks noirish to me, and more importantly feels noirish.

I don't find any need to have all of those story elements, but I do think that the story element is even more important than the look when it comes to film noir. And for me, the one indispensible story component for a film noir is that it be primarily a mystery or crime film. A comedy, or a drama, even with all these other elements doesn't cut it for me, if it's not primarily either a mystery or crime film. So The Cheap Detective (which would score high on almost all story elements) isn't noir to me. And (flame-suit on), neither are boxing dramas such as The Set-Up or Body & Soul. For some, being filmed in a style of black & white during a particular time frame is all that is needed for film noir, regardless of the film content. For me, it's not enough. I hesitate to use the words because they tend to imply value judgments (which I am not trying to do here), but it's kind of like style vs. substance. Film noir needs a certain style (at least to a degree), but without the substance (mystery or crime), it's not enough (IMO).

Now I realize that both The Set-Up and Body & Soul have a certain crime element on the fringes (taking a dive for illegal gamblers), but both are basically dramas about boxers who have to decide what to do.

Anyway, those are some initial thoughts. Rip away. Posted Image
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#6 of 437 Andy Sheets

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Posted July 07 2004 - 12:36 AM

Quote:
MURDER, MY SWEET is one of the best Phillip Marlowe movies. It is defintely better than MARLOWE starring James Gardner. One of my favorite film noirs is KISS ME DEADLY as Mike Hammer goes after the big Whatsit. THE BIG SLEEP and THE MALTESE FALCON are classic film noirs.

Murder, My Sweet is my favorite Chandler adaptation. Too bad Robert Mitchum was never able to play Phillip Marlowe in his prime. The Big Sleep never did much for me - the book is one of my favorites and I thought the film deviated too much from it (to play up the Bogart/Bacall angle, IIRC).

I love Kiss Me, Deadly. It feels odd, but I actually like the movie and the book, even though the movie totally subverts the book and Mickey Spillane's writing in general Posted Image

I was very happy to get that box set yesterday. I'll be watching Out of the Past soon Posted Image

Quote:
a murder or other mystery

Not just a mystery, but in many cases it's one that's so twisted that it becomes almost impossible to follow, and in some cases the plot literally becomes unworkable but it doesn't matter because it's all about making you feel like God hates you and is making the universe knot up around you.

#7 of 437 Robert Crawford

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Posted July 07 2004 - 12:45 AM

For myself, film noir is the way a film 'feels'. How it looks is part of that, but I'm pretty broad in that regard. Chinatown isn't black & white, but it still looks noirish to me, and more importantly feels noirish.

Well, you're not broad enough IMO, if you consider both "The Set-Up and "Body and Soul" not film noirs. Personally, I'm very broad-minded about what constitutes a film noir because in contrast to Herb, I think a western can definitely be a film noir, examples being "Pursued" and "Blood on the Moon". Furthermore, I consider modern films part of this genre too such as "The Usual Suspects".

Speaking of film noirs, I think Robert Mitchum and Robert Ryan are the kings in film appearances with this genre.


Edit: After further thought, Bogart has to be consider one of the kings of film noir too with the amount of films he appeared in that were noirs. By the way, I'm talking about leading men not supporting players like Elisha Cook.





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#8 of 437 george kaplan

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Posted July 07 2004 - 01:49 AM

Robert,

I guess that's one of the key points. For me, if it's not a mystery or crime film, I have a hard time considering it a film noir. I certainly would have a hard time considering a western a film noir. Of course, it's not like a film is or isn't a film noir. Rather, I think it's more the degree to which a film is a noir. In other words, how close to the 'film noir template' does it come? I'll admit that films like the Set-Up are closer than many other films, but just not close enough for me.

I am interested if anyone else shares my views regarding mystery/crime. I do find the following quote from Herb's above post to be interesting:
“Film Noir” (meaning black or dark film) is a term that was coined by French film critics who noticed a trend of how dark and black the themes were of many American crime and detective films released in France following the war.
Emphasis mine.
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#9 of 437 Lew Crippen

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Posted July 07 2004 - 01:59 AM

Quote:
Well, you're not broad enough IMO, if you consider both "The Set-Up and "Body and Soul" not film noirs. Personally, I'm very broad-minded about what constitutes a film noir because in contrast to Herb, I think a western can definitely be a film noir, examples being "Pursued" and "Blood on the Moon". Furthermore, I consider modern films part of this genre too such as "The Usual Suspects".

Interesting points Robert. I tend to agree with George, that film noir ought to be a mystery (or contain elements of mystery) in order to be properly considered film noir.

But I don’t think I’m closed minded on this and need to give your argument some consideration.

I do think most strongly that a proper film noir needs to have the type of cinematography mentioned by George: if the cinematography is not heavily influenced by German Expressionism, a key element is missing—and the film would not pass (my) a key test and therefore not be film noir.

In that vein (and now I’m being quite anal) one might class color films such as Chinatown as neo-film noir—though I personally don’t mind it being lumped into the overall genre.

Another item I really consider (close to) a must, is the femme fatale. And this, for me, is enough to leave The Usual Suspects off the list. Also (again touching on this film) I do think that the protagonist should be a mostly disillusioned, but honorable (by his strict code) man, who has probably see better days. He know that he will be betrayed by the woman and perhaps the system, but hopes against hope that he can prevail. I’m thinking of characters like Sam Spade and Philip Marlow, for example. Now I’m not opposed to some deviation from this (trial) ideal, but I do think that Verbal (and the rest of the gang) in The Usual Suspects is about as far from that ideal as is possible.

None of the characters is motivated by honor (McManus is a bit)—only money and fear.

Nice idea for a thread, BTW. George and I (and some of the usual suspects) did have a bit of a discussion in polls a year of so ago--but it was somewhat of a side issue.
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#10 of 437 Robert Crawford

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Posted July 07 2004 - 03:02 AM

Another item I really consider (close to) a must, is the femme fatale. And this, for me, is enough to leave The Usual Suspects off the list.

If so, then you have to leave out "This Gun for Hire" because Veronica Lake isn't a femme fatale. I'm sure there are other films that have been classified film noirs without a femme fatale character.




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#11 of 437 george kaplan

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Posted July 07 2004 - 03:10 AM

Re: Femme Fatale

I think this is an extremely important, though not absolutely necessary element. In other words, if there isn't a femme fatale, lots of other elements would be strongly needed to make up for it.

I also think I might want to change "unhappy ending" to something else, though I can't quite put it into words. It's more of a dark story throughout I guess. After all, The Maltese Falcon doesn't really have an unhappy ending.

I'm also trying to formulate why films like Vertigo and NxNW aren't noirs (at least to me). Both have femme fatales, murders, but something's missing. For NxNW one can say it's too light a film, but that's not really true of Vertigo. While I can't put this into words, somehow Vertigo just doesn't capture the Noir look the way other color films like Chinatown and L.A. Confidential manage to do.
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#12 of 437 Walter Kittel

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Posted July 07 2004 - 03:17 AM

George - You never fail to surprise me. Posted Image ( Which is a compliment, BTW. ) I've always considered you the antithesis of a genre purest and here you are espousing guidelines that are tighter than mine, in some respects. Or is it merely that noir has less pre-determined boundaries?

For myself, I tend to think of noir as a movement, vs. a style and while the noir stylings of films such as Chinatown, L.A. Confidential, Body Heat, and Kill Me Again ( to name a few ) are undeniable I tend to classify these films as neo-noir and believe that noir was essentially 'complete' with the filming of Touch of Evil.

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#13 of 437 Lew Crippen

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Posted July 07 2004 - 03:38 AM

Quote:
If so, then you have to leave out "This Gun for Hire" because Veronica Lake isn't a femme fatale. I'm sure there are other films that have been classified film noirs without a femme fatale character.

I’ll concede the point, Robert. Like many ‘must’ elements there is the odd movie that meets all of the tests save one and should be included.

I’d suggest that The Usual Suspects not only missed the dame, but also the scruffy, disillusioned, but honorable protagonist as well. Meaning that for me, I don’t consider it to be a film noir.

I agree with Walter, who has been pretty concise.
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#14 of 437 Herb Kane

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Posted July 07 2004 - 05:20 AM

Quote:
I'm also trying to formulate why films like Vertigo and NxNW aren't noirs (at least to me). Both have femme fatales, murders, but something's missing. For NxNW one can say it's too light a film, but that's not really true of Vertigo. While I can't put this into words, somehow Vertigo just doesn't capture the Noir look


And that's what makes this type of a discussion so interesting/difficult. There are several highly regarded noir sources that do consider Vertigo to fall under the noir umbrella. Stephens' 1995 "Film Noir: A Comprehensive Illustrated Reference", Mike Keaney's 2003 "Film Noir Guide" and Duncan's 2002 "Film Noir - Films of Trust & Betrayal". Personally, I don't consider it a noir. It seems as though many of the absolute purists consider only a couple of Hitchcock films to be true examples of noir; Shadow Of A Doubt, Strangers On A Train, Notorious & Spellbound although personally I feel that many of his films qualify.

Another topic that generally fuels great division is the topic of foreign films and their inclusion to the genre. Often, noir is thought to be mainly an American phenomenon, many of which were shot in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York. How do you all feel about the inclusion of foreign titles including many of the popular British noirs i.e. Odd Man Out, The Limping Man, Wanted For Murder, Dead of Night, or many of the other foreign films that are regularly classed as noirs; Diabolique, Ossessione, Rififi....? I have included all of these great films as solid noirs, but I've gotta be honest, as far as the genre goes, I'm not struck by the same sense of feeling of noir when I watch Stray Dog as I would be when watching say, The Sweet Smell of Success with its NY backdrop of neon lights etc etc.
My Top 25 Noirs:

25. 711 Ocean Drive (1950), 24. Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), 23. Desperate (1947), 22. Pushover (1954), 21. The Blue Dahlia (1946), 20. The File on Thelma Jordon (1949), 19. He Ran All the Way (1951), 18. The Asphalt Jungle (1950), 17. The Killing (1956), 16. I Walk Alone (1948),...

#15 of 437 Greg Patenaude

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Posted July 07 2004 - 05:39 AM

Very cool thread. How do you define 'Film Noir'? I never really thought about it too much but after reading the posts of this thread I would have to side with Walter:

Quote:
For myself, I tend to think of noir as a movement, vs. a style and while the noir stylings of films such as Chinatown, L.A. Confidential, Body Heat, and Kill Me Again ( to name a few ) are undeniabl


It's really cool to read what everyone thinks.

Watched Force of Evil for the first time last night (I'm just a novice when it comes to film noir) and really enjoyed it.

The Good News: I received my Warner Film Noir Collection
Posted Image
The Bad News: I won't get to watch any of them for probably a month since I moving across the country and everything will be packed in boxes.Posted Image

At least I have something to look forward to when I get settled.

OK, question. What are your favorite Film Noir scenes? My favorites (so far)are from The Maltese Falcon. I love the scenes where Bogey talks with Mr. Gutman (Sidney Greenstreet). I just love the exchange of dialogue. Speaking of Sidney Greenstreet, anyone else here think that this guy is a FANTASTIC actor? I only wish that he had a bigger part in Casablanca.

later

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#16 of 437 Walter Kittel

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Posted July 07 2004 - 05:53 AM

My short answer to the question of 'What is film noir?' is blatantly appropriated from the similar question of 'What is Science Fiction?' The answer; I know it when I see it. Posted Image

Specifically addressing Vertigo and North by Northwest and noir - For me, Hitchcock's films while having elements of noir, are so strongly tied to my notions of Hitchcock the filmmaker that I have difficulty associating them with noir. The cynicism and hard boiled dialog that I tend to associate with noir are noticeably absent from these films.

They simply seem too mannered, or polished to fit within my vision of noir. Compare the rogue's gallery of miscreants from The Set-Up against the supporting cast of these Hitchcock films. While that comparison may seem invalid, due to differing story requirements, I use it to illustrate the differences in aesthetics or atmosphere that I associate with these films.

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#17 of 437 george kaplan

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Posted July 07 2004 - 06:03 AM

Herb,

Good points. Somehow films set in L.A. or San Francisco do seem more prototypical to me, though I certainly wouldn't consider it a limiting factor. Some of the films you mention, such as Diabolique are interesting to consider. I've never really thought of them as noir, but I'm not sure I shouldn't. The more I think about this, the more I realize how integral I think a "scruffy, disillusioned, but honorable protagonist" (to quote Lew) is to the mix (although I think I might replace honorable with tough). That may be part of what misses the mark for me with Diabloique (in which the protagonist is a non-tough female, or for Vertigo, where Scottie isn't scruffy, and everything is too neat and upper class somehow.

I'd like to ask everyone here a question. What is, for you, the prototypical film noir, the one against which you measure everything else? One choice only please.

For me it's Double Indemnity. This might seem odd considering that the protagonist is a murderer, but he still comes across as someone who at least started out as honorable, even if he proved weak-willed and got seduced (not just physically but morally) by the femme fatale. He's not a detective, but most of the rest is in this film (including the surprisingly rare when you think about it, voiceover).
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#18 of 437 Herb Kane

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Posted July 07 2004 - 06:05 AM

Quote:
The answer; I know it when I see it.


Walter... we shoulda asked Justice Potter for his definition... Posted Image

You're right though, it's very difficult to put into words... There's no denying the feeling or the mood of the film is every bit as essential as the so-called requirements or elements.


Quote:
I'd like to ask everyone here a question. What is, for you, the prototypical film noir, the one against which you measure everything else? One choice only please.


Out Of The Past - Not only my favorite noir but quite possibly my favorite film period. The Maltese Falcon comes in very close at #2.
My Top 25 Noirs:

25. 711 Ocean Drive (1950), 24. Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), 23. Desperate (1947), 22. Pushover (1954), 21. The Blue Dahlia (1946), 20. The File on Thelma Jordon (1949), 19. He Ran All the Way (1951), 18. The Asphalt Jungle (1950), 17. The Killing (1956), 16. I Walk Alone (1948),...

#19 of 437 Daniel Bell

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Posted July 07 2004 - 07:20 AM

I like Film Noir but I only know a handful of really good ones. Could someone list what you think the top 10 Film Noirs are?

Here are my favorites(in no particular order):
Third Man
Maltese Falcon
Touch of Evil
Petrified Forrest
Key Largo
Chinatown (i don't know if people consider it Film noir or not but it seems like it to me)

And these other ones I really like but it seems they're a little different and fit into these subcategories.

these seem to be in a certain conspiracy catergory:
Suddenly
Manchurian Candidate

these seem to be in a gangster category:

Angels with dirty faces
Public Enemy
Roaring Twenties
Scarface(1932)
Little Caesar
(I guess Petrified Forest could go here)

#20 of 437 Walter Kittel

Walter Kittel

    Producer

  • 4,580 posts
  • Join Date: Dec 28 1998

Posted July 07 2004 - 07:38 AM

Greg - It is difficult to answer your question regarding favorite noir scenes. For me, noir tends to work as an amalgam of tone, situation, attitude, style, visual aesthetics, etc. I tend to view it in holistic terms moreso than most other film styles or genres. Unlike, say an action film, where one can discuss a sequence outside the context of the film's narrative or story arc.

Having said that, one of the most memorable scenes in noir is from 1947's Kiss of Death where
the maniacal Tommy Udo ( Richard Widmark ) pushes a wheelchair bound woman down a flight of stairs.

George - My favorite noir is Out of the Past.

- Walter.

Fidelity to the source should always be the goal for Blu-ray releases.


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