Our Endless Fascination With Film Noir
Guy walks into a bar. Bartender says, "That girl over there wants to buy you a drink." Guy looks at girl. Girl's a knockout. Great gams, killer smile. But there's a shadow on the wattage.
|Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray in Double Indemnity|
"Why the long face, doll?" the guy asks.
Girl tell him she's on the lam. Guy tells her to jaw. Girl tells him that her old man was a Peterman who did a box job for some trouble boys, and everything had been silk, but then a couple of Brunos showed up and said some jobbie had fingered her old man for doing a Chinese squeeze on the lettuce from the heist, and even though her old man swore it was all jake, the Brunos zotzed him.
"Then they started giving me the Broderick," she says. "I grabbed my old man's heater out of the couch cushions and started squirting metal. Suddenly the place is lousy with buttons. And there I am with three stiffs and a fogger. So now the tins are tightening the screws and telling me I gotta sing or I'm under glass for a three spot. And I don't look good in stripes."
She slides a cigarette between her lips. He lights it. She blows smoke into his face.
"Will you help me?" she asks.
"That depends," he says. "You on the level?"
"You tell me," she says.
She kisses him. He stares at her. She taps out her cigarette. He sighs and sips his whiskey.
"Sure," he says. "Why not? I got nothing better to do on a Tuesday afternoon. Besides, baby, this is FILM NOIR."
|Carey Grant and Ingrid Bergman in Notorious|
|Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart in Dark Passage|
|Robert Mitchum and Kathy Greer in Out Of The Past|
Yes, we get hot and heavy over hard-boiled dialogue, and dizzy over desperate dames and tough private eyes. It helps if the dame and the dick have sketchy pasts and are on the run from someone or something. Film critics define the elements of classic film noir in a variety of ways, but most agree on the visual basics: black and white film, lots of Dutch (i.e. tilted) shots, generous use of flashbacks, and a lot of voice-over narration (i.e. "I met her in a little bar in Poughkeepsie two years ago. She was as pretty as a picture, and as dangerous as a shard of glass if that picture ever broke.") The characters themselves are universally troubled and filled with angst over their pasts. One critic defined the classic noir dynamic as "Boy meets girl. Girl asks boy to do something bad. Boy does it. Girl ditches boy. Boy spends the rest of the film trying to find girl and not get killed or arrested." From Humphrey Bogart to Robert Mitchum, from Barbara Stanwyck to Veronica Lake, the tough broads and troubled guys of film noir are etched into our collective consciousness. For a musical retrospective of some of their iconic faces and some wonderful film noir moments, check out this tribute video. It is absolutely the best we have ever seen. And for a list of our favorite top ten film noir flicks, check out the "Film Noir" section of this blog. Thanks for letting us jaw and not giving us the bum's rush. See you in the funny papers....ya big lug.