Fade in on a door paneled with obscure glass. Painted across the glass are a name and the words, ‘Private Detective.’ A whiskey-graveled voice begins to recount the strange string of events leading up to that moment. This is the beginning of a great film noir.
This dark genre became the norm in the 1940’s, but since that time, there are fewer and fewer movies of the type. Maybe they’ve become cliché. Maybe producers think they are passé. Speaking for myself, I love and miss them.
There’s something dangerous, and at the same time soothing, about being taken into the confidence of the main character in the middle of a murder investigation. Maybe it’s the fact that, because his voice is telling you what’s happening as the story unwinds, you have the security of knowing that he is neither the killer nor one of the killer’s victims. He’s in control, and by the end of the film, he will be all right, and you will know exactly what happened. In the midst of mystery and darkness, you have a constant comforting voice to guide you.
Humphrey Bogart, Alan Ladd, and Robert Mitchum perfected these shadowy characters with their flawed personalities and less-than-honorable motives. Movies like The Maltese Falcon, This Gun for Hire, and The Big Steal all ooze mystery and suspense. As you watch, you become acutely aware that nobody can be trusted. Everyone is lying, and nothing is what it seems. The damsel in distress is most often a black widow or something of the like. Women like Veronica Lake, Gene Tierney, and Lauren Bacall embodied the role of femme fatale.
Is the genre extinct? I’ve seen a few attempts to recapture the atmosphere of noir. Mostly these elements appear within films that are book adaptations, probably because that’s easier. The format lends itself to narration. The movies have been good, but still lack the truly noir title, because they fail to commit fully to that dark and moody domain. These films get an E for effort, but usually fail in execution.
I’d love to see a Film Noir revival. Who’s with me? I hoped that, with the popularity of the LA Noir video game, someone might make a great new movie. Maybe it’s being done quietly. Maybe I’ll make one myself.
That’s a wrap for this Toast to Cinema. Thanks for reading.