American Cinema: Film Noir

Murderers often not brought to justice.

Key issues:

  • doomed love
  • gambling
  • jeopardy in life
  • confusions
  • mistaken identity
  • wrong place wrong time
  • survival despite the odds
  • anxiety caused by the system
  • ‘Things become endurable yet you must endure.’
  • Why me?
  • For no reason!



  • Love, betrayal, murder
  • Twisted love
  • The darker side of human nature
  • Obsession
  • Fall guy caught in a nightmare.



  • B movies, low budget became A movies with bigger budgets.
  • Hays code ensured implicit sexuality
  • Technology enabled outside locations
  • Became more political – reflected the concerns of the time: gangsters, mobsters, communists…
  • Moved towards suburbanisation.
  • Colour
  • Showed the inner workings of the mobs or gangster network.



  • Fritz Lang
  • Hitchcock
  • Scorsese
  • Abraham Polonsky
  • Paul Schrader



  • Katherine Bigelow


Links with social issues:

  • Drink, drugs and social inequity in the 40s and 50s
  • Prohibition
  • Empowered women
  • War vets returning to insecurity; continuation of war time trauma in a domestic situation.
  • Nuclear war
  • Communism vs. democracy


Other genres and film styles:

  • Borrowed cinema vérité documentary techniques
  • German Expressionism



  • Stark shadows – extreme
  • People controlled by events
  • Low key lighting
  • Venetian blinds
  • Running through shadowed city streets
  • Terse dialogue
  • Minimalism
  • Deep focus (fore and background in equal focus)
  • Wide angle lenses – often actors talked to the backs of heads meant cameras didn’t have to move so few close ups.
  • Femmes fatales – seen in low angle representing her power; violent women seen as attractive but dangerous; smoking.
  • Fragmentation vs. long shot.


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