General notes on Film Noir

  • Chiaroscuro – strong contrasts between light and dark
  • Diegetic sound –
  • Patterns of fixity – means you adhere to well known conventions to appeal to your market
  • Patterns of change – means the little tweaks to avoid boredom, reflect changes in society or directors.
  • Directors were often exiles from Germany hence German Expressionism.
  • Also used to Cinema Vérité.
  • Verisimilitude – apparent reality
  • Canted angles – tilted to unsettle
  • NB teacher to watch Film Language film
  • Fragmentation Laura Mulvey
  • Male Gaze – the traditional pan up her legs.
  • Look at body language
  • Editing- transitions for past and present
  • Fades and dissolves
  • The map represents time and distance.
  • Key quotes of dialogue.
  • Colour code for representation of male protagonist and female also law and order and justice.


Detour 1955

Vera – her name means truth – she’s anything but!

Her style of language and mode of speaking is harsh and slangy.

Actors Tom Neal and Ann Savage!

Synopsis: Hero first seen walking alone along a lane; car passes.

Next scene he is sitting in the passenger seat of car. Silent. Voice over thoughts. Close up on shadowed face.

Next scene in diner gets into argument over music backing in time to good old days! Girl friend singer in a night club. Blonde, high key lighting. When she tells him she’s moving on its; foggy – significant. Midshots. When we see him in close up at this stage he’s crisp and clean.

Next hitchhiking- range of lifts, becoming increasingly unkempt and desperate ‘If only I’d known.’

The guy who picks him up starts telling him about a woman he picked up.

‘MacGuffin’ Hitchcock’s concept of a plot device round which the whole plot revolves here the pills? Or the scratches on the driver’s arms?

Rain – voice over of his dilemma. Diegetic sound.

Although he sees the similarities between the girl and his previous companion (owner of the car) he dismisses them. Black humour.

Fade to black.

She’s in control – her unchanging harsh face, smoking, (symbolic or connoting the dangerous woman – contrast with Sue who didn’t smoke) and drinking. She turns even his sympathy against him.


Social issues – insecurity people don’t stop now for hitch hikers.


Mise en scene

Iconic NY street signs.
Basic as in most Film noirs – just enough to set the scene e.g. the piano in the night club; little to distract, cheap!


Minimal diegetic effects – car door slamming, song in background in diner, rain.
Musical score overt and loud, frenetic and emotional, dramatic
Fast dialogue difficult to hear!



Single source,
low key in mood,
high key in night club and hotel.


Use of camera
Quite static, slow zoom into face, close up,
otherwise mid and long shots and long held shots through windscreen from in front and rear seat of car.
Slow tracking shots.


Straight cuts
Fade to black
Wipe right to left


‘I’m going to bed’ followed by significant exchange of looks. Connotations of the femme fatale, dangerous sexually liberal.
Last scene in fantasy got round the censors.
Film noir posters click on the poster of Detour
Also try Unresolved

(Warning: only for the mature try the Film Noir poster for the Film Noir Film!!!)


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