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Film Noir

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Private Detective? Check. Femme Fatale? Check. Chiaroscuro lighting? Check. This is Film Noir.

"You need cops, venetian blinds, lots of smoking, hats, sweat, dead-end streets, guys who know all the angles except for the one that ends up sticking out of their backs. Sirens of the automotive and female kind."
James Lileks, The Bleat, "Think You Oughta Drink That"

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Film Noir (literally "black film" in French) is a genre of stylish crime dramas, difficult to define, but the 1940s and 1950s were the classic period. Whether works since then can be accurately classed as Noir is a subject of much debate among film critics. Film Noir, and the literature from which it is drawn, is clearly the progenitor of later genres, particularly cyberpunk. Common plots of noir films include murder investigations, heists, con games, and (mostly) innocent men or women Wrongly Accused of crime. The double-cross and cigarette smoking are mandatory. Complicated plots are further convoluted by Flashbacks and Flash Forwards — the narration tying everything together, assuming we can trust him.

Noir, in the classic and stylistic sense, is visually darker than your average gangster picture, playing with light and long, deep shadows instead of bright, documentary-styled camera work. This visual motif is so iconic that homages and parodies are almost universally Deliberately Monochrome, using a transition between colour and black and white where necessary. Scenes are often filmed on location, and night scenes are shot at night. Camera angles are often very creative and unusual, heightening the viewers sense of unease, adding to the atmosphere. The contrast between light and dark is sometimes used in the cinematography to reflect the difference between the villain and the protagonist(s). It rains most every night in Film Noir; filmmakers admit that this is entirely because at night wet pavement looks cooler than dry. Also, the rain makes it plausible that no one else is around.

Film Noir is not really a genre in any sense, rather it reflects a tendency in certain American films of the 40s and 50s where crime and gangster stories are infused with an excessive visual style, a modern urban sensibility and a powerful sense of moral ambiguity. These movies differed from the crime movies of the 30s, the Depression Gangster films such as The Public Enemy or the original Scarface in that criminal behaviour is no longer relegated to gangsters or ethnic ghettos, the plots don't usually revolve around turf wars or police clampdowns. Protagonists in films noir are often normal people who get involved in crime, and the motivations are no longer just social or circumstantial but psychological and personal. The standard noir plot is, in broad terms, best summed up as centring around a protagonist who, usually by pure chance, is placed in a complex and dangerous situation completely beyond their control where they are pitted against an adversary whose identity and motives are not immediately obvious. The system and the law is usually either apathetic to their plight or is even outright working against them, meaning that they will have to take up the fight and make sense of it all by themselves or die trying. As a style and sensibility, Film Noir was flexible to include hybrids such as the Western-Film Noir (The 1947 film Pursued with flashbacks, Dark and Troubled Past, high contrast black and white lighting and weird Freudian themes), and even the film-noir musical (The Man I Love, Love Me and Leave Me) and in the case of Leave Her to Heaven a Film Noir in technicolor.

Trying to explain Film Noir is hard, since it's kind of a mix of European cynicism and post-war American angst. The clash between crude pulp fiction narratives and complex storytelling and characterization, derived from emerging psychology, research in criminal behaviour as well as wider influences in modern art and literature. The term was first used by French critics (hence the name) and it derives from "Serie Noir" the label of French translations of American pulp fiction, and French imitations, which was highly popular in France at the time. The French critics looked at the American crime films from their perspective of post-Occupation France. To some extent they over-exaggerated the doom and gloom of American films by projecting their experiences in their writings of these films. Later, American writers when translating these articles into English brought this into Pop-Cultural Osmosis. The mix of European cynicism with American landscape is also borne out in the fact that several directors of films noir - Billy Wilder (who lost his mother in Auschwitz), Robert Siodmak, Fritz Lang, Otto Preminger - were refugees, exiles and emigres from Nazi Germany, being quite active in 1920s Berlin which in many ways was the closest a real-life city came to being the exaggerated City Noir landscape. The lighting in Film Noir was also strongly influenced by European trends, especially German Expressionism but later after the war, the Italian neorealist films of Roberto Rossellini also influenced it greatly. The period became especially fertile during the post-war years. The subtext of many of these films often dealt with the trauma of the returning Shell-Shocked Veteran (most notably, Act of Violence) and the rising Red Scare and The Hollywood Blacklist which made the working climate in Hollywood highly paranoid and hostile, and this infused the films made in the late '40s.

The standard Noir landscape is a large, oppressive city (filmed in dark and dusky conditions to create a moody atmosphere). Familiar haunts include dimly-lit bars, nightclubs filled with questionable clientele (including, the Gayngster) whom the lead may intimidate for information, gambling dens, juke joints and the ubiquitous seedy waterfront warehouse. At night in the big city, you can bet the streets are slick with rain, reflecting streetlights like a Hopper painting. Most of the characters (including the lead) are cynical, misanthropical and hopeless all the way through the film, and never find true redemption. It is important to note that the term "Film Noir" was not available to the people who made them in the '40s and '50s. As Robert Mitchum famously stated, "We called them B-Movies." It comes from later audiences and critics who rediscovered these films in revival theaters and clubs and picked up the subtext, visual clues and other Hidden Depths. Many historians feel that the classic Film Noir genre died when it became self-conscious. Raymond Borde and Etienne Chaumenton cite the MGM musical The Band Wagon (made in 1952) where the final number featured a technicolor parody of a Mickey Spillane crime setting, with Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse playing the detective and femme fatale in an obvious send-up. Others feel that Orson Welles' Touch of Evil was the real end since it was made by the director of Citizen Kane (which while not a Noir influenced the lighting and style of several other films noir) and the genre conventions were pretty much stretched inside and outside. They also argue that Noir only worked in a climate of censorship since the crime genre often falling Beneath Suspicion allowed writers and directors more chances to subvert cliches. Once censorship eroded, Film Noir had pretty much served its purpose and achieved its goals.

Attempts to revive this style leads to Neo-Noir, which with some exceptions, tends to Flanderization - The tone and outlook must be bleak, defeatist, and pessimistic — it always suggests a sliminess beyond what it can show. Nobody gets what they want, and everyone gets what's coming to them. Characters are often armed — revolversnote , Colt 1911s, and if they need More Dakka, tommy guns. Also, no self-respecting Film Noir thug will be seen without his brass knuckles. They'll probably wear a Fedora or trilby hat with a trench coat. Frequently the ending will be low-key and leave no one character happy or fulfilled. Commonly, there is also a great deal of sexual tension between the hero and the female lead; Noir stories are quite risqué. The original Film Noir era followed the Hays Code, so the odds of a female lead removing her clothing are minimal. This applies to modern versions; gratuitous nudity or scenes of excessive violence are hinted at rather than portrayed. It is often what is not seen that adds to the mystery and suspense.

Film Noir usually features the Anti-Hero, Anti-Villain, Villain Protagonist, the ambiguity often rests on questions of trust, leading to an atmosphere of paranoia where Poor Communication Kills regularly. The conclusion may or may not tie up all the loose ends, with the major mystery being the morally ambiguous theme of the story. These factors contribute to the widely-held opinion that Film Noir works are among the best artistic works of all time and contributed greatly to the maturity of cinema as an artform.

Not to be confused with the religious conspiracy anime Noir (although that is an example of the genre).

Characters associated with Film Noir:

Common noir settings:

Common noir eras (both setting and publication):

Visual elements and camera techniques:

Sound elements and music:

Other tropes associated with Film Noir:

A common form of Something Completely Different is the Noir Episode — a work spends a single episode homaging or parodying Film Noir style (or just has everyone wearing trilbies and talking about the rain, in black and white). Fantastic Noir is a sub-genre with fantastic or Science Fiction elements. See also our Write a Film Noir guide.

Examples (the first three subcategories contain Film, Literature and Western Animation) :

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  • Crime and Punishment is often considered the first noir story, being the first novel to focus on the suffocation and isolation of modern urban life, as well as an on the psychological profiles of criminals.
  • Sensation novels set in Victorian Britain, and especially Victorian London, such as works by Wilkie Collins (The Woman in White, The Moonstone) or M. E. Braddon (Lady Audley's Secret).
  • The Sherlock Holmes novels and short stories helped popularize the detective genre, and is the Trope Namer for the Sherlock Scan. Not quite noir, but it certainly wouldn't be here without the series.
  • The Mysteries of Paris by Eugene Sue pretty much started the whole modern Urban Crime/Mystery/Adventure genre
  • The Vampire Countess by Paul Féval, is ambiguous about its supernatural elements: the title character may just be a Manipulative Bitch con woman and a Femme Fatale. Also has a Noir style Anti-Hero who knocks up a teenage girl that falls in love with him but is then seduced by The Femme Fatale. And it in general depicts the seedy underworld of 1804 Paris.
    • John Devil by the same author, while not as Noir like in general, does anticipate the classic Femme Fatale in the Detective's office scene.
  • Some of the darker Arsène Lupin stories, particularly 813
  • The Hardboiled genre of crime and detective fiction. A number of classic Film Noir titles are direct adaptations. Authors include:
  • Little Caesar (1931), a crime drama depicting the rise and fall of an organized crime leader.
  • M (1931), a German Expressionistic movie by Fritz Lang, starring Peter Lorre as a peculiarly sympathetic Serial Killer. Not quite noir, but getting there.
  • The Public Enemy (1931). Following the exploits of a hoodlum from entry-level crimes, to his rise in the crime ranks, and to his eventual demise. A Depression Gangster film where the tensions are related to the hoodlum and his "good family" who complain about his lifestyle.
  • Freaks (1932), a horror film. Excluding all the slice-of-life scenes that take up the majority of it, the actual plot is pretty noirish.
  • I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932). A random man is caught up in a robbery and the legal system never ceases to hunt him down. An anti-establishment film with a famous finale.
  • The Last Will of Dr. Mabuse (1933). A sequel to an earlier film and a story where the eponymous Diabolical Mastermind seems to control an entire gang while incarcerated.
  • The Thin Man (1934). A Mystery Fiction film based on a Dashiel Hammett novel. While more light-hearted than proper noirs, it is still considered one of the best adaptations of the hard-boiled literary genre.
  • La Bete Humaine (1937). A proto-noir about a violently jealous husband, his faithless wife, and her lover whom she asks to murder her husbands. Much of the Film Noir set-up, but different in that the lover does not murder the husband, but instead has a mental breakdown which leads to a different murder.
  • Angels with Dirty Faces (1938). Crime film which famously uses the Had to Come to Prison to Be a Crook plot. A child criminal is caught for a petty crime and send to reform school. He stays in the system for life, going in and out of prison through his adulthood and eventually executed. A fellow child criminal who was never caught became a priest.
  • The Roaring Twenties (1939). Crime thriller covering the Prohibition era.

    "Classic" Noirs 
  • Rebecca (1940). A mystery thriller with Gothic Horror elements. A number of film critics, such as Patrick Brion, regard it as "the first true film noir" and others term it a "gothic noir".
  • Stranger On The Third Floor (1940). Often cited as "the first true film noir" due to including many of the relevant tropes and cinematographic techniques. A B-Movie and a box office flop at the time of release , it was re-appraised decades later. It is now considered groundbreaking.
  • They Drive by Night (1940). Often cited as a noir, mostly for Ida Lupino's great Femme Fatale, Lana Carlsen.
  • Citizen Kane (1941). While often excluded from lists, its visual style and "voice-over driven narrative structure" are widely cited as extremely influential to the genre.
  • High Sierra (1941). Considered as a transition film between the 1930s gangster films and the 1940s films noir. First leading role and Star-Making Role for Humphrey Bogart, who had already made a career of playing gangsters in crime films.
  • I Wake Up Screaming (1941)
  • The Maltese Falcon (1941). The third film adaptation of the same Dashiell Hammett novel, the second leading role for Humphrey Bogart, and the directorial debut of John Huston. An iconic depiction of the Hardboiled Detective and a major hit for the film noir genre.
  • Cat People (1942) is a film noir disguised as a horror film. It inspired the film noir style that would dominate RKO Pictures during the 1940s.
  • This Gun for Hire (1942). Based on a Graham Greene novel, though with some material reworked for wartime-propaganda reasons. Professional Killer Philip Raven completes an assignment and is then double-crossed by his latest employer. He sets out to get revenge. Meanwhile, Nightclub Singer Ellen Graham is recruited by the federal authorities to spy on her current boss, who is suspected to be a fifth columnist. Raven and Graham are unknowingly Working the Same Case and their paths cross. A major hit for the film noir genre, and the film which turned Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake into "reliable box office draws".
  • Casablanca (1943). Wartime drama which has been listed as another major influence on the genre. The lighting and visuals were similar but darker to those of The Maltese Falcon. The setting in a shady and exotic bar of Morocco, the cynical and world-weary protagonist, the adulterous undertones of the main Love Triangle, a narrative populated by gangsters, black marketeers, con-artists, corrupt cops, and fleeing refugees willing to make deals to save their skins all add to the general mood of melancholy and pessimism. Casablanca as depicted here is a City Noir. Or in the words of Sheri Chinen Biesen, "a cramped, crowded, where an underworld climate and abundant dubious nocturnal activity proliferate".
  • Double Indemnity (1944). A successful but bored insurance salesman falls for a woman in an unhappy marriage, and the two conspire to commit The Perfect Crime by getting her husband to buy an accident insurance policy, and then making sure he meets an untimely end. A film notorious for pushing the envelope on The Hays Code restrictions to its limits. Despite an activist campaign "imploring the public to stay away on moral grounds", the film was a major critical and box office hit. It paved the way for further dark, controversial films and directly inspired imitators. Often seen as the Trope Codifier for films noir.
  • Laura (1944). Advertising executive Laura Hunt is seemingly murdered within her own apartment. A police detective investigating the case becomes intrigued with her life and personality. An interest which becomes obsessive. Somewhat atypical for the genre in shifting focus from the criminal underworld to the privileged classes of New York City and their own shady side. A stylish depiction of glamour, obsession, and suggestive sexuality.
  • Gaslight (1944). In Victorian London, a Con Man (and a male version of the Femme Fatale) marries a young woman solely to get hold of her late aunt's fortune. He almost succeeds by dimming the gas lamps in the house and convincing his wife (when she notices) that she is going mad—in fact, this is the Trope Namer for the Gaslighting method of psychological torment.
  • Murder, My Sweet (1944). The first film adaptation of a Philip Marlowe novel and one of the highly-regarded depictions of the Hardboiled Detective in cinema. The so-called "standard private eye formula" (of seeking a missing person and ending up personally involved in a bizarre case) tends to follow the lead of this film.
  • The Woman in the Window (1944). A married, middle-aged man falls for a Femme Fatale, and is involved in a fight with her current boyfriend. He kills the man in self-defense and soon discovers that he can not get away with it. On the surface a conservative parable on acting on repressed desires and paying a price for it. It has been argued however that director Fritz Lang aimed to depict the thin line between respectability and immorality, and how an ordinary person can be caught in a web of murder and intrigue. Another key theme to the film noir genre.
  • Detour (1945). A so-called "Poverty Row" production (a term used for low-budget films by lesser-tier studios) which is now hailed as a major critical hit in the genre and the masterpiece of director Edgar G. Ulmer. Al Roberts, a New York pianist, impulsively decides to hitch-hike his way to California, where he hopes to reunite with a former lover. He is eventually picked-up by professional gambler Charles Haskell, Jr. who is also heading to California in hopes of "a big payoff". Haskell actually wanted a second driver in the car, to allow himself some much-needed sleep. He keeps popping pills during their journey through the Arizona desert, and does not survive it. He dies in his sleep, the cause of death never specified. Roberts decides to claim the identity and property of the dead man for himself. He knows nothing, however, about the loose ends in the real Haskell's life and complications soon arise. The film is often described as a deconstruction of the phrase "Go West, young man", and the idea of heading West in search of a better life. There are four important characters in the film who head West in pursuit of their dreams. All end up either dead or with their dreams thoroughly crushed.
  • Fallen Angel (1945). Directed by Otto Preminger. A Con Man is mixed in the murder of his Femme Fatale girlfriend as he tries to woo a Naïve Everygirl for her fortune.
  • Leave Her to Heaven (1945). A psychological thriller about romantic obsession featuring Gene Tierney, Cornel Wilde and Vincent Price, and an early example of full color noir.
  • Mildred Pierce (1945). The film opens with the murder of Monte Beragon. His widow Mildred then narrates her story. A story which starts with the end of a previous marriage in a divorce, her winning custody over her daughters, and her efforts to financially support them. Unfortunately, elder daughter Veda is a Fille Fatale and the mother-daughter relationship is not a particularly healthy one. The prevailing mood of "pessimism and paranoia", the visual style, and the convoluted narrative have earned the film a place among the better known entries of the genre. Though an entry where the two main female characters dominate the narrative and family relationships take center stage.
  • Scarlet Street (1945). Directed by Fritz Lang. A mild-mannered bank clerk falls for a Femme Fatale, who teams with her sleazy boyfriend to bleed him for money.
  • The Big Sleep (1946). A Philip Marlowe film, particularly noted for its "labyrinthine" complexity and enigmatic ambiguity.
  • The Blue Dahlia (1946). A Navy officer returns from war service to discover that his son is dead (due to a traffic accident) and his wife unfaithful. When said wife is found murdered, the widower becomes one of several suspects in this murder case. The film is noted for its jaded view of what awaits the returning veterans of World War II, broken homes and nothing to return to. The protagonist himself has violent tendencies which are not particularly helping him adjust to civilian life even before the mystery begins.
  • Gilda (1946). A film set in the decadent atmosphere of post-war Buenos Aires. At its heart is a love-hate relationship between the male lead (and narrator) Johnny Farrell and female lead Gilda. A relationship with what critics call "dark and disturbing sadomasochistic sexual currents" which takes over the plot.
  • The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946). An adaptation of a James M. Cain novel. A male drifter and the female manager of a rural diner have a passionate affair. But there is still the problem of her loveless marriage to a much older man, who actually owns the diner. They decide to murder him and fulfill their dreams. But the dream soon turns into a living nightmare for them.
  • The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946). The film is one of the better known films noir of Barbara Stanwyck and Lizabeth Scott, who were both major stars in the genre.
  • The Stranger (1946). An Orson Welles entry in the genre. A Nazi Hunter tracks an escaped high-ranking Nazi, notorious for his success in remaining relatively anonymous, to a suburban neighbourhood in Connecticut. The fugitive, having settled down and married the daughter of a Supreme Court Justice, is quite keen on keeping his true identity as a war criminal secret, and a dangerous psychological duel between the detective and the escapee begins, with his wife caught in the middle.
  • The Killers (1946). A life insurance investigator takes a closer look at a murder case, and finds out that the victim is linked to a past robbery and $250,000 in cash.
  • Brute Force (1947). A Jules Dassin film starring Burt Lancaster as Joe Collins, a convicted felon who's trying to escape Westgate Penitentiary to see his dying wife. It includes one of the cruelest prison guards ever in the form of Captain Munsey (played by Hume Cronyn).
  • Crossfire (1947). A detective investigates the murder of a Jewish man, which involves a group of soldiers from the local Army base. One of the first Hollywood films to deal with anti-Semitism as a theme.
  • Dark Passage (1947). A bleak adaptation of a David Goodis novel. A man wrongly convicted of murdering his own wife escapes prison. He hopes to Clear His Name but the goal remains out of reach for most of the film. The film was one of the earliest to extensively use subjective camera angles to hide the face of the protagonist. This obscuring technique is used for about 1/3 of its duration. It was also notable for defying Hays Code standards in its finale. The actual murderer commits suicide. The protagonist never clears his name and remains the main suspect of an additional murder. Instead of a stereotypical "justice prevails" ending, the man will remain a fugitive for life. The film originally received mixed reviews, but has since gained a pretty good reputation.
  • Dead Reckoning (1947). Two paratroopers return from World War II and learn they are about to receive medals for their honorable service. Johnny Drake seems terrified of the notion that his picture will appear in the press and attempts to disappear. His incinerated corpse is later discovered, though his death is deemed accidental. His surviving friend Warren Murdock is not convinced. He wants to know what caused his friend to disappear and why the man was killed. Murdock soon finds himself framed for murder and caught in a web of intrigue, dating to the years before the War. Coral "Dusty" Chandler, the Femme Fatale of the film, is considered among the most notable examples in the genre, and is often discussed in reviews of misogynistic elements in films noir. Several film critics insist there is a Homoerotic Subtext in the relationship between Drake and Murdoch, which gets the film frequently included in reviews of gender identity in film noir.
  • A Double Life (1947). Ronald Colman won his only Oscar for his performance as an actor who's acting method has disastrous results for his personal life.
  • Kiss of Death (1947). The film begins with family man Nick Bianco in dire financial straights. His status as an ex-convict leaves him unemployable, despite his decision to live an honest life. His inability to provide for his daughters causes him to join a criminal gang, and take part in a jewel heist. When an alarm is set off and the police arrives, Nick is injured and captured. He decides to protect the identities of his associates and take the fall for them. He does so with the understanding that his gang will take care of his wife and underage daughters. A couple of years later, Nick learns that the gang eventually abandoned his family. His broke wife committed suicide, and his daughters have become wards of an orphanage. He decides to co-operate with the authorities to earn a parole, a decision which will endanger his life. Noted for its realistic, almost documentary style, depiction of New York City. The film is currently mostly mentioned for a memorable secondary character: Tommy Udo. Udo is a Psycho for Hire with a distinctive laugh (a "high-pitched falchetto), best used when disposing victims in sadistic ways. A character often compared to The Joker.
  • The Lady from Shanghai (1947). Another Orson Welles entry in the genre. While in Central Park, seaman Michael O'Hara chances on a beautiful woman being assaulted. He rescues Elsa Bannister and is then offered a job on the yacht of her husband. Then a partner of said husband offers Michael a substantial sum of money, in exchange for helping him to fake his death. By taking this deal, Michael is caught in a trap. Just about every character seems to have his own agenda, in a film noted for its complex narrative, multiple agendas, and groundbreaking cinematography.
  • Lady in the Lake (1947).
  • Nightmare Alley (1947). Stanton Carlisle works at a Crappy Carnival but has ambitions to improve his life. He seduces an older woman, has-been Fortune Teller Mademoiselle Zeena, to learn the secrets that had once made her a star. Then abandons her to start a lucrative career as a Phony Psychic and Con Man. An alliance with amoral psychologist Lilith Ritter will help him prey on her wealthy patients. But then his greatest scheme backfires. His guild-ridden wife Molly exposes him to their latest victim, effectively ending his career. Lilith cheats him out of his share for their schemes and financially ruins him. A flop at the time of release, currently listed among the classics of the genre.
  • Nora Prentiss (1947).
  • Out of the Past (1947). In a small town in California, retired Private Detective Jeff Bailey romances local girl Ann Miller. When a figure from his past arrives and invites him to a meeting, Jeff accepts and takes Ann with him. He narrates to her a convoluted tale from his Dark and Troubled Past, including his former infatuation with Femme Fatale Kathie Moffat, and involvement with various shady characters. In the present, Kathie and several of these characters are also in California. The plots and schemes from his tale are still ongoing, and he still has a role to play in them. A film notorious for its complex script and ambiguity concerning the motivations and thought processes of every character, Jeff included.
  • They Made Me a Fugitive (1947). Small time hustler, Trevor Howard, smuggles goods for a gangster but gets framed for manslaughter. He eventually escapes from prison to get revenge.
  • The Web (1947). A bodyguard who killed a man defending his client starts to suspect that there was something more to the incident.
  • Force of Evil (1948). The drama tells of a lawyer, Joe Morse, working on the side for a powerful gangster, Ben Tucker, who wishes to consolidate and control the numbers racket in New York. This means assuming control of the many smaller numbers rackets, one of which is run by Morse's older brother Leo Morse. In trying to both to look out for his brother and getting his own sizeable piece of the action, Morse soon finds himself getting in way too deep. Noted for its religious motifs, especially its many references to the story of Cain and Abel.
  • Key Largo (1948). Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall square off against Edward G. Robinson, who plays a mob boss who's long past his prime (in a send-up of the role that made him famous).
  • I Want to Live! (1948).
  • Road House (1948). Robert Widmark falls for a singer, Ida Lupino, but she's in love with his best friend.
  • Secret Beyond the Door (1948).
  • Act of Violence (1949). Two shell shocked veterans deal with their Dark and Troubled Past, as one seeks revenge, and another tries to atone for his sins.
  • Beyond the Forest (1949). A woman bored with life in a small town squeezes her husband to pay their bills so she can visit Chicago, but that soon proves to be the beginning of a violent conflict. Famous for star Bette Davis line "What a dump!" being remembered as being pronounced far more enthusiastically than it actually was said in the film.
  • The Reckless Moment (1949). Max Ophuls' last American film, and it stars Joan Bennett and James Mason.
  • Stray Dog (1949), directed by Akira Kurosawa and set amidst the ruins of postwar Tokyo.
  • The Third Man (1949).
  • Too Late for Tears (1949). Lizabeth Scott is the epitome of the Femme Fatale in this film.
  • White Heat (1949). James Cagney stars in this complex, psychological take on his typical gangster persona. Famous for his final line.
  • The Window (1949). A young boy with a habit of Crying Wolf sees his neighbors commit murder and is unable to convince his parents or the police that he is telling the truth.
  • The Asphalt Jungle (1950). One of the quintessential heist films, with a nice Retroactive Recognition role for Marilyn Monroe.
  • D.O.A. (1950). (Source of the above picture) A man walks into a police station to report a murder...his murder. He goes on to tell his story. Remade in 1988, but you may know its rough 2009 incarnation: Crank.
  • Gun Crazy (1950).
  • In a Lonely Place (1950).
  • Night and the City (1950).
  • No Man of Her Own (1950). Directed by Mitchell Leisen and starring Barbara Stanwyck.
  • Sunset Boulevard (1950). Satire of Hollywood and the passing nature of fame, especially for silent-era stars.
  • Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950). An Otto Preminger film, reuniting Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney in this take on a violent cop who covers up a murder.
  • Whirlpool (1950). Another Otto Preminger outing with Gene Tierney. Here she's a kleptomaniac involved in a murder due to hypnoses.
  • Woman on the Run (1950). Ann Sheridan stars as a woman desperately looking for her husband who witnessed a murder.
  • Ace in the Hole (1951). A disgraced reporter, eager for a comeback, turns a man trapped by a cave-in into a media circus.
  • Thunder on the Hill (1951).
  • Clash by Night (1952). A woman returns to her hometown, marries, and has a secret affair.
  • On Dangerous Ground (1952). A brutal cop falls in love with the blind sister of a murderer.
  • The Bigamist (1953). A lonely travelling salesman marries Ida Lupino but he's already married to Joan Fontaine.
  • 99 River Street (1953). A cabbie and former boxer must team up with an actress friend after his wife's body gets dumped in the back of his taxi to frame him. Essentially a film homage to the more pulp-oriented writings of the era.
  • Angel Face (1953).
  • The Hitch-Hiker (1953). A psycho kidnaps two friends on a fishing trip and forces them at gunpoint to drive him to Mexico. This film has the distinction of being the first film noir directed by a woman, Ida Lupino.
  • Niagara (1953). When two couples are visiting Niagara Falls, tensions between one wife and her husband reach the level of murder. Arguably the film that put Marilyn Monroe on the map, alongside Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How to Marry a Millionaire.
  • Pickup on South Street (1953). Samuel Fuller-directed film about a hoodlum who is given a chance to redeem himself by fighting against a Communist ring.
  • The Big Combo (1955).
  • Kiss Me Deadly (1955). Adaptation of Mickey Spillane's novel, with a heavily rewritten narrative involving nuclear secrets.
  • The Night of the Hunter (1955).
  • The Killing (1956). Stanley Kubrick heist film famous for its non-linear plot and for sort-of providing inspiration for Reservoir Dogs.
  • A Kiss Before Dying (1956), adapted from the novel by Ira Levin. Remade in 1991.
  • Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956) .
  • While the City Sleeps (1956). A Fritz Lang noir with touches of comedy.
  • Sweet Smell of Success (1957).
  • The Wrong Man (1957). Alfred Hitchcock film starring Henry Fonda as a man falsely accused of murder because he happens to look like the real deal.
  • Touch of Evil (1958). Usually cited as the last of the greatest film of the "classic noir" era. Orson Welles and Charlton Heston star in a dark tale of police corruption and moral ambiguity on the Mexican-American border.
  • The Crimson Kimono (1959). Another Samuel Fuller-directed film, about two cops trying to solve a murder in Los Angeles' Little Tokyo district. A film dealing with society's perception of race, it was in many ways socially ahead of its time.
  • Odds Against Tomorrow (1959). Often cited as the one of the very last, if not the last film of the "classic noir" era, and known for being the first noir with a black protagonist. A heist film with a heavy dose of social commentary about racism. Stars Harry Belafonte in a non-musical role.

    Post-Classic and Neo-Noir 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Area 51 has a very pronounced chiaroscuro artstyle and a private detective protagonist in a wretched town. Despite those elements though, there's quite a bit of humor. And also lots of monsters, gods and other fantastical creatures.
  • The Big O
  • Cowboy Bebop, in its more "serious" moments.
  • Ergo Proxy. Especially the first few episodes.
  • Death Note had some noir traits, including the chiaroscuro lighting, moral ambiguity, and dark themes.
  • Ghost in the Shell
    • Especially the second movie Innocence, which even mimics typical designs for cars and buildings from the classic Noir movies.
  • Golgo13
  • Noir
  • Darker Than Black. It's the real deal, but the character of Gai Kurasawa (a private detective), is used to parody it.
  • Speed Grapher is set in a Tokyo which is a City Noir teaming with corruption and has its hero in Intrepid Reporter Saiga who is a good example of a Knight In Sour Armor.
  • Monster has some elements of this trope.
  • The York Shin Arc of Hunter x Hunter has a noir feel to it that gets more prominent as the tone becomes darker.
  • Baccano! and Durarara!!, which are written by the same author, both have definite noir elements, the former focusing on mafia members and the latter focusing on gang members, with plenty of private-eye monologues from multiple characters.
  • Yuureitou is a murder-mystery set in The '50s with this type of setting
  • Lupin III has this vibe sometimes, Depending on the Writer.
  • Detective Conan, being a series about a Great Detective solving murders and fighting a deadly criminal organization, uses plenty of noir tropes.

    Comic Books 
  • 100 Bullets
  • Sin City
  • Batman - many stories are noir at their core. Gotham City is obviously a very noirish setting.
  • The Question. Bonus points for his fedora and trench coat.
  • Dogby Walks Alone - parodied by being placed in a Theme Parks setting.
  • The Marvel Noir line. Changes to Wolverine, for example, include his signature claws actually being handheld Japanese weapons. Naturally, there's a different version of Logan on the X-Men. In normal Marvel continuity, such street-level heroes as Daredevil, Moon Knight and the Punisher have all had runs or story arcs that followed many noir conventions.
  • Blacksad - An anthropomorphic detective series, that follows the stories of John Blacksad.
  • The Damned - A detective cursed to never die working for demonic(literally demons) gang bosses in the midst of a war with a rival organization.
  • The third series of X-Factor features Jamie Madrox's attempt at a noir mutant detective agency .
  • Many books by Ed Brubaker, especially when he's working with Sean Philips. Criminal and The Fade Out are straight noir. Sleeper and Incognito are superhero/pulp hero noir, and Fatale is noir where the Femme Fatale's supernatural allure actually is supernatural.
  • Brian Michael Bendis's Alias.
  • Also by Bendis, Sam And Twitch, a spin-off from the Spawn series
  • Watchmen contains significant noir elements, particularly Rorschach's sections.
  • The Spirit, particularly the newspaper strip.
  • Stray Bullets
  • Calvin and Hobbes: One of Calvin's Imagine Spots follows the adventures of a very noir-ish private investigator called Tracer Bullet.

    Fan Fiction 

    Fan Works 


    Live Action TV 
  • Our Miss Brooks: The latter part of "Postage Due" is a very much film noir influenced, with Miss Brooks providing a Private Eye Monologue.
  • Dragnet: Especially in its first run in the 40's and 50's.
  • Jessica Jones The 2015 Netflix series plays heavily on noir themes; Jessica herself being a gender-swapped, alcoholic, emotionally-detached private detective.
  • Twin Peaks has a heavy noir element to it, with a murder leading to uncovering of the corruption and moral ambiguity of a seemingly idyllic town. Various noir tropes are given their due in the show, from the dark jazz motifs in the score to various character archetypes. This being a David Lynch series, though, it's filled with nice helpings of surrealism, and it's just as much a Soap Opera with heavy doses of the supernatural.
  • Veronica Mars somehow effectively used this style in a San Diego high school setting. And gender swapped.
  • Charmed had an episode based around a book taking them to a place with this style.
  • An episode of Moonlighting did this well.
  • Smallville had a Jimmy centric episode set in a noir dream sequence.
  • Other than the Hawaii setting and heavy doses of comedy, Magnum, P.I. tends toward this as well, complete with Private Eye Monologue.
  • Kamen Rider Double is based on Noir.
  • Terriers
  • Bored to Death
  • Luther
  • EZ Streets
  • Lost Girl has the chiaroscuro lighting and grand but decaying settings. Interesting twist though that the Femme Fatale also happens to be the Anti-Hero-Private Detective.
  • The BBC two part Drama "Exile"
  • Monk has the Season 5 episode, "Mr. Monk and The Leper," done in a complete homage to Film Noir including an introduction from Tony Shaloub dropping references to Femme Fatale amongst other tropes. A black-and-white then a color version aired back-to-back when the episode premiered. The DVD includes the black-and-white version.
  • Peter Gunn mixed Noir tropes with 1950s cool Jazz.
  • The Shadow Line is heavily inspired by Film Noir, borrowing many plot elements and a very dark and cynical tone.
  • Angel was heavily influenced by Film Noir, mostly up to about half way through the third season, but it retained certain Film Noir traits until the very end, such as the moral abiguity. The final scene of the show is in the classic Film Noir setting of rainy alleyway.
  • The Castle season 4 episode "The Blue Butterfly" has Castle find the diary of a private eye from 1948, which results in a number of Film Noir-style flashbacks with the regulars taking on various roles in the story - Castle as the detective, Beckett as a nightclub singer, Esposito and Ryan as gangsters and Alexis (!) as a Femme Fatale. We also get Castle doing the monologue and at one point inadvertently swapping the name of the singer for Kate... which results in a Record Needle Scratch drop out of flashback as Beckett looks at him funny.
  • Serangoon Road, set in 1960s Singapore. This might seem odd as a setting until one realises that Singapore in The 1960's was more Wretched Hive than Shining City.
  • A 2014 episode of Pretty Little Liars in which Spencer goes into hallucination mode uses this setting.
  • It's in color, but Gotham has a very Noir feel to it with corrupt police, a seedy underworld that can only hint at the real level of nastiness, corrupt and shady politicians, and a brewing mob war.
  • Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries looks like your typical Body of the Week show on the surface, but as each episode goes on that veneer is scraped away to something much darker and conspiracy-oriented. The way Phryne loves to pretend to be a Femme Fatale certainly helps.
  • Babylon Berlin: A German TV crime series (based on a book trilogy) set in 1929 Berlin, a city rife with underground pornographers, gangsters, Communists and Fascists.

  • K Pop group SECRET's music video for "Poison" is in the style of Film Noir, complete with Lady in Red Femme Fatale.
  • Ultravox's breakthrough hit "Vienna" was heavily influenced by film noir themes. The music video in particular was inspired by The Third Man.


    Spoofs and Parodies 

     Tabletop Games 

    Video Games 
  • L.A. Noire (2011) fittingly enough.
  • Max Payne (2001) - Also a movie. The second game was even billed with the tagline "A film noir love story".
  • Grand Theft Auto IV (2008) has some elements of this trope.
  • The Bioshock series constantly plays with elements of the genre. A dark-yet-stylized and moody atmosphere (not to mention a setting where you aren't quite sure who to trust—or who the real "bad guy" is) permeates the first two, and the third has you play a private detective. Bonus points for the first Burial At Sea DLC being a straight-up Noir Episode.
  • Blues And Bullets (2015)
  • The Knee Deep (2015) theatrical stage adventure features several noir tropes in its grim Florida setting.
  • Tex Murphy (1996)
  • Grim Fandango (1998)
  • The Black Dahlia (1998) - correct setting, period clothes and corny dialogue to boot.
  • Discworld Noir (1999) - Exactly What It Says on the Tin
    • Its sequel even used the tagline "A Film Noir Love Story". Which is somewhat ironic, given that the protagonist is much less cynical jaded in the sequel than in the original.
  • Blackout, an Adventure Game that combines Noir with Psychological Horror and puppets.
  • Deja Vu
  • Jack Orlando
  • Dead Head Fred
  • Gabriel Knight Sins of The Fathers Combines Noir with horror much the same way as the film Angel Heart.
  • The Thief series.
  • Hotel Dusk: Room 215 (2006) and it's sequel, Last Window (2010)
  • Hotline Miami Neon Noir, deeply inspired by Drive.
  • Heavy Rain (2010) Shelby's character is homage to Noir while Jayden is homage to its more modern counterparts.
  • The later Hitman games start to veer into this territory by virtue of Growing the Beard and aiming for a more Darker and Edgier feel. Several missions in the third and fourth game (Contracts and Blood Money) have a genuinely noir tone.
  • Wadjet Eye Games loves this genre, with most of their games so far either belonging fully to this genre or using parts of it. These include:
    • The Shivah, with a Rabbi who's losing faith in the goodness of God as the protagonist.
    • Emerald City Confidential was described by the producer as follows: "Harsh city streets, grey rainy skies, femmes fatales, tough guys, trenchcoats, fedoras and plot twists. It's Oz, seen through the eyes of Raymond Chandler."
    • The Blackwell Series uses some elements of noir (one of the protagonists is a Deadpan Snarker ghost from the 30's).
  • Deus Ex: Human Revolution which is Cyberpunk so Noir is bound to be there.
  • Deus Ex also heavily borrows from the noir aesthetics and narrative structure. Technically, this is a noir game with government agent and conspirators replacing more common private dick and crooks.
  • Killer Is Dead, as well as killer7, from Suda51, features some heavy surreal film noir looks, down to badass assassins in suits, heavy shading and shadows, hypnotic soundtracks and weird characters. They're much more Sci-Fi that film noir, though the influence is clearly there.
  • Halo 3: ODST was developed to evoke a Film Noir atmosphere as a lone soldier investigates an alien-occupied city.
  • By virtue of evoking late 80s scifi movies, Mass Effect 2 evokes this in parts, especially on Omega, Ilium and the Citadel. Thane and Samara's loyalty missions are even investigations with much less action than the rest of the game (oddly enough, both characters are stoic badasses with philosophical sides).
  • Blade Runner (1997) follows the movie with its distinctive noir feeling mixed with s-f settings.
  • Carte Blanche: For a Fistful of Teeth. Bonus points for black-and-white graphics.
  • Gunpoint plays many of the tropes of Film Noir fairly straight despite it's more humorous atmosphere and incredibly snarky protagonist.
  • Time Splitters 2 (2002) the Chicago level has this in spades, from the opening monologue to the soundtrack for the level.
  • The Witcher (2009) and its sequel are very noir, even though they're set in a fantasy world replete with witches and golems. It has corrupt, drunken authorities, the drug trade, a conspiracy, several femme fatales, and a jaded, sarcastic anti-hero who's primarily concerned with his own goals.
  • The Wolf Among Us is a murder mystery set in 1986 New York, and starring Sheriff Bigby Wolf, a Deadpan Snarker/Hard Boiled Detective type investigating Fairytale characters in a noir setting.
  • Last Case: The Disappearance of Amanda Kane is a mostly black and white crime drama about a private investigator trying to look for a mission person. The protagonist drinks, recently lost his partner, and the game has smooth, somewhat somber accompanying the setting (which seems to take place in the mid to late nineties).
  • Snatcher. Cyberpunk, deeply inspired by (almost to the point of plagiarism) Blade Runner.

  • Anti Bunny draws heavily on Film Noir in its visual and storytelling style. As a call out to the visual style in Chapter 5 of The Gritty City Stories Pooky cynically narrates "No one gets film noir these days anyway."
  • Automata, and it's sequel Blood and Oil; two short stories created by the Penny Arcade duo. [1]
  • Blood & Smoke is a black and white comic set in a hellhole of a city, starring a cynical, chain-smoking, fedora and trench-coat wearing police detective that chases a serial killer with a cool sounding name.
  • The Talbot Chronicles placed Lawrence Talbot from the Wolf Man series into a film noir setting. A good fit, as Talbot's whole bag has always been existential angst.
  • Living with Insanity did this in its one arc.
  • Two Rooks combines crime noir with a dystopian setting.
  • Sin Titulo definitely has noir undertones (and it uses color very sparingly).
  • I Was Kidnapped by Lesbian Pirates from Outer Space has a bonus story, originally subscribers only, following a Hardboiled Detective who gets hired to find a young woman who went missing from her workplace. Of course he never finds her, because she's been ... you know.
  • Daniel is a vampire horror comic set in the 1930s. It's setting and grayscale color scheme give it a feel very akin to film noir.
  • Riverside Extras is a male gangster vs female gangster comic. It's Deliberately Monochrome except for splashes of red. The main character is the Femme Fatale with a Dark and Troubled Past instead of a detective (who has appeared but is only a minor player compared to the lady gangsters).

    Web Original 
  • Weekend Pussy Hunt, a cartoon parody of the genre made by John Kricfalusi during the late 90's, animated in Adobe Flash.
  • The Deadliest Tag and Deadliest Tag Chapter Two on Vlog Tag.
  • Perri Rhoades' web serial Spectral Shadows has a peculiar planet, Cygnus, that's populated by lots of half-human half animal creatures, with each town having an Intellectual Property Religion (literally — even if sometimes the religion doesn't correctly match the source material). The town of Noire tries its best to fit this trope, even going so far as to use fossil fuels for vehicles while the rest of the world uses solar power — because in the gangster movies, they didn't have solar power.
  • Game Grumps: Parodied in the "Mycaruba" T-shirt ad, complete with Danny as Detective N.S. Grump and Arin as... um... just watch it.

    Western Animation