To be honest, I had never heard of the term film noir until my freshman year of college when I had to read Raymond Chandler’s novel “The Big Sleep”. Incidentally, the movie of the same title, staring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, was the first film of this genre (or is it a style?) that I ever saw. And I was immediately drawn in.
“Film noir” translated means “black film” and it was coined by a French film critic named Nino Frank who used it to describe certain types of movies that were made in America after World War II. Honestly, the term is entirely to broad to define in simple terms. So here are three film noirs I’ve seen in class that I recommend:
1. “The Maltese Falcon” (1941)
Directed by John Huston, “The Maltese Falcon” changed Hollywood’s idea of the detective character, making the “private dick” image central for most film noirs. The movie follows private detective Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) who encounters a woman who pulls him into a world of lies and crime, all surrounding a hunt for a Maltese falcon. The dialogue is sharp and the acting is spot on. This movie was also a big milestone for Bogart’s career.
2. “Stranger On The Third Floor” (1940)Directed by Boris Ingster, “Stranger On The Third Floor” tells the story of Michael Ward (John McGuire), a newspaper reporter as well as a witness in a murder trial. When the suspect in the trial is sentenced to death row, Ward begins to have doubts about his testimony. What follows is an exploration of the psyche, with crazy dream sequences influenced immensely by German Expressionism, questions of identity, and Peter Lorre as a psychologically creepy killer. The ending isn’t very noir-ish, however it’s definitely worth a watch.
3. “The Big Sleep” (1946)
Directed by Howard Hawks and staring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, “The Big Sleep” is based on the novel of the same title by Raymond Chandler and follows the private detective Phillip Marlowe (Bogart). Now, this movie is crazy, and some people may find it extremely hard to follow, because of the fact that there are so many story lines in this film. That being said, “The Big Sleep” is one of my favorite movies, with it’s sharp dialogue, Humphrey Bogart, femme fatales, Humphrey Bogart, and SEX (nothing crazy, although this movie was pretty bold for 1946) there is a reason that “The Big Sleep” is one of the best film noirs around. (Did I mention, Humphrey Bogart?)