Classic Movies 101 - What Defines a Noir Film?

Posted on 7 Aug 00:00


Film noir movies or noir films are as mysterious as the term. Film noir translates from French as “black cinema.” Coined by French film critic Nino Frank in 1946, this classic style of movies is from American film-making in the early 1940s through the 1950s. 

Movie critics and film historians argue whether the category is a genre versus more of a dark tone throughout, while others challenge it’s all about the visuals. Keep reading for an exploration of the topic. You’ll finish reading with the ability to identify a noir film the next time you watch one of these classic movies. 

Explore the Characteristics and Elements of a Noir Film 

Film noirs are often based in urban environments with a story line including a dark detective or private investigator. Some of the top characteristics of these low-budget crime dramas are rainy streets, neon signs, flickering street lights, corruption, a lone romantic hero, and lots of shadows. However, the presence of these characteristics does not make a movie a noir film. 

Many film noirs are narrated, incorporate slang, and include violence and sexual connotations. American screenwriter and film critic Paul Schrader issued Notes on Film Noir noting four elements:

  1. War and post-war disillusionment – The disappointment after World War II was present in film noir, unlike the earlier movies that were produced to make people happy.
  2. Post-war realism – The post-war realism fed the desires of viewers which had transformed from an interest in studio sets to actual locations and real-life perspectives.
  3. German influence – An increase of German and Eastern European immigrants influenced the aesthetics of movies with expressionist lighting.
  4. Hard-boiled” fiction – The popularity of crime fiction from the writers of the 1930s, like Ernest Hemingway and Raymond Chandler, led to the emergence of film noirs. 

Here are five of our bestselling noir films you may want to watch:

  1. Farewell My Lovely (1975) – Won the National Board of Review – Top Ten Films award.
  2. The Reckless Moment (1949)
  3. 5 Fingers (1952) – Won Golden Globes – Best Screenplay, Edgar Allan Poe Awards – Best Motion Picture, and National Board of Review – Best Written American Drama.
  4. My Name is Julia Ross (1945)
  5. Machine Gun Kelly (1958)

Though the genre is said to have ended in the 1950s, many recent movies show their influence. A few movies with film noir elements, often called “neo-noir,” include The Big Lebowski, Sin City, and Blade Runner 2049. Would you have recognized their characteristics of the noir style? 

Movie Buffs Forever stocks classic movies on DVD from the 1940's to the early 2000's. Browse our vast collection of old, rare and out of print classic movies on DVD.

You May Also Like:

Popular Stars of Yesteryear
Beloved Stars We've Recently Lost
Movies Far Ahead of There Time
Why We Still Love DVD's   
DVD's And DVD Maintenance Tips