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Classic Noir Novels and Films

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Old 06-21-2007, 07:22 AM
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Default Classic Noir Novels and Films

I love noir fiction -- the novels and the films adapted from them. In a highly-stylized atmosphere they feature gritty realism that is paradoxically both larger and smaller than ordinary life. They are moody, violent and often bleakly hopeless.

The term film noir (French for "black film") was named for the downbeat subject matter: crime, double crosses, femme fatales, the seedy side of life on the edge of nihilism. It also referred to the dark and stark cinematography style which was partly the result of Los Angeles street blackout requirements during the early years of World War II when Japanese bombing of the west coast was feared.

Southern California was a particularly popular setting for American noir. Richard Hallas had a theory as to why in his 1938 novel You Play The Black And The Red Comes Up:

"It's the climate -- something in the air. You can bring men from other parts of the world who are sane. And you know what happens? At the very moment they cross those mountains," he whispered real soft, "they go mad. Instantaneously and automatically, at the very moment they cross the mountains into California, they go insane. Everyone does."

Author Nathanael West described southern California as a place where heartland Americans immigrated to die in the sunshine, their dreams unfulfilled.

In the U.S. noir novels began with The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett in 1929, but Raymond Chandler soon became the most famous noir author with his Philip Marlowe detective books.

My other personal favorites include:

Out Of The Past, a 1947 film based on Geoffrey Homes' novel Build My Gallows High. The story was updated to the 1980s in director/writer Taylor Hackford's movie Against All Odds.

James Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity were published in the 1930s and later made into classic noir films.

On Dangerous Ground, a 1952 film about a rogue cop played by Robert Ryan. It is based on the novel Mad With Much Heart by Gerald Butler.

Other novels that became classic noir films:

Little Caesar, The Asphalt Jungle and High Sierra by W. R. Burnett.

Dark Passage by David Goodis.

Miss Lonelyhearts and Day Of The Locust by Nathanael West.

A Gun For Sale and The Third Man, which author Graham Greene called "entertainments" to differentiate them from his "serious" work.

The Night Has A Thousand Eyes and Rear Window by Cornell Woolrich. (The latter was made into what some consider director Alfred Hitchcock's best film.)

Night And The City by London author Gerald Kersh.

The Killer Inside Me, The Getaway and The Grifters by Jim Thompson.

Barfly by Charles Bukowski.

Noir was not exclusive to male authors. A few of the best novels were written by women:

Ride The Pink Horse and In A Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes.

Laura by Vera Caspary.

Strangers On A Train by Patricia Highsmith.

"The earth was made round so we can't see too far down the road and know what is coming." -- Isak Dinesen, Out of Africa

Last edited by starrwriter; 06-21-2007 at 07:25 AM..
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