Don't Know Your Noir From Your L.A. Noire?

Illustration for article titled Dont Know Your Noir From Your L.A. Noire?

Crime game L.A. Noire is Rockstar's take on 1940s-era Los Angeles, complete with guys in hats, guns and big, fancy cars. But what is noir?


There is disagreement among film scholars regarding what exactly "noir" is. Some say it is a genre, others disagree. There are elements of noir, sure, such as femme fatales, detectives, voice-overs and even Venetian blinds, but not all noir films feature detectives. Not all feature voice-overs. And not all feature femme fatales. Venetian blinds were pretty popular, though.


Paul Schrader, who penned both Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, argued that noir was not a genre, but "a moment in time". During World War II and the years following, a spate of dark films hit cinemas. They often centered around crimes and featured characters that were rendered powerless by situations that were rarely resolved with happy endings. America might have emerged as victor, but that doesn't mean cynicism pervaded.

The term "film noir" was coined by French film critic Nino Frank in the mid-1940s, and one of the first (if not the first) noir pictures is 1940's Stranger on the Third Floor. Noir ended in the late-1950s, but there was a revival in the decades that followed. Directors influenced by noir began taking noirish elements and incorporating them into "neo-noir" films like Chinatown, Blade Runner, Red Rock West, L.A. Confidential, among many, many more.

These neo-noir films differ from the noir films they are inspired by and are different and unique in their own right, reflecting the times in which they were made.

While L.A. Noire appears to take many of its cues from neo-noir like Chinatown and L.A. Confidential as well as Raymond Chandler and James Ellroy crime novels, here are ten classic noir movies from the 1940s and 1950s.


Maltese Falcon

An early noir film and Bogart's first. The actor would go on to star in noir like the nonsensical (but brilliant) Howard Hawks film The Big Sleep.


The Third Man

Not all noir were set in America or made by Americans. The Third Man (set in Europe, directed by a Brit) is a perfect example of that. Welles' cuckoo clock speech dazzles.


Gun Crazy

Gun Crazy was inspired by the exploits of Bonnie and Clyde and was one of the first movies to film inside a moving car — as opposed to on a sound stage with a phony processing shot.


Crime Wave

Once a crook, always a crook.

The Killing

Before Quentin Tarantino told scenes from different points of view, Stanley Kubrick did it in The Killing.


Sunset Boulevard

Billy Wilder, who also directed the brilliant noir Double Indemnity, shows that noir can star screenwriters and washed-up silent film actors.


The Asphalt Jungle

Directed by John Huston (Maltese Falcon), The Asphalt Jungle starred Sterling Hayden and featured an early screen appearance by Marilyn Monroe.


Double Indemnity

Some of the best movie dialogue ever.

Kiss Me Deadly

The "briefcase scene" in Pulp Fiction was directly inspired by a scene in Kiss Me Deadly.


Touch of Evil

Charlton Heston as a Mexican! Super fat Orson Welles! Music by Henry Mancini! Touch of Evil is one of the last noir films — and one of the best.


There are tons more film noir (like D.O.A. or Detour or In a Lonely Place). The films all share a cynicism, a vibe. They reflected the time period in which they were made. As the 1950s gave way to the 1960s, the popularity of noir declined. Times change.

L.A. Noire might have gotten that extra, French-style "e" from a a programming mistake. But that spelling couldn't suit the title better: L.A. Noire isn't pure noir. It, like the more recent neo-noir films, incorporates elements of noir. But whether it creates something new and different like, say, Chinatown, remains to be seen.


L.A. Noire is slated for release next spring.

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The greatest neo-noir film is, of course, The Big Lebowski.