Course Description

450.607 - Through a Glass, Darkly: American Film Noir

The term film noir, French for "black film," was first applied to Hollywood films by French critic Nino Frank in 1946. Unrecognized by the American film industry as a distinct formula during the classic period of Hollywood (1930-1960), Cinema historians and critics defined the category retrospectively to describe the distinctive style look and feel of many American films made during the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. The course examines the cultural origins, unique elements, underlying values, and major auteurs of both American noir and international noir filmmakers. Film noir was defined through the general themes of alienation, existentialism, loneliness, cynicism, pessimism, despair, paranoia and entrapment, coupled with a gritty and distinctive visual style and mood. We will screen and discuss select noir films and develop skills of viewing and analyzing them closely. Topics include the emerging field of film theory and criticism in the early 1960s, literary origins and style; male and female roles; film and society in the years after WWII; German expressionism and Nazism in Germany as major influences on early Noir; early gangster films; and the role of the "auteur" in the definition of the form. Among the films considered are Fritz Lang's M (Germany-1931), John Huston's The Maltese Falcon (U.S. - 1941), Orson Welle's Citizen Kane (U.S.- 1941) and Touch of Evil (U.S. - 1958), Robert Aldrich's Kiss Me Deadly (U.S.- 1955), and Francois Truffaut?s Shoot the Piano Player (France - 1960). The course will conclude with analysis of neo-noir films like Sam Fuller's Underworld U.S.A. (U.S.- 1961) and John Frankenheimer's The Manchurian Candidate (U.S. - 1962) among many others.