Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

FILM NOIR CLUB: Phases of the Film Noir

Phases of the Film Noir

  • The first, the wartime period 1941-46 approximately, was the phase of the private eye and lone wolf.  The studio look of this period was reflected in such pictures as “The Maltese Falcon,”  “Gaslight,” “This Gun for Hire,” “The Lodger,” “The Woman in the Window,” “Mildred Pierce,” “Spellbound,” “The Big Sleep,” “Laura,” “The Lost Weekend,” “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers.” “To Have and Have Not,” “Fallen Angel,” “Gilda,” “Murder My Sweet,” “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” “Dark Waters,” “Scarlet Street,” “So Dark the Night,” “The Glass Key,” “The Mask of Dimitrios” and “The Dark Mirror.”

  • The second phase was the postwar realistic period from 1945-49 (the dates overlap and so do the films; these are all approximate phases for which there are many exceptions). These films tended more toward the problems of crime in the streets, political corruption and police routine. The realistic urban look of this phase is seen in such films as “The House on 92nd Street,” “The Killers,” “Raw Deal,” “Act of Violence,” “Union Station,” “Kiss of Death,” “Johnny O’Clock,” “Force of Evil,” “Dead Reckoning,” “Ride the Pink Horse,” “Dark Passage,” “Cry of the City,” “The Set-Up,” “T-Men,” “Call Northside 777,” “Brute Force,” “The Big Clock,” “Thieves Highway,” “Ruthless,” “Pitfall,” “Boomerang!” and “The Naked City.”   

  • The third and final phase of film noir from 1949-53, was the period of psychotic action and suicidal impulses,. The noir hero started to go bananas. The psychotic killer now became the active protagonist (James Cagney in “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye”). This was the phase of the “B” noir film, also known as the cream of the film noir period.  The forces of personal disintegration are reflected in such films as “White Heat,” “Gun Crazy,” “D.O.A.,” “Caught,” “They Live by Night,” “Where the Sidewalk Ends,” “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye,” “Detective Story,” “In a Lonely Place,” “I the Jury,” “Ace in the Hole,” “Panic in the Streets,” “The Big Heat,” “On Dangerous Ground” and “Sunset Boulevard.”  These later noir films finally got down to the root causes of the period: the loss of public honor, of personal integrity and finally of psychic stability.  They seemed to know that they stood at the end of a long tradition based on despair and disintegration and did not shy away from this fact. The third phase is rife with end of the line noir heroics. “The Big Heat” and “Where the Sidewalk Ends” are the last stops for the urban cop";  “Ace in the Hole” for the newspaperman; “I the Jury,” “The Long Wait,” “Kiss Me Deadly” for the private eye;  "Sunset Boulevard for the “Black Widow,” “White Heat” and “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye” for the gangster. “D.O.A.” for the John Doe American.

 Vivian Rutledge (Lauren Bacall) and Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) in The Big Sleep (Howard Hawks: USA 1946) 

 Maria Rakubian (Laurette Luez) and Frank Bigelow (Edmond O'Brien) in D.O.A.  (Frank Mate : USA 1949)