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FILM NOIR WAS THE TERM coined by French critics to describe a distinctive style in American cinema during the decade after the war. Noir means black and this is literally what Film Noir is, 'black film'. Noirs are full of shadowy dark images, and they generally reflected the dark mood in American society during the postwar period.
Film Noir is considered by some to be a genre and by others just to be a passing phase in cinematic history.
Silver and Ward, in their book Film Noir, note:
While it may not be a genre or nor wholly a movement in these traditional senses, the characteristics of Film Noir are fairly apparent and straightforward. It is contemporaneous, usually suburban, and almost always American in setting.
Silver et al., go on to say that the most consistent aspect of Film Noir, apart from its visual style, is its protagonists. Although the females hold dominating positions in Film Noir the male is often the protagonist. The male protagonist is usually a private eye or a socially alienated individual. Strinati in An Introduction to Studying Popular Culture notes: 'it has been argued that the noir film tends to place (women) centre stage'. (2) In Film Noir the females are known as femme fatales, or fatal woman. A femme fatale is a sexually manipulative woman. Strinati further notes: ... if these films treat women differently, this must have consequences for the way they represent men. It can be suggested that the noir film sets up a tension between the male and female, which is different from the more orthodox representations of gender in the standard Hollywood film. (3)
The male protagonist is more often than not the doomed victim as a result of the femme fatale. However, some noir films have the male protagonist successfully overcome the fatal woman, for example, Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) in The Big Sleep (Howard Hawks, 1946).
Krutnik in his book In a Lonely Street, notes: 'various forms of 1940s "tough" thrillers betray a persistent problematizing of masculinity, which is differently stated and negotiated ...'. (4) Krutnik describes three types of masculinity that can be found in Film Heirs. The three categories are:
1. The investigative thriller: where the hero, often a professional detective, seeks to restore order--and to validate his own identity--by exposing and countermanding a criminal …