The Film Noir/ Crime Genre

Another genre I wanted to explore with this MA was the Film Noir. The name was given to Hollywood films released in France to theatres because they followed a trend of dark, downbeat and black looks and themes. They usually dealt with crimes and investigating detectives.

They are said to have reflected the tensions and insecurities of the time period (the depression, the aftermath of the war and the tensed relationships present during the Cold War). Hollywood musicals made way for this new trend which counter balanced these earlier films full of colour and optimism.

Describing Film Noir

On a website (filmsite, I read that the themes evident in Film Noir are as follows: fear, mistrust, bleakness, loss of innocence, despair and paranoia. This pessimism reflects the insecurities of the people living in a time of tensions, where the nuclear threat and mutually assured destruction were always present.

The hero was usually a cynical and disillusioned man who would end up committing crimes after being manipulated by a mysterious Femme Fatale.

List of primary moods of Film Noir (as stated on filmsite by T. Dirks):

  • melancholy

  • alienation

  • bleakness

  • disillusionment

  • disenchantment

  • pessimism

  • ambiguity

  • moral corruption

  • evil

  • guilt

  • despair

  • paranoia

Expressionist lighting contrasts with ominous shadows while distorted camera angles give the film an uneasy feel. Smoke (either from cigarettes or in dark alleyways) is a very atmospheric element which emphasizes the effects to make a ‘moody composition’.

Interiors would have had a single-source lighting, venetian-blinded windows and a dark and gloomy feel. They could be dim apartments or hotel rooms, or even abandoned warehouses. I have also found that exteriors were described as being urban settings with deep shadows and wet asphalt, dark alleyways dampened by rain and flashing neon lights.

Characters in Film Noir

The hero – or anti-hero – in film noir would most often be depicted as a struggling and disillusioned man. Women however, usually fell into two different categories. While a woman could be depicted as a reliable and trustworthy ally, she could also fall into the category of the Femme Fatale.

A Femme Fatale in Film Noir is usually a mysterious woman whose appearance, while undeniably gorgeous, hides her double-crossing, unreliable, unloving and predatory nature that leads her to manipulate the hero into committing crimes of passion and going as far as to murder another individual. (A theory for this was woman’s slow gain of independence).

A Film Noir and a Fairy Tale – Drastic Opposites?

It appears that Film Noir were rarely optimistic, and happy endings almost non-existent. However, as seen in older posts, a fairy tale, by definition, gives the hero a happy ending as a reward for his/her troubles and trials. So is it possible to adapt a fairy tale to a film noir style and setting?

I will be investigating this through various designs which will also be shown in my printed art book.

The film would probably be set in New York in the 1940s. While Donkey Skin’s family would be wealthy, perhaps the father could be meddling in dishonest affairs. The fairy godmother, to keep her character ambiguous like I was hoping to in the previous genres I explored, could take on some of the characteristics of a Femme Fatale.

While the tale would take on the visual characteristics of the Film Noir, I feel that certain features would need to keep to the original story. Perhaps it would be possible to reconcile the film noir style with a happy ending so as not to loose too much of the fairy tale aspect.

DIRKS, T., Film Noir [online]. American Movie Classics Company. Available at: [Accessed April 2015]


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