The late film critic Roger Ebert liked film noir movies. Let’s be honest, some of Hollywoods best films from the Golden Era were noir. The film many critics say is the best American film ever made, Casablanca, is a noir.
Ebert penned a list of what he believed to be the ten characteristics that made a story a noir. Not all film noir movies fit all ten and the same is true for novels. The list however is a great starting point to determine if a film or novel fits the noir genre.
Here’s Ebert’s list:
1. A French term meaning “black film,” or film of the night.
2. A movie which at no time misleads you into thinking there is going to be a happy ending.
3. Locations that reek of the night, of shadows, of alleys, of the back doors of fancy places, of apartment buildings with a high turnover rate, of taxi drivers and bartenders who have seen it all.
4. Cigarettes. Everybody in film noir is always smoking, as if to say, “On top of everything else, I’ve been assigned to get through three packs today.”
5. Women who would just as soon kill you as love you, and vice versa.
6. For women: low necklines, floppy hats, mascara, lipstick, dressing rooms, boudoirs… high heels, red dresses, elbow length gloves, mixing drinks […]
7. For men: fedoras, suits and ties, shabby residential hotels with a neon sign blinking through the window, buying yourself a drink out of the office bottle, cars with running boards, all-night diners […]
8. Movies either shot in black and white, or feeling like they were.
9. Relationships in which love is only the final flop card in the poker game of death.
10. The most American film genre, because no society could have created a world so filled with doom, fate, fear and betrayal, unless it were essentially naive and optimistic.
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