Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Loving Film Noir

As I've raved about previously, I have always loved movies.

When I was growing up after World War II, moviegoers wanted musicals and color films filled with big stars. It was the heyday of spectacular productions including Biblical giants like The Ten Commandments and Ben Hur. Audiences wanted bigger, epic dramas with noise and action.

Then television came along to alter movie-going habits. Kids grew into teens and would go to the theatre with their friends to see the plethora of teen movies churned out in the 1960s. Little thought was given to the plots but these films often featured heart throbs like Fabian and James Darren, fun at the beach and plenty of music.

During the 1960s, few things were as boring to many of us as "old" black-and-white movies set after the war. These movies had once been on the big screen but were now relegated in reruns on Saturday afternoon TV. "Turn that off," I would shout. "It's an old movie."

Many of these so-called old black-and-white movies belonged to a group known as "film noir" now viewed to be a vital chapter in American entertainment. There are many classic black-and-white movies not considered "film noir," including Miracle on 34th Street and It's a Wonderful Life which appear every Christmas. Film noir productions had an edge, sometimes depicting seedy lifestyles, often shown with criminal influences, folks undergoing personal difficulties and of course failed romances.

But know what? There are some fabulous films in this group. These movies were not glamorous but had themes of good and bad, often starring a mix of seasoned and rising actors (think Montgomery Clift, Marlon Brando, James Dean). I shutter to think how many of these great movies I turned off during my teen-age years.

I have learned to watch for these gems on upcoming TV schedules. I appreciate the values and lessons they present. These films also reflect the world as it was when we were young. The country was busy and energized. Streets were filled with large, classic cars, women's outfits required matching gloves and nearly every man wore a suit and a fedora. This period of Americana is depicted seldom outside of I Love Lucy reruns.

Film noir movies depict a world set in shadow, where you are never too sure of which side some of the characters are on. They may pose as allies but may unexpectedly pull a gun from their jacket -- or handbag -- when confronted. You just never know.

A couple of years ago I found a book entitled "Out of the Past - Adventures in Film Noir" by Barry Gifford. It is a wonderful guide to the lessons contained in film noir. Author Gifford includes a list of some of the better known and most notable films along with tidbits galore. I recommend the book as well as awakening an appreciation for these movies from a bygone era. We must not overlook these gems.

Try watching films from this genre and see what they have to offer. Some of the movies included in Gifford's book and worth watching are:

The Asphalt Jungle
The Blue Dahlia
Cape Fear
Double Indemnity
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Mildred Pierce
On the Waterfront
Road House
Shadow of a Doubt
Strangers on a Train
Sunset Boulevard

Next time the weather is just too darn hot, sit back and watch a nice film noir movie!

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