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Arts & Culture

Cinema Junkie Episode 219: Down Noir Alley with Eddie Muller

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RKO Pictures
Jane Greer and Robert Mitchum epitomize classic Hollywood film noir in "Out of the Past."

Exploring the shadowy world of film noir with TCM host

For Noirvember Cinema junkie is focusing on classic Hollywood film noir. In this episode, TCM Noir Alley host Eddie Muller joins the podcast to discuss his newly revised and expanded "Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir," and to define what makes a classic noir.

French critics came up with the term "film noir" (literally translated as "black film") to describe a style of filmmaking that developed during and after World War II. It had its roots in the hard-boiled crime fiction of writers such as Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and James M. Cain.

Muller, who is also founder and president of the Film Noir Foundation, explained, "they are crime movies from the mid-20th century by and large but they're unique because they have a vision and a style and a language that is indicative of that era and they came out of an organic artistic movement that existed for no reason other than the artists wanted to do it."

People still argue over the exact definition and whether it is a style or a genre. But the classic noir era spans 1941 to late 1950s. The noir style was heavily influenced by the émigré filmmakers working in Hollywood who wanted to tackle something new and darker after all the propaganda war films that Hollywood had been making.

"The key to what made noir so unique and special and a bit subversive in Hollywood of that era was that it was the first time that the people who were doing the wrong thing were the protagonists of the films," Muller added. "And to me, looking at it from a writer's perspective, that's what really makes it unique. A crime movie in which the central character is a police officer trying to run a crook in and you spend most of the movie with that law enforcement officer who's trying to do the right thing — that's not a film noir. The film noir is where that officer gets tempted into becoming a criminal just like the guy he's pursuing and then everything goes to hell and it all turns out badly. Then you're talking film noir."

It is a deliciously subversive and seductive style of filmmaking, and one that still resonates and feels surprisingly modern. Films that look to or celebrate the social values of the time can quickly become dated as notions of marriage or work or gender roles change. But noir looked at the darker side of human behavior, at themes of greed, betrayal, and desires and those are things that will always fascinate audiences.

Take a listen to the podcast where we discuss performers such as John Garfield and Joan Crawford, and films such as "Too Late For Tears," "The Guilty," "Trapped," and "The Man Who Cheated Himself" that were all restored by the Film Noir Foundation, and have now been included in the book.

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Columbia
Dick Powell and Evelyn Keyes star in the film noir "Johnny O'Clock," which airs on TCM Noir Alley this month.

Then check out these films on Noir Alley:
11/13-11/14 "The Lineup" (1958, 86 mins.)
11/20-11/21 "Johnny O'Clock" (1947, 95 mins.)
11/27-11/28 "Tight Spot" (1955, 96 mins.)

And check back on Monday for the latest Geeky Gourmet demonstrating how to make a black and white noir dessert, and serve up the perfect crime scene.