Tag Archives: Film Noir

Film Noir | Ashes and Diamonds (1958)

Film Noir Ashes and Diamonds 1958

Ashes and Diamonds (1958)

Ashes and Diamonds (1958) is a Polish film noir that I viewed over the weekend. Taking place at the end of WWII, the film is a portrait of a broken and bitter people, desperate for hope in a bleak world. Each character seems to have lost their faith, in God and country. The cinematography is striking; It stood apart from many works of the era because of its use of arresting imagery. Every frame emphasized recurring thematic elements before bothering to capture the action– refreshing creativity to behold (especially when mired in our modern age of rehashed technique and lazy film making).

Directed by Andrzej Wajda, and based on the 1948 novel by Polish writer Jerzy Andrzejewski, Ashes and Diamonds follows a Home Army soldier named Maciek (Zbigniew Cybulski) through a series of life-changing events on May 8th, 1945 (The day Germany officially surrendered). He and his fellow soldier Andrzej (Adam Pawlikowski) had been assigned to assassinate the communist Commissar Szczuka (Wacław Zastrzeżyński), but things do not go as smoothly as planned. After a failed ambush, and a few false-starts, Maciek meets the girl of his dreams and falls in love– and he’s left in crisis: her or the cause?

Film Noir Ashes and Diamonds

(via jonathanrosenbaum.com)

Ashes and Diamonds lives up to our noir definition with ease:

1) The Seedy Underworld

An unnamed Polish town serves as the setting for the film– yet the most important scenes occur in a small hotel barfront and a bombed out church. Two vastly symbolic backdrops for a people as displaced and discouraged as the Polish.

2) The Anti-Hero

Maciek is old too young. Constantly peering out from behind dark glasses, as a soldier he developed hyper-sensitivity to sunlight when he participated in the Warsaw Uprising (a period of time where he lived in the sewers). He’s battle scarred and lacks self-control, a lack we witness in terror as he pulls a fatal trigger. Yet, he craves a normal life, a life away from the violence– a life of love and peace.

Ashes and Diamonds Maciek

Maciek Losing Control (via keepthisthought.blogspot.com)

3) The Femme Fatale

The hotel’s barmaid, Krystyna (Ewa Krzyżewska), is the femme fatale of Ashes and Diamonds. She’s young and beautiful, but surprisingly bitter; a cold witness of the war’s effect on her. Maciek becomes infatuated with her, and as the hour of his next attempt on the life of  Commissar Szczuka approaches, he begins to glimpse a life that ‘could have been.’ His unquestioned fervor for the cause melts in Krystyna’s embrace, and he’s rattled by the hope she represents. When a character has nothing to lose, his sacrifice is devalued–Maciek becomes a true noir anti-hero when he finally has hope for something he can never obtain.

4) Misogyny

Little snippets, here and there, of misogyny pepper the film, but I never found any scenario that was blatantly offensive. Commissar Szczuka has a son who was raised by his sister-in-law during the war against his wishes (the Commissar’s wife long dead), and he confronts the woman with his displeasure. Ultimately, I applaud the director because she stands her ground, unflinchingly confident in her role in the child’s life. This show of power from a woman (especially opposite a strong male character) was very forward thinking for the time period.

Polish Film Noir Ashes and DIamonds

Maciek and Krystyna (via ohnesans.tumblr.com)

5) Redemption

The redemption theme is especially potent in this film. Each character has a moment where the audience perceives their desire to be redeemed from the horrors of war. Ashes and Diamonds is not about the redemption of any specific character; it is about the redemption of Poland. Warsaw is mentioned as a ‘beautiful memory’ in the script– (in reference to the near total destruction inflicted by the Nazis) –the Polish survivors are filled with longing for a return to their former happiness.

So often, are you as a blazing torch with flames
of burning rags falling about you flaming,
you know not if flames bring freedom or death.
Consuming all that you must cherish
if ashes only will be left, and want Chaos and tempest
Or will the ashes hold the glory of a starlike diamond
The Morning Star of everlasting triumph.
-Cyprian Norwid

6) Eroticism

I absolutely loved the intimate scenes between Maciek and Krystyna. Free of bawdy or irrelevant nudity, the sex scenes were post-coital moments of intense honesty; These erotic moments were simply close-up shots of their faces, inches apart, speaking softly and caressing tenderly. The cinematographer reminds us nudity isn’t the key to compelling eroticism. Bravo.

Ashes and Diamonds Polish Film

(via bookcents.blogspot.com)

7) The Loss of Innocence

A great scene about half-way through the film occurs between Maciek and Andrzej as they share a quiet moment in the hotel bar. A tray of vodka shots has been poured, and they set a glass aflame for each of their fallen comrades. They’ve already lost their innocence, and they’ll never get it back.

8 ) Smoke

Hungarian or American cigarettes? I was surprised to find more alcohol than smoke in the film– I felt like I was watching Mad Men: Poland.

9) Emasculation

I know very little about the psyche of war-torn Poland– but the helplessness that they must have felt, especially as men failed to protect that which they held dear is undoubtedly emasculating. Maciek and his cohorts take back their manhood through acts of valor, each moment ready to make the ultimate sacrifice.

Ashes and Diamonds Vodka Fire Scene

For Fallen Friends (via omarsfilmblog.blogspot.com)

Ashes and Diamonds (1958) is lovingly photographed, and would be a prized piece of any collector. As the final moments of the work concluded, I was struck by how bleak, terrible, and excellent this film noir truly is.  You can get it here.

Film Noir Ashes and Diamonds 1958

(via littlplasticthings.tumblr.com)

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Femme Fatales | Gloria Grahame

The “Femme Fatale” segment on NoirWhale.com is designed to highlight the life and merits of exceptional film noir actresses. These women are the embodiment of the femme fatale archetype, and propel possibly the most recognizable and integral theme in the noir genre.

Femme Fatales Gloria Grahame

Gloria Grahame (November 28, 1923- October 5, 1981) (via zanshinart.tumblr.com)

“I don’t think I ever understood Hollywood.”

This article is far from an exhaustive look at one of the most famous femme fatales of the film noir genre, but rather a sampling of facts about her incredible life.

Gloria Grahame was Gloria Hallward when she was born. Her mother was a British stage actress who used the name Jean Grahame, thus Gloria adopted the surname when she became an actress herself. Her older sister Joy Hallward was also an actress and she married Robert Mitchum’s little brother.

Gloria was signed to MGM Studios after performing on Broadway for several years. Her debut film was Blonde Fever (1944), but most famously she was cast as Violet Bick in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). Although she received great praise for the role, she was quickly typecast as the femme fatale in several film noir projects. Her first Oscar nomination (for Best Supporting Actress) was for her role as “Ginny” in the film Crossfire (1947). But She didn’t win an Academy Award until her performance as “Rosemary” in The Bad and The Beautiful (1952) (where she co-starred opposite Lana Turner and Kirk Douglas).

The femme fatale roles kept coming; Irene Nieves in Sudden Fear (1952), Vicki Buckley in Human Desire (1953), and Debby Marsh in Fritz Lang’s classic The Big Heat (1953).

“It wasn’t the way I looked at a man, it was the thought behind it.”

Sadly, Gloria’s insecurity about the appearance of her upper lip led her to plastic surgery and dental operations. The procedures left her lip paralyzed due to nerve damage, and her career never returned to its previous heights. Coupled with an ill-received performance in the musical film Oklahoma! (1955), she found few supporters left in Hollywood. Gloria, without other options, returned to the stage.

Although she was married four times, her relationships with Nicholas Ray and Anthony Ray were the most high profile. She married Nicholas in 1948 (a director, Rebel Without a Cause (1955) among others) and they had one child, Timothy. Their marriage ended when Nicholas walked in on Gloria and his 13 year old son Anthony having sex. She later went on to marry Anthony, and they had two children, Anthony Jr and James, before their inevitable divorce.

Grahame was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 1980 but she refused to accept surgery (she didn’t believe that she had the disease, she wouldn’t acknowledge it). Instead of treatment, she flew to England to perform in a play. She suffered from a perforated bowel when a procedure to drain fluid from her stomach didn’t go smoothly. This mishap resulted in her death at age 57.

Like many femme fatales featured here, Gloria Grahame’s life was as noir as the dames she portrayed. She was an incredibly talented, tragic, and fascinating woman.

“There’s always a race against time. I don’t think for one moment that life gets better. How can it? One’s body starts to fall apart.”

Femme Fatale Gloria Grahame

(via bohemianmile.tumblr.com)

Gloria Grahame Laszlo Willinger 1954

1954, Photo by Laszlo Willinger (via missavagardner.tumblr.com)

Gloria Grahame Film Noir

1955 (via bogarted.tumblr.com)

Film Noir Gloria Grahame

1947, (via macey-mae.tumblr.com)

Actress Gloria Grahame

1971, (via whataboutbobbed.tumblr.com)

Gloria Grahame Smiling

Smiling (via thisisnodream.tumblr.com)

Gloria Grahame Old

1979, two years before her death (via bobertsbobgomery.tumblr.com)

Gloria Grahame The Cobweb 1955

The Cobweb (1955) (via blueruins.tumblr.com)

Gloria Grahame Starlet

1946, (via missavagardner.tumblr.com)

Gloria Grahame Femme Fatale

(via sala66.tumblr.com)

Femme Fatale Gloria Grahame

(via screengoddess.tumblr.com)

Gloria Grahame Actress

(via bogarted.tumblr.com)

Film Noir Gloria Grahame

(via whenwewerecool.tumblr.com)

Gloria Grahame Glenn Ford The Big Heat

with Glenn Ford, The Big Heat (1953) (via thebluevelvetgoldmine.tumblr.com)

Gloria Grahame Sterling Hayden Naked Alibi 1954

with Sterling Hayden, Naked Alibi (1954) (via vintagebreeze.tumblr.com)

Gloria Grahame Nicolas Ray

with husband Nicolas Ray (via thecolorofnoir.tumblr.com)

In a Lonely Place 1950 Nicolas Ray Humphrey Bogart Gloria Grahame

with Humphrey Bogart, In a Lonely Place (1950) directed by husband Nicolas Ray (via retroadv.tumblr.com)

Gloria Grahame Humphrey Bogart

with Humphrey Bogart (via golden-films.com)

Gloria Grahame

(via gloria-grahame.tumblr.com)

*All biographical details were obtained from:


*All quotes were obtained from:


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Femme Fatales | Lana Turner

The “Femme Fatale” segment on NoirWhale.com is designed to highlight the life and merits of exceptional film noir actresses. These women are the embodiment of the femme fatale archetype, and propel possibly the most recognizable and integral theme in the noir genre.

Femme Fatales Lana Turner

Lana Turner (February 8, 1921 – June 29, 1995) (via listal.com)

“A gentleman is simply a patient wolf.”

Lana was born Julia Jean Turner in Wallace, Idaho. As a girl, she was lovingly called “Judy” by family and friends, but changed her name when she became a professional actress at 16. Her father, John Turner, was a miner from Tennessee who was murdered at age 27. Money problems had forced the family to move to San Francisco, and John had started gambling in an effort to bring home extra earnings. It’s believed that on December 14th in 1930, he won a bit of cash at a traveling craps game and stashed it in his left sock. He never made it home. Later, his body was found on a street corner, left shoe and sock missing. Tragically, the murder was never solved.

Famously, Lana caught her big break at a Hollywood drug store. She was skipping a typing class and decided to stop into the Top Hat Cafe located on Sunset Boulevard for a Coca-Cola. She was spotted by William R. Wilkerson (The Hollywood Reporter), who then referred her to Zeppo Marx. Lana was signed and cast quickly in her first film: They Won’t Forget (1937). Her form-fitting attire in the film earned her the nickname “The Sweater Girl”– a nickname which she hated.

Ms. Turner became wildly famous in the 1940s and 1950s due to her roles in such films as: Ziegfeld Girl (1941), Johnny Eager (1942), and Slightly Dangerous (1943)– her popularity and extreme beauty casting her as a favorite pin-up girl for our servicemen overseas. But Lana didn’t truly become a femme fatale until after the war.

She co-starred opposite John Garfield in the immensely successful film noir, The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) (a James Cain adaptation). Even though she received critical praise as an actress for the first time, she famously complained about Garfield’s appearance, saying “Couldn’t they at least hire someone attractive?”

In 1957, Lana began a relationship with mobster Johnny Stompanato, a man known for his good looks and ties to Mickey Cohen in the L.A. criminal underworld. She tried several times to end their affair, but Johnny wouldn’t have it. They argued incessantly, and he frequently beat her up.

“In the fall of 1957, Stompanato followed Turner to England where she was filming Another Time, Another Place (1958) costarring Sean Connery. Afraid that Turner was having an affair with Connery, Stompanato stormed onto the set brandishing a gun. Connery punched Stompanato’s jaw once and took away his gun. Stompanato was soon deported by Scotland Yard for the incident.”

On an infamous night in April 1958, Johnny and Lana had an especially violent argument at her house in Beverly Hills. As it escalated, Lana’s 14 year old daughter Cheryl began to fear for her mother’s life. Hefting a kitchen knife, Cheryl ran to Lana’s aid, stabbing Mr. Stompanato–killing him. The event was tabloid fodder overnight, but the courts ruled it justifiable homicide in light of Lana’s dramatic testimony. Observers have said, “her testimony that day was the acting performance of her life.”

Notoriously, Turner was married eight times to seven different husbands: Artie Shaw, Joseph Stephen Crane, Henry J. Topping Jr., Lex Barker, Fred May, Robert P.Eaton, and Ronald Pellar. She said late in her life, “My goal was to have one husband and seven children, but it turned out to be the other way around.” (Joseph Stephen Crane is the father of her daughter Cheryl). Sadly, in 1982 Lana’s memoir revealed that she had been through three stillbirths and two abortions. She also acknowledges her struggle with alcoholism and attempted suicide.

In true femme fatale fashion, Lana Turner was a heavy smoker, and it eventually killed her. She died of complications from throat cancer in 1995.

Tragically, Lana didn’t only act in noir films, she lived a noir life. She added to the genre immensely with The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), but she couldn’t escape the genre in her personal life.

“A successful man is one who makes more money than his wife can spend. A successful woman is one who can find such a man.”

Lana Turner in Color

(via lanaturner.org)

Lana Turner in Red

(via lanaturner.org)

Lana Turner in Pink

(via stirredstraightup.blogspot.com)

Lana Turner Femme Fatale

(via magicmonkeyboy.blogspot.com)

Actress Lana Turner

(via lanaturner.org)

Lana Turner Smoking

(via listal.com)

Smoking Lana Turner

(via listal.com)

Femme Fatales Lana Turner

(via lovethoseclassicmovies.blogspot.com)

Lana Turner Pin-up

(via lanaturner.org)

Lana Turner Pinup

(via lanaturner.org)

Lana Turner

(via listal.com)

Sweater Girl Lana Turner

“The Sweater Girl” (via lanaturner.org)

Lana Turner Stephen Crane Cheryl

Lana Turner, Stephen Crane, and Cheryl

Lana Turner Ava Gardner

Lana Turner lights Ava Gardner’s cigarette (via lanaturner.org)

Lana Turner Clark Gable

Lana Turner and Clark Gable (via lanaturner.org)

John Garfield Lana Turner

John Garfield and Lana Turner (via listal.com)

The Postman Always Rings Twice Lana Turner

The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) (via listal.com)

Lana Turner Johnny Stompanato

Lana Turner and Johnny Stompanato (via latimesblogs.latimes.com)

Lana Turner Femme Fatale


*All biographical details were obtained from:


*All quotes were obtained from:


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Film Noir | M (1931)

Film Noir M 1931

M (1931) (via fantomas-en-cavale.tumblr.com)

“This won’t bring back our children. We, too, should keep a closer watch on our children.”

M is considered by many to be the defining film of the thriller genre, and as a piece of film noir it’s a masterpiece. Directed by Fritz Lang, this German classic is a terrifying look at a child-murderer who holds a city captive with fear. Peter Lorre delivers a chilling and unforgettable performance as Hans Beckert, a conflicted psychopath. While his friendly demeanor entices vulnerable children in the bustling city, his mannerisms scream madness and portend horrific acts which we gratefully never witness. The murders are more unsettling because they are hidden from us, our minds left to fret out the details.

Film Noir Peter Lorre

Peter Lorre as Hans Beckert (via theoszczepanski.tumblr.com)

As the city plunges into greater and greater terror, the widening net of the hyper-vigilant populace and frustrated police create uncomfortable pressure on the criminal underworld. Wild accusations see undeserving suspects at the mercy of uncontrolled mobs. Angry crime lords gather in a desperate summit,  and devise means to monitor all of the children in the city with beggars. When a blind peddler recognizes the whistled tune of the murderer, it ignites a city-wide chase of Hans.

Film Noir Fritz Lang

(via dvdbeaver.com)

I was overjoyed to see such potent themes of justice in this film noir. When Hans is at the mercy of the criminal underworld, their mock trial asks uncomfortable questions. As they struggle to determine a fitting punishment for such a fiend, they’re torn because of his insanity. The courts would see such a man institutionalized, but they want blood for his crimes. In his defense, he points to the sins of his persecuting peers, many of them murderers themselves and forces them to consider the question, “what makes you different from me?”

Film Noir M Ending Monologue

the “cursed thing” inside of him (via fantomas-en-cavale.tumblr.com)

His concluding monologue is one of the best performances I’ve seen. The moment when he describes the ‘beast’ that comes upon him, the change that craves the killing, and his eyes roll up in his head and his claw-like hands grasp for the phantoms of the slain sent shock-waves through me. The bleak ending screams noir, and Fritz Lang’s foresight in leaving the audience to cast judgement on this pitiful man was brilliant. We don’t know whether Hans was sent to the gallows or the padded room, and we’re not sure he deserves either.


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Film Noir | Breathless (1960)

I deeply apologize for being so inconsistent in my noir blogging lately. I’ve started a new job and the demands of a new routine have thrown me a bit off kilter, but I feel confident that I can regain a foothold of regularity and provide some delicious noir nuggets.

Film Noir Breathless Movie Poster

Breathless (1960) (via impawards.com)

The film noir Breathless (1960) (or À bout de souffle) was directed by Jean-Luc Godard and starred Jean Seberg and Jean-Paul Belmondo. Much like Godard’s Vivre Sa Vie (1962), Breathless is considered a conspicuous work of the “french new wave”. I regret that I know very little about film history in general, but it pleases me to say that this piece adheres handsomely to many of my noir definition vertices.

The plot simply stated: A young car thief named Michel Poiccard (Belmondo) kills a police officer and attempts to persuade a lovely American girl named Patricia Franchini (Seberg) to flee with him.

Film Noir Breathless Jean-Paul Belmondo

Michel Poiccard (Jean-Paul Belmondo) (via filmcigarettes.tumblr.com)

1) The Seedy Underworld

Summertime in Paris. The newsprint culture wrapped in a heatwave and the intrigue of a fugitive at large.

2) The Anti-Hero

Michel is the ultimate con-man. The swindler takes whatever he can get away with and his selfish hunger coupled with blind disregard is as endearing as it is infuriating. He’s perpetually inflated by his own arrogance and rewarded for his craft. He’s stuck in a nose dive that everyone can see but himself.

Film Noir Breathless Jean Seberg

Patricia Franchini (Jean Seberg) (via talkamongstthetrees.tumblr.com)

3) The Femme Fatale

Patricia is an intelligent and beautiful American girl working for the Paris division of The New York Herald Tribune. She has a subtle history with Michel, and she is the only thing keeping him in a city that desires his demise. She truly is a wonderful femme fatale, for she is the ultimate cause of his untimely end.

“What is your greatest ambition in life?”
“To become immortal. And then die.”

4) Misogyny

The misogyny is this film noir primarily revolves around Patricia’s oblivity. She always suspects that Michel is not what he appears, but she doesn’t catch immediately. The final scene paints her as a dodo bird, beautiful but stupid. Additionally, we want to believe that Michel views her as more than a sexual conquest, but this feels a stretch at times.

“Two things matter in life. For men, it’s women, and for women, money.”

Film Noir Breathless Jean Seberg Jean-Paul Belmondo

(via infinitetext.tumblr.com)

5) Redemption

Michel appears to feel no guilt for the crimes that he has committed, especially the murder. He is completely consumed by two motivations; Escape, and Patricia. It seems he believes redemption lies in her trust. If he can acquire it (and by default, her), then he can feel absolved as an exile.

6) Eroticism

The hotel scene in Breathless is one of the most satisfyingly erotic I’ve ever witnessed. It’s essentially a fencing match, a sparring of the sexes. Their verbal repartee volleys between desire and practicality, and exposes their souls. No nudity or sex actually takes place, but this scene serves as a prelude to their passion. It’s brilliant, iconic.

7) Loss of Innocence

The loss of innocence in this film noir is the twisted punchline before the “fin”. As Michel lies in his gore, dying from the fatal shot, Patricia stands above him in a stupor. She’s unwilling to acknowledge that she loved someone so wicked, unwilling to acknowledge that she caused his death.

“It’s silly, but I love you. I wanted to see you, to see if I’d want to see you.”

8 ) Racism


Film Noir Breathless Jean Seberg Jean-Paul Belmondo

(via photogenicsmag.tumblr.com)

9) Smoke

The smoking in this film is the seductive punctuation to every line.

10) Emasculation

Michel is a very masculine individual and in all aspects of his life he’s a conqueror, until Patricia. As soon as he allows himself to be emasculated by her, he meets his end. Classic film noir.

“I always fall for girls who aren’t cut out for me.”

I absolutely adored this film. Breathless is a beautifully wrought film noir.

The Final Scene:

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Film Noir | Vivre Sa Vie (1962)

Vivre Sa Vie, or My Life to Live, is a tremendously well written and beautifully shot french film noir. Starring Anna Karina and directed by Jean-Luc Godard, the film is a bleak look into the life of a young Parisian woman who aspires to be an actress.  Her story is told in 12 scenes, and each is proceeded by a brief description.

Film Noir Vivre Sa Vie

(via tonieklund.com)

Nana (Anna Karina) leaves her husband and infant son to become an actress in Paris. A short time later she’s out of money, and making an insufficient wage working at a record shop. Her small circle of friends and family are quickly exhausted by her attempts to borrow, and she turns to prostitution. To expand her income further, she eventually partners with a pimp named Raoul. The film explores the success and moderate wealth she receives initially, but ultimately she’s unfulfilled. When she meets a man who pledges to support her, she goes to Raoul to quit. Unknown to Nana, the pimp has traded her to another man. The final scene is the exchange gone wrong, where she is gunned down in the misunderstanding.

Here’s the noir definition:

1) The Seedy Underworld

The seedy underworld of Vivre Sa Vie is comprised of the dirty side of Paris; dingy hotel rooms, filthy streets, dark cinemas, and corner cafes.

Film Noir Vivre Sa Vie Anna Karina

Nana (via profundidadedecampo.tumblr.com)

2) The Anti-Hero

Nana is an excellent anti-hero, because we simultaneously hate, love, and pity her. We hate her for leaving her husband and newborn, we love her for her ambition, and we pity her for the depraved ends she’ll go to for her dream.

3) The Femme Fatale

Jean-Luc Godard created iconic and breathtaking femme fatale images in this film, but the script doesn’t include the traditional femme fatale archetype.

“It’s odd. Suddenly I don’t know what to say, it often happens to me. I know what I want to say. I think about whether it is what I mean, but when the moment comes to speak, I can’t say it.”

Film Noir Vivre Sa Vie Anna Karina

(via screenrush.co.uk)

4) Misogyny

Nana’s entire life revolves around the sexual appetites of men, and her death is caused by the manipulations of pimps. Noir misogyny is definitely present in Vivre Sa Vie.

5) Redemption

Nana believes that she will be redeemed by money and fame. Sadly, she is damned in their pursuit.

6) Eroticism

One section of the film noir is rather risque and erotic. A ‘John’ asks for a particular sexual act (the audience is left to imagine what it may be) and Nana says that she’ll see if any of the other girls are up for it. She then walks the halls of a hotel, peeking in various rooms where naked prostitutes are working. Finding a willing woman, they return to the man in Nana’s room. The camera angle sticks to her as the ‘John’ receives the act off screen. She asks if he wants her to undress, and he says no. Sitting on the edge of the bed, she smokes a cigarette and stares off into space.

Film Noir Vivre Sa Vie Anna Karina

(via une--femme.tumblr.com)

7) Loss of Innocence

The moment Nana loses her innocence is unsettling. She takes her first customer to a private room in a hotel, and they discuss the details of the arrangement. She doesn’t want to kiss him, but he forces himself upon her. Her desperation is a bleak reflection of the loss of control over her life’s trajectory.

8 ) Racism


Film Noir Vivre Sa Vie Nana and Raoul

Nana and Raoul (via thenouvellevague.tumblr.com)

9) Smoke

Some of the coolest smoking imagery in the genre. Raoul takes a long drag on a cigarette, kisses Nana, and she exhales the smoke: Awesome.

10) Emasculation

You could say that Raoul was threatened with emasculation when Nana came to him to quit, but he was already planning to trade her. He wasn’t emasculated by her at all.

Vivre Sa Vie is a french film noir that leaves a stone in your stomach. Volumes could be said about the genius of this script, the elegance of the cinematography, and the overall innovation of this film. All I will say is that it’s as dark and upsetting as they come.

Film Noir Vivre Sa Vie Anna Karina

"Give me a smile." (via ispyjarvis.tumblr.com)


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Noir Definition | Film Noir vs. Crime Movies

A recent discussion with a noir-loving friend from Liverpool, UK (Hi Hobnob!) has inspired me to make some changes here on noirWhale.com. We were discussing Scarface, and he was asking me how I can justify defining it as a film noir. The answer is, I can’t. Even though the film has many noir aspects, and can easily fit into the noir definition that I have crafted, it still isn’t inherently film noir. The piece of my definition that is missing is the stylistic element of film noir. The light, shadow, and dramatic cinematography is just as vital as any other component present in a completed noir work.

Film Noir

(via mistercrew.com)

This style, coupled with the noir definition, separates a film noir from a crime movie. Now, this is not to say that crime films are not noir. Quite the opposite actually, as crime films have their ancestral roots in the golden era of film noir. And the same is true vice versa. Some film noir pieces are crime movies, some are not. But there must be a division, a line drawn in the sand.

Going forward, I’ll be dividing the films that I review into two distinct categories, Crime Movies and Film Noir. The Crime Movies category will be home to the noir-inspired works that aren’t quite film noir, and the Film Noir category will be home to the stylistic masterpieces of the genre.

Here is a list of the film reviews I’ve done so far, reassigned to their appropriate categories:

Film Noir

The Third Man (1949)

Night and the City (1950)

Some Like it Hot (1959)

Crime Movies/ Neo-Noir

Chinatown (1974)

Scarface (1983)

Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Pulp Fiction (1994)

Sin City (2005)

Max Payne (2008)

*Thank you Nicolas from Mugre Y Sangre for the further clarification between Film Noir, Crime Movies, and Neo-Noir. I truly appreciate the correction. Thanks for helping to make noirWhale.com great.

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Film Noir | Scarface (1983)

Film Noir Scarface

Scarface (1983)

Scarface, starring Al Pacino, is an essential part of any film noir/crime drama list. Volumes have already been written about it, so I’ll avoid summarizing its plot or ranting about its genius. If you’re looking for a summary, check here. If you’re interested in how Scarface performs as a piece of noir defined media, read on.

Film Noir Scarface Seedy Underworld

The Big Bathtub

1) The Seedy Underworld

The seedy underworld of Scarface is primarily the sun-drenched beaches, gaudy manors, and hedonistic night clubs of Florida. The film noir dips down to South America twice, where we’re shown a factory FILLED with thousands of kilos of cocaine, and there’s a trip to New York City as well. Other settings include car dealerships, taco stands, and huge bathtubs.  Scarface set the standard for tropical noir, and these settings have influenced dozens of other works.

Film Noir Scarface Anti Hero

Al Pacino as Tony Montana

2) The Anti-Hero

Tony Montana (Al Pacino) is the anti-hero of Scarface. A recently naturalized Cuban refugee, he’s headstrong, arrogant, and egotistical to a fault. Yet, overall, he’s unbelievably ambitious. Tony walks a maddening line between decency and depravity, causing audiences to simultaneously love and hate him. This balance is what every anti-hero strives for, and Tony nails it. Pacino’s role has become an iconic mainstay of American cinema, no other actor will ever be able to pick it up again.

Film Noir Scarface Femme Fatale

Michelle Pfeiffer as Elvira Hancock

3) The Femme Fatale

Two women qualify as femme fatales in Scarface. First, Elvira Hancock (Michelle Pfeiffer) is an excellent example because she represents the unobtainable. As the boss’ wife, she is the angelic symbol of Tony’s aspirations. She becomes the embodiment of success and achievement, and Tony believes that he can have her (and must have her). Her presence in the story drives him to absurd lengths, and sets him on his final fatal trajectory.

Film Noir Scarface Femme Fatale

Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as Gina Montana

Second, Tony’s sister Gina Montana (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) is also a femme fatale because she also lends to his downfall. She represents the only pure thing left in his life, and his powerful desire to protect her becomes a stumbling block late in the film. It leads to his irrational slaughter of her husband (and his best friend) Manny Ribera (Steven Bauer), and his failure to halt the impending demise of his empire.

Film Noir Scarface Misogyny

Gina and Tony

4) Misogyny

Misogyny plays a definite role in the way that Tony Montana’s world is interpreted. His interactions with the opposite gender border on domination, and even though his behaviors seem influenced by love, they are ultimately misogynistic. His utter disrespect and disregard for Gina’s agency is the most potent witness of this theme (see above). With his own wife, misogyny takes on a different form. He has a list of ideals that he expects her to be, and then he verbally berates her when she fails to meet his standard. Both relationships are unhealthy, and each are fraught with masculine oppression of the feminine.

Film Noir Scarface Redemption

What's in your past Tony?

5) Redemption

The redemption theme in Scarface is subtle. This subtlety is a result of the lack  Tony Montana’s background story. We learn that his father was American (at least Tony says so), but no further details are given. Additionally, the setting in which he reveals this does not inspire belief (he’s being interrogated by US Customs). It appears that the ambitious fabric of  Tony’s character is based upon some past failure that is never shown, or some embarrassment that he is over-compensating for. We’re never given the full story, but he seems driven for a redemption that we cannot understand. (Anyone interested in seeing a Scarface prequel? I am).

“What you lookin’ at? You all a bunch of f***in’ a**holes. You know why? You don’t have the guts to be what you wanna be. You need people like me. You need people like me so you can point your f***in’ fingers and say, “That’s the bad guy.” So… what that make you? Good? You’re not good. You just know how to hide, how to lie. Me, I don’t have that problem. Me, I always tell the truth. Even when I lie. So say good night to the bad guy! Come on. The last time you gonna see a bad guy like this again, let me tell you. Come on. Make way for the bad guy. There’s a bad guy comin’ through! Better get outta his way!”

Film Noir Scarface Eroticism

Steven Bauer as Manny Ribera

6) Eroticism

The theme of eroticism also plays an important role in the film noir Scarface. It revolves almost entirely around Manny’s character, because sex seems to be one of his central motivations. He’s constantly in pursuit of it, and we see him frequently indulging his carnal appetite. Alternately, Tony sets his sights early upon Elvira, and all other women fade from his view. To him, it’s not so much that she’s beautiful as she’s untouchable. Her unavailability is erotic to him.

Film Noir Scarface Loss of Innocence

The Chainsaw Scene

7) Loss of Innocence

Probably the most memorable scene involves a horrific display of violence and a resulting loss of innocence for Tony. His first real chance to prove himself in Frank Lopez’s (Robert Loggia) organization is during a drug exchange. He’s given money to purchase cocaine from a group of Columbians and the swap turns violent. Tony watches his friend Angel (Pepe Serna) get cut to pieces with a chainsaw. The effect on this event has on him is interesting, because instead of frightening him away from the drug-lord lifestyle it encourages him. He seems to reverence the memory of Angel by striving to make his death count for something.

8 ) Racism

The only racism in the film is delivered by a stand-up comedian (Richard Belzer), who makes several jabs at Cubans right before the famous night club shoot-out.

Film Noir Scarface Smoke

Tony enjoys a cigar

9) Smoke

Cubans with Cuban cigars throughout the film prove that Scarface appreciates its noir roots.

10) Emasculation

Tony Montana is completely driven by the fear of emasculation. This fear helps us to understand his trigger-happy reaction to Manny and Gina’s marriage. Having previously warned Manny to stay away from her, he was humiliated when he found out that they had gone behind his back. To Tony, his only means of salvaging his manhood was through violence. Throughout the film, he won’t allow himself to be belittled or bullied in any way. This theme rears itself again in New York City when Sosa’s (Paul Shenar) organization expects him to car bomb a man, his wife, and children. Tony becomes angry and shoots Sosa’s representative. The apex of his masculinity reached at the top of the grand staircase in his house, where he guns down dozens of Sosa’s assassins while taunting them. Here are the final lines of the film, the testament to his ego:

Who you think you f***ing with?
I’m Tony Montana!
You f*** with me,
you f***ing with the best!
I’m still standing.
Come on! I take your f***ing bullet!
Come on! I take your f***ing bullet!
You think you kill me with bullets?
I take your f***ing bullets! Go ahead!

Film Noir Scarface Emasculation

"Say hello to my little friend"

Thank you Brian De Palma (Director) and Oliver Stone (Writer) for this exquisite film noir.


“F” word used 226 times

Oliver Stone wrote this film while fighting a cocaine addiction

The Spanish title of the film, “El Precio del Poder”, literally translates to “The Price of Power”.

The word “yeyo” is used by Tony Montana (Al Pacino) as a slang word for cocaine. This word was not in the script, and was ad-libbed by Pacino during the first drug deal scene (chainsaw scene), and Brian De Palma liked it enough to keep using it throughout the film. Pacino learned the word while learning the Cuban accent.

Scarface earned Brian De Palma the Razzie nomination”Worst Director”

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Film Noir | Chinatown (1974)

Film Noir Chinatown 1974 Movie Poster

Film Poster (via professormortis.wordpress.com)

Chinatown is a film noir starring Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, and John Huston. Directed by Roman Polanski, the film is beautifully paced and ingeniously developed. Jake “J.J.” Gittes (Jack Nicholson) is a private eye whose services are usually utilized to prove infidelity (aka sexual surveillance). So when he is approached by Evelyn Mulwray who suspects her husband has been unfaithful, he accepts the job. Evelyn’s husband, Hollis Mulwray, is the acting head of the Department of Water and Power in Los Angeles and has found himself under a great deal of public scrutiny because of his opposition to a dam building project (claiming the plans are unsafe). J.J. spends a few days tailing Hollis, and obtains photos of Mr. Mulwray with a young woman named Katherine Cross. Amid the flurry of scandal when the photos hit the front page the following day, the REAL Mrs. Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) arrives at J.J.’s office and confronts him. Realizing he has been fooled, J.J. must uncover the truth to redeem his reputation and sooth his humiliated ego.

This film noir hits every single point on the NoirWhale.com noir definition, it’s a veritable masterpiece:

Film Noir Chinatown 1974 Jack Nicholson JJ Gittes

Jack Nicholson as J.J. Gittes (via eye-contact.tumblr.com)

1) The Seedy Underworld

The majority of Chinatown takes place in L.A. and the surrounding areas. The audience isn’t taken to Chinatown until the final scene, which is also the climax. Palm trees, hot nights, and long stretches of dusty road frame the plot. The art direction and costuming was flawless.

2) The Anti-Hero

J.J. Gittes is the anti-hero of Chinatown. He’s as prideful as he is insightful, and he mixes evidence like paint on a palette. His dialogue is composed of lies and accusations, and he’s simultaneously abrasive and charming. The role was made for Jack Nicholson, and he seems completely at ease in it. My favorite scene involves one of the most cringe worthy acts of violence in the film, where J.J. is caught by some muscle “poking his nose” where it ought not to be. One of the brutes (Roman Polanski himself) sticks a knife up J.J.’s left nostril and cuts clean through that side with a violent flick of his wrist. He then promises to take his whole nose the next time they catch him snooping. Of course this act of intimidation serves opposite the intended effect, and Mr. Gittes begins to take the whole case personal.

Film Noir Chinatown 1974 Faye Dunaway Evelyn Mulwray

Faye Dunaway as Evelyn Mulwray (via theaceblackblog.com)

3) The Femme Fatale

Evelyn Mulwray slips easily into the role of femme fatale in Chinatown. Initially she doesn’t seem to fit, but this is simply because of her adeptness at hiding it. She weaves a subtle web of lies that build and build until she gets the hell slapped out of her by J.J. (See Misogyny below). She takes the classic stance of damsel in distress, and acts completely inept in every way while secretly taking care of business behind the scenes. Mrs. Mulwray uses sex to place J.J. in her corner and only tells him what she wants him to hear. She’s a textbook femme fatale.

“Okay, go home. But in case you’re interested your husband was murdered. Somebody’s dumping tons of water out of the city reservoirs when we’re supposedly in the middle of a drought, he found out, and he was killed. There’s a waterlogged drunk in the morgue — involuntary manslaughter if anybody wants to take the trouble which they don’t. It looks like half the city is trying to cover it all up, which is fine with me. But, Mrs. Mulwray –”
(now inches from her)
“– I goddam near lost my nose! And I like it. I like breathing through it. And I still think you’re hiding something.”

Jack Nicholson as Jake “J.J.” Gittes

Film Noir Chinatown 1974 Roman Polanski

Roman Polanski makes a cameo (via moviescenes.tumblr.com)

4) Misogyny

The women in this film noir are unbelievably helpless. Evelyn spends the majority of her time on screen whining, crying for help, or lying.  The most misogynistic scene in the entire film occurs when J.J. is fed up with all the lies and he begins to slap her repeatedly across the face. It was shocking and incredible at the same time. I can’t decide if I hate it for its absurdity or love it, but the fact remains that it is there: immortalized in film. (The slapping begins around 2 minutes and 30 second mark).

5) Redemption

J.J. was duped at the beginning of the film, and the entire plot thereafter revolves around redeeming his reputation.

6) Eroticism

The film opens with photos of a man cheating on his wife with a woman on a secluded picnic. The black and white photos depict the lovers in various positions of sexual congress though no genitalia or breasts are shown. Later in the film, J.J. and Evelyn are shown after the sexual act has been completed. Its an erotically charged scene because all of the nudity is kept at the margins. The audience is titillated by what they cannot see. (FYI Faye Dunaway’s nipples are shown fleetingly, but never highlighted).

Film Noir Chinatown 1974 John Huston Noah Cross

John Huston as Noah Cross (via classicfilmfreak.com)

7) Loss of Innocence

As the plot proceeds we learn that Katherine Cross (the woman spotted with Hollis Mulwray) is actually Evelyn Mulwray’s daughter…and her sister. Evelyn was raped and impregnated by her father Noah Cross (John Huston).

8 ) Racism

The Chinese receive all the racism from this film noir. One early scene is dominated by a long winded sexual joke told by J.J. about China-men.

9) Smoke

Tons of cigarettes are smoked, but the best smoking scene belongs to Evelyn Mulwray. She smokes a cigarette in bed next to J.J.,  it’s a thing of divinity. A frozen moment of film noir perfection. Here is a gif of that moment:

Film Noir Chinatown 1974 Faye Dunaway Jack Nicholson

an intensely sexy moment (via bellecs.tumblr.com)

10) Emasculation

J.J.’s embarrassment at being taken advantage of coupled with all of the cuckoldry in the film make emasculation a very present theme. J.J.’s livelihood is endangered because he wasn’t sharp enough to check the ID of the woman asking him for help. Thus his drive to redeem his reputation is a similar drive to redeem his manhood. On the other side, for centuries men have feared the emasculation that accompanies being cheated on by their wives. Such an act becomes a blatant attack on the masculinity of the man victimized, and an equal boon to the masculinity of the man perpetrating the deed. Both are thick themes in the film noir Chinatown.

I loved this film. Chinatown rises easily to a position of prominence in my film noir collection.

Film Noir Chinatown 1974 Claudia Varosio Movie Poster

variant film poster from Claudia Varosio


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Noir Art | Robert McGinnis

Noir Art Breakfast at Tiffany's Film Poster Robert McGinnis

His First Film Noir Poster

Robert McGinnis was born in 1926 in Cincinnati, Ohio. He’s left an indelible mark upon the noir crime fiction and film noir industries with his illustration skills; clocking in over 1200 paperback cover illustrations and over 40 movie poster illustrations. One of his most famous is his Breakfast at Tiffany’s movie poster which was (oddly enough) his first film poster assignment. I was so excited to learn that he is still alive, and since 2004 he has been doing paperback covers for the noir crime fiction group “Hard Case Crime.” Robert McGinnis is truly a noir art living legend.

Noir Art Robert McGinnis

(a femme fatale thrashing) via comicsalliance.com

Noir Art Robert McGinnis

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Noir Art Robert McGinnis

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Noir Art Robert McGinnis

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Noir Art Robert McGinnis

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Noir Art Robert McGinnis

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Noir Art Robert McGinnis

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Noir Art Robert McGinnis

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Noir Art Robert McGinnis

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Noir Art Robert McGinnis

via vitazur.tumblr.com

More noir art to come…


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