Tag Archives: Film Noir

Film Noir | The Venture Brothers “Everybody Comes to Hank’s”

The Venture Brothers has long been my very favorite cartoon, and I couldn’t resist posting this episode where they do a film noir parody!! I hope you enjoy this as much as I did! (Just an FYI, the film noir parody doesn’t begin until a mystery presents itself to Hank, so you have to get into it several minutes before you get the switch to black & white shots).

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Film Noir | Pulp Fiction (1994)

I had never seen the film noir Pulp Fiction until this week and let me just say that I am blown away. Truth be told, the hype level for this film has been through the roof for the last several years, but I had never gotten around to watching it. Now I feel like a fool. Quentin Tarantino’s snappy dialogue and witty banter is as hilarious as it is entertaining, and he seems to break cleanly with the cliches of film noir history. I don’t wish to do a typical review where I dissect the plot-line and events of the film because there is already such a wealth of reviews out there. Instead, I will just highlight some of the features of this film noir that stuck out to me in phenomenal ways.

1) No Cops
One aspect of Pulp Fiction that was most refreshing to me was the fact that a police officer never makes an appearance. This may seem small, but it seems that in every crime film noir there is always a bevy of cops to thwart the robbers, and this is a tapped-out plot device. By removing the police from the plot, a host of different issues crop up and keep the action fully centered on the characters of the criminal underworld and how they relate to one another.

Film Noir Pulp Fiction Vincent and Jules

Text Book Anti-Heroes from our noir definition

2) Jules and Vincent
The banter between Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) and Vincent (John Travolta) is nearly perfect in its execution. There is a chemistry between the two that is akin to a buddy cop film gone wrong. I couldn’t stop laughing at their argumentative debates and harrowing scenarios. Royale Burgers, foot massages, and cleaning up bits of brain matter, three cheers for their dialogue; it was the slow burning diesel that lit up this film noir.

3) What cliche?
I sensed a purposeful rebellion against the cliches of film noir in Pulp Fiction. One the the most obvious has already been mentioned: No Cops. But another that sharply stands out is during Vincent’s play-date with his boss’ wife Mia (Uma Thurman). During their entire date, I fully expected them to sleep together. The drama and tension between the two seems to build steadily in that direction to the point that we find Vincent in Mia’s bathroom giving himself a pep talk to just leave and not have sex with her. And then the lightning fast plot-shift when she overdoses on some drugs that she finds in his coat. Their night changes from untapped sexual tension to desperation and preservation as Vincent rushes to save her life. Potent film noir drama.

Film Noir Pulp Fiction Poster

perfect femme fatale for this film noir

4) Humor
“The Bonnie Situation” was one of the funniest sequences in any film noir that I have ever seen. Simply because the whole plot revolved around a bloody mishap and helping a friend avoid a divorce. It was a great change of pace in the film, and it injected an element of humor in an otherwise grim scenario. I also thought that the very first scene was magical, simply because it went so quickly from pledges of love and devotion between a couple to a violent language dripping robbery. It’s in the contrasts that this film becomes a classic.

5) Dislikes
Yuck. There were only two parts of the film that I didn’t enjoy. Although no nudity is shown, the rape scene was really hard to stomach. I think this is because the scene was so dark and depraved, and the whole time you want so badly to deny that any human being could do such a thing. Also, this is really minor, but Quentin Tarantino actually plays a role in the film, and I felt that his character was the least believable. I mean, there was a scene where he was yelling the “N-word” dozens of times at Samuel L. Jackson and I had a hard time believing that Jules would put up with that. I don’t know, maybe I’m being nit-picky but the scene felt strange.

All in all, this film noir was amazing. Easily in my top five favorite crime films. Everything was so stylized and dramatic from the camera angles to the soundtrack. And any film that can pull off extended dance scenes in a natural and memorable way is solid. Cheers to the cast and crew. Pulp Fiction will go down in the annals of history as one of the greatest films ever made.

Won the Oscar for Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen (Quentin Taratino & Roger Avary)

Rotten Tomatoes gives it: 94%

264 “F” words.


Filed under Crime Movies, Film Noir

Film Noir: Max Payne (2008)

Late last night I watched the 2008 film noir Max Payne (directed by John Moore, starring Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, and Beau Bridges). It was the third time that I have seen the film, and I seem to like it more and more with each consecutive viewing. While I enjoyed certain aspects of the film initially, I felt it had some glaring faults as a film noir and as a tribute to one of my favorite video games. My arguments were many and varied, and I had trouble pinpointing what peeved me the most, but now that I have had some years to digest I am ready to tell the world what I think of the film noir Max Payne.

Film Noir Max Payne

Max and Mona in the derelict druggy district

Let us begin with that which was lacking:

Max Payne needs his pain killers! I couldn’t believe that there was not one single reference to painkillers in the entire film (and believe me there was ample opportunity). Also, Mila Kunis needs a different make-up artist, because she is a sexy and vibrant young woman who they have managed to make look like a goblin in the first few scenes. Now, I admit that the first time I saw this film noir I thought she looked even worse (this most recent time I realized its not as bad as I remembered it), but she was not the femme fatale that she could have been. Had I been in charge I would have eased up on the eye-liner and given her some bright red lipstick. Next, The film noir needed at least two more dark monologues. They start with a bang, (which I will talk about later) and then they never come back to the Max Payne defining inner monologue. This lack of narrative was a gross oversight on the part of the screenwriter, because this script could have been magical. And finally, Jack Lupino needed more character development and less wordless looming. In the video game, Lupino is so scary because you learn that he is a Satan worshiping psychopath who believes he is immortal. In the film, they try to make him scary by having him stand on cold rooftops without his shirt on (not very effective). With all the time that they wasted on showing him loom over the city scape, they could have been developing his character by giving him lines.

Film Noir Max Payne Blu Ray

Bullet time.

things they did right:

The first monologue was chilling, and Mark Wahlberg was a great choice for Max Payne. I was absolutely blown away by the opening lines of the film noir, but when they never came back to the same overly stylized Max Payne scripting I was utterly disappointed. I think that they were afraid that the script would be too cheesy if they mirrored the level of drama in the video game, but that’s the point! The heavy handed drama is what makes Max Payne who he is! Next, Olga Kurylenko was an excellent femme fatale. Her part is short lived, but she tip-toes on the edge of lust and danger with deadly skill. Also, the drug Valkyr was portrayed in a way that far surpassed the video game noir series. The ‘snowflake to embers’ effect was unbelievably cool, and the valkyries themselves in all their demonesque glory were amazing. Lastly, all of the action sequences were top notch in your face violent. The sets and special effects were all blu-ray worthy, amen.

Film Noir Mona Sax Max Payne Femme Fatale

Mila Kunis never looks this good in the film, this is not a screenshot.

“There’s an army of bodies under this river, people who ran out of time, out of friends. I could feel the dead down there, reaching up to welcome me as one of their own. It was an easy mistake to make.” -Mark Wahlberg as Max Payne

Some interesting noir definition moments:

This film noir has two femme fatales: Mona Sax and her sister Natasha. Mona plays the partner/equal/confidant role in the story, where Natasha plays the sexy/lusty/dangerous role. Interesting choice on the part of the film makers, because normally the femme fatale in any noir would have all of these attributes (and in the game, Mona and Natasha are identical twins so go figure). Also, Max Payne has a classic Redemption Theme. Max is attempting to redeem the irredeemable, for even if he successfully finds and punishes their killer, his wife and child will remain dead (and thus beyond his power to redeem). But the power of his story lies in the idea that if he can obtain revenge, that vengeance will redeem their memory and bring him closure. Max Payne is a classic film noir. (I purchased my blu-ray from Amazon.com) (also, Max Payne got 16% on rottentomatoes.com and that is where I got these film noir images).

Film Noir Natasha Sax Max Payne Femme Fatale

Olga Kurylenko as one sister of the femme fatale pair

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“To be, or Noir to be…” A Noir Definition

I believe that there is great value to a list of qualifications I expect in any noir piece. Anything that I review on this site will have to match at least one of the requirements below. Please remember noir can be found in any media, be it art, literature, film, video-games, or comics, it’s there.

1. The Seedy Underworld

Noir Definition Seedy Underworld

"sheesh this fog is so crimey..."

The setting of any great noir piece is the filthy underbelly of the polished public. This place is filthy, grimy, bleak, and often deranged. Expect steaming sewer grates, torrential downpours, second-hand-smoke, and nefarious characters. Crime thrives here, and its perveyors are brutally corrupt and extremely adept. Sadly, these roads are lined with condemned buildings labeled ‘hope,’ ‘faith,’ and ‘charity.’

2. The Anti-Hero

Noir Definition Anti-Hero

yeah....smoke that

The main character of the noir genre is at best despicable. We are fascinated with his/her moral ambiguity and glaring flaws while hiding our disgust with the same. Dangling from this character’s lips is the tell-tale cigarette and the greasy tendril of smoke tickles the street lamp above. Usually this character’s life is at stake, and this is almost always due to their own poor choices. We quietly root for him/her and cringe when the baseball bat or crowbar beats their brow bloody.

3. The Femme Fatale

Noir Definition Femme Fatale

"man, this blows."

A secret ingredient that adds spice and variety to any noir is the femme fatale. She is sultry, sexy, and manipulative. Her power over the main character is unmistakable and she gently leads him along to meet her own ends. Elegance of speech and brutal double crossings as common as lipstick stains on wine glasses and discarded lingerie. She is deadly, untrustworthy, and 9 times out of 10 the villain.

Each of these three items are hallmarks of the noir genre. I will use these criteria as pegs to hang my reviews on, and as indicators of proximity to the noirWHALE (the ‘big-one’ so to speak). As the media I encounter exhibits these traits, I will detail their strengths and weaknesses on this site. I am sure that there are other hallmarks of noir out there, and as I discover them I will add to the list.

UPDATE: April 7, 2011

4. Misogyny

Noir Definition Misogyny

"turn your breasts to the light dear."

Throughout the genre of noir, there seems to be a fairly steady stream of misogyny. I’m not suggesting that this “dame-hating” is always aware of itself or that it’s a conscious decision by the noir creators, but it rears itself very consistently in each piece. Women are the villains, the burdens, and the childish fools that merely tolerated by the hero. Also the women are always “male-defined.” Their behaviors, attitudes, and appearance are constantly pandering to a male audience. I assume that this must be incredibly frustrating for female audiences (it frustrates me and I’m a male). As a result of these male definitions, noir seems to always focus on beautiful women with low sexual standards and no depth of character (other than where it serves plot). Recently I’ve read that there are some female authors who have reversed the roles in modern noir novels. I hope to read some of them soon  so I can report back my findings.

5. Redemption

Noir Definition Redemption

This may be an actual crime scene...

Another theme that has presented itself in my studies is that of redemption. In noir, the detective always arrives after the tragedy has taken place. He is plunged into a world of chaos, where something whole was just shattered (murder, rape, violence, etc.). His job is completely consumed with trying to redeem the unredeemable. Think Batman. Bruce Wayne is haunted by the murder of his parents. He decides to seek vengeance for the rest of his life by “righting” all the wrongs in Gotham. The only catch is that his task is impossible. He cannot change the fact that his parents are dead, nor can he completely succeed in purifying Gotham. He can’ t win. The only measure of success he achieves is through putting as many pieces back together as he can. In this way we (the audience) are lead to believe that something has actually been redeemed. We feel better about the injustice when we know how or why it happened, even though it still occurred. Dean DeFino calls this “illusions of order” and “intellectual control.” He says that “the story redeems that sense of order and control by (fictionally) exposing its logic, its cause-and-effect chain, how one thing leads to another.”

UPDATE: June 21st, 2011 

I have always wanted to create a very robust noir definition for noir in all of its forms. Thus far I have previously set forth 5 unique elements that are found in any noir media. They are: The seedy underworld, the ant-hero, the femme fatale, misogyny, and redemption. Recently I have thought of two more that must be added: Loss of Innocence, and Eroticism.

6. Loss of Innocence

Noir Definition Loss of Innocence

giving us the reasons why

This aspect of noir is the one that hits us in the gut. It wrenches our emotions and makes us uncomfortable. Torture, rape, sin, and abuse all fall under this thematic umbrella. Usually, the loss of innocence within any noir piece holds the responsibility of answering the question “why?”, as in: “why is this character this way?” or “why do they do what they do?” This is closely related with the Redemption aspect of noir because usually the loss of innocence is what causes the need for redeeming.


Noir Definition Eroticism

eroticism in the 80's

One thematic element of noir that has caused the most controversy in the genre is that of eroticism or sexuality. These tend to not be the main stream accepted types of sexual behavior, instead they are the outré and bizarre fetishes that make us cringe. Prostitution, adultery, sadomasochism, and other unmentionables are the mainstay of noir. Most often, lust plays a huge roll in any noir crime fiction as well as lack of self control. Those characters that can control their sexual desires are those that are the most successful, while those who succumb are the victims of their own self destruction. This is closely related with the theme of Misogyny in our noir definition, especially as it pertains to the portayal of the femme fatale.

Well, I hope that we can continue to add to our noir definition in the future! Please email me if you think of any aspect that needs to be addressed! Chad.deLisle[at]gmail.com

Noir Definition UPDATE: August 26th, 2011

8. Racism

Noir Definition Blaxploitation

Black Caesar

One aspect of the noir genre that has recently leapt out at me is the heavy-handed theme of racism. Condescending language, disparaging remarks, and sexual abuse are all hallmarks of Racism. This racism may be a byproduct of the era in which the noir genre was birthed, but it certainly thrives in the contemporary time period as well. Understand that the racism in film noir, noir crime fiction, and noir comics is not only directed at Blacks; others feel the sting as well. I believe this theme rests entirely upon power, control, and illusions of power. The white male desires to remain in control, so he inflicts emasculating and denigrating roles upon white females, blacks, and any other race or people he considers inferior. In this way power threatening groups are robbed of their ability to affront the acceptable order established by he and his cohorts. What do the white females, blacks, and other races do in response? They mimic the abuse inflicted upon them by white males and perpetrate heinous crimes against one another. And thus the only way they can obtain power is by accepting roles and behaviors that are white male defined.

UPDATE: February 16 2012

This last week it was brought to my attention that there was a problem with my noir definition. A frequent visitor to NoirWhale.com pointed out that I had misappropriated the term “blaxploitation.” After some research and review I concurred with his analysis. Blaxploitation actually refers to a process of stereotypical media that was meant to appeal to black, not offend them.  I had been using it as a term synonomous with racism, and while it has a racist element, they aren’t the same thing.

Thus I append the noir definition; instead of removing the element altogether, I’m renaming it “racism” because that is what I truly meant in the first place. It should be noted that blaxploitation can be found touching several areas of the noir genre, it’s just not as frequent a theme as racism. So moving forward, I’ll still be pointing out the generally racist nature of much of the genre, I’ll just be using the proper term for it.  Thanks Justin!

9. Smoke

Noir Definition Smoke

Dorian Leigh

Anyone who has seen an episode of Mad Men will understand why “smoke” must be added to my noir definition. Curling tendrils of cigarette smoke portend sexual encounters in seedy hotels, cruel seduction, and infidelities. Profanity and profundity crosshatch the hanging smoky-mirk in scene after scene of film noir, noir crime fiction, and noir comics. Smoke caresses the lips of the femme fatale, stings the eyes of the innocent, and tickles the throat of the stooge. It stains the teeth, fingernails, and wallpaper of the anti-hero, yet entombs him like a viking king on a floating pyre. Disgusting in real life? Yes. Amazingly enticing in noir? Yes. I know this seems obvious, but in hindsight “smoke” should have been the first quality that defines the noir genre.

As with my other noir definition updates, I’m sure there are more to come…

Noir Definition UPDATE: January 28th 2012

10. Emasculation

Noir Definition Mad Men

Roger Sterling, Peggy Olson, Don Draper, Joan Holloway, Pete Campbell (via celebrations.com)

Only recently apparent to me is the frequent theme of emasculation in the noir genre. Emasculation in noir refers to robbing a male of his “manliness” in some degree; either through humiliation or through some means of impotence. Examples: A man can’t provide for his family, he’s beaten or humiliated by some thugs, he loses his livelihood, he can’t land the femme fatale, his health fails, or he literally has his “manhood” taken away (read Sin City: That Yellow Bastard). Often the driving theme of a noir piece is the fear of emasculation, even if it hasn’t occurred yet. In Night and The City, Harry Fabian becomes more and more desperate as he becomes more and more emasculated by his failures to succeed.

If you’re still failing to grasp what I’m referring to, look at Mad Men for example; Don Draper, Pete Campbell, Roger Sterling, and others each have a certain masculine ideal which they subscribe to. For Pete it’s success in the workplace without the aid of others, for Don it’s strength and privacy, for Roger it’s health and sexual conquest, for others it’s something else. Although each man may have a slightly different definition of masculinity, ALL of them fear its loss and panic when it’s endangered. Pete’s marriage suffers when he fails at work, when Don’s secret past rears itself he attempts to flee, and as Roger’s health plummets he weeps like a child; each of them are emasculated by their greatest fears. Thus our noir definition is expanded.

Got any ideas for the noir definition? email me: chad.delisle [at] gmail.com


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“Noir you see it, Noir you don’t” A Brief Explanation of this Noir Blog.

When setting out on such an endeavor as this, an important groundwork must be laid. We shall begin with the definitions, and from there move swiftly to the prize. Success would be impossible without understanding the content and the context, so these quotes will help us grab at the neck of it. According to the Oxford English Dictionary:

noir, adj. and n.

Pronunciation: Brit. /nwɑː/ , U.S. /nwɑr/
Forms: lME noyre, 16 (18– ) noire, 17– noir. Also with capital initial.
Etymology: < Middle French, French noir black (c1160 in Old French, also c1100 as neir) < classical Latin niger black (see niger n.1). With sense B. 1compare French noire a woman with dark hair (c1310 in Old French). In senses A. 2 and B. 3 after film noir n. Compare also roman noir n.

1. Black, dark. Also fig.: bleak, desolate. (Freq. as postmodifier, after French use.)
2. That is in the style of a film noir; gloomy and fatalistic in character; (also) using cinematic devices such as wide angles and partial lighting; urban, morally ambiguous, anti-heroic. Cf. film noir n.

Merriam-Webster puts it this way:

1:crime fiction featuring hard-boiled cynical characters and bleak sleazy settings

This site is dedicated to hunting all things that resemble these definitions, more particularly the best the genre has to offer. Because noir has crossed the boundaries of ALL media, this site will explore each of those vistas eagerly. Ultimately, I hope that one day we may snag the “BIG-ONE,” the very epitome of excellence in the noir genre, but until then I will be searching diligently on the high seas of media. May all our harpoons be sharpened and poised for the appearance of the fabled noirWHALE, and may we have the courage necessary to lance and breach when presented the opportunity. Amen.

I leave you with the words of the french poet Henri Auguste Barbier:

“Enfin, dans un amas de choses, sombre, immense,
Un peuple noir, vivant et mourant en silence.”

(“Finally, within a huge and sombre mass of things,
A blackened people, living and dying in silence.”)

Noir Enthusiast at Work

Me in my den

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