The Film Noir is an unusual movie genre in the movie world because it is so hard to define. It is not like comedy, sci fi, western or romance, which have obvious and definable characteristics. Some might say that the boundaries of noir are very tight comparatively speaking, particularly those who confine the entire genre to twenty years, 1940-60, and a certain country, the United States.
The term was coined by French critics, first by Nino Frank, who in the immediate post war years noticed a darkening of mood in the Hollywood crime film. The term Noir by itself is used to describe films that contain specific elements and techniques, both technical and literary. Movies within this category are often gangster films, police procedural, or detective films, or films that deal with social problems of the day.
This movie genre is probably the most popular of the genres that sell on disc. Its films come in mostly well-priced and attractive boxes in bright colors and fun typefaces, they seem to epitomize classic Hollywood, which is interesting because at the time that the movies comprising the genre were made, the term film noir was unknown.
Most critics agree that the first film of this genre was Stranger on the Third Floor, which starred relatively unknown Hungarian actor Peter Lorre in his first major lead role. The Production Codes of the day forbade any character from literally getting away with murder, and forbade any characters who were not husband and wife from being filmed sharing a bed with one another.
This did not stop writers and directors from coming up with some risque plot lines however. One of the most famous movies of the Film Noir genre, Double Indemnity, starring Barbara Stanwyck, revolved around an insurance salesman who becomes infatuated by Stanwycks character and agrees to help her murder her husband so that she can collect the money from the insurance policy in her husbands name.
Other notable films of the genre include The Maltese Falcons, Shadow of a Doubt, Mildred Pierce, Detour, The Big Sleep, Out of the Past, Force of Evil, The Naked City, White Heat, Gun Crazy, Sunset Boulevard, In a Lonely Place, The Night of the Hunter, Sweet Smell of Success, and Touch of Evil.
The evidence of film noir can still be seen today in the popularity of detective films, mysteries, psychological thrillers, and other crime related dramas.