Film Noir Essay

In his Film Encyclopedia, writer, journalist and filmmaker Ephraim Katz defines film noir as the type of films of the 1940’s and 1950’s that “portray the dark and gloomy underworld of crime and corruption, films whose heroes as well as villains are cynical, disillusioned and often insecure loners.” They are films, he says, full of night scenes, dingy realism and “lighting that emphasizes deep shadows and accents of fatalism.” (p. 290).


Describing the significance of the seminal film noir, Double Indemnity, directed by Billy Wilder, AMC Filmsite author and editor Tim Dirks maintains that the movie defined the visual style and character types of the genre.  He writes, “The influence of this definitive film noir (with its typical conventions of “Venetian blind” lighting and voice-over narration) can be found in other countless imitations ever since – “ (par. 8.)


Double Indemnity, Jacques Tourneur’s Out of the Past and Edgar Ulmer’s Detour have been described as three of the very best film noirs of all time.  In light of the above definitions by Katz and Dirks , compose an essay of 4-5 pages in which you elaborate on ONE of the following topics:


Explain and discuss in detail how each of the three films displays the visual style, mise en scene and themes of film noir.

Explain and discuss how each of the three films displays the archetypal noir character types, narrative techniques and themes of film noir.


Be sure to support and illustrate your analysis with detailed examples from the film.  Describe scenes in detail, provide dialogue and film detail to illustrate and provide evidence for each idea you offer.



I advise you to choose one particular scene or sequence from each movie, describing the scene and then analyzing it.  In addition, while it it not required, I strongly suggest that you support your ideas with commentary from the critics and film experts, including the Annenberg video on Film Noir and the articles I gave you.


Be sure the paper has:

an effective introduction that gets the reader’s interest and states your thesis
a fully developed body that supports the thesis
examples and specific details from the movie to illustrate your ideas.
commentary from the secondary sources to support each point
all sources documented with parenthetical citations
an effective conclusion that brings the paper to a close
Remember all direct quotations must be acknowledged with parenthetical citations in proper MLA format.  Include author’s last name and paragraph number.  ex. (Ebert par. 3). If you cite the film, use movie title  in italics title        ex. (Detour)
Movie title must always be in italics
Also, include a Works Cited page in PROPER, up-to-date MLA format! If you’re not sure of the format, look it up or just  ask me.


Works Cited for the Annenberg video:


“American Cinema: Film Noir.”  Annenberg Learner Series, New York Center for Visual

History in association with KCET/Los Angeles and the BBC,  1995.

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