Re: RARA-AVIS: Hardboiled Character Traits

From: Rene Ribic (
Date: 28 Apr 2002

> Johnny,
> Re your question below:
> > But weren't the majority of noir directors ex-pat
> > Europeans?
> Some were. Some weren't. Some American-born
> directors who were movers and shakers in film noir
> include John Huston, Edward Dmytryk (actually he was
> born in Canada, but that's still the North American
> continent), Ted Tetzloff, Richard Fleischer, and
> Anthony Mann.
> They may have been influenced, directly or indrectly,
> by things like German expressionism (certainly such
> German-born noir directors as Fritz Lang or Robert
> Siodmak were; in fact, I think Lang is often credited
> as the inventor of German expressionism), but mainly
> they were trying to make tight, gritty crime movies in
> an inexpensive way that LOOKED expensive.
> There's a great story about Edward Dmytryk lecturing a
> bunch of college kids during the '70s. He figures
> they all want to hear about the Hollywood blacklist,
> so he's surprised when one of them raises his hand and
> asks him about something called film noir.
> "Film noir?" he says. "What the hell is film noir?"
> "Well," says the college kid, "you should know. You
> invented it."
> Up to then Dmytryk, who was a professional filmmaker,
> not a naval-contemplating film theorist, had never
> heard the term.
Yes but the directors most responsible for what came to be known as the
"noir" look - night for night shooting, expressionistic use of shadows, wet pavements, low key lighting etc etc were the Eastern & Central European directors who brought many of these things over from places like Germany's UFA studios - Wilder, Lang, etc and even Hitchcok had served some of his apprenticeship at the UFA studios; and probably even more responsible for the look would be the European cinematographers such as John Alton. So, even though not all film noir directors & technicians came from Europe (in fact a quick, perfunctory check seems to indicate they were definitely a minority) I think their influence & that of the German Expressionist cinema of the 1920's was a huge influence on the film noir look & style, very much out of proportion to the numbers of European migrants working in Hollywood at the time.(And sometimes, getting that expensive look was expensive. Shooting at night was certainly not cheap & in some instances, such as DOUBLE INDEMNITY, the archetypal film noir, they actually did have big budgets (by the standards of the time) to work with.Of course, low budget was generally the norm. As Robert Mitchum said "We didn't know from film noir. The big stars at RKO like Cary Grant got all the money. We had to light our sets with cigarette butts"). In the end , film noir is an American art form but America is a land of immigrants and like the US itself,film noir is the sum of it's parts and many of the important parts came from Europe - particularly the visual language used. In other words, film noir is a cultural goulash. Would someone pass me the paprika, please?


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