The Millennial ‘Falcon’: Where Film Noir Started?


It’s never easy to say where something starts. These days, Humphrey Bogart gets his start on television, bashing drizzly scrims with a dry sound, and appearing as the face on his T-her shirt that some sarcastically wear. Genius graduate student. If he remembers John Huston in the slightest, he may be remembered as the executive director of “Chinatown.” The past is compressed as it recedes, and the 1940s are as distant to most of us as ancient Greece.

We can’t help but how we get to things. I hope you have the grace to recognize what they are.

The French coined the term “film noir” in response to the style of Hollywood cinema that emerged in the 1940s. Translated as “black film” or more precisely “dark movie”, it derives from the artistic term “roman noir” used by 19th-century French literary critics to describe British Gothic novels.

The term was used by French writers in the late 1930s, but was first applied specifically to Hollywood films in August 1946 by a French film magazine. Paris: Billy Wilder’s “Double Indemnity”, Edward Dmytryk’s “Murder, My Sweet”, Otto Preminger’s “Lola” (all 1944), Wilder’s “Lost Weekend” (1945), “The Maltese Falcon” released in October 1941.

French critics used the term only to describe Hollywood products. Although Fritz He Lang’s 1931 German film ‘M’ is not strictly considered film noir, even though it seems to present a template for the genre, 1951 Joseph He So is the remake of that movie by Rosie.

Louis Feuillade’s “Fantomas: In the Shadow of the Guillotine” (1913) and DW Griffith’s “The Musketeers of Pig Alley” (1912) are sometimes cited as early examples of the genre, and some Any number of movies could be claimed. It features cynical characters and a sinister setting. But criticism, like poetry, can benefit from clear rules and arbitrary decisions. The more rigidly we define “film noir,” the better we can understand each other.

Birth of film noir

Filmmaker and critic Paul Schrader (“The First Reformer,” “Driver”), in his essay “Notes on Film Noir,” argues that 1940s Hollywood had film noir. He argues that there were four factors that contributed to the birth of

The first was the disillusionment brought about by World War II. Many films of the 1930s and early 1940s were highly escapist and were designed to boost public morale in the face of the Great Depression and the inevitable war (to end all wars). If the war ended at all, it didn’t end with an interrupted satisfying chord that everyone understood). eventually dissolved in the blood).

The second element Schroeder argued was post-war realism. Disillusioned American audiences were ready to challenge the authenticity lacking in the stylized musicals and haute melodramas of the 1930s. The familiar, idealized studio backlot set was starting to feel old and fake.

It was more exciting and engaging to see the actors perform in real recognizable locations (or in what appeared to be real locations). As film acting diverged further from stage acting, writing and dialogue became more naturalistic.

A third factor was the influence of German and Eastern European directors such as Lang and Wilder. They moved to Hollywood in the 1930s as Nazism was on the rise, bringing with them a German Expressionist-influenced aesthetic, a style characterized by dramatic lighting and psychological understanding. Set possibilities – the way the stage design and characters are placed in front of the camera.

Finally, Schrader mentions the influence of writers such as Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and James M. Caine on the “hard-boiled” style.

The quintessential film noir is characterized by flawed but inquisitive characters who reluctantly involve innocent parties to investigate a huge and deep-seated conspiracy within a respectable organization. The hero (let’s not call him a hero) usually survives and elicits some degree of justice on behalf of his client, but his victories are poor and sometimes Pyrrhus. There are people waiting to replace them.

What constitutes film noir

As Schroeder points out, “A city nightlife movie is not necessarily film noir, and film noir need not necessarily be about crime or corruption.”

The Maltese Falcon (1941) is often called the first noir film, but that’s not true. It’s not even Bogart’s first noir, as he appeared in Raoul Walsh’s “They Drive By Night,” released 14 months earlier.Latvian-born, Soviet-trained Boris Ingster’s Stranger on the Third Floor, featuring ‘M’ star Peter Lorre, both released in 1940. An arbitrary ruling to consider only films released after the United States entered World War II – “Falcon” was released in his October 1941.

It’s a shame that this movie was certified as a “great movie”. That is, we evaluate it, how the particular gestures and behaviors on display are encoded in culture, how people who have never seen the film perform it sometimes. And it seems.

The best way to watch a movie is without any expectations and embracing its life-changing potential. However, it is impossible for a modern viewer to encounter the “Maltese Falcon” in the same conditions that the original viewer encountered. As far as they knew, people in the past just went to the movies. They wanted to be engaged and distracted away from the monotony and discomfort of their lives.

The attack on Pearl Harbor was still months away, but sentient beings knew the world was in turmoil. They went to see The Maltese Falcon because they went to the movies every week. Because the poster promised “a story as explosive as his flaming machine.”

Hammett’s 1929 novel was filmed twice earlier in 1931 with the same title (this version is sometimes known as “Dangerous Woman”), with Ricardo Cortez playing the cynical anti-hero Sam Spade. Think about what you were doing. In 1936, Bette Davis was directed in Satan Met a Ready, directed by William Dieterle. The detective played by Warren William is called Ted Shane instead of Sam Spade, but it’s the same story.

So there was no reason for the typical moviegoer to expect The Maltese Falcon to be anything out of the ordinary. A boggart has not yet become a boggart. He was a staunch supporter who got his break a year ago when George Raft and Paul Muni turned down the lead role in the gangster movie High Sierra. (Raft didn’t want to die in the end, so he reportedly passed on the film.)

“High Sierra” was an unexpected hit, but it didn’t become a cinematic landmark. It gave screenwriter John Huston the opportunity to direct his first film.

close to novel

“The Maltese Falcon” is very close to Hammett’s novel. Much of the dialogue comes directly from the book. (But Sam Spade’s last line, according to legend, isn’t an allusion to Shakespeare ad-libbed by Bogart.) But Bogart doesn’t look like the “blonde devil” Hammett describes. In this book, Casper Gutmann, aka “The Fat Man”, weighs more than Sidney Greenstreet (his first film role). increase. She has a soft-toned money air about her that her book doesn’t suggest.

Houston, however, understood that Hammett’s novel was about character, not convoluted plot. It doesn’t matter who killed Miles Archer, Sam Spade’s partner in the film’s central mystery, but how the various characters glance at each other, the style they exhibit, predatory A cautious but candid way for humans – sexually and otherwise – to observe prey.

Is it this quality that made The Maltese Falcon the first film noir? Certainly, 1941 moviegoers wouldn’t have called it that. Not even the French would have called it that. That’s not it.

Houston and Bogart weren’t trying to create a new film genre. Perhaps they were simply working to refine his 1930s pulpy gangster movies that are sometimes confused with genuine film noir.

The Maltese Falcon and subsequent noir films generally do not portray crime as a glamorous profession, nor portray criminals as particularly strong figures. , or the weak ones that fall from accidents.

The women in these films are often stronger than the men they attract, and are often presented as seducers rather than victims. I am recording. Inhabited by a disillusioned detective and a bitter and wounded loner.

Bogart’s Spade is the template for the noir hero, or anti-hero. Stubborn, unemotional, and willing to trust motives other than self-interest, Spade never liked his murdered partner and would reach out to his widow whenever he got the chance.

He relishes the opportunity to beat up gay (he carries a scented handkerchief) Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre), though the violence is probably unnecessary. He’s even willing to let the woman he “probably” loves take her chances in her gas chamber.

Spades are not bound by human bonds of affection, but adhere to a strict code of professional conduct.When a man’s partner is murdered, the man is forced to do something about it . It is “bad business” to let a murderer get away with murder.

characters in the shadows

In terms of style and technique, film noir leaves its characters in the shadows. These creatures live at night in a spooky world lit by neon lights and glowing cigarettes. The exaggerated and tattered sets are reminiscent of the naturalism of Frank Norris and Theodore Dreiser’s books and pulp detective novels by Hammett, Chandler and Jim Thompson, from which the film’s story is drawn. .

In 1941, another first-time director, Orson Welles, rose to prominence with a bold and ambitious film designed to show Hollywood a better way to tell its stories. “Citizen Kane” wasn’t popular, but its flashy technological innovations were hard to miss. Houston also put a lot of care and attention into camera movement and shot composition, but the great achievement of “The Maltese Falcon” is that the average moviegoer doesn’t have to pay attention to camera gimmicks. am.

Unlike some of the other films associated with film noir, especially Howard Hawks’ 1946 “Big Sleep” (where Bogart played Chandler’s detective Philip Marlowe), a softer version of Spade’s character), George Cukor’s “Gaslight” (1944) and Robert Aldrich’s “Kiss Me Deadly” (1955) — “The Maltese Falcon” don’t seem self-consciously artistic.

We just watch and are drawn to the dark wit in the way Sam Spade jokes with Gutman about the value and whereabouts of the titular black bird. Spade angrily knocked the glass on the floor and stamped his feet.

In the hallway, Spade grinned at his performance as “a very hot-tempered man.” Today, in that shot, you might see the well-bred Bogart (son of a Manhattan surgeon and successful magazine illustrator) commenting on his actions as tough-guy Spade. He went on to build a film career that established him as an indispensable American icon. (As Bogart later admitted, his performance is “the softest racket.”)

Likewise, John Huston was a screenwriter, not a monument today. Even though he was making a list of his 100 greatest films of all time in 1941, nobody paid attention to it. You cannot look at the “Maltese Falcon” with innocent eyes. At least there is a faint musty sense of duty.

What makes cinema great is that it has the power to erase any preconceived notions that we bring into it. The ‘Maltese Falcon’ has a very grown-up playfulness with fragility and shimmering harm. It still works as a movie, as a distraction. It is a reprieve from duty rather than the duty itself.

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