General notes on Film Noir

  • Chiaroscuro – strong contrasts between light and dark
  • Diegetic sound –
  • Patterns of fixity – means you adhere to well known conventions to appeal to your market
  • Patterns of change – means the little tweaks to avoid boredom, reflect changes in society or directors.
  • Directors were often exiles from Germany hence German Expressionism.
  • Also used to Cinema Vérité.
  • Verisimilitude – apparent reality
  • Canted angles – tilted to unsettle
  • NB teacher to watch Film Language film
  • Fragmentation Laura Mulvey
  • Male Gaze – the traditional pan up her legs.
  • Look at body language
  • Editing- transitions for past and present
  • Fades and dissolves
  • The map represents time and distance.
  • Key quotes of dialogue.
  • Colour code for representation of male protagonist and female also law and order and justice.


Detour 1955

Vera – her name means truth – she’s anything but!

Her style of language and mode of speaking is harsh and slangy.

Actors Tom Neal and Ann Savage!

Synopsis: Hero first seen walking alone along a lane; car passes.

Next scene he is sitting in the passenger seat of car. Silent. Voice over thoughts. Close up on shadowed face.

Next scene in diner gets into argument over music backing in time to good old days! Girl friend singer in a night club. Blonde, high key lighting. When she tells him she’s moving on its; foggy – significant. Midshots. When we see him in close up at this stage he’s crisp and clean.

Next hitchhiking- range of lifts, becoming increasingly unkempt and desperate ‘If only I’d known.’

The guy who picks him up starts telling him about a woman he picked up.

‘MacGuffin’ Hitchcock’s concept of a plot device round which the whole plot revolves here the pills? Or the scratches on the driver’s arms?

Rain – voice over of his dilemma. Diegetic sound.

Although he sees the similarities between the girl and his previous companion (owner of the car) he dismisses them. Black humour.

Fade to black.

She’s in control – her unchanging harsh face, smoking, (symbolic or connoting the dangerous woman – contrast with Sue who didn’t smoke) and drinking. She turns even his sympathy against him.


Social issues – insecurity people don’t stop now for hitch hikers.


Mise en scene

Iconic NY street signs.
Basic as in most Film noirs – just enough to set the scene e.g. the piano in the night club; little to distract, cheap!


Minimal diegetic effects – car door slamming, song in background in diner, rain.
Musical score overt and loud, frenetic and emotional, dramatic
Fast dialogue difficult to hear!



Single source,
low key in mood,
high key in night club and hotel.


Use of camera
Quite static, slow zoom into face, close up,
otherwise mid and long shots and long held shots through windscreen from in front and rear seat of car.
Slow tracking shots.


Straight cuts
Fade to black
Wipe right to left


‘I’m going to bed’ followed by significant exchange of looks. Connotations of the femme fatale, dangerous sexually liberal.
Last scene in fantasy got round the censors.
Film noir posters click on the poster of Detour
Also try Unresolved

(Warning: only for the mature try the Film Noir poster for the Film Noir Film!!!)

Double indemnity

Directed by Billy Wilder 1944

Opening shot man on crutches silhouetted making way slowly towards camera

Cut to car screeching thorough red light.

Man gets out of car goes into building; it is night and an office is being cleaned.

Face when seen sweaty; him using only right arm.

Long shot in close up of protagonist telling story into a microphone .

Dissolve to scene in the past.

Protagonist dressed in suit, tie, hat.

Low angle long shot to woman at top of stairs. Blonde and dressed in white. Chunky bracelet and large chunky ring.

Living room blinds and light coming through them.

Panning tracking shot of woman’s legs and travels up her body as she descends doing up her dress as she comes.

Phyllis Dietrichson.

He sits on the arm of a sofa looking down at her in an armchair.

Pointed reference to her anklet.

Sexual banter ‘while you’re not fully covered;’ ‘look here there’s a speed limit in this state…’ followed by a number of scenarios starting with ‘s’pose’ to state their mutual attraction and assess the bounds of a potential relationship.

‘How could I have known…’

Walter Neff? is set up as a decent guy with his discussion with his boss Barton Keyes.

Same shot of her descending the stairs again.

She sets herself up as a decent wife whose husband ignores her.

She sets out a scheme, he rejects the implications and leaves.

When she visits his apartment she gazes up at him, wide eyes.

Hair immaculately curled, glossy.

High necked long sleeved white top, black trousers. Large chunky bracelet and rings; anklet becomes an obsession with Walter. Feet curled up under her on the sofa.

Dissolve out slow zoom in from long shot of him in the present again to mid shot.

Back to the past, him on settee she sits down next to him; as he tells her he’s going to ‘do it’ she kisses him but now she is fore-grounded and slightly higher than him to show her superiority.


In the scene where they get the husband to sign she is wearing a black dress.

(Double Indemnity is a clause in which the insurance company actually pays out double for very rare accidents.)

‘Guess I was wrong you’re not smarter just a little taller.’

As the deed is done the camera stays focused on her face; first she shows tension then relief.

Lighting as she kisses him in the car after dropping him off after the deed was done there is a diagonal line of shadow across their faces.

In the investigator’s office Neff leans on the mantelpiece striped shadows from the blinds across him.

As the tension begins to get to him he smokes, drinks.

Contrast made between the daughter Lola and step-mother. Daughter (in Neff’s office when she comes to tell him her suspicions) seen in high-angle close-up looking vulnerable and wet eyed, close to tears. She is darker haired, younger of course! And more natural looking.

In the supermarket where they meet when he tells her they are not going to go through with it she holds on to his arm, looks up into his eyes beseechingly, begs him not to give up. After an interruption she faces him across an aisle of sale items and taking her sunglasses off threatens him that this is a trolley ride he’s not going to get off until it’s all over.


Contrasts between Detour and Double Indemnity.