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ENG 381-Film Noirs

ENG 381-Film Noirs: Visual Style and Fortune

Wednesday 5:30-8:20p
Spring 2016
STV 101​

Warning: The content of the books and films in this class are designed for mature audiences only. If issues of race, sex, violence, class, drugs, profanity or politics cause you discomfort or upset, please consider enrolling in a different class.​

From ’40s Hollywood, film noir is disillusionment, alienation, and nihilism painted with German expressionism’s shadows and canted frames richly juxtaposed by European Neo-Realism. In this film and literature seminar we will immerse ourselves in this rich field of cultural inquiry (note the over 50 selected readings below). We’ll read as a class the “big three” noir novelists of the hard boiled tradition, Hammett, Chandler, and Cain, and two writers who pick up that noir thread 50 years later, Ellroy and Miller. We will study and discuss dedicated theoretical texts. And of course each week we will chronologically big screen the films listed below, asking, “Is film noir a genre?” Back in 1970 Raymond Durgnat in “Paint It B lack: The Family Tree of the Film Noir (1970) argued no, unlike the Western or gangster film, “ film noir is not a genre,” rather it “takes us into the realm of classification by motif and tone.” We’ll see if these films evince a particular political ideology. What was the impact of the Hayes Office and McCarthy hearings on noir? In what ways can we theorize noir’s gender and racial codes? We will consider such Durgnat’s schemas as Crime as Social Criticism, Hostages of Fortune. Middle Class Murder, Pathologies and Psychopaths, as we develop eyes and ears attuned to noir style, learn the language with which to describe it, and apply that knowledge. A Harold K. Sage Foundation grant will bring the former international private detective and bestselling crime mystery author of the Harlan Donnally and Graham Gage series, Steven Gore (, to campus for a public lecture and participation in the seminar for a discussion of Chinatown, which will be screened at the Normal Theatre and open to the public. Professor Chris Breu will also join us one evening to discuss his book Hard-Boiled Masculinities. Look for non-compulsary continuations of weekly seminar discussions at one of the local hotel watering holes. Weekly 500 word posts; critical essay.

Films Noir


1 Slightly Honorable (Garnett 1939) F. G. Presnell 1/20

2 Stranger on the Third Floor (Ingster 1940) Frank Partos 1/27

Classic Noir

3 The Maltese Falcon (Huston 1941) Dashiell Hammett 2/3

4 The Glass Key (Heisler 1942) Dashiell Hammett 2/10

5 Double Indemnity (Wilder 1944) James M. Cain 2/17

6 Murder, My Sweet (Dmytryk 44) Raymond Chandler Farewell My Lovely 2/24

7 The Blue Dahlia (Marshall 1946) Raymond Chandler 3/2

8 The Postman Always Rings Twice (Garnett 1946) James M. Cain 3/9

9 The Big Sleep (Hawks 1946) Raymond Chandler (novel) Wm Faulkner (Screenplay) 3/16

10 Out of the Past (Tourneur 1947) 3/23Post-Noir

11 Touch of Evil (Welles 1958) Whit Masterson 3/30

12 Alphaville, une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution (Godard 1965) Jean-Luc Godard 4/6

13 Chinatown (Polanski 1974) Robert Towne 4/13

14 L.A. Confidential (Hanson 1997) James Ellroy 4/20

15 Sin City (Miller, Rodriguez, Tarantino 2005) Frank Miller 4/27


Dashiell Hammett The Maltese Falcon (1929) 2/3

James M. Cain The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934) 3/9

Raymond Chandler The Big Sleep (1939) 3/16

James Ellroy L.A. Confidential (1990) 4/20

Frank Miller Sin City (1991) 4/27


Film Noir: Bringing Darkness to Light (Leva 2006)
You Kill Me-Hollywood & Film Noir (Morris 1989)

Secondary Readings

Abbott, Megan E. The street was mine: white masculinity in hardboiled fiction and film noir. Palgrave Macmillan, 2002.

Auerbach, Jonathan. Dark Borders: Film Noir and American Citizenship. Duke UP 2011.

Arthur, Paul. “The Gun in the Briefcase: Or, the Inscription of Class in Film Noir.” The Hidden Foundation: Cinema and the Question of Class. Edited by David E. James and Rick Berg. Minnesota 1996. pp: 90-113.

—. “Murder’s Tongue: Identity, Death, and the City in Film Noir.” In: Violence and American cinema / edited by J. David Slocum. pp: 153-75. Routledge, 2001.

Ballinger, Alexander. The rough guide to film noir. Rough Guides, 2007.

Biesen, Sheri Chinen. Blackout: World War II and the origins of film noir. Johns Hopkins, 2005.

Bould, Mark. Film noir: from Berlin to Sin City. Wallflower, 2005.

Breu, Christopher. Hard-Boiled Masculinities. Minnesota 2005.

Broe, Dennis. Film noir, American workers, and postwar Hollywood. Florida, 2009

Brook, Vincent. Driven to darkness : Jewish émigré directors and the rise of film noir. Rutgers, 2009.

Chopra-Gant, Mike. Hollywood genres and postwar America : masculinity, family and nation in popular movies and film noir. Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.

Christopher, Nicholas. Somewhere in the Night: Film Noir and the American City. Free Press, 1997.

Cochran, David. America Noir: underground writers and filmmakers of the postwar era Smithsonian, 2000.

Crowther, Bruce. Film Noir: Reflections in a Dark Mirror Continuum,1989,

Dickos, Andrew. Street with no name: a history of the classic American film noir Kentucky, 2002.

Dimendberg, Edward. Film noir and the spaces of modernity. Harvard, 2004.

Dixon, Wheeler Winston Film noir and the cinema of paranoia . Rutger, 2009.

Durgnat, Raymond. “Paint It Black: The Family Tree of the Film Noir (1 970 ) Cinema, 6/7 (1970) pp:49-56 available as eText.

Dyer, Richard “Homosexuality and film noir — Victim: hegemonic project,” The matter of images: essays on representation. Routledge, 2002.

Faison, Stephen E. Existentialism, film noir, and hard-boiled fiction. Cambria, 2008.

Fay, Jennifer. Film noir: hard-boiled modernity and the cultures of globalization. Routledge, 2010.

Flory, Dan. Philosophy, Black film, film noir. Pennsylvania State, 2008.

Gifford, Barry. Out of the past: adventures in film noir. Mississippi, 2001.

Gore, Steven. “Unbecoming Dashiell Hammett.” Rev. of Nathan Ward’s The Lost Detective: Becoming Dashiell Hammett. Los Angeles Review of Books, Sep 15 2015.

Hannsberry, Karen Burroughs. Femme Noir: Bad Girls of Film. McFarland, 1998.

Hanson, Helen. Hollywood heroines : women in film noir and the female gothic film. Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.

Hare, William. Early film noir: greed, lust and murder Hollywood style McFarland, 2003.

—. L.A. noir: nine dark visions of the City of Angels. McFarland, c2004.

Hibbs, Thomas S. Arts of Darkness : American noir and the quest for redemption. Spence, 2008.

Hirsch, Foster. The Dark Side of the Screen: Film Noir. Da Capo, 1983.

Irwin, John T. Unless the threat of death is behind them : hard-boiled fiction and film noir. Johns Hopkins, 2006.

Johnson, Kevin, The Dark Page: Books that inspired American film noir, (1940-1949). Oak Knoll, 2007.

Karimi, Amir Massoud. Toward a Definition of the American Film Noir (1941-1949). Arno Press, 1971.

Kennedy, Barbara. “Post-feminist futures in film noir,” The body’s perilous pleasures: dangerous desires and contemporary culture / ed, Michelle Aaron. Edinburgh,1999.

Krutnik, Frank. In a Lonely Street: Film Noir, Genre, Masculinity. Routledge, 1991.

Martin, Richard. Mean Streets and Raging Bulls: The Legacy of Film Noir in Contemporary American Cinema. Scarecrow, 1997.

Maxfield, James F. The Fatal Woman: Sources of Male Anxiety in American Film Noir, 1941-1991 . Fairleigh Dickinson,1996.

Muller, Eddie. Dark city dames: the wicked women of film noir. Regan, 2001.

—. Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir. St. Martin’s, 1998.

Naremore, James. More Than Night: Film Noir in its Contexts. California, 2008

Oliver, Kelly. Noir anxiety. Minnesota, 2003.

Osteen, Mark. Nightmare Alley: Film Noir and the American Dream. Johns Hopkins 2013.
Phillips, Gene D. Out of the Shadows: Expanding the canon of classic film noir. Scarecrow, 2012

Pippin, Robert B. Fatalism in American Film Noir: Some Cinematic Philosophy. Virginia 2012.

Rabinowitz, Paula. Black & White & Noir: America’s pulp modernism. Columbia, 2002.

Schrader, Paul, “Notes on Film Noir,” Film Comment, vol. 8, no. 1 (Spring 1972), pp. 8–13. Available as eText.

Schwartz, Ronald. Noir, Now and Then: film noir originals and remakes, (1944-1999). Greenwood Press, 2001.

Silver, Alain. The Noir Style. Woodstock. Overlook Press, 1999.

Silver, Alain, and James Ursini, eds. Film Noir Reader. Limelight. 1996.

Smith, Imogen Sara. In Lonely Places : film noir beyond the city. McFarland, 2011.
Telotte, J. P. Voices in the Dark: The Narrative Patterns of Film Noir. Illinois 1989.

Tuska, John. Dark Cinema: American Film Noir in Cultural Perspective. Greenwood, 1984.

Wager, Jans B. Dames in the Driver’s Seat: Rereading film noir. Texas, 2005.

Zizek, Slavoj. “‘The Thing That Thinks’: The Kantian Background of the Noir Subject,” Shades of Noir: A Reader, ed. Joan Copjec. pp: 199-226, Verso, 1993.

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