GUEST BLOG—The Deliciously Dark World of Film Noir by David Schmitt

film noir

Jack Nicholson as Jake Gittes in Chinatown

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

from “The Second Coming”
William Butler Yeats (1865–1939)


Look around. Read the paper. Anarchy really is loosed upon the world, and most of that anarchy is of our own doing, our own choosing. Literary modernism got that, and some of the best works of the 20th century reflected upon man in that dark, dark world. Film noir, a bit late to the party, nonetheless brought the party to all of us in a way that seemed like a punch in the gut, a slap to the face. What’s man to do in this noir-ish nightmare of a world? Succumb? Or overcome?

Double Indemnity

When success isn’t enough, try crime. Walter Neff, insurance salesman, naively believes he can game the system, one he knows well. What a sucker.

Walter Neff: Yes, I killed him. I killed him for money—and a woman—and I didn’t get the money and I didn’t get the woman. Pretty, isn’t it?

film noirThe Big Sleep

Bogey. Bacall. What more need I say? Maybe Raymond Chandler and William Faulkner. It’s a dirty business, sorting through other people’s dirty laundry.

Vivian: Why did you have to go on?
Marlowe: Too many people told me to stop.

Touch of Evil

Charlton Heston is a Mexican cop; Orson Welles is a fat cop; Marlene Dietrich is a gypsy madam. Does everyone have a touch of evil in them?

Pete Menzies: You’re a killer.
Hank Quinlan: Partly. I’m a cop.
Pete Menzies: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Drunk and crazy as you must have been when you strangled him. I guess you were somehow thinking of your wife, the way she was strangled.
Hank Quinlan: I’m always thinking of her, drunk or sober. What else is there to think about, except my job, my dirty job?
Pete Menzies: You didn’t have to make it dirty.
Hank Quinlan: I don’t call it dirty. Look at the record, our record, partner. Huh?
Pete Menzies: Sure, sure, sure.
Hank Quinlan: Well? All those convictions.


Jack Nicholson is Jake Gittes, a private eye who may be dirtier than even his client’s laundry. But his centre cannot hold.

Jake Gittes: How much are you worth?
Noah Cross: I have no idea. How much do you want?
Jake Gittes: I just wanna know what you’re worth. More than 10 million?
Noah Cross: Oh my, yes!
Jake Gittes: Why are you doing it? How much better can you eat? What could you buy that you can’t already afford?
Noah Cross: The future, Mr. Gittes! The future. Now, where’s the girl? I want the only daughter I’ve got left. As you found out, Evelyn was lost to me a long time ago.
Jake Gittes: Who do you blame for that? Her?
Noah Cross: I don’t blame myself. You see, Mr. Gittes, most people never have to face the fact that at the right time and the right place, they’re capable of anything.

Blood Simple

The Coen brothers’ first movie. Jealousy, murder, deceit. It’s the same old song, with a different beat.

Marty: I got a job for you.
Private Detective Visser: Uh, well, if the pay’s right, and it’s legal, I’ll do it.
Marty: It’s not strictly legal.
Private Detective Visser: [Thinks for a second] Well, if the pay’s right, I’ll do it.

I love these movies! With these five great films, your passion for noir will awaken. Click on the link the learn more about my seminar, Light Changes to Dark: Film Noir. I’ll look forward to shedding some light on this noir world with you at Toronto Pursuits 2016.


– David




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