Wednesday, March 02, 2005
Shadows of our world
As I've been building my collection, one genre in particular has gotten my special interest. This genre is known to film critics and fans as "film noir". It's a bit difficult to describe a film noir in a short, pithy sentence, so I'll just say that a good film noir is usually in black and white with lots of dark shadows enveloping the protagonists, and features a convoluted, sometimes imcomprehensible, plot which draws the characters deeper and deeper into a mire of deception, deceit, betrayal, and murder. Few of these films have a particularly happy ending, and few have any characters whom you might describe as "good". Usually even the cops are on the crooked side. Oh, sometimes our leading man and lady start out as apparently decent people, but invariably they make a foolish evil choice from which issues forth consequences that haunt them the rest of their lives. All in all, the world of the film noir is a wicked, perverse world, all too much like the world in which we live.
If what you're looking for is a good belly laugh or a happy smile, I recommend a comedy like Bringing Up Baby or a musical like Singin' in the Rain. A good film noir is entertaining, but not in a happy way. Instead, what it does is to bring the real world to life in a way that Hollywood's more viewer-friendly productions fail to do. After all, what is more "real world" than a world of sin and misery? For the unregenerate sinner, sin is a harsh and cruel taskmaster that bears bitter fruit, not only in this life but especially in the life to come. Like no other films, the great film noirs show the ugliness and consequences of sin in often brutal clarity.
Caveat: film noir is not well-suited for the squeamish or the weak in conscience. Moreover, these films, although they can do a fine job of showing the bitter fruits of sinful behavior, generally fail to show any way of true redemption. The only role models you'll find in these films are negative examples. In effect, film noir shows the consequences of disobedience of God's moral Law without showing forth the necessity of repentance or the blessings of the Gospel. Thus, although they can serve as cautionary tales, they will not show you the way to salvation any more than any Hollywood movie will.
Disclaimers aside, here's a brief list of some of my favorite film noir movies, listed in alphabetical order. Your mileage may vary. :-)
- The Asphalt Jungle -- an apparently successful jewel heist unravels, exploding in the face of all participants
- The Big Sleep -- Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall face off in this film with a nearly incomprehensible plot but with atmosphere to spare
- Double Indemnity -- Fred MacMurray plots a murder with Barbara Stanwyck
- Gun Crazy -- two young sharpshooters find themselves entrapped in a life of crime
- The Maltese Falcon -- some say this is the first film noir; whether or not that's the case, it's hard to beat the cast of Humphery Bogart, Peter Lorre, and Sydney Greenstreet
- Murder, My Sweet -- former boy tenor Dick Powell turns private eye
- Out of the Past -- Robert Mitchum's star-making performance
- This Gun for Hire -- Alan Ladd plays an embittered hired killer, with Veronica Lake as the girl who gets swept along