Abstract from Film noir, style, themes, and existentialism essay by Toby Woollaston – 2012

In his seminal book on Film Noir Frank Krutnik wrote “Film Noir has been valued by successive critics for its supposed challenges to or disruptions of the stylistic, narrative, and generic norms of the ‘classical’ system of film-making”. (Krutnik, 1991, p.10). In this essay I will examine key stylistic and thematic elements that distinguish film noir. In doing so I will be illustrating my points with the following films from the classical film noir cycle; The Woman in the Window (1944, directed by Fritz Lang), The Glass Key (1942, directed by Stuart Heisler), The Maltese Falcon (1941, directed by John Huston), and Double Indemnity (1944, directed by Billy Wilder). In lieu of a synopsis of each film I will be referring to these films on the basis that the reader is already familiar with them. I will focus the second half of my essay on the concept of existentialism and some of the ways this theme manifests itself in the four film noir examples. To do this I will draw heavily on the work of Jean-Paul Sartre, in particular his 1944 play No Exit where he explores many existential themes that I will argue pertain to film noir. I will argue that existentialism is a film noir theme that is an ahistorical component of a genre otherwise built on a historical framework.

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