Sample Movie Review Paper on Film Noir

Film noir originated as a genre during the 1940s in post-War France, inspired by the
turbulent intellectual and sociopolitical circumstances of World War II. The starring figure of the
criminal was a comparison for ‘dark’ dimensions of the self that needed to be understood. This
paper will scrutinize the elements of film noir with two movies involved; the Maltese Falcon
(1941) and Chinatown (1974) and how relevant they have been across the times.
Film noir has been regarded as an amphibolic category of film. French critics Borde and
Chaumeton postulate that it would be overly shallow for film noir to be exhibiting a strange,
conflicted, and cruel set of attributes (Borde & Chaumeton, p2). Notwithstanding, most
descriptions and analyses of this genre is that they are affected by what is at the same time
impressing in them. The fascination behind these action-packed movies is their depiction of
characters, themes; crime and detective tales, melodramas, or female thrillers. They also avoid
explicit content but still impress on the manner their plot is brought about in the evocation of the
atmosphere and mood in these films.
The Chinatown storyline maintains some aspect of the classical plots while the Maltese
Falcon can be categorized as a distinct transitional crime psychology film which indicates the
limitations within the film noir spectrum and those that do not depict some lack of noir element.
Often, film noir is regarded with negativity. This genre represents a crisis and tries to deal with
the crisis in its dark way. It shows the dark nature and desperation of this era, where some
individuals throw themselves under the race for materialistic gain. The Maltese Falcon (1941)

acts as a window through which we can observe future elements of the noir label, especially, the
divided and dishonorable protagonist. The environment in which the hero lives is a dim and
problematic urban environment in which they try to make ends meet. This is an allusion to
American society during that time. Sam Spade, a noir protagonist is seen as a dark hero. His
greedy nature is emblematic of a dirty protagonist who overlooks the rules of conservative
values. The audience can pick out his materialistic nature as observed from his grin when Miss
Wonderly whips out cash from her handbag. Spade is the man having an affair with his partner’s
wife (Archer). After finding out about the death of Archer, Spade responds by having all his
belongings taken out of the office since he does not portray any compunction. This evidence
shows the film noir with its black and white style. The incredibility of Samuel Spade as a hero is,
therefore, corroded by his warped code of ethics. He brings out a sacrifice for the greater good in
a divergent manner, as he sacrifices others for his own greater good. Spade’s ingenious nature
expedites his navigation through difficult situations. He is notably selfish and immoral. His
greedy nature, ironically, helps him in the end. Rather than supporting Miss. Wonderly, Spade
had no difficulty throwing her under the bus to help himself.
Film noir parodies a transitional era in American society, a stage when America
transforms from being a pre-industrial to a heavy consumer society. The film noir can be viewed
as the screen style and concept of human existence and society. Its storylines consolidate a dark
view of the world as a result of a collision with nihilism. The gothic culture became popularized
at a time when people’s ideas and religious beliefs were under question. Before the American
society was more autonomous, where people were the rulers of their destiny, but after the war,
civilians were busied by economic and political authority.

The people could not cope with social development which caused a moral issue as
observed in Film Noir. The themes highlighted in the noir films included happenings ensuing
significant events during the early 20th century. The explosion of the middle-class inhibiting
suburban areas guided the development of the dark plots. People busy trying to make ends meet,
pushed by the economic pressures. The demands for spacious houses, cars, security, and better
education are also a factor that leads to suburban population increases that encouraged
uniformity. The introduction of the Maltese Falcon starts with the focus on a stationary statue,
then pans out into the city, the audience is directed to center on the social issues. The skit also
portrays the lettering on the detective agency window, linking the partnership between Spade and
Archer, as the words are observed in reverse. The producer, Huston, is letting the viewer realize
that everything is not as it seems and the partnership between Spade and Archer is not pure and
stable. The Noir audience would easily relate to these films, as they could identify society and
some truths in them. The film became an eye-opener to the contemporary American citizen, on
what can happen if one defies culture (the view of women and family).
The dark and distinctiveness of film noir gives it a deliberate thrill. Known for their
explicit dialogue, grim anti-heroes, and high-contrast mise-en-scene depiction of enchanting
femme Fatales, the noir movie pushed the boundaries of the conventional nature of the American
film. Their crime and psychological thriller storylines indulged viewers through scenes of
infidelity, connivance, and murder, toeing the decent line as defined by the Production code.
However, the portrayal of antiheroes assuaged the moralistic standards of the media as
perpetrators rarely went unpunished in noir. In Chinatown (1974), Jake ‘J.J.’ Gittes is a private
journalist who is characterized to prove infidelity. When approached by Evelyn, a woman
suspecting her husband to be cheating, he accepts the task. J.J. tails the husband (Mr. Mulwray)

and obtains photos of him with a young woman Katherine. Amid a flurry of scandals Mr.
Mulwray (the head of Department Wate and Power in Los Angeles) is involved in, the photos of
infidelity hit the front pages. The following day, the REAL Mrs. Mulwray arrives at J.J.’S and
confronts him. J.J. realizes he has been fooled and must uncover the truth to redeem his
reputation. As the anti-hero, J.J. fits the profile perfectly. He is a proud and insightful character
who mixes evidence like a mojito cocktail. However, simultaneously abrasive and charming J.J.
is, his dialogues are composed of lies and accusations. In a particular scene, J.J is caught poking
his nose in someone else’s business. One of the muscles, Roman Polanski, sticks a knife into
J.J.’s nostril and cuts through it with a violent flick. He then promises to shop the whole nose the
next time he snoops again. Contrary, this daunting act causes the opposite outcome, making Jake
take the whole thing personally.
The femme fatale element is manifest in noir movies. It was born out of the historical
need to deconstruct women as the periphery and men as the driving forces in the society
(Jancovich, p1). The tragic misrecognition of the female character as a rebounding archetype of a
deadly woman of tragic awareness in noir films presents the pessimistic nature of the noir genre.
Characterized as the iniquitous creature with the power to seduce and destroy men, the femme
fatale position in the 1940s as the manifestation of male anxiety in patriarchal America. Evelyn
Mulwray of Chinatown (1974) casually slips into the role of femme fatal. In the beginning, she
doesn’t seem to fit into this role because of how well she conceals it. She spins several lies that
build up until the misogynistic Mr. Gutters slaps the hell out of her. Mrs. Mulwray acts oblivious
and gauche as she secretly takes care of businesses in the background. She exploits J.J. sexually
and puts him at her arms-length, only telling J.J. what he wants to hear. In the Maltese Falcon
(1941), Miss Wonderly is revealed to be a different kind of femme fatale, the black widow. On

top of the sensual and attractive nature, she is smart, dangerous, and also self-sustaining.
O’Shaughnessy is even more capable than her male victims, providing a conflicting view of the
other women in this movie. Her wiles on victims such as Spade’s partner Archer fit her in the
ranks of femme fatale. However, Miss Wonderly is defeated by Sam Spade for him to continue
with his life. Miss Wonderly is a skilled liar who is irresistible and quite experienced at making
men perform her bidding. On the surface, she is soft-spoken and timid, making her seem
innocent and helpless. O’Shaughnessy’s killer outfit is well calculated to evoke the strongest
effect. She also knows how to control her emotions making her a great actor.
Lastly, the iconography in noir films purposes to portray the characteristics of
contemporary society. The Maltese Falcon itself is a symbol of an unachievable but highly
desirable goal. The characters in the movie become fascinated by the material promise of the
statuette and begin hunting for it. The Maltese Falcon as a historical artifact typifies western
civilization, where wealth was the goal for every citizen, and the struggle between the noble and
the pirates, in the efforts to get rich. On the other hand, Chinatown represented American society
at the time, full of mystery and meanings that were concealed and not apparent. The corrupted
American society, full of crime and guilt as portrayed by J.J. and other characters is the
controlling factor of the plot of noir films.
In conclusion, the characteristic of film noir throughout history makes it a staged genre
for American discourse. This genre revolutionized the tenets of earlier existentialist guidance of
the perfect heroes, making it a basis for resolving problems of effect, making film noir a genre fit
for the postmodern theatre, moving along the borderlines of pulp and modernism, between
thriller and theatre (Fluck, p405).



Borde, Raymond and Etienne Chaumeton. A Panorama of American Film Noir. Trans. Paul
Hammond. San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2002.
Fluck, Wilfried. "Crime, Guilt, and Subjectivity in ‘Film Noir." Amerikastudien / American
Studies 46.3 (2001): 379-408.
POSTWAR AMERICA." Revue Canadienne D'Études Cinématographiques / Canadian
Journal of Film Studies 20.1