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Film Noir: a new book by William Luhr

June 16, 2012

Tags: Film Noir, Neo-Noir, William Luhr

Studies of film noir have multiplied in recent years. The term has been around since about 1946, but was certainly not in use in Hollywood's heyday. When Dana Andrews was complimented on his performance in a "film noir," he responded, "What's a film noir?" Well, even if you think you know what a film noir is, I'd suggest you read William Luhr's new book. It is the most comprehensive and lucid study of the genre I have read. Discussions of major films are brilliant and concise. What I like best is the historical approach. Luhr carefully shows that "film noir" is a term that meant different things at different times. In order to demonstrate his point, he discusses contemporary films as well as classics. He describes neo-noir films and the difference between films that are of the period (1940s and 1950s) and those that take a retrospective point of view or are stylized period pieces. I was also impressed with Luhr's handling of the shift in Hollywood from the 1930s to 1940s. The morally compromised "heroes" of the 1940s were unthinkable in the 1930s. Like all good film critics, Luhr makes me want to see my favorite films again because he has shown me things I missed. And then there are all those films I didn't see that are now on my list because of William Luhr.


  1. July 3, 2012 10:47 AM EDT
    very interesting-- will have to check this book out, thanks for highlighting it. Noir is such a slippery genre to define since it seemed to come into existence (or I should say, awareness of it as a "genre" came) mainly in retrospect! Always fascinated to read good discussions on "what is noir" which is a subject for both buff and newbie--and being inspired to rethink and watch old favorites again is always a good thing. Also very much looking forward to your Andrews bio! Glad I found your blog, will be checking it often, Thanks & best
    - Kristina
  2. July 3, 2012 10:56 AM EDT
    Thanks Kristina. I think you'll find Luhr's book stimulating. His discussions of individual films are perceptive, but I especially like just what you said about noir: it was defined in retrospect. He deals with that issue quite well. And I'm happy to hear you want to read my Dana Andrews biography. It will be out soon. I try to post or respond to comments nearly every day on my blog, so I welcome return visitors. Also--please do not hesitate in your comments to introduce other topics that I or others might want to comment on.
    - Carl Rollyson
  3. July 8, 2012 10:53 PM EDT
    Carl, Do you believe that discussions of what is noir can sometimes go too far afield? As an example, the "Pottersville" sequence of "It's A Wonderful Life" has been referred to as noir. Do you see it as a genre or as a style that cuts across genres? Louis
    - Louis Burklow
  4. July 9, 2012 6:28 AM EDT
    A genre or a style? I think the reason I can't just say one or the other is because film noir is a term applied by critics after the fact. To those first critics, film noir was a genre that occurred during a very specific moment in history. To later critics, film noir can also be a style that other kinds of films can adapt to their own purposes.
    - Carl Rollyson