Film noir is a cinematic term used primarily to describe stylish Hollywood crime dramas, particularly those that emphasize moral ambiguity and sexual motivation. Hollywood's classic film noir period is generally regarded as stretching from the early 1940s to the late 1950s. Film noir of this era is associated with a low-key black-and-white visual style that has roots in German Expressionist cinematography, while many of the prototypical stories and much of the attitude of classic noir derive from the hardboiled school of crime fiction that emerged in the United States during the Depression.
The term film noir (French for "black film"), first applied to Hollywood movies by French critic Nino Frank in 1946, was unknown to most American film industry professionals of the era. Cinema historians and critics defined the canon of film noir in retrospect; many of those involved in the making of the classic noirs later professed to be unaware of having created a distinctive type of film.
Approaches to defining noir
The history of film noir criticism has seen fundamental questions become matters of controversy unusually intense for such a field. Where aesthetic debates tend to concentrate on the quality and meaning of specific artworks and the intentions and influences of their creators, in film noir, the debates are regularly much broader. Four large questions may be identified, two of them addressed at the beginning of this article:
Some consider[who?] Vertigo (1958) a noir on the basis of plot and tone and various motifs. Others say[who?] the combination of color and the specificity of director Alfred Hitchcock's vision exclude it from the category.
• What defines film noir?
• What sort of category is it?
This article refers to movies from the classic period as "film noir" if there is a critical consensus supporting that designation. That consensus is almost never complete and is in many cases provisional: The Lost Weekend and The Night of the...