Film noir

Film noir

Some old movies are dark and hard, not a fuzzy monochrome box of chocolates and a tearful tissue on a wet saturday afternoon. We look at some of the black and white gems out there.

I love film. Always have, always will. As a kid in the 70’s on Sunday afternoons there would be matinées such as British war films, or Bette Davis films. I was in fact obsessed with Bette at six after seeing The Letter: kinda explains a lot! It also means I was never a colour snob. I actually meet people that have never sat through a black and white film. They should, YOU should; honestly, you are missing out of some absolute classics!

We, of the Mooky kind, should love, love, love Film Noir. While resistance through charisma plays a part (in the last few minutes the powerful women is either killed or turns into a ‘good girl’) for 98% of the film you have a sexually confident woman running rings around the male character(s). And she is all sexy in 40’s clobber, too. ‘Double Indemnity’ and ‘Gilda’ are good starts.

Then you have the fantasy world of Powell and Pressberger (OK, colour for the most part, but Eastman Colour which is less loud than Technicolor). You can succumb to the cinematic charms of a woman who has to choose between love and art in ‘The Red Shoes’. Or you can gasp at a man fighting for his love even though they have only just met briefly over the radio in ‘A Matter of Life and Death’ – and heaven is in black and white!

What about the clipped post war British world before young men got angry? ‘A Brief Encounter’ is one of my favourites: a non-affair between a married housewife and similarly married Doctor. Noel Coward wrote it and it is probably about a (then) forbidden gay romance. The tragedy is no less in making it ‘acceptably’ heterosexual.

A British war film made in the middle of the conflict, ‘Went the Day Well’ is also worth a look. It’s a ‘what if’ scenario in which a NAZI 5th column lands in an English Village, kills the Home guard and puts the few men left in the church hall. It is up to the women, children and evacuees to sort it out – and do they! It is ruthless: sweet little post mistress puts an axe in the back of a soldier’s head. An infantry of kids hold back the soldiers with guns. It was written by Graham Greene during the darkest days of the war, when this was an all too real scenario.

You may be familiar – even in love – with noir but have never explored Powell and Pressberger. Maybe you came across by accident the harrowing ‘Millions Like Us’, a British propaganda drama that bonds its audience in misery (and is all the more realistic for it). Look at other war films actually made that the time. Try the flurry of dark pieces that came out post war: ‘The Blue lamp’ is one. Even though PC Dixon became a British national institution on television he is very different in this hard little thriller.

All I ask is that, one wet Saturday afternoon, you give something you would have dismissed for being in black and white, or too old, or old fashioned, a chance.


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