Reflections on prime examples of noir.

Chinatown and The Postman Always Rings Twice both carry several core features of noir.  Though they exist in different formats, they embody the heart of what makes a work of fiction noir.  They contain women who play both the roles of the love interest and the femme fatale.  Interestingly, in both works these women also toward the end of the story, and the male protagonist is blamed for their deaths.  How these women relate to the protagonist is quite different, however.  In Chinatown, Gittes is approached by Evelyn Mulwray in the context of his job as a private investigator.  She needs his help.  This is a classic premise to a noir story, one that many film noirs use to begin the protagonist’s tale investigation of something that is much bigger than him.

The Postman Always Rings Twice is the other side of classic noir stories.  Instead of an investigator, Frank Chambers is just some guy who Cora, our femme fatale, seduces to help her get out of her marriage.  Instead of solving a crime, our protagonists are the ones committing it.  Noir is about both sides of crime: the people who commit it, and those who solve and try to stop it.  After Chambers and Cora make their attempts to murder her husband, and supposedly get away with it, they still manage to find justice.  Cora is killed in the car accident, and Frank is blamed and put on death row.  Justice, and its various means of coming about, is inherently a strong theme of noir, a style that is largely about crime.

Along these lines, I found that The Killers is a more unique version of noir.  It featured no femme fatale, investigators, police, deceit, or conspiracy.  Instead, it gave the impression that the story had already been told.  Whatever Ole Anderson did to get in trouble, the journey had just about come to an end by the time we as the audience arrive.  The two hitmen are there to tie up the loose end.  We don’t know what happened before, or even why the hitmen are there to kill Anderson.  All we know is that Anderson is doomed; we came in on the last chapter.  I found this minimalism interesting; because of the specific nature of noir, we can almost imagine what had happened to bring these characters to this point.  There probably was some element of deceit, maybe there were police or investigators involved.  Maybe there was even a femme fatale who may or may not still be alive.  The Killers represents the all too familiar end of a journey through noir.  And it usually involves death.

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