Graduate Liberal Studies Program

Course Description

GLS 592: American Film Noir

Instructor: Paula Haller

Robert Mitchum

Phyllis (Barbara Stanwyck): Mr. Neff, why don't you drop by tomorrow evening around 8:30. He'll be in then.
Walter (Fred McMurray): Who?
Phyliss: My husband. You were anxious to talk to him, weren't you?
Walter: Who?
Phyllis: My husband. You were anxious to talk to him, weren't you?
Walter: Yeah, I was, but I'm getting over the idea, if you know what I mean.
Phyllis: There's a speed limit in this state, Mr. Neff, 45 miles an hour.
Walter: How fast was I going, officer?
Phyllis: I'd say around 90.
Walter: Suppose you get off your motorcycle and give me a ticket?
Phyllis: Suppose I let you off with a warning this time.

- from Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity, 1944.

Racy, fast-paced dialogue loaded with double meanings is typical of all films noir. One of Hollywood's most famous movements, film noir flourished from 1941 to 1958. Originally defined by French critics, films noir foregrounded the dark side of human nature. Highly expressionistic, menacing lighting and stories full of fatalistic twists and turns characterize these films, which continue to capture our imagination. Audiences never tire of noir's seductive femmes fatales, dangerous women who lure noir's world weary, fatalistic anti-heroes into their spidery webs. Succeeding generations still imitate noir's wary, wisecracking detectives who haunt damp, deserted city streets and mysterious alleys until trapped by a flashing neon light or slit into shreds by a Venetian blind's silver shafts. Influenced by masters of the 1920s-30s hardboiled school of detective fiction (the "Black Mask Boys"), films noir boast some of the best dialogue in cinema history, as well as some of its most exquisitely atmospheric black and white photography.

Brilliant German and Austrian emigre directors Fritz Lang and Billy Wilder led the way with such masterpieces as Scarlet Street and Double Indemnity. Indelible performances by popular noir stars Barbara Stanwyck, Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, Richard Widmark, Rita Hayworth, Robert Mitchum, Lauren Bacall, and Gloria Grahame captivated movie audiences then and still excite film fans today.

That film noir continues to fascinate and endure is evidenced by the neo-noir and post-noir films of the 1970s, 80s and 90s like Chinatown, Taxi Driver and Blue Velvet (shot in Wilmington). Sign up for this seminar and enter the mesmerizing, twisted world of film noir. We'll begin with such classics as Double Indemnity, Scarlet Street, Night and the City and work our way up to Orson Welles' baroque, over-the-top masterpiece Touch of Evil. We'll end with the neo-noir thriller L.A. Confidential.

Course Requirements: Two short papers and one research paper

Primary Texts:

The Dark Side of the Screen: Film Noir, by Foster Hirsch (Paperback: Da Capo Press, 2001)
Critical Approaches to Writing About Film, by John E. Moscowitz (Prentice Hall paperback 2000)In a Lonely Street: Film Noir, Genre, Masculinity, by Frank Krutnik (Routledge paperback 1993)
The Black Mask Boys: Masters in the Hard-Boiled School of Detective Fiction, by William F. Nolan (The Mysterious Press, paperback 1985)

Last Update:July 16, 2008