Shadow play

The big bad city, a femme fatale, a morally ambiguous hero and blazing guns—wrap all this up in a web of shadows and you get the alluring world of Film Noir—one of the great creations of modern cinema. We take a look at some classics that are now available on high quality DVD.

Bibek Bhattacharya | Print Edition: June 1, 2008

M (1931)

German director Fritz Lang had tasted worldwide success with the landmark Metropolis in 1927, when he set out to direct this haunting film about a serial killer. M is one of the first film Noirs and the defining traits of the genre are already pronounced—the stylised chiaroscuro photography (the technique of using light and dark to add depth to a photograph) and the overt use of close-ups. The title character is a nervous young man played by the redoubtable Peter Lorre. To all intents and purposes, he is a harmless man, but he has an evil streak, which will not let him be. Thus, he leaves his apartment every day and preys on hapless children. It is a chillingly taut and crisply filmed movie, with not a minute wasted.
Criterion Collection
Rs 1,598

Maltese Falcon (1941)

Noir wouldn’t be the powerful genre it is without Humphrey Bogart. Arguably the most iconic of the lot is Maltese Falcon, based on Dashiell Hammett’s novel. Private detective Sam Spade (Bogart) investigates the mysterious murder of his partner during a routine stakeout in a treacherous tale of double-cross. Spade also has to contend with another mysterious client of his, the femme fatale Brigid O’Shaughnessy (Mary Astor). Directed by John Huston, a master in the genre, the movie is almost perfect. Bogart, of course, went on to play the other legendary trenchcoat-clad detective Philip Marlowe in The Big Sleep, but Maltese Falcon pretty much set the blueprint of later Noir classics like Chinatown and Devil In A Blue Dress.

Warner Home Video
Price: Rs 1,200

Night and the City (1950)

Although Hollywood dominated the genre during its “classic” phase in the ‘40s and ‘50s, some great Noir movies were made elsewhere, too. The spectre of McCarthyism forced director Jules Dassin into professional exile in London, where he made this very English (but financed by Hollywood) film about the meteoric fall of London hustler Harry Fabian, played memorably by Richard Widmark. Very few films in the genre surpass Night and the City for sheer visual pleasure, as London’s seamy underworld of hard money, beggars, thieves and the wrestling mafia is vividly brought to life.
Criterion Collection
Price: Rs 1,598

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