Art Noir and its central inspiration Film Noir are artistic titles that describe hard boiled fiction and works of art and drama. They combine a dark and romantic aesthetic style that has roots in German expressionist cinematography with cynical and corrupt attitudes, and tragically passionate storylines. Most notably in film, but also in art, the term has become synonymous with detective fiction, as well as thrillers and depictions of the femme fatale and her alluring power over male anti-heroes. Much of these works of art derive from the school of crime fiction that emerged in the United States during the Great Depression, bringing forth legendary writers like Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett.
Raymond Chandler was a novelist that became a detective fiction writer after losing his job as an oil company executive in the Great Depression. His first novel is considered a definitive noir classic, The Big Sleep, and was made into a Hollywood Film Noir by Howard Hawks, starring Humphrey Bogart, as the detective Phillip Marlowe, and Lauren Bacall, as the femme fatale Vivian Rutledge. Roger Ebert wrote of the movie “it is one of the great films noir, a black-and-white symphony that exactly reproduces Chandler's ability, on the page, to find a tone of voice that keeps its distance, and yet is wry and humorous and cares.”
Chandler went on to write the novels Farewell My Lovely, The Little Sister, and The Long Goodbye. The Long Goodbye especially is considered to be a masterpiece. Chandler in a letter to a friend called the novel “my best book.” This novel and its various film adaptations went on to inspire a generation of noir artists, including Theo, who titled one of his paintings after the book.
Dashiell Hammett was an American author of detective novels and short stories. He created the famous detective character, Sam Spade, in The Maltese Falcon, who like Phillip Marlowe was also played by Humphrey Bogart in the film adaptation. Hammett is widely regarded as one of the finest mystery writers of all time. The New York Times described him as “the dean of the hard boiled school of detective fiction.” He also wrote Red Harvest, The Glass Key, and The Thin Man, all regarded as definitive and inspirational examples of noir detective fiction.
Film noir is notorious for its portrayal of women of questionable virtue. These Femme fatales were women who couldn’t be trusted and yet you couldn’t help but trust them, such was the power of their sexuality and allure. Double Indemnity directed by Billy Wilder, is credited as the dawn of the era of the femme fatale. A slew of renowned noir “bad girls” followed, Rita Hayworth in Gilda, Lana Turner in The Postman Always Rings Twice, and Jane Greer in Out Of The Past.