Film Noir Research

Film Noir Conventions

By Joe Owen

Film Noir, French for ‘Black Film’ is a genre created and sometimes set in the late 1940’s, largely in America after the war.
It is traditional for these films to be set in an urban city, on a dark, gloomy set. The sombre feeling of the movie is usually added to by rainy streets, jazz music and high contrast settings.

Example of gloomy, raining streets

By Henry 


It all starts off with “a dame with no past and a hero with no future”. the femme fatal lures in the man, with her seductive nature only to get him caught up in a controversy that leaves him stranded and with no one to turn to.

film noir is notoriously known for it’s violence and guns. this convention usually comes about when the femme fatal has got the main protagonist caught up in a plot which he cannot get out of, and with risk of him telling, it ends in violence and death.

As film noir is conventionally black, the use of lighting and shadow suggests that the hero with no future is stuck in a world in which he has no escape, and the one he is trapped in is full of people hiding in the darkness willing to stab you in the back and betray you at any point.

By Joe Owen

Another conventional character would be a crooked police officer. One that doesn’t abide by the rules, often to try and set our male lead role up to look like the bad guy. He generally is unlike any other of the police officers, and we can tell that there is something unusual about him. Only to find out his true secrets in the end. In addition, there are sometimes ‘gangsters’ of some sort involved, which makes the whole plot a lot harder for the detective to get his head around.

Plot lines

Plot lines, are certain to revolve around some sort of murder, which is why the main male role is usually a detective. He is the one often assigned to the case or gets dragged into it by the Femme Fatale. This also would see the inclusion of a ‘crooked cop’ to be quite easily justified. If not murder, then the story is generally about some sort of crime committed. This allows for the the typical conventions for a Film Noir to be used. The locations used for a film like this are usually quite similar over many Noir films. It tends to be in quite an urban city, with lots of alleyways for the more secretive characters to do business. They often include police station and/or a detectives office, usually for ‘the man with no future’ who tends to be someone enforcing the law in one way or another.

Jazz or piano music is more than likely in every Film Noir film, because it helps the viewer to distinguish the time frame of when the movie is set. Which is usually in the late 1940’s onwards up to even now, the more modern types of Film Noir, have a sub-genre of their own: Neo-Noir


Neo-Noir usually has all of the same conventions as a normal Film Noir however has a more modern vibe to it as it’s more up to date. However, it would not be a Noir film without the various different conventions tied to this specific genre. In Neo-Noir, there is updated content, style, visual elements or media that weren’t able to feature in the older, more classic, Film Noir Films.

examples of neo-noir films: Pulp Fiction, Sin City, Blade Runner, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and The Man Who Wasn’t There.




By Tom Hall


Costumes are very similar amongst the separate sexes. Men tend to be wearing dark suits or formal wear to represent their occupation, whether that is an insurance salesmen or private detective. Fedora hats and long overcoats are the common norm as well, signifying the crime/Mafioso lifestyle depicted in film noir. Women can also be seen as wearing formal attire, long dresses with low necklines, high heeled shoes, and possibly a fur coat, soft hat or pair of gloves to go with it. They are also generally well-made up, using lots of mascara and specifically red lipstick. Most women dressed like this to deliver the ‘femme fatale’ look, one which successfully seduced and manipulated men in film noir.

 By Joe W 


Sound can also be very conventional in film noir’s. the music that is very commonly played is slow jazz with distinct instruments playing for example, a saxophone and a piano. Due to it being so slow paced adds to the sombre performance of the film as a whole. This music, when in an intense scene, will grow louder and louder to exaggerate how important the scene is to the plot line and movie in general. An extremely common sound effect that is used is that of a gun shot. This is because guns are also so commonly found in these film noir films and they are played very loudly to shock and startle the audience. This could be because it creates an over the top effect of how powerful these guns can be.

please open this link in a new tab for an example of the use of sound and sound effects in the movie: Out Of The Past (1947)



Lighting plays a very crucial part in the making of film noir films. when this genre came onto the scene in the early 1920’s, they only had black and white cameras so had to use lighting in a very different way we use lighting now. gobo’s were often used to cast large shadows on walls or floor to add to the mystery of the film. As well as this, shadows were also cast by the use of cookies in front of the light source to portray a possible setting where the character is. Due to a film noir being very dark and dim throughout, the use of lighting signals the importance of what is going on in that particular moment or scene.

Three-Point-Lighting                  lighting_photography_3


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