We’re told the term “film noir” was first applied to stylish and cynical American crime dramas in 1946. A French critic, Nino Frank, used it in an article about films made in the USA during World War II that he saw as having something in common. These motion pictures hadn’t been seen in France because of the war, so they appeared there in a sudden wave.
However, most Americans didn’t recognize such films as being in a specific genre until a couple of decades later. The titles on my list weren’t promoted in their time as film noir, at least not in this country. When Hollywood began to produce movies that critics called “neo-noir,” Americans then looked back on the gritty, dark movies of the postwar period and saw them as being in a category that deserved a name for itself.
So, for some observers the film noir period began in 1940 and extends into the 1970s. Others would put any movie that seems to be fit the mold in that category, regardless of when it was made. Even if it’s in color!
“The Asphalt Jungle” (1950): Directed by John Huston; Cast: Sterling Hayden, Jean Hagen, Louis Calhern, plus a young Marilyn Monroe
“D.O.A.” (1950): Directed by Rudolph Maté; Cast: Edmund O’Brien, Pamela Britton, Luther Adler
“The Killing” (1956): Directed by Stanley Kubrick; Cast: Sterling Hayden, Coleen Gray, Vince Edwards
“The Third Man” (1949): Directed by Carol Reed; Cast: Joseph Cotton, Alida Valli, Orson Welles
“Touch of Evil” (1958): Directed by Orson Welles; Cast: Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Orson Welles
— F.T. Rea