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Temptation, Heat and Erotica in Film Noir

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Body Heat was very much about that for me. What happens when a guy who has personal charm and has done well with women but isn't effective in the world runs into someone who's effective in the world?" - Lawrence Kasdan
Some of the best Noir films tease us with the possibility of what may happen between men and women. The women are sultry. The men are bad boys. And the good men - once they meet the sultry women - they then go bad, too.

In the 80s and then then 90s, a heyday for Neo Noir and great cinema in general, we were blessed with many cinematic gems that, with their dimmed lighting, reserved pacing and and intense actors, forced us, the viewers, to sit in those theater seats with great anticipation as to what will happen next.

Will they kiss? Will they cheat? Will she kill? Will he die?

The male actors who rocked these films most? Michael Douglas, William Hurt, Denzel Washington, Jeff Daniels.

But it was the female actors who lured in and marked these men, they were t…

In Noir It's All About the Facades

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Nothing is what is seems. That's the premise of every single Noir story. 

The characters - they're full of secrets, lies, past lives, multiple identities, mysterious backgrounds and dubious professions. The one thing they all share is that there's a duplicity that holds them together - it's what keeps so many of them alive. Ultimately, it's all about the facade - that thick or thin layer that the public gets to see - a veil behind which our favorite characters do their business and live their lives.

While not a traditional Noir, Martin Scorsese's take on The Departed offers perfect example of this. Matt Damon's Colin Sullivan is both police agent and crime son, chasing his own tail. Leonardo DiCaprio's Billy is both cop and acting criminal, chasing Sullivan. Vera Farmiga's Madolyn, the cop psychiatrist, sleeps with both of them. And Jack Nicholson's Frank Costello is the big mob boss who it turns out is also the FBI informant. In the end almost …

The Slippery Slope of Motherhood in Noir

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In film noir, we rarely see mothers. And when we do, we see them as tragedies. 

Mildred Pierce is a divorced working mother whose daughter sleeps with her lover. Phyllis Dietrichson in Double Indemnity is the evil step mother who plots to murder the only living parent her step daughter still has. The most tragic Noir mother, of course, is Evelyn Mulwray in Chinatown. Raped by her own father, secluded with her daughter/ sister, and then murdered in the end, there's absolutely nothing but horror in her short and brutal life. 

In Cleveland City, we meet several mothers. There's Esti, the Jewish society-page widow, real estate powerhouse and mother of two grown sons. And then we also meet Colleen.

Colleen is a 30-something young mom of one son. Her husband was groomed by her own dad and being provided for was never her concern. Colleen did not go to college. She did not aspire to be a doctor or a lawyer or anything that required any level of schooling. It wasn't that she was laz…

The Seemingly Good Men of Noir: A Reflection of the Company They Keep

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When we sit down to watch any Film Noir, we already make a couple assumptions:

1. This isn't going to end well for anyone.
2. No one is innocent.

However, when a Noir story first begins, there's usually someone who appears to have some sort of ethic. Some level or morals and decency. In Something Wild, a 1986 neo-noir directed by the late Jonathan Demme, Jeff Daniels, as Charles, meets a Lulu-esque Femme Fatale named Audrey. Melanie Griffith portrayed her character with the mastery of a surgeon. The second Audrey spotted Charles at the New York City diner, she marks him, and before he knows it, this vanilla suburban husband and office drone embarks on the journey of a lifetime.

Not only does Audrey take him home, to her small town, a massive contrast to the urban jungle where they first met, but he then meets her mother, childhood friend and, at Audrey's 10 year high school reunion, they encounter Ray, Audrey's menacing ex. Ray Liotta exuded that bad boy villain with s…

Film Noir Men: Living On The Dangerous Edge of Life

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The men we meet in Film Noir live on the dangerous edge of life. They typically have "just one more thing" they need to do.  One more robbery to score, one more deal to pull off, one more delivery they need to make. Typically this "one more" becomes the last thing they do before their lives flip over.

In the 2014 Norwegian Noir In Order of Disappearance, a commercial snow plower and local mountain town man of the year Nils Dickman discovers his only son was murdered simply for being in the wrong place at the just the right time. The young man wasn't supposed to be killed, but by association, by simply knowing the wrong people, he meets his fate. Stellan Skarsgård, who plays Dickman (masterfully, as always) then spends the rest of the movie deductively figuring out who is responsible for his child's death and quickly goes from man of the year to a paternal vigilante, who won't rest until he confronts the last of those associated with the crime.

It's …

When She's Not the Femme Fatale, She's Disposable

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The Femme Fatale is a staple in traditional Noir. The glance, the lipstick, the heels. She's a force to be reckoned with and no one dares to stand in her way. This hasn't necessarily been the case in Neo Noir - there was only one female character in The Usual Suspects - Edie, the lawyer - and she was anything but dangerous or even central to the story.

So what about these other women in Noir? The ones who aren't threatening to destroy men's lives or trying to manipulate the situation or run away with all the money? What about them?

By the end of The Usual Suspects, Edie gets killed. In Mildred Pierce, it's not Joan Crawford's character that depicts the Femme Fatale, but, rather, her cruel and cold daughter Veda. Mildred gets stepped on by her one surviving child and by Monty, the lover who hooks both of them into their own beds. In Double Indemnity, as Barbara Stanwyck's Phyllis orchestrates her killer plan, it's her stepdaughter Lola, who's alread…

Film Noir Love: Someone Always Gets Derailed

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"Young mothers love me even ghosts of
Girlfriends call from Cleveland
They will meet me anytime and anywhere"

- Day I Die by The National

In any great film noir, there's a love story. 

Double Indemnity.
Mildred Pierce.
Blade Runner.

The commonality they all share is that is in each tale of passion, heat and killer dialog, one party loves the other more. In some cases, they're not loved back in return. At all. Worse off? The man or woman to whom they give heir hearts and give up everything have simply used them as a means to an end. Once the desired outcome is achieved those fallen into the swoon of it all are left with nothing. Sometimes sent to jail. And in the most tragic noir? They die.

There is no riding into the sunset together.

When it comes to showing the pain of heartbreak, visually and viscerally film noir works stronger than any other genre. 

Recent studies have shown that in bad break ups, the heart has the same physical reaction as it does as though it was physi…