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The noir hero dreads to look ahead, but instead tries to survive by the day, and if unsuccessful at that, he retreats into the past.Thus film noir’s techniques emphasize loss, nostalgia, lack of clear priorities, insecurity; then submerge these self-doubts in mannerism and style.
While the term itself is valid, film noir as a genre is a misnomer.
More properly, film noir should be considered a style unto itself, but definitively not genre, defined by the very definitions of the words “style” and “genre”.
Guiding spirits (1943) gives us a dead man explaining episodes from his life to an inquisitive official in the afterlife.
The more flagrant cases, however, involve dead narrators who recount the entire film we see in voice-over, as in our prototype (1938 play, 1940 film).
During the escape sequence he rapidly introduces each of his comrades.
The line might be taken as Waldo’s dying words spoken offscreen, except that the line is miked far more closely than his speech earlier in the scene, when he’s actually closer to he camera.
There emerged a rough menu for handling them, and ambitious filmmakers played with several possibilities.
That play didn’t stop in the Forties; we still have new versions of flashbacks, subjectivity, and the like.
That opening has become a touchstone for the grim fatalism of film noir, as well as a mark of daring screenwriting. And anybody interested in Hollywood film knows that such narrators are hallmarks of a giddy period of cinematic innovation, as recognizably “1940s” as flashbacks, moody subjective sequences, and twisty plots.
In that era we find narrators well outside that terrain known as noir.