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  1. #1
    Senior Member Country: UK DB7's Avatar
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    Is Graham Greene the father of film noir?

    Before The Third Man and This Gun for Hire, Graham Greene's rarely seen The Green Cockatoo staked out some of the territory that film noir went on to claim



    * Andrew Pulver

    Did Graham Greene invent film noir? I've always secretly hoped the answer was yes. It would be fitting that Britain's miserable, morally conflicted poet of the third-class railway compartment could be established as the prime mover behind the darkest, nastiest and sourest cinematic style of all - rather than bullish American wordsmiths of the James M Cain and Dashiell Hammett stable. We all know Greene had a hand in arguably the finest noir ever made, The Third Man, and the adaptations of Ministry of Fear, Brighton Rock and The Basement Room (known in cinemas as The Fallen Idol) are all noir classics of one kind or another. But they were all a little late to the film-noir party, reaching cinemas between 1944 and 1949.



    A much better claim can be staked by the 1942 film This Gun for Hire, adapted � very loosely � from Greene's 1936 novel A Gun for Sale. In its page-to-screen trajectory, This Gun for Hire exactly resembles, and predates, James M Cain's Double Indemnity, the film of which came out in 1944. You can theorise that the novelists, generally writing before the second world war broke out, sensed the slide to conflict well before the considerably more conservative film industry. Or maybe they were just smarter. Whatever the reason, A Gun for Sale made a great noir source, even if the resulting film does a fairly radical job on Greene's original. Unsmiling hitman Alan Ladd is a long way from the novel's hare-lipped and twitchy Raven, while nightclub canary Veronica Lake vamps at levels unknown to Greene's danseuse Anne. And the yards of ultra hardboiled dialogue, courtesy of The Naked City's Albert Maltz and The Asphalt Jungle's WR Burnett, turn it into down-and-dirty American pulp.



    Early though This Gun for Hire is in the noir canon, it's still later than The Maltese Falcon, Suspicion and even Stranger on the Third Floor � the 1940 Peter Lorre vehicle normally considered the first of the classic American noir phase. But Greene has a much earlier claim to noir fame; he wrote an original script for a British crime thriller called The Green Cockatoo, which was released in 1937. The Green Cockatoo is one of those oft-mentioned, hardly-ever screened films, and the only way you can get to see it at the moment is to request it from the National Film Archive - which is exactly what I did.



    So is The Green Cockatoo actually any good - and equally importantly, is it a genuine film noir? The answers are: sort of, and maybe. Roughly contemporaneous to A Gun for Sale, Cockatoo has a similar commitment to the boiled-down essentials of the crime genre. A girl witnesses a murder, becomes a suspect herself, falls in with a Soho tough-nut (John Mills, doing the worst American accent this side of Vivien Leigh), and eventually realises he's the murdered man's brother. Being a film, and a pretty fast-and-cheap one at that, much of the layered detail that Greene inserts into his prose is lost, so in many ways Cockatoo comes across as a pretty rudimentary entertainment. On the other hand, some unmistakable Greene touches shine out � the girl, for example, is described as wearing a "cheap white mackintosh", a fantastically redolent phrase that instantly puts you in that fabled Greene-land. Alongside that, he hints at some interesting themes � the divided self, the moral crusader, the labyrinth of the city � that would become noir staples. That said, it's all topped off with a cheesy kiss in a railway compartment that belongs in a sappy romance.



    So it's perhaps understandable that The Green Cockatoo isn't numbered in the front ranks of noir, but Greene deserves points for trying. There's a direct line to later spivs-in-Soho films like Night and the City and The Small World of Sammy Lee, and therefore it's well worth cherishing.

  2. #2
    Senior Member Country: Great Britain
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    First let me say that I hold Mr Greene's work in extremely high regard, he is my favourite author. I'm not one for knowing exact dates but wasn't James M.Cain's "The Postman Always Rings Twice" published in the early 1930's ?

  3. #3
    Senior Member Country: Great Britain
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    name='billy bentley']First let me say that I hold Mr Greene's work in extremely high regard, he is my favourite author. I'm not one for knowing exact dates but wasn't James M.Cain's "The Postman Always Rings Twice" published in the early 1930's ?


    1934.



    Greene cited Patrick Hamilton as an influence for his "entertainments". Hamilton wrote the play Rope in 1929 and penned several noirish novels in the 30s.



    D.

  4. #4
    GRAEME
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    The article is about specifically films noir.



    There are many literary antecedants to the genre - especially Hammett's 1920s detective stories.

  5. #5
    Senior Member Country: UK
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    Hi.

    I know that I am not going to be popular. Even if I live in Hemel Hempstead which is next door to Berkhamsted, which in turn, is hiis birth place. Yes, Graham Greene is a local liturature hero. But surely, the film noir genre, must go back to silent films. Prior to his birth. In which case, I do not think he is the father of film noir. But that does not mean I decry his talent. Sorry.



    Got to sign off.



    Alan French.

  6. #6
    GRAEME
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    name='alan french']Hi.

    I know that I am not going to be popular. Even if I live in Hemel Hempstead which is next door to Berkhamsted, which in turn, is hiis birth place. Yes, Graham Greene is a local liturature hero. But surely, the film noir genre, must go back to silent films. Prior to his birth. In which case, I do not think he is the father of film noir. But that does not mean I decry his talent. Sorry.



    Got to sign off.



    Alan French.




    Not sure what you mean? Obviously there are stylistic and narrative antecedants in silent and early talkie movies - but Film Noir as a genre doesn't exist until the early fourties.



    If this British film the article mentions is a proto-noir then because of its date it would have some claim. How much Graham Greene could be seen as the author of the film, I don't know. Is Chandler the author of film version of The Big Sleep? Surely it makes more sense to say it was Howard Hawkes.



    As with most literary/drama/film styles Film Noir doesn't so much begin as emerge. I think there is obvious evidence to show that Greene was a part of it - but other (mainly American) writers mentioned above in the 20s and 30s and film stylists like Hawkes and Walsh et al in the 1930s, especially in the Warner Bros gangster cycle must be considered far more important.

  7. #7
    Administrator Country: Wales Steve Crook's Avatar
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    name='alan french']Hi.

    I know that I am not going to be popular. Even if I live in Hemel Hempstead which is next door to Berkhamsted, which in turn, is hiis birth place. Yes, Graham Greene is a local liturature hero. But surely, the film noir genre, must go back to silent films. Prior to his birth. In which case, I do not think he is the father of film noir. But that does not mean I decry his talent. Sorry.



    Got to sign off.



    Alan French.


    The term Film Noir is one with quite a strict definition. Usually it goes something like the definition given by the IMDb:

    To be considered as Film Noir it should be shot in black and white, American, and set in contemporary times (relative to shooting date). We take the view that this genre began with Underworld (1927) and ended with Touch of Evil (1958).



    The term was invented by some French film critics to describe a particular style being made at the time. The odd thing is that many film-makers didn't know that they were making a Film Noir as the term hadn't been invented or hadn't reached common currency while most of the films were being made. The term wasn't used in the American media until the 1970s.



    There are all sorts of sub-genres such as neo-noir and even Brit Noir.



    Steve

  8. #8
    Senior Member Country: UK
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    Hi all.

    I think the previous response explains my view in a more eloquent manner than I have in mine. Irrespective when the term was coined, if someone made a film that conforms to this definition, it is surely film noir. Therefore I find it difficult to accept Graham Greene as the father of this genre. This, however, does not mean no-one has been influenced by this man.

    Unless I am out of my depth on this subject.



    Alan French.

  9. #9
    Senior Member Country: Great Britain
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    "Edward Dmytryk always said. What is this Film Noir? We've got to make a film in four weeks and we've only got this much money to make it? We've got to condense the sets? We didn't know we were making Film Noir, we were making a picture for a price!" -Richard Widmark- NFT 2002.

  10. #10
    Senior Member Country: UK Moor Larkin's Avatar
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    Didn't the Germans invent Film Noir?



    The internationalist nature of this phenomenon is however further emphasised by the fact that it is commonly accepted that the Film Noir visual style was firmly predicated upon the pre-war Berlin Universum Film Aktiengesellschaft style, now referred to as Expressionist Cinema. Fritz Lang, one of the several students at Ufa who moved to Hollywood described it thus:



    "You show the protagonist so that the audience can put themselves under the skin of the man; by showing things wherever possible from the viewpoint of the protagonist and so giving the ........"



    http://angwa.de/angwa_factory/komple...dangerman.html






  11. #11
    Administrator Country: Wales Steve Crook's Avatar
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    name='Moor Larkin']Didn't the Germans invent Film Noir?
    Err, No

    The French invented the term to describe a style of film being produced in Hollywood. But you could say that German expressionist cinema was one of the things that prefigured that style



    Steve

  12. #12
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    Just got in before me Moor. Certainly the visuals started in Germany. But the typical characters (cynical anti-hero, dangerous femme-fatale, unhappy ending) probably originates in literature. A case of form finding content.

  13. #13
    Super Moderator Country: England
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    Interesting that the definition Steve gave from IMDB quotes Underworld (1927) as the first; I was going to suggest the same film.....I understand Criterion are preparing a boxed set of silent Sternbergs, so hopefully more of you will be able to see this astonishing masterpiece, as well as 'Von's other great films.

    Moor, and That'll.....I agree the visual style originated in German silent techniques, but I think it had to meet with Hollywood subject matter - gangsters, hoods, molls, lowlife - to become what we would consider Film Noir. Josef Von Sternberg, despite his name, was Austro-American, but had steeped himself in the German techniques, invented a few more himself, and specialised (before his work with Marlene) in films depicting the wrong side of the tracks. 'Von' got there first...and his work stands up better than some of the films that followed.

  14. #14
    Senior Member Country: Ireland
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    Thanks for the link to the article on Danger Man, Moor - it's a very interesting read.




  15. #15
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    Dylan, I 've only read Patrick Hamilton's "Hangover Square" but will look for some of his earlier work. As for the term "Film Noir" the BFI Companion To Crime credits it to French film critic Nino Frank.

  16. #16
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    Jeez, I am quietly enjoying yet another "what is noir" debate.



    In my 21st century opinion, American film noir was a happy accident (if "happy" can be used in this context)



    Graham Greene was a superb writer, whose 1930's distress was often perfectly fitted to the era, but Greene's "A Gun For Sale" was a modest suburban melodrama, not unlike the sad C.S. Forester novel "Payment Deferred".



    Hollywood turned Greene's story into THIS GUN FOR HIRE with low expectations. Its small budget and marginal actors, directed by a contract director (Frank Tuttle) was not promising, but -I think- cinematographer John Seitz made the movie memorable.



    Seitz may have saved time and money with small sets and minimal lighting, a hallmark of American noir, but he did it very well.



    Greene stories worth real praise on film are THE THIRD MAN, of course, but also the excellent FALLEN IDOL and BRIGHTON ROCK.

  17. #17
    Senior Member Country: Europe Bernardo's Avatar
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    I have always thought Film Noir was exactly as Steve described it and puzzled that anyone should think otherwise.

  18. #18
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    Hi.

    Its me again. Looking at the very interesting articles debating this genre, they do not seem, like me, to acknowledge Graham Greene as the father of film noir. Irrespective as to whether I am right or wrong, is there anyone out there who has not contributed to this thread, think that he is?

  19. #19
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    For the record Alan I do not.

  20. #20
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    Hi.

    It seems that most contributors do not think he is. I do not know if there is anything else can be said. It appears the original question has been answered.



    Alan French.

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