By Doug Cummings
Arizona Daily Wildcat
"Devil in a Blue Dress," is an homage to the film noir genre that is generally successful. The term "film noir," meaning black film, was first coined by French critics when they noticed a trend in mainstream American cinema during the '40s that had been flowing from Hollywood since "The Maltese Falcon" in 1941. The pessimistic stories with cynical characters and shadowy visuals became a movie staple for many years and continue to find expression in more recent "neo-noir" films like "The Conversation" (1974) and "Body Heat" (1981).
While many noir films are centered around detective stories, many simply exude the bitterness and disillusionment that can provide cathartic entertainment for attentive audiences.
Two noir films, one of them an acknowledged classic in cinema and the other a shining example of a "neo-noir" film, that would provide an evening of atmospheric entertainment are "The Third Man" and "Chinatown."
THE THIRD MAN (1949)
British director Carol Reed and acclaimed writer Graham Greene teamed up on this classic film about a pulp Western novelist named Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) who ventures into war-torn Vienna in search of his friend, Harry Lime. To Martins' surprise, Lime was killed in an accident just before he arrived, but it doesn't take Martins long to suspect murder and he begins a hunt for the culprits.
The movie features Orson Welles in a knockout performance as a charming racketeer and Reed films the movie in the tilted compositions and baroque camerawork that Welles propogated. The result is a visually stunning and endearing film that manages to make its dangers threatening and its loves bittersweet.
Screenwriter Robert Towne and director Roman Polanski team up to create a twisted world set in L.A. during the '30s water scandals that created the city. Private Investigator J.J Gittes (Jack Nicholson, in one of his best performances) trails a water commissioner's affair that leads to double identities, tragedy and murder.
Towne's script has been taught in screenwriting courses everywhere and heralded as one of the most complicated, yet tightest, scripts ever written that snaps with sharp dialogue and thematic metaphors.
"Chinatown" also boasts a wonderful performance from John Huston, the writer and director of "The Maltese Falcon," as a frighteningly humorous and powerful icon of personal corruption. Through its stinging screenplay and intense direction from a master of the macabre, Roman Polanski, "Chinatown" stands as one of the supremem achievements in recent Hollywood history.
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