Noir – the four-letter genre. And there is certainly something dark, something dirty, about noir. It is an investigation (literally and metaphorically) of the back-alleys and other dark places of society and our imagination.
A superb BBC documentary on the classic period of noir (roughly 1945 to 1960) pinpointed the unique appeal of the genre: its golden age was the one time that American cinema stopped simply peddling happy endings and produced something more true to life, more grown-up and more complex. Then, as quickly as it began, that golden age, which produced masterpieces such as Double Indemnity, The Maltese Falcon and Touch of Evil, was over, as mainstream Hollywood returned to its usual fare of sunshine and left the shadows behind.
But of course the truth is that noir never died, and never will. Noir is not so much a genre as a virus, or even a meme, that has infected all other genres, so that every other genre can itself become the prefix to a noir film, as the following Top 10 of Neo-Noirs (noirs made after the genre’s golden age) proves.