Film Noir literally means black film or cinema because of how dark or downbeat the themes are, Films of this genre reflected the tensions and insecurities of the time period and balanced the optimism of Hollywood's musicals and comedies. They reflect the Cold War period, capturing the emotive themes of fear, mistrust and loss of innocence. Film Noir focused on the evils of society, the criminal and violent and rarely led to a happy ending. Noir can also be broken down into sub genres, the first being neo-noir, which means a film set in modern times that shows characteristics of film noir in plot and style. Tech-Noir (Future-Noir) is a hybrid genre combining film noir and science fiction or cyberpunk. Space Opera Noir, a new class of the Space Opera genre derived from general science fiction of spaceship tales. B Movie Noir takes from the classic term 'B Movie' of being cheaply produced on a low budget and with extreme themes. Proto and Post Noir identifies the early and late stages of Film Noir. The Maltese Falcon slots into Proto Noir as it was released in 1941 and one of the first of it's kind.
Figure 1, (2007), The Maltese Falcon (Macguffin)
All the characters in the film are all derived around the mcguffin, the Maltese Falcon. "Initially, The Maltese Falcon may seem plot-driven but, when one considers that the falcon is actually a Mcguffin, the film can be seen as more of a character study. There are no traditional "good guys." Spade acts as he does not to honour the law but to fulfill his own personal code of honor, and belief that love can conquer all. In this movie... that's not the case." (Berardinelli, 2008) The audience can identify that the film uses the mcguffin to draw more performance into the film's characters and also centres the themes of betrayal and obsession as the characters strive to outwit each other to get what they want. The Mcguffin quickly sets the characters against apart and there is mistrust between Sam Spade and The Fat man on whether the falcon is genuine or if Sam would get paid for handing it over.
Figure 2, (2007), The various character stereotypes
The central characters of Sam Spade and Brigid O'Shaughnessy give a real sense of noir genre playing cat and mouse throughout. "Bogat not only dominates the proceedings throughout, but is the major motivation in all but a few minor scenes. Mary Astor skillfully etches the role of an adventuress whose double - crossing is not disclosed until the final scenes." (Staff, 2008) Spade's character unintentionally has traits of the detective as he goes about asking questions about the murders that took place a couple of months before the film was set, using a mumbling technique to increase the pace of the dialogue but the film itself is much slower allowing the viewer to let the plot draw out and the secrets to reveal. The audience learn that the murderer turns out to be O'Shaughnessy, the character becomes suspicious when the fake falcon is drawn to light at the end of the film as she was meant to collected it. This evokes suspicion and doubt in Spade's character and becomes cold as he has finally caught the killer, the character puts his feelings for Brigid aside and takes on the full role of the detective as he hands her to police. At this moment the viewer witnesses the classic film noir ending and that Brigid has finally been caught and not even her love for Spade could of saved her.
Another important feature of the film noir genre are the use of camera angles and shadows for dramatic emphasis to a scene. "The shadowy staging, the obtuse camera angles, the constant potential for violence, the hard-boiled banter, the suspect morals of the good guy himself too long in touch with criminals and always rubbing shoulders with every manner of corrupt client - it's all here in spades, Sam Spades, that is." (Jardine, 2009) The strongest use of staging and shadows are depicted in the scene of Brigid's imprisonment, the intense close up angle of the camera and the striking use of shadows that falls across her face to visualise the characters imprisonment and cut off from Sam Spades showing the emotion of his personal betrayal for turning her in. The shadows throughout convince the audience of what character personalities might be hiding, all these staging techniques are important to show that the Noir genre is theatrical and staged like a play so that the viewer is forced to watch it play out.
Figure 3, (2011), Use of shadows
Figure 1, (2007), The Maltese Falcon (Macguffin), @ http://avaxhome.ws/video/maltese_falcon.html, Accessed on: 6th May 2007
Figure 2, (2007), The various character stereotypes, @ http://www.celluloidheroreviews.com/2007/02/13/the-maltese-falcon/, Accessed on: 13th February 2007
Figure 3, (2011), Use of shadows, @ http://cinepad.com/filmnoir/shadows.htm, Accessed on: 2011
Berardinelli James, (2008), Reelviews Movie Review - Maltese Falcon, @ http://www.reelviews.net/php_review_template.php?identifier=684, Accessed on: 10th June 2008
Jardine James, (2009), Cinemania - The Maltese Falcon, @ http://djardine.blogspot.com/2009/12/maltese-falcon-usa-1941-john-huston-ben.html, Accessed on: 23rd December 2009
Staff Variety, (2008), Variety Reviews - The Maltese Falcon, @ http://www.variety.com/review/VE1117792895?refcatid=31, Accessed on: 8th April 2008