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Film noir is one of the most beloved and popular period film genres of the late twentieth century although at the time that the movies comprising the genre were made the term film noir was unknown Essentially it mean black film -- a variation on the nineteenth-century French critical term roman noir or black novel -- referring to any number of doom-laden deeply psychological crime dramas of the 1940s and 1950s At the time they were made the movies were simply gangster films or mysteries with no consciously perceived qualities separating them from other movies French critics originally used the designation film noir to define films of the 1930s such as Jean Renoirs La Chienne later remade by Fritz Lang in Hollywood as the classic film noir Scarlet Street but it applied equally well to a particular brand of American film and was accepted by the American critical establishment of the late 1950s and beyond as suitably defining the genre -- really a sub-genre of the crime movie Today there are whole festivals of film noir shown at revival and repertory theaters and on television a great irony for a genre that was defined with a term that American producers and critics of the era would scarcely have understood The development of film noir was a gradual one coming long after the end of the classic Hollywood gangster movie cycle Crime movies of the 1920s and 1930s had their psychological sides -- from The Last Mile to Alfred Hitchcocks Sabotage to The Petrified Forest it was possible to find films about criminals whose motivations were as fascinating as their crimes Even The Roaring Twenties with James Cagney at the tail-end of Warner Bros gangster-movie cycle featured an anti-hero whose psychology allowed for an acceptance of death -- after surviving World War I the early gang wars and the end of Prohibition And a few such films most notably Fritz Langs M starring a young Peter
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