Noir is a bit of a questionable genre for me. The more bebop, B-film, chiaroscuro, surrealist, youth culture oriented it is, the more I like it. It’s the convoluted plot of the mainstream ones that turn me off. The noir world is one for the wise and the good listeners. We are lucky that there are some great cinematographers, and the more recent the example is, the more visual the story gets. Conventions of the classic version of the genre, however, has dialogue snappier than Tarantino’s. The oldies also add more on-screen and off-screen characters and more dead bodies and more stolen artifacts, and unfortunately I’m too wired and ADD for that.
Like The Maltese Falcon, for instance. Watching Humphrey Bogart finally taking lead is rewarding. The guy who has been playing second fiddle to Jimmy Cagney and Bette Davis mixes his hard, New York voice with elocution in the moments when he’s on the spotlight. He perfected his angry man thing even when he was doing supporting roles, and now that it’s his show, he gets to change the world and wipe out one scum at a time.
I also admire the bravery of the actors like Sydney Greenstreet and Mary Astor who allowed themselves to be photographed in such unflattering angles and moments. You’d think that the former is a giant circus freak or the latter as haggard and broken down if this is the first time you have seen them (and if you’ve seen Mary Astor in “Don Juan,” you might as well have seen the face of God). The latter examples of noirs would be full of beautiful people – Barbara Stanwyck and her dyed golden locks, Alan Ladd and his chiseled face. But in “The Maltese Falcon” we see people who look as rotten as the criminal plans they have obsessed with for years.