Film Noir: Theory, Practice, Teaching–Course Outline

American Film Noir

Course offered numerous times at UCLA, ASU, Columbia University

Professor Emanuel Levy

Course Description

The major goal of this course is to demonstrate what is distinctive about film as an art form, mass medium, and ideological construct.  The various theories, concepts, and methods that scholars use when they study film will be examined and challenged.

This course focuses on one genre, American film noir, from its emergence in the 1940s to the present.  Despite the fact that the term noir (literally meaning black) was given by French film critics after WWII, film noir is a uniquely American genre in its thematics as well as stylistics.

Fifteen movies, all noir, representing the immense diversity of American film noir will be screened and discussed.  The relationships between these films and the social, political, and economic contexts in which they were made and viewed will be explored.  Films will be analyzed as a dynamic communication process among producers, writers, directors, players, exhibitors, critics, and audiences.

The course will discuss and illustrate the following issues: the organizational structure of the Hollywood film industry; film noir, ideology, and politics; noir and other popular film genres; dominant themes and prevalent myths in film noir; gender roles and sexuality; violence, morality and censorship; and the impact of film noir on American culture and on the international film scene.



Attendance and participation in class discussions.

A one-page analysis of 3 of the 15 films

Research paper outline (3 pages)

Midterm examination

Term paper (10-15 pages) to be submitted at the end of course


Required Readings:

Bordwell, David. Narration in the Fiction Film. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985.

Bordwell, David.  Making Meaning.  Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989.

Copjec, Joan.  Shades of Noir: A Reader.  New York: Verso, 1993.

Telotte, J. P. Voices in the Dark: The Narrative Patterns of Film Noir.  University of Illinois Press, 1988.


Structure of the Final Grade:

50 percent Research paper

35 percent Midterm exam

15 percent Classroom participation



See List attached.

Week of January 18:  Introduction

Screening: The Maltese Falcon


Week of January 25: Research Paper (Guidelines and Library Tour)

Screening: Double Indemnity


Week of February 1:  Analytic Approaches to Film Noir

Reading: Telotte, Voices in the Dark, pp. 1-56.


Screening: Gilda


Week of February 8:  Film Noir as a Genre


Reading: Telotte, Voices in the Dark, pp. 74-133.


Screening:  The Killers


Week of February 15:  The Narrative Structure of Film Noir


Reading: Telotte, Voices in the Dark, pp. 134-197.


Screening: The Postman Always Rings Twice


Week of February 22: Stylistic Conventions of Film Noir



Telotte, Voices in the Dark, pp. 154-223.

Bordwell, Narration in the Fiction Film, pp. 74-146


Screening: Out of the Past


Week of March 1: Tonality and Mood in Film Noir


Reading: Copjec, Shades of Noir, pp.


Screening: Crossfire


Week of March 8: Desire and Sexuality in Film Noir




Telotte, Voices in the Dark, pp. 57-73.

Copjec, Shades of Noir, pp. 121-165.


Screening: The Lady from Shanghai



Week of March 15: Spring Break



Week of March 22: The Use of Narration in Film Noir


Reading: Bordwell, Narration in the Fiction Film, pp. 3-62.


Screening: The Asphalt Jungle


Week of March 29: Classical Narration and Film Noir


Reading: Bordwell, Narration in the Fiction Film, 157-204.


Screening: Sunset Boulevard


Week of April 5: Film Noir and the Crime Genre


Reading:  Bordwell, Narration in the Fiction Film, pp. 63-73.


Screening: The Big Heat


Week of April 12: Film Noir and Classic Hollywood Cinema




Telotte, Voices in the Dark, pp. 198-215

Bordwell, Making Meaning, pp. 1-70.


Screening: Kiss Me Deadly


Week of April 19: Film Noir and Auteurism


Reading:  Bordwell, Making Meaning, pp. 146-204.


Screening: Touch of Evil



Week of April 26: Film Noir, Ideology, and Politics




Screening: The Manchurian Candidate


Week of May 3: Contemporary Film Noir


Reading: Copjec, Shades of Noir, pp. 227-297.


Screening: Chinatown


Books  (On Reserve)

Allen, Robert C. and Douglas Gomery. Film History: Theory and Practice. N.Y.: Knopf, 1985.

Balio, Tino (ed). The American Film Industry. Madison, Wisconsin: the      University of Wisconsin Press, 1976.

Becker, Howard S. Art Worlds. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982.

Crowther, Bruce. Film Noir: reflections in a Dark Mirror. NY: Ungar, 1990. 196pp. Paper.

Gomerie, Douglas. The Hollywood Studio System. N.Y.: St. Martin’s Press, 1985.

Grant, Barry (ed). Film Genre: Theory and Criticism. Methuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1977.

Grazia, Edward. and Roger k. Newman. Banned Films: Movies, Censors, and the First Amendment. N.Y.: Bowker, 1983.

Haskell, Molly. From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies. N.Y.: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1974.

Jarvie, I.C. Movies as Social Criticism. Methuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1978.

Kaplan, Ann E. Women in Film Noir.  London: British Film Institute, 1980.

Krutnik, Frank.  In A Lonely StreetFilm Noir, Genre and Masculinity.  NY: Routledge, 1991.

Kuhn, Annette. Women’s Pictures: Feminism and Cinema. Boston:      Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1982.

Levy, Emanuel. And the Winner Is: The History and Politics of the Oscar Awards. N.Y.: Ungar Press, l987 (Second Edition, 1990).

Levy, Emanuel. John Wayne: Prophet of the American Way of Life.  Foreword by Andrew Sarris. Methuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1987.

Levy, Emanuel. Cinema of Outsiders: The Rise of American Independent Film: N.Y: NYU Press, 1999, 2001, 2009.

Mast, Gerald and Marshall Cohen (eds) Film Theory and Criticism. N.Y.: Oxford University Press, 1980.

Monaco, James. American Film Now. N.Y.: New American Library, 1979.

Monaco, James. How to Read a Film. N.Y.: Oxford University Press, 1981.

Nichols, Bill (ed) Movies and Method. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976.

Ray, Robert B. A Certain Tendency of the Hollywood Cinema, 1930-1980. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985.

Roffman, Peter and Jim Purdy, The Hollywood Social Problem Film. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1981.

Sklar, Robert. Movie-Made America: A Cultural History of American Movies. N.Y.: Random House, 1975.

Shadoian, Jack. Dreams and Dead End: The American Gangster/Crime Film. Cambridge, MA: the MIT Press, 1977.

Tudor, Andrew. Image and Influence: Studies in the Sociology of Film. NY.: St. Martin’s Press, 1975.

Tuska, Jon. Dark Cinema: American Film Noir in Cultural Perspective.  Greenwood Press, l984.

Wright, Will. Six Guns and Society: A Structural Study of the Western.      Berkeley: University of California Press, l976