Jazz: Classic French Film Noir as Transatlantic Exchange

  • Deborah Walker
Part of the Crime Files Series book series (CF)


This section offers a reading of French film noir as both intertextual vector and cultural articulator of the various and often conflictual dynamics of the Franco-American relationship. Beyond multiple references in the films themselves, there are a number of good reasons for seeing French film noir as reflective of French attitudes to American culture. Since the early 1990s, leading writers on French cinema have suggested such links. Jill Forbes (1991: 48) argued that French Série Noire films from the 1950s on, ‘form the principal means by which the French cinema’s relationship to Hollywood has been articulated’. Phil Powrie has picked up Forbes’s point, noting that the influence of both the Série Noire and classic American film noir on the French post-war polar (crime drama) make the latter ‘uniquely placed to articulate questions of national identity in relation to the USA’ (Powrie 1997: 76) and that its often sombre tone mean that ‘this genre, more than any other betrays the French love-hate affair with American popular culture’ (Powrie 2003: 123). The complex relationship between French and American film noir speaks of noir’s constitutive hybridity: the emergence of classic noir as a French critical construct of an American film phenomenon.


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  1. 4.
    We have borrowed this term from Dudley Andrew, Mists of Regret: Culture and Sensibility in Classic French Film (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1995).Google Scholar
  2. 11.
    Living spaces inhabited by protagonists of Jules Dassin’s Du rififi chez chez les hommes [Rififi Means Trouble] (1955; see Chapter 8), while less ostentatious, also display the iconic features of modern consumer comfort, including modern kitchens, baths, showers and vacuum cleaners.Google Scholar
  3. 12.
    More recently (and disappointingly) remade by Neil Jordan as The Honest Thief (a.k.a. The Good Thief, 2001).Google Scholar
  4. 14.
    Narratives that centre on protagonists attempting to pass for racially other, generally black or mixed-race passing as white, as in Nella Larsen, Passing (2002). First published in 1929, Larsen’s seminal work tells the story of two such women, one of whom has successfully crossed the ‘color line’ in 1920s New York.Google Scholar

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© Alistair Rolls and Deborah Walker 2009

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  • Deborah Walker

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