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Indie Birds – Obsession and Desire in Film Noir

Indie Birds

Indie Birds

What makes a good film noir romance? And how is it different from, say, a romantic comedy or romantic drama?

A romance in any genre surely must have plenty of trouble and complications to create enough tension to captivate audiences.

The difference in classic film noir lies partially in the universe which the characters inhabit. Whether it’s a seedy dive bar, a stuffy New York apartment, or a fancy house on Russian Hill, the noir ambiance pervades.

But film noir lovers are different too. They’re not just two schmucks in love trying to make it work.

Instead, our protagonist is usually overcome with an obsessive and/or fatalistic desire. And, it’s usually the male (except in Joan Crawford movies), who is the one haunted and driven.

joan-crawford Indie Birds

joan-crawford Indie Birds

And that’s why the femme fatale is so prevalent in noir. She may be consciously or unconsciously seducing him into her web for her own desperate needs or she may be merely using him to further her own position in an underground world of crime. She often “belongs” to some more powerful, even evil kingpin.

Indie Birds

Indie Birds

1. Johnny (Glenn Ford) and Gilda (Rita Hayworth) in “Gilda” (1946). The pain is palpable in this complex love triangle. Johnny’s best friend and boss is Ballin (George MacCready), a man whose new bride happens to be Johnny’s ex flame. He can’t bear the way she treats his friend, but is also tormented by his own rekindled attraction to her and vice versa.

Indie Birds

Indie Birds

3. Mark (Dana Andrews) and Laura (Gene Tierney) in “Laura” (1944). Quietly intense detective Mark McPherson falls hard for the beautiful woman in a portrait who is supposedly dead. His obsession grows as he investigates her things and the men in her life.

As these films illustrate, a film noir “romance” is rarely a just a sweet love affair which happens to be set in a dark alley. Rather, it’s usually a desperate attraction between two otherwise alienated souls who find a rare kinship in one another. But due to circumstances of their noir universe (whether external or internal), it seems their union can only lead to destruction, whether to themselves or to others.

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