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Is KING CREOLE genuine 'Film Noir' ?

Sat Jul 13, 2013 11:22 pm

I don't quite know why this question has come into my head, but it has ! Is King Creole a genuine film noir ?

To me, it certainly has quite a few of the ingredients : a gangster and his moll ; crime and an innocent man caught up in it ; a heavy rainstorm after dark ; a 'good' girl ; betrayal and a chase ; and great, sometimes stark, lighting.

Some would say the musical interludes disqualify the film but I don't think they do as they're part of the story and I'm sure there's been music in some classic film noir films.

However, I'm no expert on the genre yet I believe some on this board are . . .

Re: Is KING CREOLE genuine 'Film Noir' ?

Sun Jul 14, 2013 3:23 am

Steve Morse wrote:I don't quite know why this question has come into my head, but it has ! Is King Creole a genuine film noir ?

To me, it certainly has quite a few of the ingredients : a gangster and his moll ; crime and an innocent man caught up in it ; a heavy rainstorm after dark ; a 'good' girl ; betrayal and a chase ; and great, sometimes stark, lighting.

Some would say the musical interludes disqualify the film but I don't think they do as they're part of the story and I'm sure there's been music in some classic film noir films.

However, I'm no expert on the genre yet I believe some on this board are . . .


Now, there's a question. First a bit of background...Film noir is a term that was applied after most of the films in the genre were made. So, while the term was used in France back in the mid-40s, the term didn't become commonly used to describe a group of films until much later than that. I'm not sure of exact dates. Some say the 70s, but I would suggest the 60s when film studies started to become an academic discipline. So, it's safe to say that no films made in America during the 40s or 50s was knowingly made as a "film noir" because the term wasn't in common usage at the time. They were simply crime thrillers or gangster movies or whatever.

Similarly, the same has been said about horror movies of the 1920s - the term "horror movie" or "horror film" has for years been thought not to have been used prior to 1932, and then first used to describe a short film called "Boo". I have actually found evidence to contradict that only in the last week or so. But, even so, films made in america during the 1920s were not knowingly produced as part of a horror genre, as it literally didn't exist at that point. Phantom of the opera was a "literary adaptation", Cat and the Canary was a "chiller", Hunchback of Notre Dame was an "epic", and so on. None were "horror films", it is a term applied after the event.

So, where does that leave King Creole? Well film noir is not necessarily about theme, but much more about look - most notably one that encompasses a world of low lighting, shadows, skewed camera angles etc. In other words, a filmic look ultimately inspired by German expressionism of the 1920s, but actually often used in the first instance to cover up budget restraints. Michael Curtiz, the director of KC, was, of course, Hungarian, but worked in both Germany and Austria during the 1920s, and so we could suggest that he was influenced by such things in the same way as Fritz Lang and others were - and made an undisputed classic of film noir, Mildred Pierce (1945).

Like all genres, though, film noir is a very loose term. You can get ten film academics or historians together and they will all come up with a different list of what should or shouldn't be included as a film noir. Personally, I believe King Creole doesn't fit the spec. The look of the film simply isn't dark enough - even in the most dramatic scenes this isn't a world of streetlamps and shadows. We can literally see too much of what is going on. And the mood isn't dark enough either - that opening sequence, gorgeous though it is, doesn't bring the viewer into the dark world that we associate with the genre.

All that said, my speciality isn't genre theory, it's not what I research or teach (at least, not outside of the silent era). Other film folk will have a different view as to whether KC is film noir or not, and their view is just as valid as mine. It is an extremely interesting film generically though, and I'm surprised more analysis of it in those terms hasn't been carried out. Is it film noir? A musical? A gangster film? A teen flick? A crime drama? Or all of the above?

Re: Is KING CREOLE genuine 'Film Noir' ?

Sun Jul 14, 2013 3:50 am

It's a film that certainly has "film noir" elements.The lighting,the setting,the low life characters,the jazzy soundtrack all point to what we now call film noir yet I'm not convinced.Perhaps the story is a bit too light or the concentration on the (GREAT) songs prevents it from being genuine Noir.


norrie

Re: Is KING CREOLE genuine 'Film Noir' ?

Sun Jul 14, 2013 4:09 am

Not.

Re: Is KING CREOLE genuine 'Film Noir' ?

Sun Jul 14, 2013 5:14 am

poormadpeter wrote:

So, where does that leave King Creole? Well film noir is not necessarily about theme, but much more about look - most notably one that encompasses a world of low lighting, shadows, skewed camera angles etc. In other words, a filmic look ultimately inspired by German expressionism of the 1920s, but actually often used in the first instance to cover up budget restraints. Michael Curtiz, the director of KC, was, of course, Hungarian, but worked in both Germany and Austria during the 1920s, and so we could suggest that he was influenced by such things in the same way as Fritz Lang and others were - and made an undisputed classic of film noir, Mildred Pierce (1945).



I agree. There is a "prototype" scene in which the injured Danny was in a car driven by Ronnie. Ronnie's face is hightlighted to show her anxiouness and Danny sleeping with shadow on his face. and then the dream sequence which was seen in Stranger On The Third Floor was also seen here, although it was quite brief.

There were other scenes too, like Nellie and Elvis talking with the river behind them, those dimlit alley scenes with Shark and the gang are also film noirish.

I would say it is a film noir mixed with musical genre.

One thing we can agree, King Creole has a darker theme not seen in any other Elvis films.

Re: Is KING CREOLE genuine 'Film Noir' ?

Sun Jul 14, 2013 9:07 am

Very noir-ish. The only misstep, to my mind, and I always felt this way, is the happy ending. It's perfectly okay to condense a book, or take a shard from a book, or whatever you need to make a film that's not but a couple hours long. But some things must be retained, and chief among them is this: "is this a tragedy?" It was. So, it should have ended tragically. Okay, they killed the already-"ruined" woman. But Danny makes up with his pop, gets the girl, goes back to work for the honest club, and the club-owner marries his sister. Oops. Danny should have died. It's a weird thing to say, but he dies in the book, and his death is kind of foundational.

But, then, I don't really believe in happy endings. So I don't like them.

rjm
Last edited by rjm on Sun Jul 14, 2013 11:41 am, edited 1 time in total.

Re: Is KING CREOLE genuine 'Film Noir' ?

Sun Jul 14, 2013 10:08 am

"King Creole" has some of the visual aspects of a film noir, but it's not part of the genre.

Film noir
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Film_noir

List of film noir titles
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_film_noir_titles

Re: Is KING CREOLE genuine 'Film Noir' ?

Sun Jul 14, 2013 11:30 am

Great question and many great answers!

Re: Is KING CREOLE genuine 'Film Noir' ?

Sun Jul 14, 2013 11:33 am

dannyboy1 wrote:Great question and many great answers!


Thanks!

Re: Is KING CREOLE genuine 'Film Noir' ?

Sun Jul 14, 2013 11:40 am

drjohncarpenter wrote:"King Creole" has some of the visual aspects of a film noir, but it's not part of the genre.

Film noir
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Film_noir

List of film noir titles
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_film_noir_titles


Thanks for that. Some critics insist that some noir classics HAVE had happy endings.

Although I think it defeats the purpose of a "dark, strange" (way oversimplified) film for it to all be tied up in a ribbon and a bow at the end.

rjm

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Re: Is KING CREOLE genuine 'Film Noir' ?

Sun Jul 14, 2013 1:17 pm

rjm wrote: Some critics insist that some noir classics HAVE had happy endings.



Indeed. But they are very rare. Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious is one example. Another one with an upbeat ending is Fritz Lang's Woman in the Window!! And in the latter Edward G. Robinson played a meek, henpecked man.

Re: Is KING CREOLE genuine 'Film Noir' ?

Sun Jul 14, 2013 1:41 pm

Thanks, all, especially PMP - that's a great insight !

[I love films of the 1940s and early 1950s, especially the ones with a private-eye narrator. "Double Indemnity" is a big favourite of mine, though this time the narration is in the form of an office memo dictated onto a cylinder recorder by Fred MacMurray, an insurance salesman. It's a terrific film.]