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) is a cinematic term used primarily to describe stylish Hollywood crime dramas, particularly such that emphasize cynical attitudes and sexual motivations.
Hollywood's classical film noir period is generally regarded as extending from the early 1940s to the late 1950s.
An analogous case is that of the screwball comedy, widely accepted by film historians as constituting a "genre": the screwball is defined not by a fundamental attribute, but by a general disposition and a group of elements, some—but rarely and perhaps never all—of which are found in each of the genre's films.
The aesthetics of film noir are influenced by German Expressionism, an artistic movement of the 1910s and 1920s that involved theater, photography, painting, sculpture and architecture, as well as cinema.
The term film noir, French for "black film" (literal) or "dark film" (closer meaning), were referred to as "melodramas".
While noir is often associated with an urban setting, many classic noirs take place in small towns, suburbia, rural areas, or on the open road; setting, therefore, cannot be its genre determinant, as with the Western.
Successful films in that genre such as Little Caesar (1931), The Public Enemy (1931) and Scarface (1932) demonstrated that there was an audience for crime dramas with morally reprehensible protagonists.
Among films not considered films noir, perhaps none had a greater effect on the development of the genre than Citizen Kane (1941), directed by Orson Welles.
Wedding a style and story both with many noir characteristics, released the month before Lang's M, City Streets has a claim to being the first major film noir.
Raymond Chandler, who debuted as a novelist with The Big Sleep in 1939, soon became the most famous author of the hardboiled school.
Movies of his such as 20,000 Years in Sing Sing (1932) and Private Detective 62 (1933) are among the early Hollywood sound films arguably classifiable as noir—scholar Marc Vernet offers the latter as evidence that dating the initiation of film noir to 1940 or any other year is "arbitrary".