Film noir is a term that resonates far beyond the specific set of movies it originally described. Although fans, critics, and filmmakers alike bandy it about these days, we ought to remind ourselves every now and then that the people who actually made the great American noir classics didn’t think of them that way. Like many artistic styles or movements, noir needed critics to recognize, define, and name it.
Here’s how the ever-curious and inquisitive Joan Crawford discovered the phrase “film noir”:
“The first time I heard the words film noir was in New York. I was being interviewed by a critic of the cinema, which, as you might know, has nothing to do with the movies. He kept talking about this film-noir style and I didn’t know what the hell he was talking about. When it came up again sometime later, I called Jerry Wald and said, ‘Darling, what is this film noir they’re all talking about?’ He explained it to me, which made me appreciate the film even more.”