Western Noir: Man of the West

I never made a better investment in a streaming service than subscribing to the Criterion Channel when it premiered last April. Criterion Channel is the streaming platform extension of the Criterion Collection, the famous home video line of high quality classic and contemporary films. The Criterion Channel library contains great films of every era, genre, and country. I’ve mostly watched their cult films (glad I got to experience Demon Seed, God Told Me To, and Phase IV, because … wow, those are nuts) and classic Hollywood movies, in particular the deep dives they take into film noir. Since signing up for Criterion, my knowledge of film noir feels like it’s doubled.

This month Criterion Channel is presenting a topic that’s personal for me: the influence of film noir on the Hollywood Western. Film noir was not recognized as a genre during its main period of the 1940s and ‘50s. It was French critics who first used the term as they started to study the US-American crime films they had missed during World War II. Not until the 1970s, after the original noir moment was long over, did the phrase “film noir” become established in the movie lexicon. Whether film noir is a genre or not is still a hot topic of debate among film scholars. I like Alain Silver’s definition of it as a “style” rather than a genre. That definition helps to understand how noir influenced an established genre, the Western, that would seem to have nothing in common with it. What we might call the “Western noir” isn’t as much a transplanting of crime film tropes into the Western as it is the dark style and troubled psychology of film noir affecting common Western stories. The two film types do have one important element they share: most are about crime, and often the criminal is the protagonist.

Continue reading “Western Noir: Man of the West”