The moral unsteadiness of this world was rendered into a visual style by the expert noir cinematographers John Alton, Nicholas Musuraca, John F. Seitz, Lee Garmes, Tony Gaudio, Sol Polito, Ernest Haller, Lucien Ballard, and James Wong Howe. These technical masters turned into moral vagueness obviously real through what has been called anti-conventional cinematography. The method incorporated the all-encompassing use of wide-angle lenses, allowing even more and greater depth of field but causing animated deformation in close-ups; inconspicuous lighting and night-for-night filming (that is, essentially shooting night scenes at nighttime more willingly than in bright daylight with dark filters), both of which produce ruthless contrasts between the light and dark spheres of the frame, with dark outweighing, to match the moral disorder of the world; and pointed, unnatural set-ups. If all of this spears to be suggestive of the artificial studio modus operandi of German Expressionism, it ought to, for the reason that -- like the Universal horror phase of the thirties -- film noir was fashioned to a large degree by German and Eastern European emigres, a lot of whom had gained their basic training at UFA in the twenties and near the beginning of the thirties. The noir directors Lang, Siodmak, Wilder, Preminger, Brahm, Litvak, Ophuls, Dieterle, Sirk, Ulmer, and Bernhardt; the director-cinematographer Rudolph Mate; the cinematographers Karl Freund and John Alton; and the musicians Franz Waxman and Max Steiner had all been linked with or inclined by the UFA studio technique.
On the other hand, given its subject matter, film noir could barely break out of the general pragmatic predisposition of the postwar cinema, and noir directors recurrently shot outside shots on location. Such wartime modernizations as slighter camera dollies and moveable power packs, higher speed lenses and additionally sensitive, fine-grain film rolls cut down the logistics of position shooting and aided to generate for film noir a nearly standardized visual method. For this motive, it has become trendy to discuss film noir as a category (some consider it is a genre) of "idealistic" or "expressive" pragmatism; but its inheritance includes such a wide variety of cultural influences -- German Expressionism and shock exploitation, American gangster movies from the thirties, Sternbergian exoticism and self-indulgence, the graceful pragmatism of Carne, the case-hardened institution of American fiction, the forties cultural significance and fame of Freud, postwar American disenchantment (particularly a sagacity of sexual betrayal amongst GIs coming back home) and the flourish of cinematic practicality it created, cold war mistrust, and for sure, Citizen Kane -- that it is probably better to typify it as a cycle to a certain extent than to draw up the boundaries too rigidly.
Double Indemnity (1944), d. Billy Wilder, Paramount, 107 min., b&w, sc. Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler from the novel by James M. Cain, ph. John Seitz, m. Miklos Rozsa, v. MCA.