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Since I yet to see all of Dark Passage I'm not sure if the voice over in dark passage was a true voice-over or just him talking to himself out loud, it was the first film in these Daily dose of darkness to have some kind of voice over in the opening. Voice overs is what I most associate with film noir.

what do you guys think of voice overs in film noir?

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Voiceovers were common in 1940's film dramas and melodramas of different types, though certainly common in film noirs.  I suspect this reflected the very frequent use of voiceovers in radio of the era, and perhaps to a lesser extent, Well's use of voiceovers in Citizen Kane.

 

As to why they were used, that's an interesting subject for conjecture and research, which I'm not prepared to make right now.  But I'd appreciate hearing from other film buffs about that.

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From what I noticed from viewing this genre of film the voice overs are usually used to either give us the viewer some idea as to what the character is thinking as what was done with Vincent in dark passage or its used as a means for the character to provide us with background information that will support the eventual main plot of the film such as in Mildred pierce. Normally when it's to provide background information , the audience will find itself thinking at some point later in the film when did the character do this thing that I'm seeing and usually we were told via the voice over. It's a great way to really for film makers to sneak something pass the audience without us really knowing it because we are watching and not listening.

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In addition to providing background information, the voice-over also provides an analysis of the character himself/herself. It also helps understand the internal conflict the protagonist has. I can see film noir as the visual extension of detective fiction, which was also popular at that time.

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I'm pleased to not see a default negative view on voice-over as a storytelling device. Most critics denigrate its usage because they think film should show rather than tell. They have a point but it's not absolute; in a genre as mood rich as film noir it contributes greatly to atmosphere. And (the best) noir films are visually rich, so the charge of voice-over being a substitute for a weak visual scheme doesn't apply. And when they're great they are terrific. Can you imagine the opening of Sunset Boulevard without the knowing, world weary tone of William Holden?

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True, it's a rich tradition for parody. I think the first and possibly the funniest was S.J. Perelman. I remember the Mitchum skit, he thought he was doing a voice-over but all the characters in the skit could hear him. Hysterical.

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Hey All, I absolutely LOVE "voice overs", ( I call it "narration") but whatever the terminology, I have always had an affinity for it. IMO, "Double Indemnity" is perhaps the greatest example of how effective this can in story telling. What say you other noir fans? Also, by all means, if you know of other noir films that make heavy use of narration/voice overs, please tell us a few of your favs. Thanks,  Mac.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Hey All, I absolutely LOVE "voice overs", ( I call it "narration") but whatever the terminology, I have always had an affinity for it. IMO, "Double Indemnity" is perhaps the greatest example of how effective this can in story telling. What say you other noir fans? Also, by all means, if you know of other noir films that make heavy use of narration/voice overs, please tell us a few of your favs. Thanks,  Mac.

Well check out Neo Noir Romeo Is Bleeding (1993)

The narrated story revolves around the decent of NYPD Sergeant Jack "Romeo" Gramaldi into Noirsville. Jack's voice over narration while a throwback to classic noir is also unique, it's comprised of two voices, sometimes the present one the good Jim (aka repentant Jack) his witness protection persona), sometimes the bad Jack. It's very entertaining.

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Like any film technique, voice-overs can feel like a very natural part of a story, or they can seem intrusive and unnecessary. I really like House on Telegraph Hill, but there is no need for the voice-over in the beginning which basically says, "Look at this house. Some bad stuff happened here." It doesn't add anything to the story.

 

I feel like the best voice-overs allow the movie to deliver some quick exposition or set up a simple element of suspense.

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when i had sirrius xm in my car i used to listen to classic radio detective stories and the voice over/ narrator was common, i could be wrong, but i think its a carryover from that and i believe most people in the 40s listened to radio shows and did not have tvs in the home

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I'm pleased to not see a default negative view on voice-over as a storytelling device. Most critics denigrate its usage because they think film should show rather than tell. They have a point but it's not absolute; in a genre as mood rich as film noir it contributes greatly to atmosphere. And (the best) noir films are visually rich, so the charge of voice-over being a substitute for a weak visual scheme doesn't apply. And when they're great they are terrific. Can you imagine the opening of Sunset Boulevard without the knowing, world weary tone of William Holden?

I agree...I feel I'm almost alone in not hating the voice-over in Blade Runner. Instead of thinking it detracted from the movie, I actually think it was yet another nod to Noir with which Ridley Scott infused that entire movie. 

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I agree...I feel I'm almost alone in not hating the voice-over in Blade Runner. Instead of thinking it detracted from the movie, I actually think it was yet another nod to Noir with which Ridley Scott infused that entire movie. 

 

Add me to the club.   I like the voice over.   I did see the director's cut and it just gave me the feeling that something was missing.

 

Of course one reason could be that I was already use to the original release.    Maybe if I would have seen the director's cut first (and multiple times like I did the original), and than saw the original,  I would have felt something was needlessly added.        

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