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There is so much smoking in Noir. SO much.

 

My father quit after 40 years. He's been smoke-free for 17 years.

 

My father-in-law just died from lung cancer at 83 after smoking for 70 years. That sounds pretty old, but his family tends to live a long time. His mother died only a year before him, so he easily had another 10-20 years if not for the smoking.

 

And people in these movies kiss right after taking a puff. Yuck.

 

It's all terrible. I get that.

 

And yet, cigarettes are working hard in Noir. They have a big role to play.

 

Smoking adds atmosphere: The swirling white smoke, the glowing tip, the crushed stub.

 

Smoking also expresses emotion: Nervousness. Feigned disinterest. Power. Sexual attraction.

 

Giving someone a cigarette, lighting their cigarette, sharing a single cigarette, tossing away a cigarette. A certain way of holding a cigarette makes a woman look terribly elegant. The cigarette is as much an accessory as the painted nails and the elaborate bracelet.

 

It's a potent symbol and an easy shorthand.

 

Nowadays, cigarettes are chiefly a shorthand for identifying someone as a bad guy. Or a hard woman.

 

Could Noir be Noir without cigarettes? And how do you make a contemporary Noir without them? What prop has that versatility to add so much to a scene?

 

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There is so much smoking in Noir. SO much.

 

My father quit after 40 years. He's been smoke-free for 17 years.

 

My father-in-law just died from lung cancer at 83 after smoking for 70 years. That sounds pretty old, but his family tends to live a long time. His mother died only a year before him, so he easily had another 10-20 years if not for the smoking.

 

And people in these movies kiss right after taking a puff. Yuck.

 

It's all terrible. I get that.

 

And yet, cigarettes are working hard in Noir. They have a big role to play.

 

Smoking adds atmosphere: The swirling white smoke, the glowing tip, the crushed stub.

 

Smoking also expresses emotion: Nervousness. Feigned disinterest. Power. Sexual attraction.

 

Giving someone a cigarette, lighting their cigarette, sharing a single cigarette, tossing away a cigarette. A certain way of holding a cigarette makes a woman look terribly elegant. The cigarette is as much an accessory as the painted nails and the elaborate bracelet.

 

It's a potent symbol and an easy shorthand.

 

Nowadays, cigarettes are chiefly a shorthand for identifying someone as a bad guy. Or a hard woman.

 

Could Noir be Noir without cigarettes? And how do you make a contemporary Noir without them? What prop has that versatility to add so much to a scene?

 

When Jack Warner saw takes of The Maltese Falcon he told Huston and Wallis that there was too much smoking in the film especially by Peter Lorre.   Lorre was with the other actors and mocked Jack and said something to the effect that his character was only involved in crimes and murders, was 'gay' (he didn't use that term),  being punched,,,, and that to relax he should be smoking all the time.

 

Huston reshot some scenes with less smoking.    Jack saw these and the atmosphere just wasn't the same.   Jack said to Huston;  leave the smoking in.      Maybe this influenced future directors.   

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It would be a whole lot easier to list films noir that had no smoking in them. I know it's hard to grasp, but damn near everyone smoked in the 40s.

 

When my dad joined the British army in 1947 they gave him his uniform and two packs of smokes. He smoked until 1966. That's just the way things were back then.

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When Jack Warner saw takes of The Maltese Falcon he told Huston and Wallis that there was too much smoking in the film especially by Peter Lorre.   Lorre was with the other actors and mocked Jack and said something to the effect that his character was only involved in crimes and murders, was 'gay' (he didn't use that term),  being punched,,,, and that to relax he should be smoking all the time.

 

Huston reshot some scenes with less smoking.    Jack saw these and the atmosphere just wasn't the same.   Jack said to Huston;  leave the smoking in.      Maybe this influenced future directors.   

 

Great tidbit. Thanks.

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Out of the Past has been described as the smokingest movie of all time.  There are times when Mitchum and Douglas smoke at each other to represent the tension between them.  In one scene, Kirk offers Mitchum a cigarette and Mitchum responds by showing the one he is already smoking.  It is almost a self-aware wink.

 

One of the reasons for all this smoke, aside from the fact that in 1940s society almost everyone was smoking in real life, was the visual possibilities cigarette smoke offered.  Light picks up cigarette smoke in an eerie way, and occasionally the presence of a character is shown only by their cigarette smoke.  It is an interesting way to show the presence of a mysterious person, identity hidden, but with subtle menace and intrigue.

 

The Coen brothers tipped their hat to the noir omnipresence of cigarette smoke in The Man Who Wasn't There.  Not only should you watch this to see how much and when Billy Bob Thornton smokes, but look at the way the Coens used black and white cinematography with modern equipment to show cigarette smoke in ways that would have made John Alton drool.  (There is also a terrific shot of glass breaking that is beautifully done in a very dramatic moment.)

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Out of the Past has been described as the smokingest movie of all time.  There are times when Mitchum and Douglas smoke at each other to represent the tension between them.  In one scene, Kirk offers Mitchum a cigarette and Mitchum responds by showing the one he is already smoking.  It is almost a self-aware wink.

 

One of the reasons for all this smoke, aside from the fact that in 1940s society almost everyone was smoking in real life, was the visual possibilities cigarette smoke offered.  Light picks up cigarette smoke in an eerie way, and occasionally the presence of a character is shown only by their cigarette smoke.  It is an interesting way to show the presence of a mysterious person, identity hidden, but with subtle menace and intrigue.

 

The Coen brothers tipped their hat to the noir omnipresence of cigarette smoke in The Man Who Wasn't There.  Not only should you watch this to see how much and when Billy Bob Thornton smokes, but look at the way the Coens used black and white cinematography with modern equipment to show cigarette smoke in ways that would have made John Alton drool.  (There is also a terrific shot of glass breaking that is beautifully done in a very dramatic moment.)

 

Thanks for the tip on this Neo Noir film. I will definitely track it down.

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I didn't think you could beat out of the past until I watched Hollow Triumph.  Paul Henried has a cigarette in nearly every frame!  I also loved the part in Nora Prentiss when Ann Sheridan comes to in the Dr. Office and asks for, receives and smokes a cigarette.  Lol! I don't smoke but I'm totally going to try that at my next physical lol

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My wife and I often notices how prevalent drinking (as well as smoking) is in movies of all types through the 1960's.  I think the comments regarding smoking as both an aid in characterization and as the source of various cinematographic effects are very insightful.  While not providing the same opportunity for innovative camerawork, drinking may assist in establishing a character and in setting a tone of informality or conviviality in a particular scene.  No example comes to mind at the moment (The Stranger is just about to air on TCM as I type this), but perhaps others have some thoughts?

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The Dark Corner has a lot of nicely filmed smoking sequences in it also.

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Quite frankly, I enjoy watching the characters smoking. The act of smoking lends atmosphere to the scene and promotes a connection between people; particularly when someone asks for a light.

 

I've also noticed that matches were tossed away in the most carefree way. In The Maltese Falcon, during one scene, Sam Spade tossed his match right on the floor of his apartment.

 

Given the chance, I would smoke again in a heart beat. It's a very hard addiction to break....I quit cold turkey about 35 years ago.

 

So, I sit back and, through osmosis, enjoy a cigarette right along with everyone else. 

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I didn't think you could beat out of the past until I watched Hollow Triumph.  Paul Henried has a cigarette in nearly every frame!  I also loved the part in Nora Prentiss when Ann Sheridan comes to in the Dr. Office and asks for, receives and smokes a cigarette.  Lol! I don't smoke but I'm totally going to try that at my next physical lol

 

Well Henried and cigarettes are one of the most iconic images in film history.    Maybe if he had use this iconic technique he wouldn't have taken a noir voyage.   ;)   

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I noticed that Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker) doesn't light up at all KIss Me Deadly. That's very unusal for a noir film made at that time. I wonder if there's a back story?

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I agree that smoking is something that offers a lot of possibilities. In addition to what you mention, having an excuse for matches/lighters means a chance to have spotlight illumination on a character's face as he or she lights up. Think of that moment when a character is announced by lighting a cigarette in a dark room.

 

Something that this makes me think of is a really stunning shot in the thriller film Wicker Park (this was a remake of a French movie whose name I can't remember--I don't think that either movie is that great). In any event, in this scene Josh Hartnett is meeting someone outside in a park. The two have a conversation, and Hartnett turns to leave. He exits the frame, but his breath, condensed by the bitter cold, lingers even after he's gone. I actually wonder if they might have used CGI to make it last longer in the shot. It was a beautiful moment and resonated strongly with the movie's theme of how people still have an effect even after they are gone.

 

In terms of a prop that provides an excuse for character movement and possible cinematographic moments, I'm not sure that anything can beat cigarettes.

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I didn't think you could beat out of the past until I watched Hollow Triumph.  Paul Henried has a cigarette in nearly every frame!  I also loved the part in Nora Prentiss when Ann Sheridan comes to in the Dr. Office and asks for, receives and smokes a cigarette.  Lol! I don't smoke but I'm totally going to try that at my next physical lol

 

Be sure to ask for a Camel.

 

camels_doctors_whiteshirt.jpg

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At Double Indemnity this weekend we were laughing so hard at all the light-ups, then in moments of frustration they'd throw the cigarette down where ever they happened to be ---- I bet the carpets were full of holes!!! LOL! :lol:

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Quite frankly, I enjoy watching the characters smoking. The act of smoking lends atmosphere to the scene and promotes a connection between people; particularly when someone asks for a light.

 

I've also noticed that matches were tossed away in the most carefree way. In The Maltese Falcon, during one scene, Sam Spade tossed his match right on the floor of his apartment.

 

Given the chance, I would smoke again in a heart beat. It's a very hard addiction to break....I quit cold turkey about 35 years ago.

 

So, I sit back and, through osmosis, enjoy a cigarette right along with everyone else. 

Once a smoker always a smoker I tell my husband. I 'quit' a long time ago too but I'll never forget late night/all night studying for finals at the Denny's smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee. Love it.

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Once a smoker always a smoker I tell my husband. I 'quit' a long time ago too but I'll never forget late night/all night studying for finals at the Denny's smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee. Love it.

Absolutely right about always being a smoker. The first cigarette of the day with a cup of coffee was the best!

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If you’ve ever seen Now Voyager you’ve seen the use of smoking as a synonym for sex. Every time Paul Henreid lights TWO cigarettes at once and hands one over to Bette, that’s supposed to represent their intimacy.  Bette Davis was a heavy smoker also (almost a chain smoker) and puffed away in most of her movies. 

 

Just as there is product placement today, there was product placement then.  Seeing actors smoke on screen implied it was hip. And, smoking and drinking were two of the things you could finally do as a sign you were grown up.  Girls used to smoke to look older and more sophisticated to older boys.  A lot of people smoked in those days, unlike now.   So what looks unnatural now was quite natural then.  It was a great way to talk to strangers, too, “Got a lite?”  “Got smoke?”

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If you’ve ever seen Now Voyager you’ve seen the use of smoking as a synonym for sex. Every time Paul Henreid lights TWO cigarettes at once and hands one over to Bette, that’s supposed to represent their intimacy. Bette Davis was a heavy smoker also (almost a chain smoker) and puffed away in most of her movies.

 

Just as there is product placement today, there was product placement then. Seeing actors smoke on screen implied it was hip. And, smoking and drinking were two of the things you could finally do as a sign you were grown up. Girls used to smoke to look older and more sophisticated to older boys. A lot of people smoked in those days, unlike now. So what looks unnatural now was quite natural then. It was a great way to talk to strangers, too, “Got a lite?” “Got smoke?”

The first time I ever lit up (as a joke) several people told me I looked like a classic film star and from then on I was hooked. I even dated a guy for a time who always lit two cigarettes and handed me one and though I'm almost positive he's never seen Now, Voyager (my favorite Bette Davis film) I was hooked on him too. Luckily I broke both habits. Smoke free for four years! but yes, once a smoker always a smoker. Somethin' about the way smoke gets in your eyes.

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Hollow Triumph was hilarious for smoking. Paul Henreid was even lighting one cigarette off another at one point - basically chain smoking.

 

Peter Lorre was no slouch in Mask of Dimitrios either.

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