Family Movie Night

by Karyn Bowman

A few weeks ago I wrote about “Slice of Life” movies with the definition that the main character makes a moral decision in the right direction.

But what about when they don’t. You know the story, bad girl leads good guy the wrong way. Good people making bad decisions. That is the essential definition of Film Noir.

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Back when Kankakee native Fred MacMurray starred with Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity in 1944, director Billy Wilder set the standard for Film Noir.

The story revolves around MacMurray who is an insurance salesman who meets and falls for Stanwyck. She is a beautiful woman married to a rich man and no longer wants to be married. Nor does she want to be poor. So she comes up with a scheme to have both the money AND MacMurray.

All it takes is a little murder.

Besides the stellar performances by Stanwyck (the best at being a bad girl) and MacMurray, Edward G. Robinson is fantastic as the insurance investigator who suspects something is up but is not quite sure what. There are too many moments that are unquestioning wonderful. But one thing that sticks out in my mind is how MacMurray calls Stanwyck ‘baby.’

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Alfred Hitchcock ran with the genre in Strangers on a Train. This time around Farley Granger, a professional tennis player, wants to get rid of his wife so that he can marry the love of his life. The wife refuses to grant a divorce.

That is when he meets Robert Walker on a train and Walker discusses how to create the perfect scenario for murder. He is willing to take out Granger’s wife if only Granger will take out his overbearing father. Perhaps this is not a true Noir film but its suspense is above many of the movies out there.

Queen Latifah, Kimberly Elise, Vivica A. Fox and Jada Pinkett in a rooftop scene from "Set It Off," Image from

A much more recent movie that fits the “noir” genre is also one of Queen Latifah’s first movies as a lead character.

You also get to see Jada Pinkett, Kimberly Elise and Vivica A. Fox as four women who feel betrayed by the system. One is a bank teller who is fired because she knew a robbery suspect. Another has a brother killed by the police because they think he is a suspect. A third woman is righteously mad and the fourth only joins the crew when her child is taken away from her.

They make the decision to rob banks, to get enough to get out of their bad neighborhood until the plan is thwarted. So they decide to make one last robbery and everything that can go wrong does. In this case of good persons making bad decisions, it not for love but to thumb their noses at the system that has betrayed them that moves the decision to ‘do bad.’

In general, ‘noir’ is for adults. I cannot think of a single movie meant for families that hit the noir genre. The truth is, sometimes, the good/bad person gets away with the crime but most of the time they do not. It is a grey area that does not suit for family movies that tends to live the world of black-and-white moral issues.

But for mom and dad, away from the kids, film noir can keep you on the edge of your seat. Do you have a favorite Noir movie?

Until next week, see you in the rental aisle.