My Film Noir Car Must-Haves
It's Noirvember! Here are some of the detail I most
It’s November, and for classic film lovers, that means “Noirvember” when we celebrate all things in this sultry and artistic form of filmmaking, with dramatic lighting, extreme angles, intriguing characters half-hidden in shadows, and of course, gorgeous classic cars.
Sometimes, these cars are merely set pieces taking advantage of what is now "green screen" technology, but real cars show up as well. As an art, film and car lover, here are five of my elements I really want to see 1930s and 40s (and some 50s) vehicles that often turn up in noir films.
Large, revealing windows
If you want to see the action happening when heavy conversations come down between private investigators and femme fatales, or have plenty of room to for two of more Tommy-gun wielding mobsters you need the big windows. Since I fully admit I'm all about artistic design over practicality, so I’m relatively certain some of post-prohibition era cars were designed with the potential for use in crime dramas in mind.
Can you imagine a noir film where you see the front of a car pull up with a contemporary front end? I’m not saying I don’t like the look of new models, but if you want a good noir screen shot, you need chrome. Big vertical or horizontal line grills that look really dramatic, almost beastly, through foggy cliffs or rainy city streets.
White Wall Tires
Noir films, even into the 1950s, look best in sharp black and white, and the white wall tires on vehicles stand out the best against the grainy grey and black back drops. Without them the tires seem to get lost in the shadows. White walls may seem to us today like the white patterned leather shoes worn by disco rats in the 70s, but they look good rolling up to a speakeasy or precinct.
A Convertible Option
When the big windows don’t set the mood enough, a moonlight drive with the top down sets up the more romantic side of noir. It also shows triumph of and shadowy protagonist driving off in the night with the top down, fedora magically stuck to his head. This is the noir equivalent of a cowboy riding off into the sunset, only much sexier.
Big Damn Steering Wheels
When you see a conversation in those aforementioned “big windows,” they wouldn’t look as dramatic without the driving intensely grasping that big nasty, think steering wheel. By today’s standards these look like the steering wheels we see truck drivers use in semis, but you can’t look properly noir clutching little Audi or BMW wheel. You want to look angry driving to the next heist (whether you’re busting it or setting up one), you need to clutch a wheel like a coxswain steers a ship.
Screen grab from "Casablanca," ©Warner Bros.
One place where you can see the pretty much all of these elements is the car featured prominently in the background of (in my personal opinion) one of the most visually appealing movies ever movie from the era: Casablanca (and yes, I consider it a noir style movie). The 1940 Buick Phaeton had it all. It had big windows, a sleek grill, white walls, and convertible top as it sat beautifully in the background during the classic closing scene between Rick and Ilsa. I’m not the only one who appreciated this vehicle. When it was up for sale in a movie memorabilia auction in 2013 sold for $461,000.
Of course, I’ll never get my hands on a car like this, but that’s fine. "We’ll always have Paris” and hundreds of classic noir films and series to enjoy.
How many of these details have you noticed in noir films (including modern “neo noir” tales), and what’s your favorite car from a film noir.