Jazz (1940s Film Noir – #AtoZChallenge)

When I say ‘film noir jazz’ what do you think? A slow, moody kind of jazz, usually with a trumpet solo? I thought you’d say that.
Truth is, jazz had basically nothing to do with classic 1940s noir. Jazz was sometimes featured as ambience music, for example from a juke box or in a club, but never in the soundtrack of a film.
The scores for these films were usually modernistic orchestral music, like the well known score of Double Indemnity.


Classic #FilmNoir never used #jazz in their soundtrack. How is it we identify fimn noir with jazz?… Click To Tweet

Where does the idea comes, then, that jazz is associated with film noir?
It looks like jazz started to be used in film noir (or more exactly, nourish films) in the 1950s, some say in the film (which may or may not be considered noir) A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), from Tennessee William’s play.
Some other trace the beginning of this tradition in a 1958 French film, Elevator to the Gallows (Frantic) which feature a main theme by Miles Davis.

Wherever it came from, jazz association with neo noir is not surprising. The unpredictability, dissonance, experimentation of jazz is particularly apt at commenting these stories of disconnection and confusion.



A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) by Elia Kazan 
Former schoolteacher Blanche DuBois (Vivien Leigh)  leaves small-town Mississippi and moves in with her sister, Stella Kowalski (Kim Hunter), and her husband, Stanley (Marlon Brando), in New Orleans. Blanche’s flirtatious Southern-belle presence causes problems for Stella and Stanley, who already have a volatile relationship, leading to even greater conflict in the Kowalski household. (Google synopsis)

Elevator to the Gallows (1958) by Louis Malle
Florence (Jeanne Moreau) is married to the wealthy arms dealer Simon Carala (Jean Wall), but is carrying on a torrid affair with one of her husband’s employees, Julien (Maurice Ronet). Julien daringly climbs into Simon’s office on a rope, kills him and leaves unnoticed. However, Julien accidentally leaves the rope at the crime scene and realizes he must retrieve it. On his way out, he becomes stuck in the building’s elevator. But he soon finds that his bad luck is just beginning.(Google synopsis)



All About Jazz – Crimejazz: the sound of noir
Bright Empire – Family Ties

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1940s Film Noir - JAZZ (AtoZ Challenge 2017) - Jazz association with neo noir is not surprising. The unpredictability, dissonance, experimentation of jazz is particularly apt at commenting these stories of disconnection and confusion.

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I was born, raised and I still live near Verona (Italy), though I worked for a time in Dublin. I started writing fantasy stories as a kid. Today I’m a bookseller who reads fantasy, history, mythology, anthropology and lots of speculative fiction. Somehow, all of this has found its way into my own dieselpunk stories.

36 Comments on "Jazz (1940s Film Noir – #AtoZChallenge)"

  1. I never thought of Film Noir being connected with Jazz but more with the 1950’s rugged dramas that may have led to the kitchen sink dramas of the 1960’s. I spoke about Double Indemnity for D and love that film. I have not seen the French film but would love to!
    Birgit recently posted…A to Z Challenge-Letter IMy Profile

  2. I never connected jazz with noir either. It’s been years since I’ve seen Double Indemnity. I might need to hunt it down online.
    Shawna Atteberry recently posted…A to Z Challenge: J is for The Plight of the Junior DetectivesMy Profile

    • I haven’t seen the film yet, but I read the book a few years back. Didn’t like it as much as other hard boiled novel of the time. But then, I understand the film is kind of different. For example, I like the ending a lot better.

  3. Miklós Rózsa!!! I KNOW this composer. He wrote one of my favorite scores of all time: Ben Hur! I actually have the album. 😀 That was very interesting, btw. Unexpected. Would have thought it fit right in there.

    Impromptu Promptlings
    A to Z Challenge Letter I

  4. It would have been a marriage made in heaven, even if it’s mostly a misconception 🙂
    Sophie’s Thoughts & Fumbles – Dragon Diaries
    Sophie Duncan recently posted…Dragon Diaries – J is for Jani – A to Z Challenge 2017 #AtoZChallengeMy Profile

  5. I think it has a lot to do with people picturing dark, smoky clubs with Jazz being played whilst slightly dodgy deals go down that makes people associate it with Film Noir. Good choice of movies.

    Pamela @ Highlands Days of Fun

  6. I guess this misconception partly stems from the fact that the genre was applied later. I wondered if the Jeanne Moreau film with it’s Miles Davis theme fitted with the timescale of when the film noir label was coined in France (I’ll have to go back & look at your earlier post shortly). But it would’ve been a marriage made in heaven. Not the easy listening jazz I’m showcasing, but the complex, experimental instrumentals that Miles Davis and his ilk were rightly famed for.

    Bunny and the Bloke

    • Well, Debs, as a matter of facts, jazz being associated with film noir and the codification of film noir happened in the exact same time (mid-1950s), again in France. So you’re probably onto something here 😉

  7. Seems like a marriage made in heaven. They suit each other perfectly. 🙂

  8. Hmmm, I never thought about it. I guess it’s the time period and type of music? Fascinating!
    Megan Morgan recently posted…J Is For JealousyMy Profile

  9. Yeah, I always associated Jazz with Noir as well, but you’re right, it’s more of a background in a club kind of ambient music, which, to be fair, is not an uncommon scene.
    CD Gallant-King recently posted…J – James Naismith, Father of B-BallMy Profile

  10. There really is such a deep connection between jazz and noir. Is it because both push certain limits? Is it because both touch on darker things? Whatever the reason, this is a fascinating post, for which thanks, and it’s a very interesting connection.

    • There are many theme connection between jazz and noir, this is for sure. And there is also a certain similarity of execution, if you allow me the expression.
      I think, whatever the circumstances, there’s a reason why noir and jazz ended up together 😉

  11. Another interesting post, Sarah. As I mentioned earlier, Film Noir is a virgin topic for me, so I am soaking in all the info and insights. Thanks for sharing 🙂
    Shilpa Garg recently posted…Just Jejune #AtoZChallenge @AprilA2ZMy Profile

  12. I also never connected film noir to jazz. Then again, I haven’t seen too many 1950s films.
    Carrie-Anne recently posted…Jewish NewarkMy Profile

    • Well, I think that, while the connection between jazz and noir was born in the 1950s, it is more something that we perceive now.
      Think to any tv show where a noirish element is introduced and you’ll hear that solo trumpet 😉

  13. That’s funny that jazz is associated so much with film noir but doesn’t appear in the movies. I think you’re right, it must be a mood and feeling thing, since it clearly isn’t actually part of the movie experiences that much.
    Andrea Lundgren recently posted…A to Z 2017: Juggling StorylinesMy Profile

  14. I knew Jazz had to be coming. It’s the best radio station in my car (that is not filled with commercials) so I listen to a lot of it. Excellent for driving.
    Jacqui recently posted…Today’s #AtoZChallenge: Journal GenreMy Profile

  15. It’s funny. I guess it’s something that so many people associated together that it became part of the public consciousness, even if it wasn’t really based on any evidence.
    Nick Wilford recently posted…A-Z Challenge 2017 – J is for JafferyMy Profile

  16. One automatically makes this connect, no? Film noir and jazz music just fit. Never gave it much thought. Such an interesting topic!
    Aditi Kaushiva recently posted…Kaikeyi #AtoZChallenge‏ @AprilA2ZMy Profile

    • It’s ture, eh? We are so accustomed to hear a jazz theme on a noir story that we jsut take it for granted. That’s why I found it weird when I discovered that actually jazz wasn’t connected to classic noir.

  17. Maybe it is in part due to Bogart’s line about “all the gin joints”. Seems there is sometimes a sexy saxophone wailing in the background when the fem-fatal enters the scene. Or is this just a collective view of noir we have due to cheesy take offs and long running jokes and parodies?

    • I suspect it’s a bit of both. We do connect jazz to noir, which comes not from classic noir, but from later neo noir (there is this kind of connection in those younger films). But in classic noir the femme fatal often appears on screen while singing a torch song. May not be really jazz, but there is a definite connection to music.

  18. It does go together well, even if it didn’t really happen. The collective consciousness of people are like, “Make it so!” 😉
    Sara C. Snider recently posted…A to Z Herbarium: KnotweedMy Profile

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