Film noir (pronounced "nwahr") is a genre of film based in large part on the hard-boiled detective novels that grew out of naturalism, a movement in literature based on realism and concerned largely with the economic side effects of capitalism. Film noir tends to feature characters trapped in a situation and making choices out of desperation. Frequent themes are murder, betrayal, and infidelity. Noir films tend to include dramatic shadows and stark contrast (called Low Key Light).
The term Film Noir (French for black film) was coined by the French film critic Nino Frank and is derived from a series of hard-boiled fiction books entitled Série Noire. Films noir were mainly shot in the United States between the early 1940s and the late 1950s. Orson Welles's Touch of Evil is often referred to as the last "classical" film noir.
Almost all film noir plots involve the hard-boiled, disillusioned male (usually in the form of a private eye) and the dangerous femme fatale. Usually because of sexual attraction or greed, the male commits vicious acts and in the end, both he and the femme fatale are punished or even killed for their actions.
These characters are derived from 1930s gangster films and, more importantly, from pulp fiction magazines such as The Shadow, Dime Mystery Detective and The Black Mask. Books by the Black Mask writers Dashiell Hammett (The Maltese Falcon) and Raymond Chandler (The Big Sleep) became two of the most famous films noir.
The aesthetics of film noir are heavily influenced by German expressionism. When Adolf Hitler took over Germany, many important film artists were forced to emigrate (among them were Fritz Lang, Billy Wilder, and Robert Siodmak). They took with them techniques they developed (most importantly the dramatic lighting and the subjective, psychological point of view) and made some of the most famous films noir.
Another important influence came from Italian Neorealism. After 1945, film noir adapted the neorealist look and scenes were shot on real city locations (not in the studio).