"The myth has always been that French critics in 1946 coined the term “film noir” to describe what the critics noted as changes in Hollywood crime films when they finally saw the films that weren’t available during the Nazi occupation. This story clearly isn’t true and Charles O’Brien who researched the use of “film noir” before the war in Film Noir In France: Before The Liberation documents how that term was used in the newspapers and magazines of Paris during the 1930s."
"There are nine film noirs identified in O’Briens essay: Pierre Chenal’s “Crime and Punishment” (1935), Jean Renoir’s “The Lower Depths” (Les Bas-fonds) (1936), Julien Duvivier’s “Pépé le Moko” (1937), Jeff Musso’s “The Puritan” (1938), Marcel Carné’s “Port of Shadows” (Le Quai des brumes) (1938), Jean Renoir’s “La Bête Humaine” (1938), Marcel Carné’s “Hôtel du Nord” (1938), Marcel Carné’s “Le Jour se lève” (Daybreak) 1939, and Pierre Chenal’s “Le Dernier Tournant” (1939).
"Five of the films are of the poetic realism movement (although as with anything else that could be debated): “The Lower Depths,” “Pépé le Moko,” Port of Shadows,” “La Bête Humaine” and “Le Jour se lève.” The other four films contain similar themes. In three of the films the protagonist commits suicide and suicide plays a role in two other films. In three of the films the protagonist is incarcerated or executed by the state. In one film the protagonist is killed senselessly. Three films have wives conspiring with lovers to kill husbands. In two films the protagonist survives with a lover although what follows that survival isn’t clear and in one film one lover is shot in a botched suicide pact. What also isn’t clear is whether there are more films called “noirs” that will show up with subsequent research and whether similar and earlier films made before the term “film noir” first hit ink are also film noirs.
"The film noirs considered part of the poetic realism movement have a visual style that would influence the American crime film made both during and after the war with “Port of Shadows” being the most obvious example, the other films are made in different styles. The remaining films – “Hôtel du Nord” and “Le Dernier Tournant” – are filmed in a more conventional style although the content contains murder or suicide and the other social taboos that are a mainstay of the film noirs.
"None of these films are about private detectives hard-boiled or otherwise and none of them are police procedurals or stories where the police – or any member of governmental society – are seen as heroic. The films are about the working class and those below the working class or, in a few films, what was once referred to as the Lumpenproletariat. In fact, there isn’t a single crime film – as that term is conventionally used – in the list. “Pépé Le Moko,” a film that centers on a fugitive criminal hiding in the Casbah of Algiers, is a film about memory and desire more than anything else and its suicide ending has to do with facing what the character believes he has lost and not the possibility of incarceration."