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Edeson later photographed The Maltese Falcon (1941), widely regarded as the first major film noir of the classic era.
Josef von Sternberg was directing in Hollywood at the same time.
This semidocumentary approach characterized a substantial number of noirs in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
Along with neorealism, the style had an American precedent cited by Dassin, in director Henry Hathaway's The House on 92nd Street (1945), which demonstrated the parallel influence of the cinematic newsreel.
The classic film noirs The Maltese Falcon (1941) and The Glass Key (1942) were based on novels by Hammett; Cain's novels provided the basis for Double Indemnity (1944), Mildred Pierce (1945), The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), and Slightly Scarlet (1956; adapted from Love's Lovely Counterfeit).
A decade before the classic era, a story by Hammett was the source for the gangster melodrama City Streets (1931), directed by Rouben Mamoulian and photographed by Lee Garmes, who worked regularly with Sternberg.
The term film noir, French for "black film" (literal) or "dark film" (closer meaning), were referred to as "melodramas".
Whether film noir qualifies as a distinct genre is a matter of ongoing debate among scholars. Although film noir was originally associated with American productions, films now so described have been made around the world.
"We'd be oversimplifying things in calling film noir oneiric, strange, erotic, ambivalent, and cruel […]"—this set of attributes constitutes the first of many attempts to define film noir made by French critics Raymond Borde and Étienne Chaumeton in their 1955 book Panorama du film noir américain 1941–1953 (A Panorama of American Film Noir), the original and seminal extended treatment of the subject.
Directors such as Lang, Robert Siodmak and Michael Curtiz brought a dramatically shadowed lighting style and a psychologically expressive approach to visual composition (mise-en-scène), with them to Hollywood, where they made some of the most famous classic noirs.
By 1931, Curtiz had already been in Hollywood for half a decade, making as many as six films a year.
Film noir of this era is associated with a low-key, black-and-white visual style that has roots in German Expressionist cinematography.
Many of the prototypical stories and much of the attitude of classic noir derive from the hardboiled school of crime fiction that emerged in the United States during the Great Depression.
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The authors' caveats and repeated efforts at alternative definition have been echoed in subsequent scholarship: in the more than five decades since, there have been innumerable further attempts at definition, yet in the words of cinema historian Mark Bould, film noir remains an "elusive phenomenon […] always just out of reach".