Noir Genius Exam


Essential Noir

November 26 through December 23

Film Forum

You’re not going anywhere until you master the Noir Assessment Test! A real brain boost, the NAT is based on Film Forum’s exciting Essential Noir series, 34 American classics from 1941 to 1958 including Laura, Double Indemnity, The Maltese Falcon, and a restoration of Force of Evil.

The only way to ace the NAT is to know the films. Then you can go to Noir University, where the students are jumpy. For the real geniuses—prizes! First: a private noir tour by Bruce Goldstein, Film Forum’s repertory programmer and winner of France’s Order of Arts and Letters, and lunch at Peter Luger with Goldstein and me. Second: two Film Forum tickets. Third: three tickets. Disclaimer: Seeing all the films will make you call your friends Ma and Pa and put on the feedbag and you’ll feel queasy and want to confess. But you’ll get over it.

E-mail your entries by December 27 to Subject line: Dean, Noir University. Results and answers will run in the January 5 issue. The best essay, judged by me, will appear on

1. Name the film above. And—just who is her lover and how did he become medically inclined?

2. If you were thinking about having sex in the afternoon, and the room was kind of dusty, you would be near a [animal] in [film]? Or if you were in a [commercial enterprise] and you had some rye, she would pull the [darkening mechanism] in [film].

3. Thought completion (choose one):”Boy oh boy, it sure feels good to be clean again . . . ” (a) now that I confessed everything to Father Patty; (b) now that I splashed on some of that perfume from Ensenada; (c) now that I’m wearing a terry cloth robe; (d) now that I took a bath after clipping Arnold on the jaw and he bust out crying; (e) now that the rain has come and we’re lying in the mud after running from the law.

4. The films are all in silvery black-and-white. Something green belonged to a beautiful one, oh begosh and begora, in [film] and don’t forget the mint and time in [film].

5. Kathie Moffatt is to Jeff Bailey as (choose one): (a) Annie Laurie Starr is to Bart Tare; (b) Phyllis Dietrichson is to Walter Neff; (c) Alice Reed is to Professor Wanley; (d) Chickamaw is to T-Dub.

6. Noir and the mirror—the doppelgänger, the Rankian concept of the double as insurance of the self, Slavoj Zizek’s “non-symbolized surplus.” Name three films that have big mirror revelation moments. Now think of three with portraits. There may be more, but I got tired and couldn’t watch them all.

7. What did jowly-faced Marv propose to Johnny after Johnny went to the checkers place and before he bought the flowers? What film?

8. “Man, she looked like she had been thrown off the crummiest freight train in the world.” To whom is the speaker referring? (a) Gilda; (b) Debby; (c) Veda; (d) Sue; (e) Mildred; (f) Ma; (g) Doll; (h) Ruby; (i) Vera; (j) Mo; (k) Mrs. Pinkney; (l) Girl at Pool

9. The highway is cold, dark, empty, perfect for the woman without clothes who’s stripped of identity but needs a stamp. Name the film, and two others that have this nowhere highway—though sometimes the sun is shining but don’t trust it. “It’s a bright, guilty world.” By the way, who said that?

10. Comprehension: Not long after Candy watches Lightning Louie eat chow fun—Louie is his downtown name—and after Candy kisses Skip for a long time, Skip tells her, “You tell that commie [not Louie] I want a big score for that film and I want it in cash—tonight!” What film in the series is most preoccupied with Communism? Also, which director identified another in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee?

11. The Bruce Goldstein Question: How does Billy Wilder cheat in the scene in which Phyllis Dietrichson is hiding behind Walter Neff’s apartment door?

12. Essay Question: Waldo Lydecker in Laura says: “I felt as if I were the only human being left in New York.” Going beyond Waldo and the town and the French Provincial furniture, how does this statement express the dark heart of noir—story, visual imagery, and the emotional, political, and economic climate of the mid-century? You could also re-read Camus’s The Stranger but you don’t have to.

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