Television had lifted a great many genres from the movies and in some cases has managed to do them just as well if not better. One of the few movies genres that never fully translated to the small screen was film noir. Of course, this could have something to do with the fact that film noir was already starting to die out just as TV was finding itself. It could also have something to do with the pervading sense of pessimism and despair that characterizes film noir. Such an atmosphere is not really one that TV network executives have wanted to beam into the homes of potential customers for their lucrative advertising contracts. And so when a TV show has contained elements of film noir it has most often been a one-time homage rather than a permanent part of the show’s philosophy.
“The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice” is introduced by and dedicated to Orson Welles who died just a few days after filming. The use of Orson Welles ties this episode of “Moonlighting” to film noir by virtue of Welles’ contributions to the genre with such classics as “The Lady From Shanghai” and “Touch of Evil.” This episode also strives for noir authenticity with the sadly daring choice to present it in black and white. It is unfortunate to think that some viewers refused to watch “The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice” because of that fact. The title is also a reference to film noir and if you don’t know why I must ask why you are even bothering to read this article. This homage to film noir is actually two dream sequences that provide two different perspectives on what may have taken place in a murder that occurred forty years earlier. The utilization of a flashback to an imagined reality will occur again, though not with nearly the same effective use of film noir elements. This tribute to film noir on TV even includes two great musical numbers by Cybill Shephard.
“Castle” has staked a reputation on toying with established genres and subcultures and film noir makes its appearance in the episode titled “The Blue Butterfly.” I can’t even imagine–or don’t want to imagine–the possibility that filming at least the imagined flashback sequences in black and white never came up. If so, some genius put the kibosh on the idea as this is a TV version of film noir that eschews that very defining stylistic aspect. Shot entirely in color, the episode is similar to “Moonlighting” in that it is the discovery of an unsolved murder of the past that drives the narrative in which cast members play dual roles. The decision to shoot “The Blue Butterfly” in color is not the worst decision made here. No, that honor would go to sticking with Nathan Fillion’s dreadful vocal inflections as the character he plays in the imagined flashback. Not sure exactly what he was going for there, but someone should definitely have stopped him.
This Showtime anthology series is one of the few attempts by TV to present a show that sought to recreate all the elements of film noir within the less constricting atmosphere of premium cable programming. Well, almost all the elements: although the intros to each episode were in black and white, the show itself was in color. You can do film noir in color as “Chinatown” and “Body Heat” proved, but, well, why do it in color if you don’t have to? “Fallen Angels” was supposed to be a big deal with directors like Steven Soderbergh, Tom Cruise and Tom Hanks directing big stars like like Tom Hanks, Gary Oldman and Danny Glover. The show never really caught on with the public, however, and when you can’t even sell film noir on TV using movie stars, well, that’s pretty much the kiss of death.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
A couple of episodes of “Deep Space Nine” offer holosuite fantasies that contain elements of film noir, but the most consistent presentation of noir in the series actually occurs outside the confines of the franchise’s wayback machine. “Necessary Evil” is also concerned with a murder from the past, but the flashbacks this time are neither dreams nor imagined reconstructions of diary entries. It is certainly not accidental that film noir arrived shortly after the war to end fascist occupation around the world while the flashbacks in “Necessary Evil” takes the viewer back to the time when the Cardassians occupied Bajor. I’ve always strongly believed that one of the reason Deep Space Nine is not as popular as other Star Trek series is that it forced fans to recognize the moral ambiguity in the Federation that is absent in the other series. As the title implies, “Necessary Evil” unabashedly seeks to recapitulate the moral ambiguity that defines film noir even more than its shadowy black and white world.