(tra-ji-dee) noun, plural -dies.
You Only Live Once (Fritz Lang, 1937), Detour (Edgar G Ulmer, 1945), The Postman Always Rings Twice (Tay Garnett, 1946), Out of the Past (Jaques Tourneur, 1947), and In a Lonely Place (Nicholas Ray, 1950) are all classic examples of tragedy as well as film noir.
The tragic character is usually human and likeable enough for us to root for them – often because of their flaw – and to identify somehow with their story. With a tragedy there is always the feeling that their suffering is worse than their actual crime, and that they have not deserved the card that Fate deals them. But all we can do is look on as the story unfolds, knowing in our heart of hearts that it’s not going to end well.
The pleasure in watching these bleak stories lies partly in what Aristotle described as a catharsis – going through intense pity and fear and finally, relief (that their suffering is over, or that it all happened to someone else!) – but often with a lingering memory that it’s hard to shake off entirely. Add a haunting soundtrack, sharp dialogue and visually stunning mis en scenes from a handful of brilliant directors and it’s easy to see why the film noir has become one of cinema’s great genres.