Despite its French name, film noir is one of America's great original art forms. With its contrasted black-and-white images telling very gray moral tales, noir has filtered into the American consciousness as few genres have. While the stories and shades of noir have been copied endlessly, the music to dark crime films hasn't been properly appreciated for its contribution to the art form. Milan Records attempts to rectify the situation with its new collection, Ultra Noir -- with mixed results.
There's plenty of creepy, sensual music on Ultra Noir. "Marlowe's Theme," from Farewell, My Lovely, is two minutes of film noir in a bottle: A muted trumpet sketches out the silhouette of the femme fatale before swelling strings sweep her away. The theme from the Coen brothers' Blood Simple drips menace from a skeletal bass-and-piano line. Even the synth-heavy theme to Brian De Palma's Body Double has a dark, sexy thing going for it, albeit in an '80s sort of way.
However, a few bad choices break the mood of the disc. North by Northwest isn't noir, and its theme is a shrieking mood-killer. And does Jennifer 8 need to be remembered in any form at all?