Film Noir Film Posters from the 1940s-1950s

Film Noir 101: The 101 Best Film Noir Posters from the 1940s-1950s
By Mark Fertig
(Fantagraphics Books), $35

Film Noir 101 is a celebration of noir’s classic period from the early 1940s to the late 1950s—of the movies themselves and of the glorious posters the studios created to market them. And when I say glorious, I mean the gun-waving, fedora-wearing, loot-grabbing, car- crashing, legs-showing, bare-knuckled glorious iconography of the film noir style, presented through a collection of carefully selected and meticulously restored (by yours truly) American movie “paper.” The one-sheets contained in this book offer up a bank vault’s worth of mid- century art and design, featuring stunning illustration, photography, and typography, all too often created in anonymity by studio-employed artists who were unfortunately not permitted (unlike their European counterparts) to sign their work.

In the best examples of film noir posters, form follows function. Elements such as claustrophobic compositions, off-kilter angles, and the interplay of light and shadow are employed, just as they are in noir movies themselves, to underscore certain thematic elements. One of the finest examples of the relationship between film and poster occurs in the design for 1946’s The Killers (shown at left). The movie tells the story of a love-struck ex-boxer called Ole “Swede” Anderson, played by Burt Lancaster, who throws his life away after being betrayed by Ava Gardener’s delightfully wicked femme fatale, Kitty Collins. The movie is renowned for its opening sequence, in which two hired assassins arrive in the small town where Anderson has hidden out, and blast him to bits—an act to which he offers no resistance. The poster is a visual feast, depicting a smitten Anderson utterly captivated by the woman he loves. Yet Kitty ignores his embrace and gazes indierently into the distance. Meanwhile, the two killers of the film’s title stalk the poster’s lower corner, guns drawn, just itching to commit murder. Their shadows slash diagonally upward through the composition, enveloping Kitty and the Swede in a swath of darkness that clearly portends their doom.

Ultimately a list of films such as this one is subjective, but I’m confident that any noir expert will agree with the overwhelming majority of my picks. However, if you disagree feel free to stop by my blog Where Danger Lives and give me hell. I can take it.

— Mark Fertig


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