Paint Me, Film Noir

Haunting. Mysterious. Overbearing.

Paintings in film noirs have a power over their subjects and add to the dark and sometimes sinister feel. As main characters struggle to come out ahead, those paintings often remind them of how far they have to go. Take a look at some of the paintings featured in film noirs below!

1. Laura (1944)

Laura’s portrait needed to be perfect. After all, it had to capture the mystery woman so well that it could grab Dana Andrews' heart. The first portrait was done by Azalia Newman, the wife of the film’s original director, Rouben Mamoulian. However, studio head Darryl Zanuck was displeased with the initial direction and replaced him with Otto Preminger, who thought the portrait looked boring. So he had photographer Frank Polony snap pictures of Gene Tierney and then had a blown-up photo lightly airbrushed to make it appear as a painting. While Newman’s portrait had Gene facing front dressed in a spotted coat, gloves, and a smart suit, the final one better captured the beauty and mystery of the title character.

2. Woman in the Window (1944)

Paul Lewis Clemens painted Joan Bennett for Fritz Lang’s Woman in the Window. Clemens’ light, almost airy style is seen in the film’s painting and gives an almost heavenly appearance to Bennett. Clemens’ paintings often involved sports – especially baseball – but he was also known for painting Katharine Hepburn, Audrey Hepburn, Frank Sinatra, Henry Fonda, and Angela Lansbury. His favorite subject to paint was his wife though.

3. Scarlet Street (1945)

Joan Bennett once again became a painting for Lang’s Scarlet Street. This time the director turned to John Decker, who not only completed Bennett’s portrait but also thirteen other paintings. Decker was well-respected and actors, such as John Wayne, Anthony Quinn, Errol Flynn, Greta Garbo, and the Marx Brothers, also commissioned him to paint their portraits. The paintings used a primitive style – since Edward G. Robinson’s character was an amateur. Robinson’s character is also affected by one more portrait in the film: that of his wife’s first husband, Higgins. His painting serves to remind him of his shortcomings – at least, in his wife’s eyes.

4. House of Strangers (1949)

Edward G. Robinson got his chance to be featured as a portrait in House of Strangers. The artist for this piece wasn’t recorded – perhaps because it appears to be a photograph made to look like a painting. In any account, the stoic portrait serves to show Robinson’s position in the Italian family, a grip that Richard Conte has to fight against.

5. Born to be Bad (1950)

Ernst Van Leyden, a sculptor and European painter, completed Joan Fontaine's portrait for Born to be Bad. During WWI, he emigrated to California from Europe. Along with completing the portrait, he also served as the film's technical advisor. He was friends with Picasso and Salvador Dali.

6. Strangers on a Train (1951)

Art director Ted Haworth painted the “portrait” of Bruno Antony's father for Strangers on a Train. Interestingly, Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers was Haworth’s first credited film as an art director. Hitch wanted the portrait to be similar to the work of abstract artist Abraham Rattner. According to Haworth’s son, Ted also completed storyboards for the film.