Driving Real Cars in Film Noir

Crime Thriller Cinema


There is no mistaking the falseness of interior car scenes in Hollywood crime thrillers of the 1930s through 1950s when rear-projection, or process screen photography, was conceived to convince audiences that actors were actually seated in moving automobiles. In reality, these actors were placed in front of screens displaying rear-projected motion pictures of traffic/street scenes, the results of which almost always looked phony (as the accompanying frame from the 1954 film noir Crime Wave demonstrates), although hardly more phony than most CGI images in commercial releases of this digital age.

When Jean-Luc Godard and cinematographer Raoul Coutard took portable Éclair 35mm cameras into actual autos for their 1960 French “New Wave” collaborations Breathless (À bout de souffle) and Le Petit Soldat (left and right frames below), they were hailed for having “liberated” the cinema from its cumbersome industrial roots.

Breathless_3_Reasons_Still_video_stillPETIT SOLDAT

In actuality, others had made inroads into freeing the commercial cinema from…

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