The prolific Lloydville of mardecortesbaja.com has just posted a great article on film noir lighting: The Look of Noir.
It’s a commonplace of writing about film noir to see its dark, moody lighting as derived more or less directly from the German expressionist cinema of the 1920s and 1930s… There’s another, home-grown visual tradition that I think had a much clearer influence on the look of noir — the American tabloid crime photography of the 1930s and 1940s…
This closing frame from Jacques Tourneur’s Out of The Past (1947) illustrates Lloydville’s argument, with a natural flash-like highlighting of skin-tones:
While Lloydville mounts a very strong case, and knows more about the topic than me, I wonder whether the development was simply a result of using a new technology to film night scenes, rather than there being a conscious or even unconscious tabloid or other influence on directors or cameramen. A factor also is the extent to which the placement of lighting is used to light a scene. A tabloid photographer has control only over his flash and his camera’s perspective. Consider this frame, again from Out of The Past, where the only available light is deliberately placed at a back angle to the scene.