Bob Dylan And Films Noir

Bob Dylan And Films Noir

by Larry Fyffe

Singer/songwriter Bob Dylan draws on Western movies in his song lyrics. He also alludes to movies that are known as ‘films noir’. They deal with the dark underworld of crime and sexual betrayal, filled with cynical characters who’ll do anything for money.

In the one film noir, Humprey Bogart takes on the role of Eddie Willis, an
out-of-work sportswriter who joins up with boxing promoters who ‘fix’ fights. His loyal wife says to him over the telephone:

“I have everything I want except you”.
(The Harder They Fall)

The singer/songwriter takes on her persona in the lyrics below:

You’re the one that reaches me
You’re the one that I admire
Every time we meet together
My soul feels like it’s on fire
Nothing matters anymore
And there’s nothing I desire
‘Cept you, yeah, you
(Bob Dylan: Nobody Except You)

In a classic film noir, Bogart plays private detective Sam Spade who’s having an affair with his partner’s wife. A beautiful client of theirs, whom Spade goes to bed with, has stolen a bejewelled statuette, and she kills Spade’s detective partner in an attempt to frame her partner-in-crime for murder. She wants all the money for herself, but the falcon statuette proves to be a fake. The centre cannot hold. Sam turns the client over to the cops:

“I’ll have some rotten nights, after I’ve sent you over, but that’ll pass.”
(The Maltese Falcon)

Bob Dylan varies the Spade line a bit:

Well, I have some rotten nights
Didn’t think that they would pass
I’m just thankful and grateful
To be seeing the real you at last
(Bob Dylan: Seeing The Real You At Last)

Films noir tend to have a Gnostic-like theme whereby an anti-hero seeks to escape from a dark material underworld to one that’s better. It ain’t easy.
The black Spade says:

“I don’t mind a reasonable amount of trouble”.
(The Maltese Falcon)

Repeated in the song:

Well, I don’t mind a reasonable amount of trouble
Trouble always comes to pass
All I care for about now
Is that I’m seeing the real you at last
(Bob Dylan: Seeing The Real You At Last)

The singer/songwriter unwraps the black Maltese falcon in another song as well:

“All we’ve got is that maybe you love me, and maybe I love you”.
(The Maltese Falcon)

Dylan unwraps the fake falcon while the moon goddess, the deer-chasing Diana, is shining in the sky:

Well, I’ve walked two hundred miles, now look me over
It’s the end of the chase, and the moon is high
It won’t matter who loves who
You’ll love me or I’ll love you
When the night comes falling from the sky
(Bob Dylan: When The Night Comes Falling From The Sky)

The Gnostic theme is found again in a neo-film noir, starring James Stewart as wheelchair-bound telescope-voyeur Jeff Jeffries. He’s like an Ulyssess strapped to the mast of a ship in a heat wave, but Stella, the insurance company’s nurse, is there to help him; says she:

‘You’d think the rain would have cooled things off. All it did was make the
heat wet’.
(Rear Window)

Films noir featuring actor Humphrey Bogart or James Stewart are obviously among Bob Dylan’s favourite movies:

Well, I thought that the rain would cool things down
But it looks like it don’t
I’d like to get you to change your mind
But it looks like you won’t
(Bob Dylan: Seeing The Real You At Last)

What else is on the site?

Untold Dylan contains a review of every Dylan musical composition of which we can find a copy (around 500) and over 300 other articles on Dylan, his work and the impact of his work.

You’ll find an index to our latest posts arranged by themes and subjects on the home page.  You can also see details of our main sections on this site at the top of this page under the picture.

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  1. Hello. I remember reading an interview with the director of ‘Im not there’ and they asked him if he thought Dylan had seen the film. He responded saying he imagines he might have if he’s got though all the dvd Film Noir’s on his tour bus.

    Made me think that he knows that is Dylan’s genre (beyond the lyrics links).

    Of course, Dylan did a noir tribute for music video to ‘The night we called it day’.

    Thanks for the website, keep up the good work etc!

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