Haunting. Mysterious. Overbearing.
Paintings in film noirs cast a long shadow, seducing some and tormenting others. As main characters struggle to come out ahead in a dark and cynical world, those paintings often remind them of how far they have yet to go.
Take a look at some of the most haunting paintings featured in film noirs below!
1. Laura (1944)
Laura’s portrait needed to be perfect for the film. After all, it had to capture the mysterious woman so well that Dana Andrews' character would fall in love. The first portrait was painted by Azalia Newman, the wife of the film’s original director, Rouben Mamoulian. However, studio head Darryl Zanuck was displeased with the initial direction of the film and replaced him with Otto Preminger. The new director thought Newman's painting of Laura looked boring. So Gene Tierney was photographed by Frank Polony, and one of those pictures was then blown up and lightly airbrushed to make it appear as if it was a painting. The two portraits were quite different. Newman’s portrait had Tierney facing front dressed in a spotted coat, gloves, and a smart suit while the final one 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, as done in Laura. Robinson's stoic portrait serves to show his 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.