Despite its French name, film noir is one of America's great original art forms. With its contrasted black-and-white images telling very gray moral tales, noir has filtered into the American consciousness as few genres have. While the stories and shades of noir have been copied endlessly, the music to dark crime films, while immediately recognizable, hasn't been properly appreciated for its contribution to the art form. Milan Records attempts to rectify the situation with its new collection, Ultra Noir -- with mixed results.
There's plenty of creepy, sensual music on Ultra Noir. "Marlowe's Theme," from Farewell, My Lovely, is two minutes of film noir in a bottle: A muted trumpet sketches out the silhouette of the femme fatale before swelling strings sweep her away. The theme from the Coen brothers' Blood Simple drips menace from a skeletal bass-and-piano line. Even the synth-heavy theme to Brian De Palma's Body Double has a dark, sexy thing going for it, albeit in an '80s sort of way. And the "Mulholland Drive/Love Theme" from David Lynch's most recent film is a reminder that noir is still alive and well in Hollywood (a previously unreleased track by longtime Lynch collaborator Angelo Badalamenti is also a nice touch).
However, a few bad choices break the mood of the disc. North by Northwest isn't noir, and its theme is a shrieking mood-killer. And does Jennifer 8 need to be remembered in any form at all? With the glaring omissions of the disc (most notably, there's nothing from Chinatown's gorgeous score, and Body Heat would have been nice too), there's no excuse for filler.
Still, there are some gems here. Your best bet is to mine them off the disc so you can build your own play list for your nights of whiskey and shadows.