“A great noir story’s sense of place is just as important as the big whodunit reveal.”

From a post on altaonline.com about the important role of place in noir scenes:

Eddie Muller, a Bay Area writer and television host known as the Czar of Noir, explains, to Alta Live, the important role of place in noir. How it sets the tone and mood, giving the place a deep, meaningful role in the story. A city in a good noir story can become its own character, giving off emotion and tension in between the words on the page.

“Noir set in New York is about being trapped in a teeming metropolis and fighting for every breath,” says Muller. “Los Angeles noir is about the terror of freedom, vast open spaces, and endless possibilities—and screwing it up. San Francisco noir presents a dichotomy writers and filmmakers love: it’s as picturesque as any place in America, but there’s a sense of entrapment and dread because everything is so close and you’re surrounded by water on three sides.”

Turn on the 1947 film noir classic Dark Passage at almost any point and you’ll figure out that this stylized caper is set in San Francisco. It’s not the Golden Gate Bridge or that unmistakable cable car ding that gives away the movie’s location, although both are featured in the film. Rather, San Francisco’s style gives its setting up before a slow pan across Russian Hill. Noir San Francisco feels like San Francisco.

The same is true of noir set in Los Angeles. Crack open a Raymond Chandler mystery and the City of Angels is a fully developed character unto itself. Philip Marlowe, Chandler’s hard-boiled detective, couldn’t have existed anywhere else. The smog and the sex of the industry town, a city where Hollywood dreams notoriously go to die (sometimes grisly deaths), are perhaps noir’s most perfect metropolis mistress.

A great noir story’s sense of place is just as important as the big whodunit reveal. Geography is vital to the noir, perhaps more so than in any other genre. A writer can’t set a decent noir in Anytown, USA. The story has to evoke the soul of a city real enough to have one.

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