How robust is the CH score?

Given the time that has passed since David Cornwell and I undertook our study of film noir, it is reasonable to ask how well it stands up. In particular it is worth looking at the CH index of a film’s noir status, based as it was on lists published about two decades ago or more.

Silver et al. (2010)

One of the lists we included in our original study was Silver and Ward (1979). This book went through a number of editions in which the films dealt with as noir did not change, although in the third edition (1992) there was an appendix which listed additional films of the classic period. However, in 2010 it was substantially revised, published under a new title, and attributed to two additional editor (Silver et al., 2010). The changes included the addition of previously omitted films, including most but not all of the films in the appendix to the third edition. (This seems to me a sign of an intellectual approach different from the one I am suggesting. Such discrepancies call out for explanation.) If we are to regard the listing in 2010 as the authors’ now definitive views, it seems appropriate to look at the possible impact of replacing their previous judgments. Since we considered films with CH scores of 10 to 12 as the best indicators of film noir characteristics, this meant we should look at films in the CH9 category to determine whether any would increase their scores because of the revised Silver and Ward listing. I found that no films were affected, as all CH9 films had in fact already been included in the original Silver and Ward list.

Wikipedia List of Film Noir Titles

Two internet resources are worth noting. One is the Wikipedia “List of Film Noir Titles”. It is largely derived from two of the sources we employed, Selby and Silver and Ward. Thus, it is seemed unlikely that it would present any major reason for questioning our CH scores. To check this out, I scanned the years 1941 to 1958 for films whose presence on the list was not attributed to Selby, Silver and Ward or the Silver et al. source just discussed. I found 29 such films. Of these 15 had no CH score, i.e. had not appeared on any of the original lists. Of the rest 13 had a CH score of 1, and one, I Love Trouble, had a CH score of 2.

Internet Movie Database

The Internet Movie Database is worth more careful consideration. As a first step I looked at the entries for all films with CH scores of seven or higher (i.e. those that had appeared on a majority of the lists originally covered). IMDb has two relevant descriptors, Genre and Keywords. Genre was checked first. If a film’s genre was not classified as “film noir” under Genre (most genre ratings are multiple), I then checked Keywords to see if “Noir” was employed for that film. Only four of these films were not described as ‘Film Noir” under genre and none of them had “Noir” as a keyword. They are:

Hangover Square (CH7),
The Lodger (CH7),
Shadow of a Doubt (CH8),
The Sniper (CH7).

Thus, all films with CH score of 9 or more have an IMDb film noir genre identification. This means that employing CH10-12 as the criterion of noir in noir/non-noir comparisons is unaffected by IMDb data.

I then did a further check on IMDb, taking as a sample all films with titles starting M, N or O with CH 1-6 scores. The result was that, of the 61 films considered, 35 were classified as Film Noir under Genre and a further 1 had Noir as a Keyword according to IMDb. This outcome for relatively low scoring CH films suggests that IMDb is quite liberal in its use of “Noir” as a descriptor.

This finding suggested to me that it would be worth looking particularly at films which had scored only one on the CH rating, i. e. had appeared on only one of the lists David Cornwell and I had inspected. I looked at IMDb entries for CH1 films with titles beginning A, B and C. As might have been anticipated given my previous search covering CH 1-6 films, rather fewer films were considered as being Noir. Of the 56 films covered, 18 were Film Noir under Genre and a further 2 were Noir under Keywords. Thus between a third and a half have ratings confirming a status as a “noir” film.

Park’s What is Film Noir?

In William Park’s book, What is Film Noir? (2011), the author discusses a number of features which he considers should or should not contribute to a definition of film noir. Appendix A lists the films which he considers “Within the genre”. I looked at those films which appeared in the target years of our Defining Film Noir study, 1941-1958. Of particular interest to me were those which have CH scores of 9. Since we had employed the criterion of a score of CH10 or more as indicating a “noir” film, CH9 films had just missed the “cut”. If we were to revise the CH scoring to include the Park list, some CH9 films might be eligible to be placed in our “noir” category.

There are 22 films with CH9 scores. Of these 12 are classified as noir by Park. Thus a case might be made for increasing the Cornwell-Hobbs lists from 12 to 13 by including Park. If so, these 12 films could be classified as “noir”, if the criterion were to be appearing in at least 10 out of 13 lists rather than at least 10 out of 12 as previously.

What Now?

04/04/16. The noir versus non-noir comparison David Cornwell and I undertook previously was limited by the availability of the films. Since all of the films we had identified as noir are now available for scrutiny, I envisage revising that study including all of our noir group and perhaps employing an expanded and more subtle set of criteria for comparison. Although in principle, the lists employed for the approach we are adopting may be expanded as time goes by, the practicalities of constantly revising CH score need to be considered. It would only be worth modifying our “list of lists” if clear differences in outcome were to appear. A relatively modest proposal would be to conduct the prosed revised noir/non-noir comparison in two versions. One would include all films previously treated as noir and the other would in addition include the 12 CH9 films treated as noir by Park.

Additional References:

Park, Wiliam (2011) What is Film Noir? Lanham, MA: Rowman & Littlefield.

Silver, Alain, Ward, Elizabeth, Ursini, James and Porfirio, Robert (Eds.) (2010). Film Noir: The Encyclopedia. New York: Overlook.