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As the 20th century recedes, film noir seems more an attitude than an actual genre. The phrase itself—which wasn't coined until after the fact, by French critics—refers to gritty, bleak American thrillers from the '40s and '50s, almost always shot in black and white. There's usually a murder and a femme fatale to accompany it; trench coats, fedoras, and plumes of cigarette smoke are de rigueur. But watching the 11 selections in this year's edition of Cinema 21's noir series, the commonality doesn't have so much to do with murders, or dames, or nicotine. These films are all about love—more specifically, about passion and obsession, about some poor johnny getting dizzy over a skirt. Also see "Blackjacks and Wise Cracks," Mercury, May 8.

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