Welcome to this website, dedicated to the life and works of Nino Frank

Nino Frank

Nino Frank is well known to English-speaking readers as the critic who first drew attention to the “noir” undercurrent in 1940s Hollywood crime films, but his other, wide-ranging achievements are much less well-known. This website developed from doctoral research into film criticism in France, initially around the subject of film noir; and in my final chapter I summarise and discuss the all-important film noir debates of 1946, and the developments to which they gave rise later in the twentieth century, citing important articles, many of which can now be read free of charge on academic library websites. This was the first chapter I published, in 2011.

However, it soon became evident to me that the 1940s debates could not be properly understood without a knowledge of the experience and thinking of these critics during the preceding decades. Most of them had been cinephiles from a very young age, while Frank, who started the whole discussion, came from a different background. He was Swiss-Italian by birth, distinctive because his experience was much broader and his first passion was literature, especially the experimental modernist movements of the early twentieth century. He came to film criticism when for political reasons he could no longer work in literary journalism; and he demanded from films the honesty, and connection to real life, which he found in serious literature.

Between 2011 and 2018 I therefore carried out further researches, and the chronologically earlier chapters are devoted to the literary and film developments of the 1920s to the 1940s, seen through the optic of the fascinating Nino Frank. He worked with some of the most iconoclastic writers of the age: Massimo Bontempelli (“magic realism”), Pierre Mac Orlan (“fantastique social”), Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes (Dada), James Joyce (translation of part of Finnegan’s Wake). As an arts journalist in Paris, he knew all the literary, artistic, theatrical icons of the 1920s, and the film directors and actors of the 1930s. He fell foul of two Fascist regimes, first in Italy then in France under the German Occupation, and through all this time he continued to write: reviews, short stories and also memoirs and commentaries on the surrounding scene (for instance, over 1000 articles in the 1930s film magazine Pour Vous). His writings are a goldmine for this period, and I hope to have given enough quotations and reference points here to intrigue readers and encourage further exploration.

I also include a chapter in French, originally written for a French journal, on the importance of Pierre Mac Orlan and his concept of the "fantastique social" for a fuller understanding of the European films of the 1930s, and of Nino Frank's 1946 recognition of a "noir" element in Hollywood cinema.

The final chapter gives further insights into Frank's relationship with Barletta, his native town, and his translations of Italian literature for a French audience.

These chapters are followed by a brief biography, listing Frank's key activities and achievements over the course of his life.

Margaret Holmes

Nino Frank and:

nino frank intro1. The French avant-garde

Aged 19, Nino Frank travels from southern Italy to France, meeting Max Jacob, Jean Cocteau and Pierre Mac Orlan. He publishes articles on French avant-garde writers in Il Mondo, and on Massimo Bontempelli and ‘magic realism’ in Paris-Journal.


900 intro 2. The Italian journal "900"

1926, Nino Frank is appointed Paris correspondent of the Corriere della Sera. Massimo Bontempelli also recruits him to help launch and run his new international journal, “900”.  The first issue is a success, with an impressive list of contributors.


malaparte intro3. The enemies of "900"

Nino Frank tries to smooth over problems with “900” caused by the antagonism of Giuseppe Ungaretti. Bontempelli’s co-editor, Curzio Malaparte, objects to the journal’s anti-fascist tone and content, and contrives Frank’s expulsion from Italy.


nouvelles litteraires intro 4. The magazine Nouvelles litteraires

Desperate for work, Frank is helped by Pierre Mac Orlan, who introduces him to Georges Charensol at Les Nouvelles littéraires. There he develops his pen-portraits of literary celebrities, among them Jean Cocteau, François Mauriac and Scott Fitzgerald.


Bifur ad intro5. The modernist journal Bifur

Frank becomes assistant editor of Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes’ new modernist French journal Bifur, which features important international contributors: in the first issue, among others Gottfried Benn, Blaise Cendrars, Tristan Tzara, Ilya Ehrenberg.


pour vous intro6. The film weekly Pour Vous

Frank works for the key film magazine Pour Vous from its launch, and is editor-in-chief at its forced closure in 1940.  As a junior, he interviews directors like Jacques Feyder and René Clair during heated debates in France on the new talking cinema.


marlene dietrich intro7. The newspaper L'Intransigeant

In 1931, as editor of the cinema page of L’Intransigeant itself, Frank expresses his views on the role and responsibilities of film-makers. He is deeply shocked by a visit to Berlin in 1933, and points to warnings in films like Fritz Lang’s Dr.Mabuse series.


broken blossoms intro8. Welcome back to Pour Vous, 1936

After a forced absence with tuberculosis, Frank returns full-time in 1936 to Pour Vous and L’Intransigeant, resuming his trenchant reviews. A central theme is how to show the reality of Paris, often a sentimentalised “star” of French and foreign films.


les bas fonds 9. 'Poetic' realism in French cinema, 1936-1939

In 1936, an impressive batch of French films leads critics to hail a new realism and concern for social issues.  Films of Renoir, Duvivier and Carné are complemented by the acting of Jean Gabin and the poetic inspiration of writer Jacques Prévert.


Inconnus intro10. Cinema under the German Occupation

After the forced closure of Pour Vous, Frank writes on films at Les Nouveaux Temps; French production is constrained by censorship, but he continues campaigning for quality. In 1942 he is forbidden to write in the French press and turns to scriptwriting.


double indemnity intro11. The Fascination of Noir

1n 1946, French critics debate American crime films dubbed ‘films noirs’ by Frank. As well as ‘hard-boiled’ source books, influences recognised come from German emigré directors, and from a French tradition of uncompromising literature, taken forward in films by Renoir and Carné.  In more recent analysis, James Naremore sees a close link between Frank’s insight and his modernist background.


Quai Des Brumes intro France12. Du “fantastique social” au “film noir”  (chapitre français)

Pierre Mac Orlan s’enthousiasme pour le cinéma, avec sa capacité de concrétiser les peurs urbaines, le “fantastique social”. Ce concept est une influence-clé sur Nino Frank lorsqu’il reconnaît des éléments “noirs” dans des films criminels américains.


Barletta France13. His importance today in Barletta, town of his birth

Nino Frank, born in Barletta, was famous for his translations of Italian masterpieces into French. As one of Barletta's foremost literary figures, his birth in Palazzo Tresca featured prominently in recent campaigns to prevent the demolition of this important historic building, and ensure its survival.


Short stories featured, original texts:

FranceGoût d'égout
L'Oreille noire
La Femme de la nuit (début)
Un Coup de foudre

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italyIl Mantello rosso
Samuele Pallas e la sua felicità

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Detailed list of Nino Frank's Writings, including:

Frank's Translations of major Italian novels into French

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