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Dr. Rich Edwards

Into the Darkness Video Lecture #5: The Opportunity (Film Noir in the Postwar Era)

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This is the official discussion thread for Video Lecture #5: The Opportunity. 

 

You can watch the video lecture at Canvas: https://learn.canvas.net/courses/748/pages/the-opportunity-part-2-of-4-the-case-of-film-noir-part-5-video-lecture?module_item_id=130648

 

Look forward to hearing everybody's thoughts about the role of history, politics, economics, and society on film noir! 

 

Let the discussions begin!

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What I enjoyed about this lecture is that it explains to me why in the 50s there were more procedure "dragnet" type noirs and why a lot of the noirs used the word "commie" in the 50s. I've also noticed the use of Edmond o'Brien in noirs, I wonder if that had something to do with the black listing and for me 1947 seemed to be the best year for noir kinda like 1939 was the best classic film year. Don't know what it is about 1947, but that is my favorite noir year.

I also found it interesting that most of these films would be considered G or at worse Pg, so suitable audiences.  

Also I've found this list of noirs from the 40s and 50s i'd thought others might  find interesting

http://www.filmsite.org/titles-filmnoir.html

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A cinema that was barely 40 years old when noir started found itself almost over the hill less than two decades later. . . But if it was closing, it made the most of the opportunity it had turning out a decade's worth of classic films noir in the 1950s. The heist that begin so modestly with four pictures in 1941 turned into many heists. . .” - Video Lecture #5

 

Because of what I’ve learned thus far in this course, I truly believe that the “Heist” continues to prosper many decades later with films such as: The Manchurian Candidate (1962), Chinatown (1974), Blood Simple (1984), Se7en (1995), and Mulholland Drive (2001).

 

Thanks to you, and all who have posted messages on the board, I could not have said this six weeks ago.

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Professor Edwards

With regard to Hitchcock being a special case, you state that "He wasn't a part of the German emigres like Lang or Siodmak".  In fact:

 

In 1924 Alfred Hitchcock went with fellow British film director, Graham Cutts, to Germany to film "The Blackguard." While in Germany, Hitchcock observed some of the making of Murnau's "The Last Laugh" and was so impressed with the directing that he adopted some of Murnau's filming techniques. Hitchcock was given the opportunity to assist in directing "The Pleasure Garden" at the UFA studios (Universum Film AG)

 

I think this identifies Hitchcock as a Noir formalist.  Philosophically, I believe his movies were informed by his Catholic upbringing rather than existential angst.  Some of his main characters feel guilty for past actions (Scotty in Vertigo, Alicia in Notorious) which affects the choices they make.  They quite often suffer from arrested development (Dr McKenna in The Man who Knew Too Much, jealously possessive of his wife), Uncle Charley in Shadow of A Doubt, (his hatred of wealthy middle-aged widows), Bruno in Strangers on a Train, (classic Oedipal complex).  I believe these themes may be indicative of Hitchcock's personal demons rather than a critique of the social climate in which he was living.  And that is what makes Hitchcock a 'special case' and not fully part of the noir school.

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Professor Edwards

With regard to Hitchcock being a special case, you state that "He wasn't a part of the German emigres like Lang or Siodmak".  In fact:

 

In 1924 Alfred Hitchcock went with fellow British film director, Graham Cutts, to Germany to film "The Blackguard." While in Germany, Hitchcock observed some of the making of Murnau's "The Last Laugh" and was so impressed with the directing that he adopted some of Murnau's filming techniques. Hitchcock was given the opportunity to assist in directing "The Pleasure Garden" at the UFA studios (Universum Film AG)

 

I think this identifies Hitchcock as a Noir formalist.  Philosophically, I believe his movies were informed by his Catholic upbringing rather than existential angst.  Some of his main characters feel guilty for past actions (Scotty in Vertigo, Alicia in Notorious) which affects the choices they make.  They quite often suffer from arrested development (Dr McKenna in The Man who Knew Too Much, jealously possessive of his wife), Uncle Charley in Shadow of A Doubt, (his hatred of wealthy middle-aged widows), Bruno in Strangers on a Train, (classic Oedipal complex).  I believe these themes may be indicative of Hitchcock's personal demons rather than a critique of the social climate in which he was living.  And that is what makes Hitchcock a 'special case' and not fully part of the noir school.

 

I see what you are saying, but I still wouldn't group Hitchcock in with the German Emigre directors who had to flee Nazi Germany, nor do I believe he shares the underlying cinematic sensibilities cultivated in Lang and Siodmak by their German experiences.

 

Major filmmakers are going to be influenced by each other (even work with each other from time and time) and be familiar with what is going on in other national contexts, but Hitchcock's talent and sensibilities were nurtured inside the British film industry before he moved over to Hollywood and the US in the 1940s.

 

And I'm not going to get too much more in depth with Hitchcock because, as some other students have commented, he deserves a course of his own.

 

However, towards your other point, I would not disagree that thematically and stylistically, Hitchcock's core preoccupations and interests did differ from some of the other major directors we have already discussed in relation to film noir. 

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What I enjoyed about this lecture is that it explains to me why in the 50s there were more procedure "dragnet" type noirs and why a lot of the noirs used the word "commie" in the 50s. I've also noticed the use of Edmond o'Brien in noirs, I wonder if that had something to do with the black listing and for me 1947 seemed to be the best year for noir kinda like 1939 was the best classic film year. Don't know what it is about 1947, but that is my favorite noir year.

I also found it interesting that most of these films would be considered G or at worse Pg, so suitable audiences.  

Also I've found this list of noirs from the 40s and 50s i'd thought others might  find interesting

http://www.filmsite.org/titles-filmnoir.html

 

Interesting points. I've always enjoyed trying to think of movie years and standout years, or what's the theme of a year. If you want to point to a banner year for creative artistry in this period, it's got to be 1941!!! Lots of influence on film noir and film noir stylings.

 

Citizen Kane

The Maltese Falcon

Suspicion (one of the more underrated Hitchcock movies imo, and another example of where the happy ending is clearly forced so much so that the darker themes and likely ending sticks with you even more)

How Green Was My Valley 

The Lady Eve

Sullivan's Travels

Sergant York

The Wolf Man

and also a proto-noir like High Sierra.

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This is an interesting topic, and one I'll have to return to throughout the week. I'll be keeping it in mind throughout my viewings and readings. I always try to put myself into the mindset of a film's target audience, whether I'm watching a classic film noir, a trashy 70s horror film, or a modern day superhero spectacle. It makes almost all movie viewing more enjoyable. And yet, I have been a bit blind to some of the changes I've been seeing in the movies I've watched this summer.

 

Putting the list of noir film I've seen in chronological order does present a pretty momentous shift at almost exactly the same time as the war ended. During the war, films noir were predominantly focused on criminals and cops, private detectives and gangsters molls. Films like The Glass Key, The Maltese Falcon and Johnny Eager all depicted criminal subcultures. We also had some melodramas with noir elements, like Laura, The Letter, or Stranger on the Third Floor. These latter films featured pretty standard everyday settings in which something violent and criminal intruded on normality. There were also a bunch of films featuring foreign intrigue, such as (again) The Letter, Journey into Fear, or Ministry Of Fear. These feature Americans abroad being menaced by foreign agents. In all of the movies listed so far the threat is an 'other'. The threat comes from foreign shores or interlopers into their communities.

But then in 1946, when the war ends, the zeitgeist changes a bit. Almost immediately you can spot the difference, as the noir hero starts to be typified by an everyman quality. More and more noirs are carried by men who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Deadline at Dawn and Desperate, Where Danger Lives and Woman on the Run(ranging in release date from 1946 to 1950) all feature innocent leads who's bad luck finds them on the run. Then there's The Stranger, The Killers, Out of the Past, films in which the hero/villain are hiding out in small town America, unnoticed by members of the community.  These films feature threats that are us, or our friends, our neighbors.

 

The films from the postwar period also seem to be preoccupied with trying to forget or deny the past, the alter and hide the evil or illegal. Dark Passage is an example of this, where Humphrey Bogart gets a new face and a new identity. This is an atypical example, though, because Bogart is innocent and his tale has a happy ending. More typical is The Scar/Hollow Triumph, where Paul Henreid attempts the same trick, with less than happy results. These films show attempts to hide from the past, and the futility of trying to ignore where you come from.

 

There are more examples and trends, I'm sure. But this an interesting correlation that hadn't quite occurred to me yet, though it probably has to plenty of you guys. I'm loving this class, and look forward to reading more responses to this thread.

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i too like 1941 as well, Suspicion is another hitchcock film i can watch over and over. Every time I see the ending, i always say i know Cary Grant, pushed Monkey face out the car and ran over her or did away with her some way. I know full well they didnt go home happily ever after

Interesting points. I've always enjoyed trying to think of movie years and standout years, or what's the theme of a year. If you want to point to a banner year for creative artistry in this period, it's got to be 1941!!! Lots of influence on film noir and film noir stylings.

 

Citizen Kane

The Maltese Falcon

Suspicion (one of the more underrated Hitchcock movies imo, and another example of where the happy ending is clearly forced so much so that the darker themes and likely ending sticks with you even more)

How Green Was My Valley 

The Lady Eve

Sullivan's Travels

Sergant York

The Wolf Man

and also a proto-noir like High Sierra.

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The lectures and outside readings have reinforced what I came to believe in the beginning of the course that genre does not fit noir, while style and movement do. The returning veterans trying to figure out what they are coming home to. The failure of what they had done with the Cold War, Korea and Vietnam. The recessions of the 1950's along with consumerism. The popularization of psychology and existentialism all found in life and the movies.

 

My father and two of his brothers were in the service, and his oldest brother did construction at a navy ship yard. My father had quit school and joined the army before the war. He was stationed in Hawaii on December 7. His plan had been to make the army a career, yet in 1945 he couldn't wait to get out, he had his points in December of 1945.

 

When he got out he tried the construction business, but had problems with that, even working for his older brother, he had to sue him for back wages, I still have a copy of the court decree he won against his brother. I can remember being sent to get his checks from the second part time job he took when he took that job along with his main work in the late1950's, though at the time I had no idea of a recession being on. My uncle who had been a navy flier had a hard time finding work that he could do, with a college degree, he ended up going back into the navy and staying in another 20+ years. Neither one would discuss the war, they had plenty of service stories, mostly state side, but didn't talk about what they did in the war.

 

Some of us have lived through much of this time period and from family stories can see the points of the lecture clearly. We can understand what is meant when Dr. Edwards says “...the history of that age passed right through the screen and down into our time,...as if the cameras caught some fleeting glimpse of a partial truth we were seeking....”

 

Our ally fighting Germany the U.S.S.R. was now now our enemy. Suddenly the thaw that Roosevelt had begun in the 1930's and during the War was over and it was as cold as the “Red Scare” of 1919. Anyone who made a propaganda movie during World War II that was pro Soviet Union was now suspect, as were those films. HUAC hearing, McCarthy, Estes Kefauver on crime, even going down to comic books. The loyalty oaths that all public workers had to take. That anyone at anytime could be questioned.

 

I find the idea of the “other” that these and the lecture brought out also came at a time of religious revival as we learned in our reading. It is interesting that the idea of Papal Infallibility came in 1870 under Pius IX and the First Vatican Council, partly as a reaction to American Secularism, and in 1946 (Casper) Mother Cabrini was maid a saint by Pope Pius XIII. That church attendance of all faiths went up significantly in these years. Yet, these were also the years that Jehovah Witnesses had to fight not to say prayers or Pledge Allegiance to the Flag in public schools. Even today, don't we dread the knock on the door of our homes from “those” people. Others then and they continue to be today for many.

 

It is interesting to watch a film like On the Sunny Side or any other that shows how we used to pledge allegiance before our entry into World War II. It also illustrates that “...under God...” was added in 1954, to make us different from the atheistic communists of the Soviet Union. Roosevelt created the U.N. to try to fulfill the “bosses” (Wilson) dream, and his wife got through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Unfortunately the Cold War ensured that it didn't work. (Soviet Union never boycotted the U.N. after the Security Council vote to go into Korea.

 

As a “baby boomer” I grew up with television. Hoppy, Roy Rogers, Three Stooges, and the three o'clock movie: King Kong, Godzilla, Bowery Boys, and even noir. To combat television Hollywood began to make all color movies, long movies like Gone With the Wind with music for entering, intermission and leaving. Films that were so long you lost the double feature and cartoons, unless you waited until summer and saw it at the Drive-In: Spartacus, El Cid, Fall of the Roman Empire. Spartacus which allowed Dalton Trumbo's name recognition again, finally, (though Stanley Kubrick hated it so much he rewrote most of it, got him out of his contract with Kirk Douglas though).

 

Still television did help those who made the transition, such as Lucille Ball and happily Hope Emerson, at her death she wasn't remembered for her noir but for her comedic talent. When Hollywood began to cater to the boomers they were able to make money again, and have continued to do so. The B's are gone and they only spend on A movies. Thankfully Robert Redford has helped the Indie films, which at times can make Hollywood follow. Funny how today MGM is owned by Vegas, the town started by racketeers. “...passed right through the screen”.

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I've noticed that a number of the films shown on TMC so far have veterans returned from WWII in the lead role. For example, Alan Ladd in The Blue Dahlia and his buddies Hugh Beaumont and William Bendix are just back from overseas. The way that the villians sometimes point out the hero's service with contempt is, I suppose, a way of aligning the villians with the evil forces that America has been at war with. This is not to say that the villians are ideologically Nazis, communists, or what ever. I just mean that by disrespecting the returning vets, they are showing how antagonistic they are to American values--truth, justice, and the American way, so to speak. This theme was central to the plot in Key Largo. Edgar G. Robinson toward the middle of the film asks Bogart why he'd fought in the war (or words to that effect). Bogart responds by quoting FDR (I think) in a few lines that suggest it is America's duty to safeguard the world from evil. The struggle between Bogart and Robinson is a metaphor for the struggle between America and evil world powers.

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Three words: Kiss Me Deadly.

 

No way would that movie (and in particular, that ending!) have happened prior to Hiroshima. Pure paranoia: it could even be in a locker room (or a home) near you!!

 

It's really interesting to see the depiction of nuclear material in the movie and the way its depiction has changed over the decades.

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A cinema that was barely 40 years old when noir started found itself almost over the hill less than two decades later. . . But if it was closing, it made the most of the opportunity it had turning out a decade's worth of classic films noir in the 1950s. The heist that begin so modestly with four pictures in 1941 turned into many heists. . .” - Video Lecture #5

 

Because of what I’ve learned thus far in this course, I truly believe that the “Heist” continues to prosper many decades later with films such as: The Manchurian Candidate (1962), Chinatown (1974), Blood Simple (1984), Se7en (1995), and Mulholland Drive (2001).

 

Thanks to you, and all who have posted messages on the board, I could not have said this six weeks ago.

 

Not to mention more recent movies such as Nightcrawler (2014), which is about as dark as you'd ever want, and the rise of such TV shows such as Hannibal. I think that the stereotypical noir with the private eye and the femme fatale has been flanderized in many people's eyes, but there's a definite demand for neo-noir, with the uncertain, seemingly out of control world we still live in.

 

I agree, this course has been excellent, and the wealth of knowledge here on the boards only makes it better.

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Another provocative lecture! Professor Edwards has referred to "social disillusionment" (in this lecture) and "cultural pessimism" (in an earlier lecture) as defining post-WW II moods contributing to both the creation and popularity of film noir in this period. I don't necessarily doubt this, but historically speaking, it's a curious development. We and our allies had just decisively defeated the existential threats of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. Furthermore, despite the fears at the time that the reduction of war-time spending and the return to the civilian labor force of 12 million servicemen would return us to the depression economy of the 1930s, the two decades after WW II were years of significant economic growth, much lower unemployment than the 30s, and only punctuated by a few shallow and short-lived recessions. History usually shows us that a victory in a "war for existence" is followed by an optimistic period of limitless possibilities and a cultural / creative flowering. Just look at Athens after the defeat of the Persians, the Elizabethan Age after the defeat of the Armada, or even closer to our own time the Roaring 20s / the Jazz Age after WW I when Hoover said "poverty has been defeated." What was different about the post WW II years?

 

Let me hazard some guesses. For one thing, WW II was truly cataclysmic with human deaths on an almost unimaginable scale, suggesting the 19th century's "Age of Progress" was an illusion. For another thing, one of our adversaries, one of the most civilized nations in Europe, had carried out mass murder on a industrial scale using the most modern of means. Furthermore, one of our most powerful allies (the Soviet Union) gradually became a frightening adversary during this period. Of course, we over-reacted to the "Red Menace" via HUAC and McCarthyism in this period, but our anxieties were heightened by the communist threat to western Europe (unlike the CPUSA, the communist parties in France and Italy were huge) and the loss of our "nuclear monopoly" to the Soviet Union thanks, in part, to domestic espionage. So, our anxieties, our disillusionment, and our pessimism about human nature contributed to the success of film noir. Since the advent of color film, large screens, and the demise of the studio system have been cited as contributing factors to film noir's demise, I would  guess that the economic prosperity, social conformity, and cultural dominance of the middle class in the 1950s (if I might: bourgeoisification) were also contributors.

 

A final note of interest: films don't necessarily have to reflect the social / cultural aspects of their times. Just look at the 1930s, a time of truly economic privation. And yet the films often showed the upper classes in fine clothing with servants and maids. I understand the studio bosses thought, probably correctly, that people didn't want to go to the movies to be reminded of how terrible things were for them, but to be transported to a dream-like lifestyle of affluence. It seems that for every "Grapes of Wrath" in the 30s, there were a dozen films of people in tuxedos drinking champagne and  dancing in expensive nightclubs.

 

 

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A final note of interest: films don't necessarily have to reflect the social / cultural aspects of their times. Just look at the 1930s, a time of truly economic privation. And yet the films often showed the upper classes in fine clothing with servants and maids. I understand the studio bosses thought, probably correctly, that people didn't want to go to the movies to be reminded of how terrible things were for them, but to be transported to a dream-like lifestyle of affluence. It seems that for every "Grapes of Wrath" in the 30s, there were a dozen films of people in tuxedos drinking champagne and  dancing in expensive nightclubs.

I'll argue against that sentiment, actually. I think films always reflect the social/cultural/political landscape of their times. Even if, ESPECIALLY if, they don't show the world as it actually was. Films often show an idealized version of the world, they show us how we want to view ourselves. The preponderance of lighthearted fare involving wealthy characters makes sense precisely because most of the people in the audience did not fit that description. It's like in Sullivan's Travels; no one wants to go to the movies to be reminded of how miserable they are, they want an escape.

 

I think that also speaks to why noir flourished in a time of plenty. Sure, it was exposing the wounds we suffered from WWII, it was exposing the corruption that lay beneath our comfortable facades, but it did so in an arena of comfort. People were comfortable in their lives, so poking holes in their self-delusion didn't quite bring the house of cards tumbling down. Audiences felt safe, so filmmakers could go a bit darker without causing a panic.

 

Other than that, though, I agree with all of your statements, so I feel a bit bad singling this point out to argue with. Just know that I really enjoyed your post.

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Putting the list of noir film I've seen in chronological order does present a pretty momentous shift at almost exactly the same time as the war ended. During the war, films noir were predominantly focused on criminals and cops, private detectives and gangsters molls. Films like The Glass Key, The Maltese Falcon and Johnny Eager all depicted criminal subcultures. We also had some melodramas with noir elements, like Laura, The Letter, or Stranger on the Third Floor. These latter films featured pretty standard everyday settings in which something violent and criminal intruded on normality. There were also a bunch of films featuring foreign intrigue, such as (again) The Letter, Journey into Fear, or Ministry Of Fear. These feature Americans abroad being menaced by foreign agents. In all of the movies listed so far the threat is an 'other'. The threat comes from foreign shores or interlopers into their communities.

But then in 1946, when the war ends, the zeitgeist changes a bit. Almost immediately you can spot the difference, as the noir hero starts to be typified by an everyman quality. More and more noirs are carried by men who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Deadline at Dawn and Desperate, Where Danger Lives and Woman on the Run(ranging in release date from 1946 to 1950) all feature innocent leads who's bad luck finds them on the run. Then there's The Stranger, The Killers, Out of the Past, films in which the hero/villain are hiding out in small town America, unnoticed by members of the community.  These films feature threats that are us, or our friends, our neighbors.

 

The films from the postwar period also seem to be preoccupied with trying to forget or deny the past, the alter and hide the evil or illegal. Dark Passage is an example of this, where Humphrey Bogart gets a new face and a new identity. This is an atypical example, though, because Bogart is innocent and his tale has a happy ending. More typical is The Scar/Hollow Triumph, where Paul Henreid attempts the same trick, with less than happy results. These films show attempts to hide from the past, and the futility of trying to ignore where you come from.

 

 

Ack, I'm quoting myself, how gauche. But, as the song says, "quote yourself if no one else will." 

 

I've thought of a few things that I could add to my original comment. I told you I'll be coming back to this idea.

 

First off, there's another example in my theory of pre-war noir concerning foreign threats to the status quo while post-war noir contains threats from within. It's a bit of a sideways example, though, so bear with me. The Dick Powell noir Cornered, at first glance, seems like an outlier in postwar noir, something akin to The Third Man, where we follow a hero as he navigates treacherous foreign waters. But if you look more closely, I think it still supports my theory.

Dick Powell plays Us, an American barging into postwar Europe on a quest for revenge. In the beginning of the film he sneaks into France, which is all smoking rubble and mass graves and displaced citizens. The villain of the movie is set up to be the mysterious Jarnac, a nazi collaborator who is responsible for the death of Powell's French wife. But I think the movie also makes a case for Powell as the villain of the piece. In postwar France he threatens the very delicate act of rebuilding a nation, as he imposes and blocks the unglamorous bureaucratic work of putting people's lives back together so he can find his wife's killer. The film then jumps to Brazil, where his quest for Jarnac threatens an operation to bring a whole network of nazi war criminals to trial. Dick Powell is the American everyman who thinks he's doing the right thing, but is actually threatening the world with his actions. 

 

And another thought that occurred to me, about possible reasons the noir cycle fizzled out in the late fifties. I don't think it could quite handle the civil rights movement. I don't mean this to imply noir is racist, not at all. This is also not the reason noir faded away, just one aspect I found interesting as I thought it over.

 

Basically, the threat in a noir film was an Other, and then it was Us. Yet even when the threat was Us, it was still possible to classify the threat as an aberration, an Other at heart. Then as we enter the late fifties, we have no significant foreign threat to rally around, and those in our society who had actually been considered 'Other' were fighting for acceptance. It was too complex a field of variables for the noir world which, for all it's complications, still offered a world of blacks, whites, and grays. There was no way to keep telling stories in this vein without resorting to parody or metafiction.

 

Horror during this period adapted, featuring monsters that were simply variations of us, and actively fighting for acceptance. The Munsters, The Addams Family, even Bewitched, all featured suburban monsters who just wanted to live normal lives free from persecution(it's probably telling that all the examples I just used are television shows, another threat to noir and cinema). Noir had no way to adapt; it had nothing to fight against within its framework, and so then the only way to successfully create a noir film or novel was to make a story that was actively commenting on noir. Neo-noirs like Night Moves, The Long Goodbye, Blue Velvet, even Brick, they all comment on the structure of film noir while employing it's trademarks.

 

I dunno, as I read it typed out now it feels like that idea needs a bit more work, but I still think there's a germ of a good theory there. I'd love to hear what others think of this.

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I enjoyed this week's lecture. It was both poetic and grounded in historical context. I find myself feeling verklempt as we close in on the end of the era of film noir-- and our course.

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Ack, I'm quoting myself, how gauche. But, as the song says, "quote yourself if no one else will." 

 

I've thought of a few things that I could add to my original comment. I told you I'll be coming back to this idea.

 

First off, there's another example in my theory of pre-war noir concerning foreign threats to the status quo while post-war noir contains threats from within. It's a bit of a sideways example, though, so bear with me. The Dick Powell noir Cornered, at first glance, seems like an outlier in postwar noir, something akin to The Third Man, where we follow a hero as he navigates treacherous foreign waters. But if you look more closely, I think it still supports my theory.

Dick Powell plays Us, an American barging into postwar Europe on a quest for revenge. In the beginning of the film he sneaks into France, which is all smoking rubble and mass graves and displaced citizens. The villain of the movie is set up to be the mysterious Jarnac, a nazi collaborator who is responsible for the death of Powell's French wife. But I think the movie also makes a case for Powell as the villain of the piece. In postwar France he threatens the very delicate act of rebuilding a nation, as he imposes and blocks the unglamorous bureaucratic work of putting people's lives back together so he can find his wife's killer. The film then jumps to Brazil, where his quest for Jarnac threatens an operation to bring a whole network of nazi war criminals to trial. Dick Powell is the American everyman who thinks he's doing the right thing, but is actually threatening the world with his actions. 

 

And another thought that occurred to me, about possible reasons the noir cycle fizzled out in the late fifties. I don't think it could quite handle the civil rights movement. I don't mean this to imply noir is racist, not at all. This is also not the reason noir faded away, just one aspect I found interesting as I thought it over.

 

Basically, the threat in a noir film was an Other, and then it was Us. Yet even when the threat was Us, it was still possible to classify the threat as an aberration, an Other at heart. Then as we enter the late fifties, we have no significant foreign threat to rally around, and those in our society who had actually been considered 'Other' were fighting for acceptance. It was too complex a field of variables for the noir world which, for all it's complications, still offered a world of blacks, whites, and grays. There was no way to keep telling stories in this vein without resorting to parody or metafiction.

 

Horror during this period adapted, featuring monsters that were simply variations of us, and actively fighting for acceptance. The Munsters, The Addams Family, even Bewitched, all featured suburban monsters who just wanted to live normal lives free from persecution(it's probably telling that all the examples I just used are television shows, another threat to noir and cinema). Noir had no way to adapt; it had nothing to fight against within its framework, and so then the only way to successfully create a noir film or novel was to make a story that was actively commenting on noir. Neo-noirs like Night Moves, The Long Goodbye, Blue Velvet, even Brick, they all comment on the structure of film noir while employing it's trademarks.

 

I dunno, as I read it typed out now it feels like that idea needs a bit more work, but I still think there's a germ of a good theory there. I'd love to hear what others think of this.

 

I really appreciate your posts. They always give me lots of ideas to digest and consider. One way to work through a thesis like this is to assemble a core body of films that best exemplify your points. A framework like this does not need to account for all the films in this era, and usually will just apply to a solid sub-set that show these kinds of cultural and historical changes. 

 

If I were to begin to tease the various strains here, there are similarities and differences in each of your paragraphs. I would start with listing some of the connecting tissues, and see what elements in the films provide support for your thesis. But in reading your points, I can see outlines of the following areas:

 

-- Postwar xenophobia, or fear of the "Other" but in films set in the US and those set abroad. The Hitch-Hiker, for example, is replete with xenophobic themes. 

-- The rising suburbanization of America--and this is a dislocating shift as 1890-1945 was the rise of US urbanism and 1946-present is the rise of the US suburbs. 

-- Noir and the changing role of the postwar family, and considering that point in light of TV 60s' "horror" family motifs - I think it is interesting that all three shows you mention are set in family situations - not only is the monstrous being shown on TV, the monstrous is being equated with families

-- Film noir in the Civil Rights Era - which has been a topic of much scholarly discussion. I think it is important to note that this introductory course has been focused mainly on issues of class and gender, but the issue of race also needs to be investigated, but again, like so many topics, it deserves a course of its own.  

 

While there is overlap between these ideas, they do tend to operate separately, especially if you assemble a body of films as your supporting evidence. 

 

Hope this helps. 

Prof. Edwards

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While there is overlap between these ideas, they do tend to operate separately, especially if you assemble a body of films as your supporting evidence. 

 

Hope this helps. 

Prof. Edwards

 

Great ideas, and yes, it helps. I've been carrying a notebook with me while I'm out and about(like any good gumshoe), and I had just started to formulate these ideas while on the bus home from work. I literally came in, checked my messages, and then posted on here in my excitement to hear the thoughts of others.

 

I'm compiling a lot of notes. I'll probably be spending some time formulating a more cohesive post in the future. 

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Great ideas, and yes, it helps. I've been carrying a notebook with me while I'm out and about(like any good gumshoe), and I had just started to formulate these ideas while on the bus home from work. I literally came in, checked my messages, and then posted on here in my excitement to hear the thoughts of others.

 

I'm compiling a lot of notes. I'll probably be spending some time formulating a more cohesive post in the future. 

 

Excellent. Personally, I like that you are posting your ideas on the forum as a way of working through them. And I hope others add their thoughts and comments, because these are areas worthy of sustained reflection. Keep it up!

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I've noticed that a number of the films shown on TMC so far have veterans returned from WWII in the lead role. For example, Alan Ladd in The Blue Dahlia and his buddies Hugh Beaumont and William Bendix are just back from overseas. The way that the villians sometimes point out the hero's service with contempt is, I suppose, a way of aligning the villians with the evil forces that America has been at war with. This is not to say that the villians are ideologically Nazis, communists, or what ever. I just mean that by disrespecting the returning vets, they are showing how antagonistic they are to American values--truth, justice, and the American way, so to speak. This theme was central to the plot in Key Largo. Edgar G. Robinson toward the middle of the film asks Bogart why he'd fought in the war (or words to that effect). Bogart responds by quoting FDR (I think) in a few lines that suggest it is America's duty to safeguard the world from evil. The struggle between Bogart and Robinson is a metaphor for the struggle between America and evil world powers.

I think it is more than just an opposition to the villain.  They are showing the actual disruption that occurred in the servicemen's lives after they received their discharges.  The Best Years of Our Lives show not only the disabled vet but also Fredric March as the Banker and Dana Andrews going from Bomber to civilian losing status and unable to find a job other than waiting counter as a soda jerk/sales clerk.  You see the same thing in Til the End of Time with Robert Mitchum and Guy Madison. There are plenty of other movies not noir that dealt with the problems of the returning soldier.

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Professor Edwards

With regard to Hitchcock being a special case, you state that "He wasn't a part of the German emigres like Lang or Siodmak".  In fact:

 

In 1924 Alfred Hitchcock went with fellow British film director, Graham Cutts, to Germany to film "The Blackguard." While in Germany, Hitchcock observed some of the making of Murnau's "The Last Laugh" and was so impressed with the directing that he adopted some of Murnau's filming techniques. Hitchcock was given the opportunity to assist in directing "The Pleasure Garden" at the UFA studios (Universum Film AG)

 

I think this identifies Hitchcock as a Noir formalist.  Philosophically, I believe his movies were informed by his Catholic upbringing rather than existential angst.  Some of his main characters feel guilty for past actions (Scotty in Vertigo, Alicia in Notorious) which affects the choices they make.  They quite often suffer from arrested development (Dr McKenna in The Man who Knew Too Much, jealously possessive of his wife), Uncle Charley in Shadow of A Doubt, (his hatred of wealthy middle-aged widows), Bruno in Strangers on a Train, (classic Oedipal complex).  I believe these themes may be indicative of Hitchcock's personal demons rather than a critique of the social climate in which he was living.  And that is what makes Hitchcock a 'special case' and not fully part of the noir school.

I see what you are saying, but I still wouldn't group Hitchcock in with the German Emigre directors who had to flee Nazi Germany, nor do I believe he shares the underlying cinematic sensibilities cultivated in Lang and Siodmak by their German experiences.

 

Major filmmakers are going to be influenced by each other (even work with each other from time and time) and be familiar with what is going on in other national contexts, but Hitchcock's talent and sensibilities were nurtured inside the British film industry before he moved over to Hollywood and the US in the 1940s.

 

And I'm not going to get too much more in depth with Hitchcock because, as some other students have commented, he deserves a course of his own.

 

However, towards your other point, I would not disagree that thematically and stylistically, Hitchcock's core preoccupations and interests did differ from some of the other major directors we have already discussed in relation to film noir. 

 

 

 

Thank you, very fascinating facts presented here! I want to throw in another interesting piece of information. Catholics can be existentialists! Gabriel Marcel was a devout Catholic as well as a brilliant existentialist. The beauty of existential philosophy, like film noir, is that it includes many different approaches and perspectives. 

 

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I might have different study habits than most but first I read the lecture transcript then I listen to the lecture...a few times during the week. I watch the Daily Dose and post it to Twitter. This brings out my partners in crime with photo stills and trivia on the movie for the day. I have found if I don't get my class answers from the lecture then I won't get it. I watch a movie and my eyes go to wardrobe and sets, hairdo's and hats. I have yet to go deep into the meaning of how or why but if I'm still thinking about this movie the next day I know it's a good one and a keeper. If I'm still thinking about a movie years later and watch it over and over, it's a Classic.

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Video Lecture #5: The Opportunity: Film Noir in the Postwar Era

 

For some reason, I found myself focusing on the discussion of the introduction of television in the United States as a competitive force with film noir. It reminded me of the current situation faced by the movie industry: competition from cable and Internet channels. Professor Edwards mentioned in the lecture that the movie industry took several years to figure out how to deal with television. I wonder if it will survive the competition from cable and the Internet, and if we won’t know for another several years. Audiences are getting better and better movies and television shows because of this competition.

          Another point made by Professor Edwards really started me thinking: the fear created by the threat of nuclear war in the postwar world. It’s easy today to think that films of the late 1940s and 1950s exaggerate this fear and thus seem dated. But when I saw Spike Lee’s Summer of Sam (1999), I felt that he really captured the fear and paranoia of a city under siege by a serial killer. I happened to be working in New York City during the summer of 1977, and Lee’s film brought back all the memories of what it was like to be on guard for much of that summer. I wonder, if I saw Lee’s film today, would I think it was dated? (I’ll save that one for after this course, though!)

          I know that these ideas extend beyond the topic of film noir, but that’s what I was thinking as I listened to the lecture. I enjoyed the fact that the lecture prompted me to make so many connections to other areas of film, even if those connections aren’t “noir.”

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Week 7: Out of the Past: Edwards’s and Clute’s Podcast for The Hitch-Hiker

I’m starting to wish that separate discussion threads would be provided for the podcasts! This one about The Hitch-Hiker also got me thinking. I enjoyed this podcast and the discussion of Ida Lupino’s role in the making of The Hitch-Hiker immensely.

          The podcast and one of the assigned readings, the excerpt from Postwar Hollywood: 1946–1962, by Drew Casper, touched on the theme of changing social mores for men and the crisis of masculinity during the postwar era. Edmond O’Brien’s character in The Hitch-Hiker, Roy Collins, was edgy and emotional. At one point, he pleads for a small plane to stop for them, to hear them. When his friend Gilbert Bowen (played by Frank Lovejoy) moves toward him, Emmet Myers, the hostage taker, says something like this: “Leave him alone. Can’t you see he’s praying? [my emphasis].” Collins also gives in to an angry outburst directed against Myers, the hostage taker. The dynamic between Collins and his friend, the other hostage, really intrigued me. They seemed to be a study in contrasts, but Bowen gives in to an emotional moment, too, although one of a different sort, one that is more subdued. When the three of them—Collins, Bowen, and Myers—are in a store in Mexico, Bowen hugs a young child, one he doesn’t even know, as though he wishes he could protect her. It was a very touching moment in a bleak film. In fact, both characters—as hostages—seemed much more likeable and human in their emotional moments. They may be feeling uncertain and fearful, but they are reaching out to others.

          Emmet Myers, the hitch-hiker, spoke some of the most interesting lines, like the comment above about Roy Collins praying when he was pleading for the small plane to stop for him and Bowen. If I remember correctly, Myers also makes a snide comment about Bowen and Collins using their fishing trip as a pretext for going to Mexico to visit women, either mistresses or prostitutes. I wondered how he would know that kind of detail, but if the character is based on real-life observations from people who were hostages of the actual hitch-hiker, then I suspect that the real-life man (Billy Cook) had plenty of opportunity in his short life to witness the bad behavior of the adults around him. (He was 23 when he was executed for his crimes.) His one eye that didn’t close all the way was either a prenatal defect or the result of an accident or childhood abuse. He became a ward of the state after his mother died and his father abandoned him and his siblings (I think he was only five years old). It’s hard to imagine that his life was easy, although none of the details of his life absolves him of his actions.

          I’ll have to see The Hitch-Hiker again in light of the podcast and the assigned readings. I have a greater appreciation for this film now than I did before. Not only has this course provided me with a long list of movies to see and books to read, it is also giving me plenty of reason to revisit films with new ideas and insights.

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Basically, the threat in a noir film was an Other, and then it was Us. Yet even when the threat was Us, it was still possible to classify the threat as an aberration, an Other at heart. Then as we enter the late fifties, we have no significant foreign threat to rally around, and those in our society who had actually been considered 'Other' were fighting for acceptance. It was too complex a field of variables for the noir world which, for all it's complications, still offered a world of blacks, whites, and grays. There was no way to keep telling stories in this vein without resorting to parody or metafiction.

 

Horror during this period adapted, featuring monsters that were simply variations of us, and actively fighting for acceptance. The Munsters, The Addams Family, even Bewitched, all featured suburban monsters who just wanted to live normal lives free from persecution(it's probably telling that all the examples I just used are television shows, another threat to noir and cinema). Noir had no way to adapt; it had nothing to fight against within its framework, and so then the only way to successfully create a noir film or novel was to make a story that was actively commenting on noir. Neo-noirs like Night Moves, The Long Goodbye, Blue Velvet, even Brick, they all comment on the structure of film noir while employing it's trademarks.

 

Excellent points, and as someone else pointed out, even the "suburban monsters" were set in family situations, a trend that would continue through shows like Third Rock From The Sun to more recent fare like Heroes. But back in the 50s when television was exploding, think of how much of the "others" pie that some of the televised plays and shows like The Twilight Zone took off that plate at that time.

 

The Twilight Zone oozed many of the noir themes, albeit usually in a different setting like fantasy or sci-fi. Paranoia, dread, culture gaps (age, wealth and even racism), neuroses and isolationism were consistently presented in episodes like "The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street", "The Invaders" and "To Serve Man". But one could argue that several of their episodes ("Dead Man's Shoes", "The Shelter", "What's In The Box") could have easily been noir caliber films if expanded in length and shown in theatres.

 

Remember that just as the advent of talkies and the studio system once helped create a sustained boom in the film industry, the explosion of television coupled with the shift from urban housing to the suburbs threw an unexpected challenge to the status quo. With the creation of the multiplex designed to "bring the mountain to Mohammed" also came the need for blockbuster films, especially when cable television and the Internet further divided customer loyalty. So where the "B" picture once had a home and a financial purpose (a cheap but profitable part of the evening's fare), it now was as isolated and alone as some of its protagonists.

 

For totally different reasons, we are now back to the dichotomy of the early days -  the major studios produce the expensive films (usually sequels or rom-coms and action pieces aimed at the lowest common denominator) while the true independent filmmakers (self-financed) are this generation's "Poverty Row". Likewise, where you had exceptions who could buck the system to craft their own vision (Hitchcock, Welles, Chaplin) you the same today in directors like Jarmusch, Waters and Paul Thomas Anderson (let alone brands like Woody Allen and Tarantino). The difference is that the majors are now smart enough to create subsidiary brands to get their hands in that pie as well, creating a separate business model with different expectations. But without being able to piggy-back that catalogue as a double-bill, survival now means independent theatres, film festivals, cable and DVD sales.

 

I think I digressed a bit.

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