Film noir is a descriptive term for the American crime film as it flourished, roughly, from the early forties to late fifties. It is one of the most challenging cycles in the history of American cinema. A variety of crime dramas were embraced that ranged from claustrophobic studies of murder and psychological entrapment to more generalized treatments of criminal organizations. In thematic range and visual style it is varied and complex. The pervasive aura of defeat and despair runs rampant in film noir as images of entrapment and the escalating derangement of its leading characters depicts America’s dark mood of post-World War II. This downbeat American film genre traces a series of metaphors for over a decade of anxiety depicting a contemporary apocalypse bounded on one hand by Nazi brutality and on the other by threats of nuclear power and the cold war. Naturalism’s objectivity and harshness combined with tough, stylized realism of the hard boiled crime school gives film noir a rich, literary tradition. It is one of the most accomplished and most intelligent of the Hollywood genres. In moments of tension, noir dramas crawl with shadows. In noir thrillers the city has a heightened presence. Noir sometimes is not referred to as a genre, but a “sensibility,” a sub-category of the crime film. It is defined by subtle qualities of tone and mood (Paul Schrader in “Notes on Film Noir”). Raymond Durgnat in “The Family Tree of Film Noir” classifies noir among eleven thematic subheadings: crime as social criticism, gangsters, on the run, private eyes and adventurers, middle class murder, portraits and doubles, sexual pathology, psychopaths, hostages, to fortune, blacks and reds; and guignol, horror and fantasy. The preeminent director of noir was Robert Siodmak from 1944-1949. He made nine films. His work is notable for its physical and psychological compression; his characters, typically, are boxed into corners. The characters are nurtured by obsessions. Billy Wilder’s noir dramas contain biting social comment, the disapproval of the American way. The genre’s undisputed first lady femme fatale was Barbara Stanwyck. She brutalized men through the destruction of sexual allure. Farley Granger typified the male victimized by his beauty in his sexual helplessness. He is visibly weak. There are also men who are sexually indecisive and are deeply hard-boiled. Examples are movies in which Richard Widmark, Jack Palance and Robert Ryan star. Many noir psychotics hold onto romantic obsessions in ways that destroy themselves rather than inflict harm on others. View Marilyn Monroe’s phenomenal portrayal of such a character in Don’t Bother to Knock. Leading characters can be deranged, complex and mysterious eluding analysis. They are more dangerous, more anti-social, than the reasons the films tentatively offer to “explain” their pathological state. The profound evil quality of these characters is beyond understanding. The cityscape is teeming with crime and the “dangerous ground” applies to the urban milieu in which he works and to his own condition. He lives on the edge. Noir psycopaths seem to be evil for evil’s sake. The Film Noir genre worked most effectively for recording private rather than large-scale social traumas. The traditional noir interest in the isolated criminal whose actions are controlled not by an impersonal conglomerate but by a complex interweaving of character and fate. Noir was psychologically complex and had popular appeal- the stories were usually tense and engrossing. Dramas of people in crisis overtaken by the darkness within us. As Foster Hirsch in The Dark Side of the Screen states “In the flickering images of a movie screen, film noir seizes and penetrates a universal heart of darkness.” TO VISIT and/or JOIN Steven’s FB Group: Film Noir Period 1946-1958 Commentary - CLICK HERE !