Essay on Classical Film Noir

Submitted By cbaird2
Words: 1270
Pages: 6

Classical Noir
1941- 1958

Film noir began to gain popularity during the 1930’s. However, many refer to the years between 1941 and 1958 as the classical era of the noir film genre. During this period the United States and furthermore the world was experiencing a dramatic change on a level previously unseen. With the onset of WWII, came along a shift in the global landscape. The presence of war brought about numerous changes in regards to industry, urbanization, globalization, and modernization and radically increased the powers of the federal government. This shift in policy brought about new challenges and societal changes in American culture. Few genres reflect the consequences of these changes like noir film. As these changes became everyday parts of American culture, the definitions of gender roles, race, ethnicity and social class were brought to the forefront of the population’s attention. The film industry combined these elements into the characteristics of we associate with the film noir genre today. Central to the ideas of film noir is the element of fear and a loss of control. Noir played upon the conscience of an American society engaged in a war previously unseen. On December 7, 1941, the naval yard at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii was attacked. This act of aggression from the Japanese not only killed scores of Americans, but also exposed the American public to the realities of an uncertain world which is often times out of the one’s control. Film noir, especially films of the 40’s, play into these dark emotions by evoking these themes throughout films. Therefore the genre garnered much attention and success because for the first time the American public could relate to the feelings associated with noir and its characters. Not surprisingly, women of this era also associated with the fear of death or loss portrayed in noir as many of their husbands were away overseas fighting in the war. The major fallout of WWII and the years that followed leading into and during the Korean war, was the “red scare”, or fear of communism. The use of atomic weapons on Nagasaki and Hiroshima Japan by the United States towards the end of the war also exposed the American public to a new kind of power previously unseen. This sense that all could be lost in a matter of seconds developed a huge sense of fear among the American public. Again, noir undoubtedly is a reflection of this fear because many of its films center around the idea that one person’s decision could lead to total chaos, and even ultimately death. The mortal need for survival is a key element of noir and often times its characters and their decisions are based on fulfilling this primary need. Usually in noir these decisions not only fail to fulfill this need, but expedite the demise of its characters. The “red scare” also developed a sense of ever-present evil that lurks in the shadows. This evil could manifest itself at anytime and its reach extended to everyone, even the common citizen. This grip on society is at the heart of the noir genre and coupled with the vision that that this evil manifests itself as an inescapable vortex is a primary element of the noir canon of films. Like the “red scare”, noir uses these unseen evil forces to create a sense of the unknown. As society tends to fear that which it does not understand, noir casts its characters into this unknown world and sucks them deeper and deeper into its trap of fear. Because noir film rarely shied away from the issues surrounding the spread of communism, many of the members of the noir genre were formally persecuted or blacklisted as a result. Another consequence of WWII was a vast reorganization in regards to industrialization, globalization, and political power. The war machine had to be fueled by those on the homefront and this made the American public very aware of industrialization. The work of factories and cities became a gritty reality. This dark grittiness is a central theme in noir and adds to the